Christianity 201

September 15, 2018

Looking into God’s Word; Looking into Ourselves

James 1:23 For anyone who hears the word but does not carry it out is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror, 24 and after observing himself goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But the one who looks intently into the perfect law of freedom, and continues to do so—not being a forgetful hearer, but an effective doer—he will be blessed in what he does… (Berean Study Bible)

This is our first time featuring the blog, Seeking God, which we discovered this week. All we know about the writer is his first name, Robert. Click the title below to read this devotional at source. Also, be prepared to click the different links to the many scriptures passages mentioned below, which will take you to Bible Hub.

God’s Word a Mirror, Not a Sword

God’s Word is a mirror that lets us see ourselves as compared to Him. God’s Word is to convict us as He speaks to us. It is not for us to condemn others by, for we are not God.

Know Thyself

How little many of us know our own faces: they’re something we can see if we look in a mirror, but they’re also something so common to us that we don’t even know all the details of how we look (make-up people excluded). We have a general image, but if blessed with exceptional artistic ability and asked to draw our faces, would we be able to make an accurate portrait? It is doubtful. Every pore is a world of its own, yet even the big things are thought of incorrectly (if I gave you a sheet of nose shapes, would you be able to pick out your nose– something you may even be able to see if you go cock-eyed enough–?)

A Mirror Unto Our Lives

Prayerfully reading the Bible and talking to God (with thoughtful consideration and openness to conviction of our own failures) is like a mirror showing ourselves since we are made in His Image (Genesis 1:27). If we don’t look into His truths, we will never know what we really look like compared to His Image as portrayed in Scripture. And if we only look into God’s truth and never apply it, we are like a man who looks into the mirror, leaves it, and immediately forgets what he looks like (James 1:23-24).

We Are Not Other’s Mirrors

It’s almost funny: we better know what others look like without knowing how ourselves really look. You know your best friend’s face anywhere. You can pick your lover out from a crowd. You can identify your parents in a photo taken twenty years ago (well, some people can). You’re the last person to know you have food in your teeth yet the first person to point it out in others (metaphorically speaking, even if it’s committed only in the heart (Matthew 5:28)). This is why Jesus said in Matthew 7:1-2 (ESV), “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.”

We’re often blind to the truth about ourselves, yet we’re quick to make a big deal of some perceived thing in others. Jesus continues on in the aforementioned passage: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

Indeed, how true: and so is the idiom, “Practice what you preach”, though we hear it so often that its depth of impact is lost upon us: it falls upon deaf ears that have tuned it out. Revenge and judgement: they are for God (Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19). We have not the right, for we have not the sight that God has: nor the heart, nor the understanding. It is not just outward appearances that God judges: it is not just actions. God judges the heart– the motives and reasons (1 Samuel 16:7; Proverbs 16:2).

Conclusion

Do we really know what we look like as compared to God? God remakes His true disciples day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16; Romans 12:2). Can we see ourselves as united to God: with Him being our God, and with us being His true people (Ezekiel 37:27)? Do we see the fullness of ourselves, and the fullness of God in us? Do we see every detail that brings beauty or ugliness in our faces? Do we really know what we look like– everything laid bare: no foundation, no make-up: just the truth of ourselves as God would have us know? Most likely, the answer is no. And neither do we know the truth behind the face others put up: many embellish their faces. Many hides flaws. Many things that we perceive as imperfections are not– beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but you hold not as you are only held. And much of what we think a haggard imperfection may not be so haggard as our own.

 

January 23, 2013

God on the Mountain

This was posted last week by Daniel Jepsen at the blog Sliced Soup and all I can say is, “Wow!” There is so much depth to scripture that allows for so many fresh insights.  Check it out for yourself by clicking on the title below.

Meeting God on His Holy Mountain

I saw something new as I was reading scripture this morning.

In Exodus 19, you have perhaps the most dramatic scene in the whole Old Testament.  Moses, after being used by God to lead Israel out of slavery, is instructed to climb to the top of Mount Horeb (also known as Mount Sinai).  It was on this occasion that God then revealed the Ten Commandments, the covenant stipulations between God and Israel, by which He would be their God and they would be His people. God told Moses he would meet with him in a thick cloud, and indeed the whole mountain, we are told, was covered in smoke and thick darkness. Apparently the presence of God was marked by a tremendous storm (some think Horeb was an active volcano) both to reveal His power and to conceal where His voice came from. And there, the invisible God met with the representative of His people. There in the dark mist and cloud, Moses could not see anything of God, but could only hear his voice.  Such is the way the Holy God appears to unholy men. His presence is ever veiled. God spoke to Moses in a more intimate way than anyone before Christ, yet it was still in a thick cloud of darkness and storm.

Several centuries later another prophet of God was instructed to make the trek to Horeb. Elijah had been used by God greatly to call Israel back to repentance and faith (and away from idolatry).  Again, God called his prophet onto the mountain, and again God spoke to him.  I Kings records:

The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Again, though the prophet is called to the mountain to meet with God, it is in the midst of a storm. And again, the prophet veils his face, and sees not from whence the voice came.

In the New Testament, we also find a prophet (though more than a prophet) who ascends a mountain.  You will find the story in Matthew 17:

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.

Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

Here Jesus (like Moses and Elijah) goes up to the mountain for holy conversation.  But we note some differences in what happens.

First, Jesus apparently does not go to Mount Horeb, but (most likely) Mount Hermon, far to the north of Israel instead of far to the south.  This is not to sanctify north as more spiritual than south of course, but to point out that it is not the mountain that makes the divine conversation possible, but Jesus Himself.  He does not come to holy ground. He makes every ground holy.

Secondly, Jesus, unlike Moses and Elijah, does not come to the mountain alone for the divine conversation.  He brings Peter, James and John, those who represented all his followers, to the mountain with him, and they hear and see what he hears and sees.  This fits in well with the promise of Jesus that He is not only the one sent from the Father, but is the one by whom we also can be brought into close fellowship with the father (see John 14).

Thirdly, when Jesus ascends the mountain, there is no great and forbidding storm, no thick darkness and trembling mountain. Yes, a cloud of God’s presence does enter into the scene, but it is a “bright cloud”.  Jesus (by his later work on the cross) takes the terror of God upon Himself, so that he can say to us as he does to his followers on the mountain, “Get up. Don’t be afraid”.

Let us love and sing and wonder,
Let us praise the Savior’s name!
He has hushed the Law’s loud thunder,
He has quenched mount Sinai’s flame

John Newton

Finally, we see this great contrast. Though Jesus, like the Moses and Elijah, goes up to the mountain for a divine conversation, the motif is flipped on its head when we see what happens on the mountain: Moses and Elijah appear, conversing with Jesus.  They come to the mountain again, not to see God veiled in thick darkness and surrounded by storm, but to speak with God in the person of Jesus.  And Jesus himself is transfigured (or, perhaps better, revealed) as a person of light and majesty. He is not simply another prophet of God, nor even the greatest prophet of God. He is simultaneously the great prophet of God and the great God of the prophets

Oh, Holy Father, thank you for revealing yourself to flesh and blood, sinful and stupid as we are.  Thank you that you have always had your prophets by which you revealed your ways and laws, and you have called us to listen to those prophets. But thank you so much more for Jesus, the Son sent from your right hand, to be not only your last and great prophet, but You yourself in human form.  Help us all the more to heed your call, and listen to him.  Amen.

December 1, 2011

A Strong Argument AGAINST Sola Scriptura

Hold your fire!

Please put down your weapons!

Don’t shoot!

Today Christianity 201 is going more Christianity 401.  I think today’s post will certainly stretch some of you, while for others, it may not be such a big stretch.  First of all here’s how Jim Greer at Not For Itching Ears introduced this article:

I just couldn’t resist reposting this article by Father John Whiteford, who happens to be an Eastern Orthodox priest.  If you are a Protestant like me, then you may have never even heard of the Orthodox church, I know I had not.  I am very grateful that I have discovered them.  The following is a very well thought out rejection of one of the cornerstones of the Protestant Reformation:  Scripture Alone.   Read it with an open mind and then share your thoughts with the rest of us.   I think he makes some good points.  It is a very long article, so I will break it up into 4 parts.  Here’s Part 1:

And here’s the article; there’s a link at the bottom to parts 2, 3 and 4.  (And if you think this is controversial, you don’t even want to know what Jim posted yesterday, November 30th.)  Again, remember, this is an Eastern Orthodox view, but the Orthodox church is part of the broader family of Christian believers.  (If you comment, mention if you are referring to just this part, or if you read the entire article.)

“If we are to understand what Protestants think, we will have to first know why they believe what they believe. In fact if we try to put ourselves in the place of those early reformers, such as Martin Luther, we must certainly have some appreciation for their reasons for championing the Doctrine of Sola Scriptura (or “Scripture alone”). When one considers the corruption in the Roman Church at that time, the degenerate teachings that it promoted, and the distorted understanding of tradition that it used to defend itself -along with the fact that the West was several centuries removed from any significant contact with their former Orthodox heritage — it is difficult to imagine within those limitations how one such as Luther might have responded with significantly better results. How could Luther have appealed to tradition to fight these abuses, when tradition (as all in the Roman West were lead to believe) was personified by the very papacy that was responsible for those abuses. To Luther, it was tradition that had erred, and if he were to reform the Church he would have to do so with the sure undergirding of the Scriptures. However, Luther never really sought to eliminate tradition altogether, and he never used the Scriptures truly “alone,” what he really attempted to do was to use Scripture to get rid of those parts of the Roman tradition that were corrupt. Unfortunately his rhetoric far outstripped his own practice, and more radical reformers took the idea of Sola Scriptura to its logical conclusions.

PROBLEMS WITH THE DOCTRINE OF SOLA SCRIPTURA

A. IT IS A DOCTRINE BASED UPON A NUMBER OF FAULTY ASSUMPTIONS

An assumption is something that we take for granted from the outset, usually quite unconsciously. As long as an assumption is a valid one, all is fine and well; but a false assumption inevitably leads to false conclusions. One would hope that even when one has made an unconscious assumption that when his conclusions are proven faulty he would then ask himself where his underlying error lay. Protestants who are willing to honestly assess the current state of the Protestant world, must ask themselves why, if Protestantism and its foundational teaching of Sola Scriptura are of God, has it resulted in over twenty-thousand differing groups that cant agree on basic aspects of what the Bible says, or what it even means to be a Christian? Why (if the Bible is sufficient apart from Holy Tradition) can a Baptist, a Jehovahs Witness, a Charismatic, and a Methodist all claim to believe what the Bible says and yet no two of them agree what it is that the Bible says? Obviously, here is a situation in which Protestants have found themselves that is wrong by any stretch or measure. Unfortunately, most Protestants are willing to blame this sad state of affairs on almost anything — anything except the root problem. The idea of Sola Scriptura is so foundational to Protestantism that to them it is tantamount to denying God to question it, but as our Lord said, “every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a bad tree bringeth forth evil fruit” (Matthew 7:17). If we judge Sola Scriptura by its fruit then we are left with no other conclusion than that this tree needs to be “hewn down, and cast into the fire” (Matthew 7:19).

FALSE ASSUMPTION # 1: The Bible was intended to be the last word on faith, piety, and worship.

a). Does the Scripture teach that it is “all sufficient?”

The most obvious assumption that underlies the doctrine of “Scripture alone” is that the Bible has within it all that is needed for everything that concerns the Christians life — all that would be needed for true faith, practice, piety, and worship. The Scripture that is most usually cited to support this notion is:

…from a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works (II Timothy 3:15-17).

Those who would use this passage to advocate Sola Scriptura argue that this passage teaches the “all sufficiency” of Scripture — because, “If, indeed, the Holy Scriptures are able to make the pious man perfect… then, indeed to attain completeness and perfection, there is no need of tradition.”1 But what can really be said based on this passage?

For starters, we should ask what Paul is talking about when he speaks of the Scriptures that Timothy has known since he was a child. We can be sure that Paul is not referring to the New Testament, because the New Testament had not yet been written when Timothy was a child — in fact it was not nearly finished when Paul wrote this epistle to Timothy, much less collected together into the canon of the New Testament as we now know it. Obviously here, and in most references to “the Scriptures” that we find in the New Testament, Paul is speaking of the Old Testament; so if this passage is going to be used to set the limits on inspired authority, not only will Tradition be excluded but this passage itself and the entire New Testament.

In the second place, if Paul meant to exclude tradition as not also being profitable, then we should wonder why Paul uses non-biblical oral tradition in this very same chapter. The names Jannes and Jambres are not found in the Old Testament, yet in II Timothy 3:8 Paul refers to them as opposing Moses. Paul is drawing upon the oral tradition that the names of the two most prominent Egyptian Magicians in the Exodus account (Ch. 7-8) were “Jannes” and “Jambres.”2 And this is by no means the only time that a non-biblical source is used in the New Testament — the best known instance is in the Epistle of St. Jude, which quotes from the Book of Enoch (Jude 14,15 cf. Enoch 1:9).

When the Church officially canonized the books of Scripture, the primary purpose in establishing an authoritative list of books which were to be received as Sacred Scripture was to protect the Church from spurious books which claimed apostolic authorship but were in fact the work of heretics (e.g. the gospel of Thomas). Heretical groups could not base their teachings on Holy Tradition because their teachings originated from outside the Church, so the only way that they could claim any authoritative basis for their heresies was to twist the meaning of the Scriptures and to forge new books in the names of apostles or Old Testament saints. The Church defended itself against heretical teachings by appealing to the apostolic origins of Holy Tradition (proven by Apostolic Succession, i.e. the fact that the bishops and teachers of the Church can historically demonstrate their direct descendence from the Apostles), and by appealing to the universality of the Orthodox Faith (i.e. that the Orthodox faith is that same faith that Orthodox Christians have always accepted throughout its history and throughout the world). The Church defended itself against spurious and heretical books by establishing an authoritative list of sacred books that were received throughout the Church as being divinely inspired and of genuine Old Testament or apostolic origin.

By establishing the canonical list of Sacred Scripture the Church did not intend to imply that all of the Christian Faith and all information necessary for worship and good order in the Church was contained in them.3 One thing that is beyond serious dispute is that by the time the Church settled the Canon of Scripture it was in its faith and worship essentially indistinguishable from the Church of later periods — this is an historical certainty. As far as the structure of Church authority, it was Orthodox bishops together in various councils who settled the question of the Canon — and so it is to this day in the Orthodox Church when any question of doctrine or discipline has to be settled.

b). What was the purpose of the New Testament Writings?

In Protestant biblical studies it is taught (and I think correctly taught in this instance) that when you study the Bible, among many other considerations, you must consider the genre (or literary type) of literature that you are reading in a particular passage, because different genres have different uses. Another consideration is of course the subject and purpose of the book or passage you are dealing with. In the New Testament we have four broad categories of literary genres: gospel, historical narrative (Acts), epistle, and the apocalyptic/prophetic book, Revelation. Gospels were written to testify of Christs life, death, and resurrection. Biblical historical narratives recount the history of God’s people and also the lives of significant figures in that history, and show God’s providence in the midst of it all. Epistles were written primarily to answer specific problems that arose in various Churches; thus, things that were assumed and understood by all, and not considered problems were not generally touched upon in any detail. Doctrinal issues that were addressed were generally disputed or misunderstood doctrines,4 matters of worship were only dealt with when there were related problems (e.g. I Corinthians 11-14). Apocalyptic writings (such as Revelation) were written to show God’s ultimate triumph in history.

Let us first note that none of these literary types present in the New Testament have worship as a primary subject, or were meant to give details about how to worship in Church. In the Old Testament there are detailed (though by no means exhaustive) treatments of the worship of the people of Israel (e.g. Leviticus, Psalms) — in the New Testament there are only meager hints of the worship of the Early Christians. Why is this? Certainly not because they had no order in their services — liturgical historians have established the fact that the early Christians continued to worship in a manner firmly based upon the patterns of Jewish worship which it inherited from the Apostles. 5 However, even the few references in the New Testament that touch upon the worship of the early Church show that, far from being a wild group of free-spirited “Charismatics,” the Christians in the New Testament worshiped liturgically as did their fathers before them: they observed hours of prayer (Acts 3:1); they worshiped in the Temple (Acts 2:46, 3:1, 21:26); and they worshiped in Synagogues (Acts 18:4).

We need also to note that none of the types of literature present in the New Testament have as their purpose comprehensive doctrinal instruction — it does not contain a catechism or a systematic theology. If all that we need as Christians is the Bible by itself, why is there not some sort of a comprehensive doctrinal statement? Imagine how easily all the many controversies could have been settled if the Bible clearly answered every doctrinal question. But as convenient as it might otherwise have been, such things are not found among the books of the Bible.

Let no one misunderstand the point that is being made. None of this is meant to belittle the importance of the Holy Scriptures — God forbid! In the Orthodox Church the Scriptures are believed to be fully inspired, inerrant, and authoritative; but the fact is that the Bible does not contain within it teaching on every subject of importance to the Church. As already stated, the New Testament gives little detail about how to worship — but this is certainly no small matter. Furthermore, the same Church that handed down to us the Holy Scriptures, and preserved them, was the very same Church from which we have received our patterns of worship. If we mistrust this Churchs faithfulness in preserving Apostolic worship, then we must also mistrust her fidelity in preserving the Scriptures. 6

c). Is the Bible, in practice, really “all sufficient” for Protestants?

Protestants frequently claim they “just believe the Bible,” but a number of questions arise when one examines their actual use of the Bible. For instance, why do Protestants write so many books on doctrine and the Christian life in general, if indeed all that is necessary is the Bible? If the Bible by itself were sufficient for one to understand it, then why dont Protestants simply hand out Bibles? And if it is “all sufficient,” why does it not produce consistent results, i.e. why do Protestants not all believe the same? What is the purpose of the many Protestant study Bibles, if all that is needed is the Bible itself? Why do they hand out tracts and other material? Why do they even teach or preach at all —why not just read the Bible to people? The answer is though they usually will not admit it, Protestants instinctively know that the Bible cannot be understood alone. And in fact every Protestant sect has its own body of traditions, though again they generally will not call them what they are. It is not an accident that Jehovahs Witnesses all believe the same things, and Southern Baptists generally believe the same things, but Jehovahs Witnesses and Southern Baptists emphatically do not believe the same things. Jehovahs Witnesses and Southern Baptists do not each individually come up with their own ideas from an independent study of the Bible; rather, those in each group are all taught to believe in a certain way — from a common tradition. So then the question is not really whether we will just believe the Bible or whether we will also use tradition — the real question is which tradition will we use to interpret the Bible? Which tradition can be trusted, the Apostolic Tradition of the Orthodox Church, or the muddled, and modern, traditions of Protestantism that have no roots beyond the advent of the Protestant Reformation?”  

Read  Part 2 of this post.

Read Part 3 of this post.

Read Part 4 of this post.

August 7, 2011

With Knowledge Comes Responsibility

Anne Graham Lotz posts a devotional daily at her Angel Ministries website.  This one appeared under the original title Instinctive Recognition.

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork.

Psalm 19:1, NKJV

In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul held the entire human race accountable for basic knowledge of God, which he declared “is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Rom. 1:19-20, NIV). Even tribal people isolated in jungle huts or desert tents have the fundamental testimony of creation. Through the faithfulness of the sun to rise and set, through the orderly pattern of the stars in the sky, through the miracle of reproduction and birth, and through a myriad of other silent witnesses, the human race has been confronted with the truth. And unless we deliberately repress what we instinctively recognize in the silent witness, we would acknowledge and come to the truth.

The real reason many people reject Jesus, at least in the Western Hemisphere, is repression and rejection of what they instinctively know to be the truth – that there is one, true, living God who created us all and has revealed Himself through the Person of Jesus Christ.

~Anne Graham Lotz

January 5, 2011

C. S. Lewis on Life, Atheism and God

This is from the website, All About Philosophy.   I chose this today because we just finished reading (out loud) all of Mere Christianity.

C.S. Lewis Quotes – Life

“You will never know how much you believe something until it is a matter of life and death.” “If you think of this world as a place intended simply for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable: think of it as a place of training and correction and it’s not so bad.” – God in the Dock, page 52.

“One of the things that distinguishes man from the other animals is that he wants to know things, wants to find out what reality is like, simply for the sake of knowing. When that desire is completely quenched in anyone, I think he has become something less than human.” – God in the Dock, page 108.

Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free-wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself. – The Problem of Pain

C.S. Lewis Quotes – Atheism

“Atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning. . .” – Mere Christianity

“Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable.” – Mere Christianity

“A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere — ‘Bibles laid open, millions of surprises,’ as Herbert says, ‘fine nets and stratagems.’ God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous.” – Surprised by Joy

C.S. Lewis Quotes – God

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? – Mere Christianity

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. – Mere Christianity, pages 40-41.

“You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.” – Surprised by Joy

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else. – Is Theology Poetry?