Christianity 201

February 15, 2017

Flexible Methodology; Fixed Message

For the last few days we’ve been reconnecting with writers with whom it’s been many years — in this case five — since they last appeared at C201. It’s great to go back and find people are being faithful to Bible study and devotion online. Dave Bish at the Blue Fish Project website is one of those. He’s doing a series on Galatians and at the end of this article, we’ll link you to another in the series.

Trampolines and Brick Walls: Don’t flex on the gospel, do flex on everything else to love the church and advance the gospel.

In his 2005 book Velvet Elvis Rob Bell argued that the church has a problem because we think of theology as like a brick wall – rigid and systematic, whereas we should look at our theology as being more of a trampoline – flexible and in which some of the springs can be safely removed. The analogy seems really attractive, though it’s pretty flawed – not least because you could removed more bricks from a wall than springs from a trampoline before everything would fall apart… but beyond that it’s also woefully ignorant.

In writing to Galatians Paul wont have any of this anti-doctrinal faith. He tackle gospel denial and says it’s Father-desertion… he speak of gospel truth and it’s about the Father’s revelation of the Son. It’s life-filled, relational, and write-down-able. And accuracy matters – because it’s curse-worthy to believe a different gospel, and to teach others to hope in something contrary to Christ. Theology is about the knowledge of the Father and his Son by the Spirit – it’s not cold and rigid, but without accuracy we’re not talking about the same God, just a similar one. Or in Galatian language a different gospel that is no gospel at all… a perversion of the gospel.” 

But, some things are flexible and some things aren’t. The gospel can’t be up for grabs, a lot of other stuff must be – at least when it comes to ministry practice.

In Galatians 2 Paul tells one of three stories to his Father-deserting friends that build his case that they should get back to where they began rather than heading off in a different direction. He tells that he went to Jerusalem to preserve the gospel for them (2v5). It’s worth a big detour upstream to Jerusalem to preserve the gospel in Turkey – just as later it’s worth a big detour to to Jerusalem to maintain the unity of the Jew and Gentile churches in Rome.

Though there were false brothers in Galatian – counterfeit-christians – the church itself hadn’t lost the plot and they recognize that God who was at work in Peter… was also at work in Pauland they recognized the grace given…to both Paul and the Jerusalem church. One gospel.

What’s curious is the test for finding out whether Jerusalem is true to the gospel.

  • Paul takes Titus in the expectation that gospel loss would mean he’d be compelled to be circumcised (v3). Meanwhile, in Acts 16v3 (possibly around the same time, depending on how you date Galatians), Paul gets Timothy circumcised so he can take him with him.  To be clear: If the Jerusalem church compels Titus to be circumcised that’s evidence that the gospel has been lost, but when Paul gets Timothy circumcised that’s the gospel advancing.
  • Likewise, in Paul’s next story – Peter stands condemned for putting himself back under food laws, and in effect saying to his Gentile brothers and sisters in Antioch that they’re not welcome unless they take on the food laws too. But in Romans 14v21 Paul says it’s best not to eat if that’ll cause problems for your brother or sister from a Jewish background.

Context and motive call for different practices. It’s a recipe for inconsistency but necessary for the inclusion of diverse peoples and for taking the gospel diverse peoples. And it works because, the gospel isn’t a matter of out conformity. Habits, festivals, food laws and bodily markings aren’t the issue. Loving the church and reaching new people require different approaches at different times and in different places. What would we need to flex to ensure that the only obstacle is the gospel?

Paul embodies this by being prepared to become all things to all people to win some… and by his substantial detours – twice to Jerusalem – to demonstrate bond between the Gentile and Jewish churches.

The real mark of the gospel isn’t what we wear, eat or celebrate. It’s the Spirit of the Son indwelling the believer by faith and enacting our adoption. All else is flexible. Sadly churches fall out over loads of things, but a true gospel priority should mean most of those things – important as they are – are matter over which we’re more than happy to flex, to serve other believers and to reach those who aren’t yet believers. Sadly, we tend to hold on to things for the sake of having church how we want it to be.

If I get this then I’ll be radically committed to welcoming any other believer and removing things that are obstacles for their conscience out of the way, and to welcoming those who don’t believe by changing anything at all – apart from the gospel. If I get this I’ll be incredibly flexible and inconsistent in my view of almost everything in church life… though that’ll look messy, I suspect the gospel shines brighter against that messy backdrop.


Continue reading Dave’s writings on Galatians with this article, What’s GOOD in this foreign country?

December 27, 2016

Unconditional Election and Covenant

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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NIV 2 Samuel 9:6 When Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, came to David, he bowed down to pay him honour.

David said, ‘Mephibosheth!’

‘At your service,’ he replied.

‘Don’t be afraid,’ David said to him, ‘for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.’

Mephibosheth bowed down and said, ‘What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?’

Then the king summoned Ziba, Saul’s steward, and said to him, ‘I have given your master’s grandson everything that belonged to Saul and his family. 10 You and your sons and your servants are to farm the land for him and bring in the crops, so that your master’s grandson may be provided for. And Mephibosheth, grandson of your master, will always eat at my table.’ (Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants.)

11 Then Ziba said to the king, ‘Your servant will do whatever my lord the king commands his servant to do.’ So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table like one of the king’s sons.

Today we’re paying a return visit to Patrick Hawthorne came who blogs at Serving Grace Ministries. Click the title below to read it at source (with comments) and then click “home” to view other articles.

God of the Covenant

Over the last couple of years, during the time in which I discovered blogging, I have met some truly wonderful people.  Of those people, a few have unashamedly publicized their following of Calvinistic teachings.  While I greatly disagree with the unconditional election (God choosing who goes to heaven and who goes to hell) and limited atonement (Jesus died only for the Elect) portion of this doctrine, I can understand why many came to believe as they do.

The Church today has become so watered down by a feel good message that many forget that we serve a Mighty God, a sovereign and holy God.  Many have taken the verse, “Let us come boldly before the throne of grace,” to mean they are entitled to waltz before our Heavenly Father like a spoiled brat with a “Give me,” attitude.

Even so, why can I not subscribe to the teaching that God “elects” some to heaven and some to hell?  Why do I not pledge my belief to the idea that God would choose me but not another?  Better yet, how can I honestly believe that God will condemn a baby to hell who has no concept of right or wrong simply because they are not part of the “Elect?”  The answer is simple.  It all comes down to blood covenant.

In a Hebrew blood covenant, as with David and Jonathan (1 Samuel 18-20), the terms of the covenant included family members, even those not yet born.  If the family member was not of age to make a determination as to whether or not to remain in the covenant, they were afforded the same protection as those under the covenant.  In other words, they were adopted into the covenant until such age as they could choose for themselves.

Later on, when the child became of age, they had to make the decision of whether or not they desired to remain in the covenant.  The only penalty for not choosing to be part of the covenant would be that they were not afforded the protection and the terms of the covenant.

We see this with the covenant made between David and Jonathan.  After Jonathan died, King David sought Mephibosheth (Jonathan’s son) so that he could fulfill his terms of the covenant. (2 Samuel 9).  David drew Mephibosheth to himself by having his soldiers retrieve him and bring him before the palace.

Once he was before King David, Mephibosheth had a choice to make. He could either accept King David’s offer of salvation (in a sense) and security, or he could deny the offer and suffer the consequences of living in a world where he had no guidance or protection from David.  It was his choice to make.  Had he chosen to walk away, King David would have no choice but to honor his refusal.  It was part of the covenant terms.

Some might think, “That was David but is not God.  Also, that was a covenant made between two men and does not apply to our covenant with God.”  To that I say, “Exactly.”  If David, a man after Gods own heart (Acts 13:22), would make a covenant that would extend to the family, how much more will God’s covenant with mankind, through our Lord Jesus, do likewise in this new and better covenant…The Covenant of Grace.  Be blessed.

November 14, 2016

The Perils of Faux-Freedom

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Today we are paying a return visit to Mike Leake at the blog Borrowed Light. Click the title below to read at source.

The False Freedom Which Leads to Bondage

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. Proverbs 16:25

There is a path that I see more and more people in my generation going down. It’s an appealing path in our post-Christian context. It allows us to capitulate and take the posture of humble question-askers—all the while, denying thousands of years of orthodoxy. Such a posture will keep us from the label of ‘bigot’ and will allow us—at least in the eyes of the world—to continue down the path of love.

It doesn’t really matter what doctrine is denied this path has the same trail-head. I suppose you could call it the man-centeredness. But what it really is, is that instead of the heralding the biblical gospel of a holy God redeeming unworthy sinners the church has tried to Christianize our cultural narcissism. In our culture the good news of Jesus is that God primarily exists to make me happy. God has a wonderful and prosperous plan for my life, every thing He does is aimed at accomplishing this goal.(See here and here). Our culture is radically obsessed with self. Preach a “gospel” which affirms the self at the center and you won’t have a problem getting an ear.

I understand the appeal to this path. Everything we read in our Bibles tells us that people saw Jesus as loving. Love—whatever that might mean—seems to be the ultimate ethic. As the apostle said, if we don’t have love we “have nothing and “are nothing”. As near as I can tell few in the New Testament accused Jesus of being bigoted. (Though, I’ve often wondered if the rich young ruler muttered a few choice words as he walked away from the narrow gospel of Jesus). As followers of Jesus we know we are to be loving, so it throws us for a loop when the world views us as narrow, bigoted, and supremely unloving. Combine this with the fact that many in my generation have been absolutely burned by church people who actually are unloving, and it makes the path of “affirming our inherent goodness” and “affirming gay marriage” a rather attractive option.

But I’m convinced it is a path void of the gospel.

false-freedomImagine with me a styrofoam buoy anchored somewhere out in the sea. We all know that the only way the styrofoam is able to stand firm in one position is because it is attached to an anchor far stronger than the waves. Now what if this little piece of styrofoam desires to pursue freedom and detaches himself from the anchor. What’s going to happen to that piece of styrofoam? Is it going to be free?

What feels like freedom at first will inevitably lead to bondage. At first that little piece of styrofoam would have felt quiet free. No longer anchored to the buoy, no longer confined by the anchors desires and demands, it rejoices in its new found freedom. But after awhile, when the waves toss it to and fro that freedom won’t feel so free. That little piece of styrofoam is a slave to the purposeless will of the waves. The waves of freedom will take it wherever they want to go and not ultimately where the detached styrofoam was hoping to land.

Of course it isn’t of much consequence if a piece of styrofoam detaches while on the safety of the shore. If there aren’t waves then I suppose detaching from the anchor might be a bit safer. But buoys aren’t meant for land. They are meant for the sea. And detaching from the anchor is deadly.

In the same way the humble question-asker and the guy who is perpetually “on a journey” might be able to get away with such things if he wasn’t out to sea and in the midst of a torrent of waves. But such question asking is never neutral. There is a real spiritual enemy who wants to shipwreck our souls. Detach from the anchor of biblical truth and you are at his mercy. The freedom that you so desire won’t end in freedom.

What is needed in this day and age…when scores of people are tossed to and fro by the waves…and beaten to death by the mock freedom of our hyper-sexualized and humanity destroying culture…are men and women bold enough and brave enough to believe God has already spoken. There are some questions that don’t need to be asked and some conversations that really don’t need to take place. As Spurgeon so aptly said, “We do not deliberate, for we have decided. To be for ever holding the truth of God, as though it might yet turn out to be a lie, were to lose all the comfort of it.”

God saves sinners.

When you place yourself in that statement it is the most glorious and offensive statement of all. And though it doesn’t appear to be so, those who are walking down any of the uber appealing man-centered paths of our culture are robbing people of this hope. They are promoting a freedom which is slavery, a life which is death, and a pleasure which is only temporary.

The narrow path is so much sweeter.

October 21, 2016

A Personal Statement of Faith

Instead, regard Christ as holy in your hearts. Whenever anyone asks you to speak of your hope, be ready to defend it.  (I Peter 3:15 CEB)

Yesterday on the other blog I posted a link to a book review at The Little Friar, the blog of Julius McCarter. Further down the page I noted this statement of faith which I found so very refreshing. The link is in the title below — think about that title for a minute — which I hope you’ll click and read this at source. (If you know Latin, you’ll like the blog tabs.)

for now

Every now and then, I’m asked to produce a personal statement of faith.  I always find statements like that difficult to write, though I’ve written on that before.

But, in an effort to say what I believe, here’s what I’ve put down this morning.  I’m sure it’s incomplete, as all statements of faith must necessarily be.  And I’m sure that, given the varieties of life that will be tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, I’ll say it much differently.  Any way …

I believe in one God who created the universe for good, who sustains it in wondrous order, and who calls it to fulfill its purpose in God.

I believe that God created human beings, male and female, in God’s own image, for communion with God and with one another. I believe, therefore, that God, whom we experience as personal, intends authentic personhood and relationship as the highest purpose for human beings.

I believe that the manifestations of God’s active benevolence toward creation are manifold, including:

  • God’s character revealed in the beauty, order, and majesty of the universe;
  • God’s revelation of a moral order, mysteriously the common heritage of all humanity;
  • God’s special relationship with Israel, later to include the Church;
  • God’s unique revelation in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ;
  • God’s steadfast and continual involvement in human affairs to this day.

I believe that, since human beings fail to respond fully to God’s call to live out the purpose for which we were created, and since God is ever faithful to God’s purpose, God has always eagerly forgiven and restored all of his creation. I believe, further, that as the clearest statement of God’s love for creation, God in Christ reconciles the world to God’s self.

I believe that sacred scriptures, the Old and New Testaments, bear trustworthy witness to God’s character, God’s intention for creation, and God’s unshakable determination to effect God’s good purpose, especially as scripture bears testimony to God’s relationship with Israel, with the church, and quintessentially with all creation in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ.

I believe that God calls those who trust God and seek to fulfill God’s will to relate to individuals and to society in ways which reflect God-likeness as taught in the Torah, exhorted in the Prophets, and modeled in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ: namely, to demonstrate authentic personhood, to act toward others with steadfast benevolence, and to work for rightness in all spheres of life.

I believe that God, who created for good purpose, who patiently and unwaveringly loves even the most errant with love surpassing that of human mothers and fathers.

I believe that God – who has not left any age or any individual without evidence of that good purpose and faithfulness nor without the testimony of the Word who comes to all as light, life, and truth – will not cease working out that purpose for which God created and to which God calls all.

I believe that my hope for the world, for our lives in it, and for eternity rests on God’s faithfulness shown to all humanity throughout all ages, in particular to Israel and the church, and most especially as evidence in the faithfulness of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ.

 

 

June 17, 2016

Clear as Mud

It’s three verses that critics of the King James Version frequently use to show why we needed — and continue to need — new Bible translations.

For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise. But we will not boast of things without our measure, but according to the measure of the rule which God hath distributed to us, a measure to reach even unto you. For we stretch not ourselves beyond our measure, as though we reached not unto you: for we are come as far as to you also in preaching the gospel of Christ.  2 Corinthians 10:12-14 KJV

Did you get all that? Not the stuff of a great Bible study for today, but hopefully it leaves you with some empathy for those who struggle with Bible understanding, even if this is a rather extreme example. Can any of us say that our scriptures are “easily understood?”

All of this leads us to your word for today: “Perspicuity.” Say that ten times!

Instead, you might actually find the Latin easier, Claritas Scripturae means what you think it does, the clarity of scripture.

A bit of context is needed. The doctrine of Claritas Scripturae is a Protestant idea which stands in contrast to the Catholic view that the scriptures are not clear. Rather, the holy writings belong to the realm of mystery and the average person cannot fathom it; the lay-reader can never fully understand it. Instead, someone needs to be the broker of it, the arbiter of it for the rest of us. This could be the clergy class in general, or in a Catholic sense, it refers The Magisterium or what some simply call The Vatican.

The Protestant perspective stands in opposition to this. The gospel is so simple that a little child can understand it, and in fact, that is the only way you can experience salvation:

Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)

There is a sense in which this is true. But we also realize that on a personal level, we are extremely grateful for the sermons, the podcasts, the commentaries, the Study Bible notes. Paul appeals to the idea that we need set apart ones or sent ones.

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? (Romans 10:14)

In 2008, blogger Ben Johnson, then a Masters student at Western Seminary, put this far more succinctly than I can in this short blog post:

One of the things that becomes evident when you begin formal Bible study is that you begin to question the protestant doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture. Here is what I mean by this. As you begin your ‘formal training’ you begin to acquire what can only be called ‘special knowledge’ (sounds very gnostic). You now know Greek and Hebrew (and for those select few, Aramaic). You know more of the historical backgrounds of the texts (or at least what current scholarship thinks it knows about those backgrounds). You begin to exercise, what your professor tells you is a ‘sound hermeneutic.’ All this is ‘special knowledge’ that the average person in the pew does not have.

Now, imagine yourself in church and people begin asking you questions (they know you’re in seminary after all). You begin to rattle off what you heard in last week’s lecture on the book of Romans, talking about historical background and the Greek root of verbs, and the average person begins to doubt in their own ability to read the Bible themselves.

Here is my problem. The doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture came about (at least the Protestant formulation of it) in rebellion against the medieval catholic view that only the church (i.e., non lay-people) could interpret Scripture. When I look at the church today, it seems to me that we have replaced the ‘church’ with the ‘academy.’ If you haven’t written a critical commentary on the Gospel of Mark who are you to interpret it? As I begin to be a true (whatever that means) student of Scripture I find myself utilizing my recently acquired ‘special knowledge’ and finding great insight from it. However, as a Christian and a churchman I have to maintain that the basics of the message are accessible to the average person in the pew given the illumination of the Spirit and the proper amount of study. All that is to stay, I think I still need to confirm the basic idea of the perspicuity of Scripture (to say nothing of post-modern, or reader-oriented hermeneutics) but I’m still working out how.

I really need to repeat Ben’s second-to-last sentence:

I have to maintain that the basics of the message are accessible to the average person in the pew given the illumination of the Spirit and the proper amount of study.

But in his final sentence, he affirms that it’s complicated.

Do you think the average person can process the basics of the gospel, or do they need the help of those better-trained in theology?


Here are some verses from the cutting room floor today!

The LORD our God has secrets known to no one. We are not accountable for them, but we and our children are accountable forever for all that he has revealed to us, so that we may obey all the terms of these instructions. (Deuteronomy 29:29 NLT)

Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith– (Romans 16:26-27)

For who has known the Lord’s mind, that he may instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.  (1 Corinthians 2:16 HCSB)

All scriptures NIV unless otherwise stated, I think!


Go Deeper: Here’s a scholarly article by D.A. Carson where I first began today’s thoughts.

Note: The title of today’s article was deliberately provocative.

 

 

 

 

 

October 16, 2015

Can a Christian Be Possessed by a Demon?

Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those with skin diseases, drive out demons. You have received free of charge; give free of charge.
-Matthew 10:8 HCSB

14 And He appointed twelve, so that they would be with Him and that He could send them out to preach, 15 and to have authority to cast out the demons.
-Matthew 3:14-15 NASB

If you’re going to read a blog called Christianity 201, you have to expect there are going to be days when we look at issues! This time we’re paying a return visit to Micael Grenholm at the blog Holy Spirit Activism, who responds to today’s somewhat Pentecostal question as only a “charismactivist” (his word) can. Click the title below to read at source.

Can Christians be possessed by demons?

The Assemblies of God (AoG), the biggest Pentecostal denomination in the US, has famously argued that it is impossible for Christians to be possessed; no one who has received the Holy Spirit, they say, can be overtaken by demonic forces. This differs from the view shared by many neo-Pentecostals, charismatics, Catholics as well as many Pentecostals in the majority world (Asia, Africa and Latin America), who all say that Christians might actually become demonized.

When John Wimber, the founder of the Vineyard movement, was asked if he believed that Christians could have demons, he provokingly replied “Well yeah, I’ve cast them out of pastors!” His wife Carol wrote in her biography about her husband something like: “When we encountered a demon, we simply cast it out – without checking baptismal records. What else could we do? Wait until they become Hindus and then cast them out?”

Now, AoG-folks and like-minded may object that such allegorical evidence does not mean much compared to arguments from Scripture. Which is generally true, although in this particular case the usual claim concerning extra-Biblical supernatural phenomena – it’s a demonic deception! – is quite counterproductive. But the Bible is always important in theological matters, so let’s have a look. 

In AoG’s position paper on the topic, their arguments can be boiled down to two categories: 1) The Bible never specifically says that Christians are or can be possessed, and 2) The Bible does state that God has “rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves” (Colossians 1:13) and that “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4), meaning that because of the Holy Spirit’s presence in born-again believers, demonic possession is impossible.

To 1) I would respond that there are examples of faithful believers in God and Jesus who have some pretty serious problems with demons; the woman who had been disabled by a spirit in 18 years was described by Jesus as “a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years”. Being a child of Abraham is not so much about ethnicity, as it is about faith (Gal 3:7). Jesus clearly stated that his closest disciple Peter was briefly overtaken by Satan (Mt 16:23), and even though Judas clearly wasn’t a very good disciple, I think it’s very reasonable to say that he did join Jesus’ team because he actually wanted to follow Jesus radically, since Satan came and possessed him the same day he betrayed his Lord (Lk 22:3-4).

The 2) argument is even weaker: the same reasoning could be applied to sin with quite absurd consequences. God has rescued us from darkness and His Spirit within us is more powerful than the devil – therefore no Christian can sin. Most Christians would agree that it is true that God has rescued us from darkness and that no evil is within the Holy Spirit while it is equally true that we continuously fail to live up to God’s standards and fall in sin.

There is neither sin nor devils in the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit has not 100% control of us yet – that’s why we sin and that’s why some pastors can be demonized. While Christians won’t have the same amount of total possessions as some witch doctors can have – something that the Wimbers observed – we aren’t totally immune to demons unless we make sure that we are constantly sanctified through prayer and fasting.


Go Deeper: Click the title above to see the comments on this one, including a longer one that Micael really liked that offers some historical background.

July 16, 2015

Perhaps Today’s Devotional Is One Too Many

We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up.  – Matthew 18:3b

Do you ever feel spiritually stuffed? Like someone at an all-you-can-eat banquet table who just wants to try one or two more entrées? Consider today’s thoughts.

And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 18:3

Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”   -Luke 18:17

One thing the internet has brought us is so much more knowledge. But it can’t, by itself, bring us more grace. You need both, as Peter reminds us.

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.  – 2 Peter 3:18

Common Sense Not NeededToday I had to go to our local equivalent of Home Depot. I am always completely intimidated in that environment. I think I’m going in with a fair bit of confidence, but then they ask, “These are the outside measurements, what are the inside measurements?” The what?

And then someone asked me, “Are you sure this isn’t your own insecurities?” Well, yes maybe.

But the point is that in all this I really felt God saying to me, “You know, you do this to people in your environment.” Maybe you know what I mean. You work in a local church. Or you’re a Christian counselor. Or you’re leading a midweek Bible study in your home. Or you work at a Christian bookstore.

Someone asks you for something, and you’ve got so much knowledge that it just comes spilling out. It’s part of the overflow of your life. But it’s too much for the person you’re dealing with.

And Christianity has done that. Especially in certain circles, trusting God has increasing become an intellectual exercise. Make sure you buy this book. Make sure you listen to that sermon podcast. Make sure you understand that doctrine fully. Make sure you can articulate the basics of this systematic theology.

And Jesus is saying,

“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”  – Matthew 19:14

All it takes to get ‘in’ is child-like faith. Yes, you will never end finding the intricacies and complexities of God’s word, but all you need, all the basics, you can grasp with the faith of a child, and the intellectual capacity of a child.

…We know her for working in her dad’s watch and jewelry shop, and for the Jewish people her family harbored in “The Hiding Place” on the top floor of their home; but in addition to all that Corrie Ten Boom worked with developmentally challenged people. In the wonderfully titled little book, Common Sense Not Needed, she explains that even these adults and children, despite limited mental abilities, can respond to God.

That should be ever be in our minds; we don’t have to teach people doctrines before they can experience the grace and love of God. Both the first and second testaments let us see the ways of God in narrative form and we can do the same. The theology stuff can wait.


Related (somewhat) is today’s book review of The First Time We Saw Him at Thinking Out Loud.


Image adapted from the cover of Corrie Ten Boom’s book mentioned in today’s devotional.

 

November 1, 2014

Wait a Minute! What Did Jesus Just Say?

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Yesterday we looked at the subject of unity in the body of Christ and it’s hard to discuss this subject without remembering John 17:21. This is Jesus praying before the crucifixion:

…that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (NIV)
…that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (ESV)
…That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. (KJV)

This verse is often used as a rallying cry for Christian unity and promotes the ideal that there would be no division in the capital ‘C’ Church.

But Jesus isn’t just saying that, he’s saying that we would be one just as the Father (to whom he is praying) and himself are one.  What does that mean?

trinity 1

We’ve used this diagram before here to promote the idea that each part of what we call the Godhead maintains complete unity with the other but is also distinct. The Father is God. The Son is God. The Spirit is God. But the Father is not the Son or the Spirit; The Son is not the Father or the Spirit; The Spirit is not the Son or the Father.

This is summed up in The Athanasian Creed. When you click through, you see something much longer than the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed. Part of the length is this qualification that each holds distinction but is part of the unified whole.  (I once suggested it was written by lawyer!) The purpose is to spell out the complexity of what we call Trinity in unmistakable terms.

There is also some additional language that stems from this:

And yet there are not three eternal beings;
there is but one eternal being.

For the person of the Father is a distinct person,
the person of the Son is another,
and that of the Holy Spirit still another.
But the divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one,
their glory equal, their majesty co-eternal.

So…back to John 17:21. Is Jesus suggesting that in becoming one with the Father just as he and the Father are one, we need to re-draw the diagram? Does that make us part of the Godhead, too? (Father, Son, Spirit, Church?) Some tools at BibleGateway.com are useful here.

From the Asbury Bible Commentary:

In nature this was identical to the oneness that united Son and Father, and it was characterized by the same glory. Its purpose was that by observing it the world might come to know that God had indeed been behind the mission of Jesus and that his blessing was on the church.

From the Reformation Bible Commentary:

This prayer for unity is not merely for a “spiritual” or invisible unity, but for a unity that is visible to the world, “that the world may believe.”

IVP Bible Commentary:

What follows is usually seen as the content of Jesus’ prayer for all disciples—that all of them may be one (v. 21)—as it is in the NIV. The word that (hina) is used this way quite often, but it also frequently signals purpose. Jesus uses this same language in two other places in this prayer (vv. 11, 22), both times clearly indicating purpose, which suggests he intends this meaning here as well…

Matthew Henry:

Some think that the oneness prayed for in John 17:11 has special reference to the disciples as ministers and apostles, that they might be one in their testimony to Christ; and that the harmony of the evangelists, and concurrence of the first preachers of the gospel, are owing to this prayer. Let them be not only of one heart, but of one mouth, speaking the same thing. The unity of the gospel ministers is both the beauty and strength of the gospel interest. But it is certain that the oneness prayed for in John 17:21 respects all believers. It is the prayer of Christ for all that are his, and we may be sure it is an answered prayer—that they all may be one, one in us (John 17:21), one as we are one (John 17:22), made perfect in one, John 17:23

So first of all with respect to the idea that Jesus would incorporate the Body into the triune relationship, this is not intended. Jesus is not suggesting that. The request is not literal, nor is it hyperbole, but it is a simile.

Rather, Jesus is praying that we would have the same type of unity, the same type of intimacy enjoyed by the Father, Son and Spirit.

What would it look like to see that happening in The Church today?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

September 14, 2014

Are You a Berean or a Pharisee?

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Pharisees

This is Mary Agrusa’s third time here at C201; if you want to visit her blog, The Thought Just Ocurred To Me, just click the title of today’s post below.

Bereans vs. Pharisees

“Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” Acts 17:11 (NIV).

How do you spell Pharisee: pompous, haughty, arrogant, rude, ingratiating, sarcastic, educated, egotistical, snob? It’s unfair to paint them all with that broad brush, but many that Jesus tangled with fell into this category. The largely uneducated Jewish population were under the tutelage of these religious teachers of the law. Unlike us, the Jews had no other options. We can at least change churches.

Mark Virkler described the difference between a Pharisee and a Berean. Pharisees look to prove someone wrong; Bereans look to prove them right. What would happen if Christians as a whole took a more Berean approach toward those who threaten to tip over their personal sacred cows? Would this methodology put us in a better frame of mind to investigate challenges to our belief systems? It might.

To entertain the remote possibility that you just might be wrong can be grounds for serious heartburn and possible excommunication (just kidding…maybe not). If our foundation’s not as firm as believed isn’t it better to adjust as opposed to pretending our concrete footers aren’t grounded in quicksand?

To clarify, there are basic non-negotiable tenets of the faith. These aren’t the issues I’m talking about (although some may disagree). We all have our pet doctrines. As I look back over forty plus years of being a Christian I’ve revised my position on subjects I once thought were indisputable. That said, in the coming years I’ll probably make even more changes as I grow in the knowledge of how ignorant I really am about God.

I’ve come to accept that God is so much bigger and complex than my personal theology can handle or even dream up. Daily I’m reminded how small my understanding is. He constantly challenges my shallow thinking and I’ve become more comfortable not being a know it all. I get lots of opportunities to grow and prove myself wrong.

If I chose to explore a different idea as opposed to defending my own (and of course correct) position, my study habits change. Rather than search for arguments to bolster my case, with fresh eyes I can look for and find things I’ve missed. I may come to the conclusion that my original premise is sound and intact. My attitude, however, will be very different. I can ditch the haughty I-told-you-so demeanor and experience the let down that comes when you root for the underdog who doesn’t pull a “Rudy” off in the final seconds of the game. If you don’t know who Rudy was, Google him. Hint: he played Notre Dame football. My heart has changed. There are no longer any quacks or adversaries, just those I agree to disagree with. No corresponding feelings of superiority are needed.

The world and the church could use a lot more Bereans and a whole lot less Pharisees. Do you think the pre-Christians would take note if we didn’t name call and fight over incidentals? What if we sat down and investigated conflicting claims in an effort to prove the other guy right? Think that might garner some attention? Much of what we come to blows over has nothing to do with the key issue – salvation through Christ alone.

How about you? Has someone yanked your doctrinal chain? If so, will you react as a Berean or a Pharisee?;

April 23, 2014

Timothy Keller on Jesus in the Old Testament

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jesus-star-of-david-2Via Darryl Dash’s blog:

All About Him

“Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:27)

  • Jesus is the true and better Adam who passed the test in the garden and whose obedience is imputed to us (1 Corinthians 15).
  • Jesus is the true and better Abel who, though innocently slain, has blood now that cries out for our acquittal, not our condemnation (Hebrews 12:24).
  • Jesus is the true and better Abraham who answered the call of God to leave all the comfortable and familiar and go out into the void “not knowing wither he went!” to create a new people of God.
  • Jesus is the true and better Isaac who was not just offered up by his father on the mount but was truly sacrificed for us. While God said to Abraham, “Now I know you love me because you did not withhold your son, your only son whom you love, from me,” now we can say to God, “Now we know that you love me, because you did not withhold your son, your only son, whom you love, from me.”
  • Jesus is the true and better Jacob who wrestled and took the blow of justice we deserved, so we, like Jacob, only receive the wounds of grace to wake us up and discipline us.
  • Jesus is the true and better Joseph who, at the right hand of the king, forgives those who betrayed and sold him and uses his new power to save them.
  • Jesus is the true and better Moses who stands in the gap between the people and the Lord and who mediates a new covenant (Hebrews 3).
  • Jesus is the true and better Rock of Moses who, struck with the rod of God’s justice, now gives us water in the desert.
  • Jesus is the true and better Job, the truly innocent sufferer, who then intercedes for and saves his stupid friends (Job 42).
  • Jesus is the true and better David, whose victory becomes his people’s victory, though they never lifted a stone to accomplish it themselves.
  • Jesus is the true and better Esther who didn’t just risk losing an earthly palace but lost the ultimate and heavenly one, who didn’t just risk his life, but gave his life to save his people.
  • Jesus is the true and better Jonah who was cast out into the storm so that we could be brought in.

jesus-star-of-david-1Jesus is the real Rock of Moses, the real Passover Lamb – innocent, perfect, helpless, slain so the angel of death will pass over us. He is the true temple, the true prophet, the true priest, the true king, the true sacrifice, the Lamb, the Light, the Bread.

The Bible is not about you — it is about him.

(Tim Keller, Ockenga Preaching Series 2006)

October 15, 2013

Baptized Into Jesus Christ

His real name is John P. Richardson, but regular readers of his blog know him as the Ugley Vicar.  This article is written in a Church of England (i.e. Anglican, Episcopalian) context, which means infant baptism, however, regardless of your tradition, there are some sound scriptural references here which should help all of us consider the larger issues. The article was titled Baptism Matters.

Ugley Vicar - John P. RichardsonHow important is baptism in your theology? My guess is that most people, looking at this question, will assess it in terms of either the necessity or the effectiveness of baptism. This, after all, is where the debates of the last few hundred years have tended to focus. ‘Should baptism be administered to children not old enough to confess the faith for themselves?’ for example. And if it is, what does it do?

Yet, as anyone who has entered these debates will know, the answers to these questions are not easy to read from Scripture — certainly not from Scripture read in the light of the Church’s tradition, which from early times practiced the baptism of infants.

This the lack of a ‘definitive’ biblical answer is revealing in itself, for it must surely mean that questions about the practice and effectiveness of baptism were not much in dispute — unlike, say, circumcision. Outside the gospels there are only a few sprinkled references to baptism. Indeed, at one stage Paul seems almost to disparage the practice, saying, “Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel” (1 Cor 1:17, NIV).

And yet a closer reading of Paul, especially in Romans, will show not only that he assumed baptism would take place but that it played a fundamental part in his theological system, for it is through baptism that we are united with Christ and it is through union with Christ that we receive the benefits of his death and resurrection:

[…] don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Rom 6:3-4, NIV)

Yet even when we have noted this emphasis, it is easy to miss its wider significance, for in Pauline thought ecclesiology is a sub-set of Christology. That is to say, his understanding of the Church is an understanding of Christ, for the two are ultimately inseparable. For us, what ‘matters’ is, so often, the process of baptism. But for Paul what matters is the outcome — into whom you are baptized rather than in or by whom.

A striking example of this thought is found in 1Corinthians 12, where Paul talks about the Church as a body made up of many parts, each with a different function. Yet in applying this principle he says something quite unexpected:

The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. (1 Corinthians 12:12)

What we should surely expect him to say is, ‘So it is with the Church.’ After all, this is the point he goes on to make:

…in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. (1 Corinthians 12:28, NIV84)

But, as we have seen, what he says is, ‘So it is with Christ.’ And the reason for this is that me means exactly what he says in v 27 ‘Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.’ For Paul (unlike for some of us) this is no mere metaphor, but a living reality. Hence in chapter 6 of the same letter, when dealing with the question of resorting to prostitutes, he appeals to the principle of being a part of Christ’s body:

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! (1 Corinthians 6:15, NIV84)

Paul’s answer is based on his Christology. But his Christology is also his ecclesiology. To be a Christian is to be part of the Church, and the Church is Christ’s body, therefore what you do with your body, you do with him.

The converse of this, however, is that what he does with his body is done with you:

If [through baptism, vv 2-4] we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him … (Romans 6:5–6, NIV84)

Indeed some of the outcomes of this principle can be quite surprising:

In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. (Colossians 2:11-12a)

It is not that we have no need of circumcision, but rather that those who are baptized into Christ have also been circumcised, just as they have been crucified and raised with him.

But baptism is often the ‘missing (or misunderstood) ingredient’ in our own understanding. For some it is indeed the mark or means of church membership, but this is conceived institutionally, as belonging to an organization, rather than as being organically joined to Christ. The result, however, is that the institution is sometimes seen as an alter Christus, mediating Christ to the individual and the world. (Talk about other clerical ministry being ‘derived from’ the bishop is, I think, a particular and pernicious example of this error.)

For others, baptism is simply not there at all, or it is just a ‘declaration of my faith’. The problem then is that ‘my faith’ becomes the link — and potentially is the ‘weakest link’ — holding me to God. But baptism is not a declaration of my faith, rather it is a declaration of God’s work and his promises. The baptized person goes through an action of burying, washing and rising, and so experiences symbolically what is true for him or her ‘in Christ’. As Luther put it, “My faith does not make the baptism, but rather receives the baptism” (LW 51:186). And as he says elsewhere,

True, one should add faith to baptism. But we are not to base baptism on faith. There is quite a difference between having faith, on the one hand, and depending on one’s faith and making baptism depend on faith, on the other. Whoever allows himself to be baptized on the strength of his faith, is not only uncertain, but also an idolator who denies Christ. For he trusts in and builds on something of his own, namely, on a gift which he has from God, and not on God’s Word alone. (LW 40:252).

Furthermore, our baptism is not just something done with human hands, for there is one who baptizes us with the Holy Spirit, and that baptism does more than symbolize the truth. When I ‘receive’ my baptism through my faith in Christ — whether at the time or later — I am truly ‘baptized into’ him. He and I become one, and I become one with all those who are similarly ‘in him’, which is to say I become a member of the Church, which is Christ’s own body: “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body” (1 Cor 12:13).

Our baptism therefore doesn’t just declare what God has done for us. It declares what God has done with us. We have died, we have been raised because Christ has died and Christ has been raised and we are united with him.

The Church is the company of the baptized. But the baptized are baptized into Christ. And so the church is Christ’s body, of which he is the head and we are the limbs and organs. And that is also why Paul’s theology of marriage is so important to our understanding of baptism. But that will have to wait until later.

July 23, 2013

Is There a Hierarchy within The Trinity?

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As much I’d love to engage comments on this one, I find this topic often attracts people who want to debate Trinitarian doctrine itself from one particular viewpoint. Therefore, I suggest that today comments be referred to the source blog of the article.

This appeared at a blog I highly regard and respect, Parchment and Pen. Author C. Michael Patton originally posted this under the title Why Jesus is Greater than the Holy Spirit.

I believe in the doctrine of the Trinity. This is how I would formulate this doctrine:

I believe in one God (ousia), who exists eternally in three persons (hypostasis) — God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit — all of whom are fully God, all of whom are equal.

Spirit of GodSince there is only one God, one member of the Trinity, in his essence, cannot have more power, authority, or dignity than another. They all share in the exact same nature (ousia, ontos, “stuff”). I did not understand this until later in my Christian life. For many years I existed as a functional polytheist (a tritheist, to be technically precise). I believed the three members of the Trinity shared in a similar nature, not the exact same nature. In other words, just like you and I share in the nature of being homo sapiens, so the members of the Trinity are all from the “God species” . . . or something like that. But this is a bad analogy since, though you and I may be the same species, we are different in essence. You are you and I am me. I have my body and you have yours. But in the Trinity, all three persons share in the exact same essence. One in nature; three in person. One what; three whos.

Confused? Good. Anytime you have an “aha!” moment with regard to the Trinity, it is a good sign you have just entered into the world of heresy.

While I don’t believe there is an ontological hierarchy (gradation of essence, or all that stuff I said above), I do believe there can be a hierarchy in person. In other words, one member of the Trinity can take on a different rank than another. I think we can all agree that at the incarnation, this hierarchy presented itself as Father, then Son, then Spirit. After all, even Christ said that the Father was greater than he was (John 14:28). This is sometimes called a “functional hierarchy.” This should not be too difficult to process, as we can see many analogies to this in our own world. For example, President Obama is greater than I am in one respect. He is the President of the United States. Therefore, his position and authority are greater than mine. But he is not greater in essence. Similarly, parents are greater than children in rank. But they are not greater in their being. And (cover your eyes, egalitarians) I believe the Bible presents the husband as having greater authority than his wife. However, he is not greater in his ontos or humanity.

When it comes to the Holy Spirit, I believe the Holy Spirit is last on the divine authority totem pole. The Father sends the Son, the Son sends the Holy Spirit, and the Father is sent by none. There is much less said about the Holy Spirit in the New Testament than either the Father or the Son. But as far as honor and dignity, it would seem that Jesus Christ tops them all. When I read the Bible, I am struck by how much Christ is the center of all things. He is the image of God which is seen, the one who becomes incarnate and relates to humanity more than any other, he is the one who calls us friend, he is our intercessor, and he is the one in whom we are to believe for eternal life. In fact, the very name of our faith finds its basis in his name. It is not called Holy Spiritanity or Fatheranity. It is not even called Yahwehanity. It is called Christ-ianity.

Another way to think about it can be illustrated as follows: The first two members of the Trinity have very relational names. We find it easy to relate to the title “Father,” since most of us have an example (though not perfect) through our earthly fathers. So “Father” is endearing. And “Jesus” is a personal name. I figure that he will always go by that handle. And the father may always go by “Father.” But what about the Holy Spirit? “Holy Spirit” is such a distant and (forgive me) cold name. Is that really his name? First name “Holy” last name “Spirit”?  Do those who are close to him just call him “Holy,” while everyone calls him “Mr. Spirit”? Maybe in heaven we can get the insider scoop on what his real name is (not Yahweh…that is a Trinitarian name, as they are all Yahweh). Maybe Bob, John, Nate, or Michael. Just something more personal, as I envision having a very distinct relationship with him in the new earth.

My point is this: the Holy Spirit, while having equal power, authority, and diginity as the Father and the Son, and having the same nature as Jesus and the Father, is the least spoken about and recognized of all three members of the Trinity. By the way, before you begin to feel sorry for him, realize this: this is intentional. The Holy Spirit does not seek air time. We often talk about Christ’s humility (and rightly so), but we rarely recognize the Holy Spirit’s humility. His primary purpose is not to get you to recognize him (as deserving as he is), but to recognize Christ.

In the Upper Room Discourse (John 14-17, the most Trinitarian section of the Bible), Christ speaks a lot about sending  the Holy Spirit (sometimes called “the Helper” or “the Spirit of Truth”), but notice what the primary goal of the Holy Spirit will be:

John 15:26
“When the Helper [Holy Spirit] comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me.”

Did you get that? The all-powerful, omniscient, everlasting creator of all things — the Holy Spirit — will not testify about himself, his glory, and his person, but about Christ, whom the Holy Spirit loves with a greater love than we ccould ever imagine. Why doesn’t the Holy Spirit testify about himself? After all, he has every reason to pat himself on the back and toot his own horn, yet all he wants to talk about is Jesus. Why?

I can’t tell you how the role distinctions were chosen for redemption. It is possible that the Holy Spirit could have been the one who became incarnate and died on the cross. It could have been the Holy Spirit to whom all attention was given. Yet this is not the case. He elected to humble himself to the point of almost non-recognition.

I believe the Holy Spirit is just as much God as the Father and the Son. I believe the Holy Spirit deserves as much honor as the other members of the Trinity. Yet the greatest way for you to honor the Holy Spirit and evidence his work in you is to glorify Christ. What an example He is.

Why is Jesus greater in function than the Holy Spirit? Because that is the way he wants it. Amazing!

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July 6, 2013

Knockin’ On The Door of Your Heart

Revelation 3 20Revelation 3:20 — “Behold I stand at the door and knock…” — is a well-known verse that is often used in evangelistic presentations to urge the hearer to respond to God. While there’s nothing wrong with this interpretation and usage, it doesn’t exactly fit the context.  But we’ll deal with that more tomorrow…

The context of course is the 7th of the seven letters that begin the book of Revelation, this one to the church at Laodicia, “…the last and worst of all the seven Asian churches, the reverse of the church of Philadelphia; for, as there was nothing reproved in that, here is nothing commended…” (Matthew Henry)

We’ve written about the earlier verses in this section that inspired the Brian Doerksen song, Light the Fire Again; shown here:

(NIV) Rev 3:17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

There is judgement in verse 16:

 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.

And also in verse 19:

 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.

And yet then in verse 20, there is the offer of grace, but not only grace, but the intimacy of a shared meal; one of the highest forms of community among friends in an eastern culture:

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

And then a promise of greater reward in verse 21:

To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.

The blog Brandon Devotional gets at the heart of where the dinner with the Lord might take place:

The hospitality of a host towards their guests in the past showed a lot more reverence than it frequently does today. In fact, guests were treated as royalty in accordance with the host’s means. By honoring He who dines with us, and developing a relationship, in faith, with Him, then He is not only invited to our table, but we are invited to His! How much more are the Lord’s means than that of man, and if Christ treats His guests as royalty, the meal He serves to His friends will be immeasurable by anything the world has to offer.

The blogger at Father I Love You finds a parallel between Revelation 3:20 and Jesus’ meeting with Zacchaeus.

He looked up to Zacchaeus and hurried him to come down as He wanted to stay in his house. This is a reward Jesus gave to Zacchaeus for the effort that was taken. No one in the crowd got this reward. Zacchaeus hurried down and welcomed Him. Here is were Zacchaeus opened the door of his heart on hearing Jesus voice.

There is a beautiful commentary on this verse at the blog of the Deaf Church in New Orleans, titled The Curse of Moderate Christianity:

Sometime we argue about whether or not to use Revelation 3:20 when we lead people to Christ. I think it is a beautiful picture of Christ coming again and again to the human heart. He comes, he knocks, he calls for us, and then he waits for our response. Many of you have seen the famous painting by Holman Hunt in which Christ stands at the door of an English cottage. All seems normal until you realize that there is no doorknob on the outside.

The door must be opened from within.

So it is for all of us all the time. Christ comes to us again and again and says, “I want to spend time with you.“ He calls to us. Then he waits for our response.

For those who open the door, Christ comes in and makes himself at home. I find great hope here for every Christian who feels far from the Lord. In a sense this final invitation speaks to all seven of the churches of Revelation 2-3, and thus it speaks to all Christians, everywhere, all the time.

Christ still stands at the door and knocks.
He waits for you to come and open the door.

But one blogger violently disagrees with the idea of using this verse in evangelism.  At the blog Daniel’s Place:

It can be seen immediately that there is a problem with applying this verse to the context of salvation and the Gospel call, not the least is which the contexts are different. The biblical context is towards people in the Visible Church as opposed to unbelievers, corporate as opposed to individual, and the call is to return back to their professed faith as opposed to calling unbelievers to repentance and faith. Such a major difference immediately invalidates such an application as committing a case of eisegesis. And pragmatism is no substitute for fidelity to the Word of God. There is no mitigating factor for misquoting the verse even if it somehow works, as if we have the power to convert anyone in the first place.

In fact, dare I say it, but that the application of this verse to evangelism actually demeans Christ. It reduces our sovereign Lord to be the helpless and often rejected beggar always so “meekly” knocking on everyone’s doors, and most of them will reject Him anyway. It dethrones God and elevates Man, as if Man is the center of all things. Such an Arminian methodology compromises the person of Christ and the Godhead, and therefore dishonors the Lord we claim to worship.

Personally, I think to say this “dishonors the Lord” is to miss the Bible’s larger picture of the character of God, and the way in which the Holy Spirit works.  (Compare with tomorrow’s post on this same verse.)

Finally, as this verse plays into the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism; the writer at Doctrinal Matters takes the opposite view to the above writer  in a post tiled Revelation 3:20 versus Calvinism

Here is how Revelation 3:20 actually reads (Jesus is speaking) – “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him ….”

Here is Calvinism’s version of Revelation 3:20 – “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock it down: only the elect will be allowed to hear my voice, and they will do nothing, as I will already have come in to them previously …”

Certainly even the strongest Calvinist would have to admit that the church at Laodicea has free will in this particular matter.

June 23, 2013

The Other Side of “Trinity”

holy_spirit_-_pentacost_jwisIn February of 2011, I wrote an article at Thinking Out Loud asking, ‘If the doctrine of the Trinity is one of 7-10 core doctrines that turns up in the statement of faith of almost every denomination, can non-Trinitarians be consider ‘Christian’ in the regular sense of the word?’  Last week someone dredged up at the post and wrote several long and heated posts suggesting that yes, indeed they can. I had just about forgotten that when I came across a similar piece that sets out the argument of non-Trinitarians in a more calm and rational manner. I’ve heard this stated before and certainly some of it, I am sympathetic to. But I decided it’s good to be challenged — this is after all Christianity 201, not 101 — so I’m featuring it here today. It’s actually part one of a two part (so far) series; the author is Kermit Zarley and the link to this part — to read at source or leave comments — is The Holy Spirit Is Not a Person; God’s Identity that Only Worsens. Inclusion here does not imply endorsement.

Most Christians believe in the Trinity since that’s what their church teaches. It says God is one essence consisting of three co-equal and co-eternal Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. So, the Holy Spirit is deemed a full-fledged Person.

The church didn’t always believe this. During the 2nd and 3rd centuries, there was no consensus among church fathers, called “apologists,” about the constitution of the Holy Spirit. Most of them didn’t think it was important. In fact, there was a widespread fluidity of ideas among Christians about it. Some thought the Holy Spirit was an impersonal power; others ascribed full personality to the Holy Spirit. Eminent church historian Philip Schaff observes, “the doctrine of the Holy Spirit was far less developed, and until the middle of the fourth century was never a subject of special controversy.”

Both the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed only state, “I/We believe … in the Holy Spirit.” Due to this brevity, it is absurd for later Trinitarians to assert that a person must believe the Holy Spirit is a full-fledged Person in order to be a Christian.

The Arian-Nicene Controversy of the 4th century was conducted mostly in Greek. All three parties in conflict agreed that the Spirit is a separate hypostasis (subsistence) from the Father and Son. Arius deemed the Spirit’s essence to be unlike that of the Father or the Son. Eusebius, church historian who led the middle party, said the Spirit is inferior in essence to that of the Father and Son, “a third power” in “third rank” to them.

Jannes Reiling contrasts biblical teaching about God’s Spirit with the above view by rightly alleging, “Within the Bible neither ruah nor pneuma are used as a divine name. They are not worshipped as divine beings…. The OT does not represent the spirit as a divine being connected with, yet distinct from, God. It is always functioning as an intermediary between God and mankind…. In the NT the spirit is not envisaged as a divine being (hypostasis), but as an instrument of divine action or revelation.”

James D. G. Dunn says of the Old Testament (OT), “‘Spirit of God’ is simply a way of speaking of God accomplishing his purpose in his world and through men.” He adds, “‘Spirit of God’ in Judaism denoted the power of God.” He says of the writings of Paul and John in the New Testament (NT), “The idea of God’s Spirit as a power and presence (i.e., God’s) … that thought is well established…. But of the Spirit as an entity in any sense independent of God, of Spirit as a divine hypostasis, there is nothing.”

Non-Trinitarian, Dutch theologian Ellen Flesseman-van Leer explains that the Holy Spirit is “not an independent entity alongside God, but the evidence of God’s active presence in the world.”

The Apostle Paul mentions both God the Father and Jesus Christ in the salutations of all ten of his NT letters (assuming he wrote them all), yet he does not mention the Holy Spirit. This absence suggests that Paul did not regard the Holy Spirit as a person.

One reason Trinitarians think the Holy Spirit is a full-fledged Person is that English Bibles usually capitalize “Holy Spirit” and “Spirit” when associated with God. Yet the Hebrew and Greek languages did not have upper and lower case when the earliest biblical manuscripts were written. Such capitalization is merely interpretation of the translators of these versions since they were Trinitarians. In contrast, Jews don’t capitalize “holy spirit” or “spirit” because they don’t think it refers to a person.

Most Christians also think the Holy Spirit is a Person since nearly all Bible versions ascribe personal pronouns to the Spirit. The best biblical example is the frequent “he” in Jesus’ teaching about the Holy Spirit in John 14-16. But pronoun gender in Greek is irrelevant. Whether pronouns applied to the Holy Spirit should be translated “he” or “it” is strictly a theological decision. It is the same there for the pronoun ekeinos.

Binitarian, UK theologian C.F.D. Moule says concerning the Bible applying personal pronouns to the Holy Spirit, “the appeal to Scripture,… proves nothing as to the eternal ‘being’ of the Spirit. It only shows that ‘Spirit’ is a word for a personal God’s personal activity.” Moule concludes, “the fact that Spirit is the mode by which a personal God is present does not seem, in itself, to necessitate the recognition of Spirit as essentially personal;… it seems gratuitous to insist on using a personal pronoun” for the Holy Spirit.

Another reason most Christians think the Holy Spirit is a Person is that the Bible can personify the Holy Spirit as it does God’s Word or Wisdom. When it says the Holy Spirit did some activity, such as speaking, it should not be taken as depicting personality. Jesus once said, “the wisdom of God said, ‘I will send to them prophets and apostles’” (Luke 11.49); yet he did not intend to attribute personality to wisdom. The best OT example of the personification of wisdom is in Proverbs 8—9.6.

Catholic theologian Karl Rahner and biblical exegete Murray Harris rightly admit that the NT never identifies the Holy Spirit as God. Thus, some Trinitarians have wrongly contended that it does in Acts 5.4.

The Bible teaches that man is a tripartite being consisting of body, soul, and spirit. Since God made man in his own image (Genesis 1.26-27), man’s spirit must correspond to God’s Spirit. Moule states, “there is a certain kinship between God and man—between Spirit and spirit.” Yes, and it should be understood from creation that the Spirit of God is to God what the spirit of man is to man. Since man’s spirit is not a person as we moderns understand personhood, God’s Spirit must not be a person either. Rather, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Father (Matthew 10.20; Mark 13.11).

(In my book, The Restitution of Jesus Christ, I devote 14 pages to an appendix, “The Nature of the Holy Spirit,” citing 25 scholars and their writings as well as the writings of 5 church fathers.)

…Still in? Here’s the link to part two: If the Holy Spirit Is a Person of His Own, then Why Isn’t He Sitting on Heaven’s Big Throne?

May 1, 2013

Jesus Answer Knocks Them Off Their Feet

 

“…they drew back and fell to the ground.” ~John 18:6

The quotation above is from John’s account of Jesus’ arrest. Judas leads a group of soldiers and Pharisees to a grove of olives and Jesus steps out from his group and asks who they are seeking. They said, “Jesus of Nazareth;” and he answered, “I am he.” And then John tells us that at the words, ‘I am he;’ they fell to the ground. I’ve quoted the NIV (or ESV) above; The Message version adds a different dimension, “He said, “That’s me.” The soldiers recoiled, totally taken aback. Judas, his betrayer, stood out like a sore thumb.”

This detail about the soldiers is singular to John’s gospel. (He doesn’t mention the betrayal with a kiss at all.) I’ve often wondered what caused this particular reaction.

  • The Life Application Bible suggests that they were startled by the boldness of his question
  • The Wycliffe Bible Commentary suggests he unnerved his captors, some of whom may have been the ones previously unable to lay hands on him (John 7:43-46);
  • Though the Pharisees had seen Jesus teaching in the temple, it’s possible the soldiers had never seen him up close and personal. As they came into proximity with him he was either not what they expected, or they sensed something “wholly other” about him. (Matthew Henry adds that the term ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ was used derisively, and that Jesus could have simply answered “No” for technically he was ‘Jesus of Bethlehem.’)
  • The Life App. and various other commentaries tell us that his “I am he” answer used the “I AM” form of God’s name; it indicated his claim of divinity. There are many pivotal turning points in John’s text, but this is one where we often miss the full impact;
  • The above, combined with what they where about to do; they suddenly felt the impact of their own actions. Were they arresting an innocent man? Were they arresting God?
  • If the full force of his answer registered at all; Matthew Henry points out they would realize that he could simply strike them dead at that point. Was there any limit to his potential response?

Without taking away from any of these explanations, I want to introduce a new dimension to the narrative that had never struck me before in this context. I picked this up reading Michael Card writing in an older issue of the Our Journey devotional booklet.

“When Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane, He was already bloody before anyone laid a hand on him. He had been fighting a battle that would make certain the final outcome on Calvary. The blood and water that flowed from his wounds on the cross were preceded by bloody sweat that poured from His pores as He suffered the agony of a death more painful than the physical death of the cross, the death of the will... The painful crushing began appropriately enough, in the garden…” ~ Michael Card (Italics added)

What do you do if you are the soldiers, sent to arrest someone, who looks more like a victim than a criminal? What do you do if the plan calls for flogging or torture and the person seems to be already spent? Could that be part of what caused them to draw back and fall to the ground?

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