17. A Primer on Worship and Reformation by Wilson.
18. Foxes' Book of Martyrs by Foxe
19. Frankenstein by Shelley
20. The Silver Chair by Lewis
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Monday, September 29, 2008
“Assuredly I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt. 18:3)
Jesus says here that the requirement for entrance in the Kingdom is to be born again. Just as he told Nicodemus on another occasion, he tells his disciples here that they must find some way to become little kids again. And this means that we must ultimately find some way to go back into our mother’s womb (as Nicodemus suggested), or we must find some way to die and come back into the world again. Of course it is the latter provision that Jesus has brought into the world in his own death and resurrection. The way we all become children is by being joined to his re-birth in the resurrection. When Jesus came out of the tomb on that first Easter morning, he did so as a child, alive again for the first time. And by the working of the Holy Spirit we are joined to that new life, that child-like existence. If we have been raised to a newness of life, as Paul says in Romans, that means we’ve been raised as newborn babies, infants. And that’s the only way in, Jesus says. And that’s the only way to rejoice at this table. This feast is for kids. This table is for little children. This is the feast of the new covenant, the feast of new life, the table of eternal life. It’s no accident that stories dream of lands and gifts where you never grow up, whether it’s the fountain of youth or neverland. But that gift is found here in the life of Jesus who burst out of the tomb and conquered death as a little child. But not only as a little child, but also as a little child who can never grow old, a child who cannot die, a child who only has life before him, a child who has eternity to play, to dance, to rejoice. So come you children of the new Israel. You are not old; you are all young. You are all little children. And you are called to come and rejoice. Eat and drink in the kingdom of your Father; rejoice in the newness of life that is yours forever. For if you eat of his flesh and drink of his blood, you shall never die. The life you have in him is the life of endless youth, the vigor and joy of a little child. So come and rejoice as children of God. And really if wanted to do this right, we should insist on bibs and high chairs for everyone.
Jesus says, “But whoever cause one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck , and he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Mt. 18:6)
Jesus gives us a terrifying warning in these words. He says it would be better to end up dead on the bottom of a lake than to lead our children astray. One of the striking things about this verse is that Jesus assumes that our little ones already believe in him. The job of Christian parents, according to this passage, is not so much convincing children to believe but rather protecting and feeding and nurturing the faith that they already have. But in God’s kindness many of us are seeking to be faithful in this, and happily our children are participating with us in worship, learning to sing and pray and feast with us every Lord’s Day. But the warning does not therefore become meaningless for us. In fact in some ways it is only heightened. We who affirm that these little ones do love Jesus, trust in him, and are growing up in this faith; we of all people have no excuse. We of all people must not cause our children to stumble. If this service of worship, these words being read and sung, these prayers, these gifts of bread and wine, and the blessing of God upon us and our families, if these things are our life, if they are all that we are, if the blessing of God and our life in him is more important than anything else, that must come out in our words, our actions, and our demeanor. This calls for a certain gravitas, a certain heavy joy, an exuberance and fear and glory that we are called before the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords. In churches where the kids are shipped off to children’s church and kept away from the table of the Lord, for all the problems of those practices at least they are actively creating a sense of mystery, a sense of reverence. If our welcoming of our children results in their stumbling it would have been better to be drowned, Jesus says. And fathers you are held responsible in particular for creating this kind of culture in your homes. What’s dad’s favorite day of the week? How do you know? What’s dad’s favorite thing to do? What’s most important to him? You can tell by the way his face lights up, you can see it in his eyes, you can hear it in his voice. Fathers, do not welcome your children here in such a way that in 10 or 15 or 20 years they would have been better off as orphans.
Friday, September 26, 2008
I've been working my way through St. John of Damascus' Three Treatises on the Divine Images. A few thoughts:
First, I think his point is well taken that whatever the second commandment means must be compatible with both a.) the rest of the Old Covenant law and b.) be evaluated again through the lens of the New Covenant. So this means that whatever the second commandment forbids it does not forbid the building of the tabernacle or temple of Solomon. In keeping with this, it does not forbid weaving artistic renditions of cherubim on the curtains of the tabernacle. It does not forbid the creation of the gold cherubim that are attached to the lid of the ark of the covenant. And it does not forbid the making of other statuary or images in the temple later on (lions, bulls, and other animals and garden imagery). The fact that all these things are "man made" is not a problem. In fact, arguably, it is the "man made"-ness of them that adds to the worship that is offered in them. They are human acts of obedience. At the same time, and St. John points this out, these artistic and architectural places of worship were "according to the pattern shown on the mountain." They were not made up, dreamed up, etc. The Spirit that filled Bezalel and Aholiab was not a Spirit of "making stuff up." It was a Spirit of following directions, obediently interpreting instructions, and creatively turning them into glorious realities according to the intentions of Yahweh.
Secondly, in this regard, St. John points out that there was some level of honor (veneration) offered these places of worship not because Israel worshiped gold, curtains, or cherubim, but because that was where God's presence dwelt in a heightened way. But it's here that I think St. John and the Orthodox who follow St. John overstate their case. St. John says that Israel "venerated" the tabernacle and all of its furniture and utensils. Now, if by "venerate" we mean that they took great care with all the house of God, and did not treat it as common, then yes, absolutely. The fact that particular Levitical families were tasked with the break down, set up, and transportation of particular pieces of the tabernacle is part of that. Furthermore, we know that the tabernacle was guarded carefully, and Joe Israelite was not welcome to just "drop in" to pay the Lord of Hosts a visit. And of course the Most Holy Place was honored and venerated in the sense that only the High Priest was welcome to enter once a year and incense was offered before the veil on a regular basis. Of course the blood of sacrifices was sprinkled and smeared and poured in various places in the tabernacle and on various pieces of furniture as acts of worship. We might even add the fact that at least during the wilderness wanderings after the people had sinned with the golden calf, Moses moved the tabernacle outside the camp of Israel, and each Israelite worshiped from a distance from the entrances of their tents (Ex. 33:10). The word for "worship" literally means "bow down," and the implication seems to be that they bowed down toward the tabernacle when they saw Moses enter the tabernacle and the glory cloud of Yahweh descend to commune with Moses. Likewise, we know that much later, Solomon will refer to those who "pray toward" the temple throughout Israel and even in exile. Of course these sorts of honor and veneration are directed to God and not gold, silver, altars, curtains, or artistically rendered cherubim or lions or anything else. It is clear in those instances that the honor is for the presence of the Lord. But -and this is a big but- to extrapolate from this that it is right, fitting, and beneficial to make a common practice of kissing, bowing, and offering incense to a myriad of icons scattered throughout a sanctuary or even one's own home is to make a fairly significant leap. If the icons are supposed to be memorials, witnesses of the faith of the saints, and regular reminders of our Lord and the fullness of the gospel, then all well and good, but to justify the kind of adoration of images that takes place in popular Orthodoxy with the justification that the tabernacle was "venerated all around by the whole of Israel" does not follow. St. John goes on, "What were the cherubim? Were they not right in front of the people? And the ark and the lamp stand and the table and the gold jar and the rod, looking towards which the people bowed down in veneration?" (70) But this is a vast overstatement. In fact, central to the tabernacle set up was the fact that these things were not right in front of the people. This was a central characteristic of the old covenant, that God dwelt with his people, but he did so with a certain degree of distance and privacy. I grant that St. John does offer a helpful corrective to some interpretations of the second commandment. Agreed. But his case does not actually defend the popular practice of bowing down to, kissing, and offering incense before particular objects. They took great care with the tabernacle, and they certainly appear to have bowed toward and prayed toward the entire house as the place where God's Spirit Presence dwelt, but this leads us to consider the fulfillments of the tabernacle and temple in the New Covenant. To what do these places of God's presence correspond in the New Covenant?
Thus, the second area that St. John brings into the discussion is that the impact of the New Covenant. He cites the fourth commandment as an example of such an instance where the incarnation has transformed this commandment into something new and glorious in the Christian era. He asks if his most vehement opponents want to return to requiring circumcision, seventh day sabbatarianism, as well as keeping cleanliness and food laws. This question - how has the New Covenant changed or transformed the second commandment (if at all) - is a very reasonable question. And the Orthodox insistence that the incarnation must be taken into serious consideration along with the many references to having seen Christ in the flesh is also fully understandable. But perhaps the greatest glaring absence, given all the other controversies surrounding the early church, is an address of these issues in the pages of the New Testament. St. John claims that the veneration of icons comes from the unwritten tradition of the apostles, but that is the very problem with unwritten tradition. Says who?
Lastly, one of my most significant beefs with John and those traditions which practice the veneration of icons is the insistence that Christians are not tempted by idolatry any more. John repeatedly insists that the second commandment was for Israelites who had particular temptations with regard to idolatry, but now in the New Covenant era, that temptation has been done away with. But the Apostles clearly did not think so. The council of Jerusalem specifically mentions abstaining from things polluted by idols. The exhortations of Paul in the Corinthian letters address the dynamics of remaining free of idolatry without countenancing demons or causing weaker brothers to stumble. Paul does not say that now that you're all Christians that's not a temptation any more. In fact, while he insists that idols are nothing to fear, he does say that we are to have no fellowship with them. He rejoices in the Thessalonians for turning from idols to serve the living and true God. St. John the Evangelist specifically urges his readers as "little children" to keep themselves from idols (1 Jn. 5:21). And given a number of indicators, it appears that John was addressing Jews in particular, not merely heathen gentiles who might feel a pull to return to the pantheon of their popular culture. To the churches of Pergamos and Thyatira, Jesus holds this against them that they like Israel of old have indulged in idolatry. Far from distancing Christians from this temptation, Jesus addresses this particular problem and tells them that they are acting just like Israel of old. Not only is it possible to fall into this sin, the early Christian Church did. Similarly, Revelation 9 references those who did not turn from "idols of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood, which can neither see not hear nor walk."
It will not do to wave your hand and say that there is no idolatry involved in the veneration of icons. And it does not suddenly make it all go away, when you point out that this veneration is not of images of Jupiter, Baal, or Athena. Great, but we know from Scripture that idolatry also occurs under numerous guises. Paul says that covetousness is idolatry and elsewhere tells the Corinthians to flee the idolatry that is bound up in sexual immorality. It won't do to say that Paul was talking about temple prostitutes, but the prostitute you're seeing is not affiliated with any particular cult. O great, I'm sure Paul would understand. Similarly, St. John of Damascus and many other Orthodox tracts I've looked at seem to be wholly oblivious to the possibility that certain actions may be idolatrous. Yes, I know that no one officially "worships" images. But where are all the pastoral safeguards? Where are the tracts and books written to the faithful Orthodox warning them of these temptations, urging them to flee, and specific instructions indicating what sort of liturgical practices would tend toward that sin? Instead of that sort of pastoral sensitivity and apostolic realization of the very real dangers here, there are hand waving dismissals that this is something completely different, and that was the Old Covenant, and those were pagan gentiles who worshiped demons. We're exempt from that error because our pictures are of Jesus and the saints. But that's one of the reasons I often bring up the bronze serpent. St. John of Damascus mentions it briefly in defense of looking toward something man made in order to look to God for grace and healing (and that's a reasonable point to be made), but what about the rest of the story (2 Kgs. 18:4)? Where are the Hezekiahs of Orthodoxy? Would Hezekiah be viewed as an evil iconoclast, disrupting the unwritten and unbroken traditions of the fathers? Or would he be praised for his faithfulness and courage? I strongly suspect it would be the former.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
My wife pointed out this morning that in many ways the Frankenstein creature is far more human than his creator, Victor Frankenstein. The creature longs for human society, friendship, community, virtue, etc. Victor on the other hand is this reclusive scientist bent on knowledge and glory, and then even after his experiment goes horribly wrong, he continues his isolationism, fleeing company, fleeing society and friendship.
She pointed out in particular the contrast between their loves. Victor has this beautiful woman, Elizabeth, patiently waiting for him at home and yet is slow to pursue her. It is his creature who so wants a female companion, an Eve, because he knows it is not good for him to be alone. Victor is the monster, and the monster is depicted as being far more human. Victor is mechanical, scientific, driven, but the creature has emotions, seeks virtue, and would love to have a wife and experience real love and friendship.
Just finished Pastor Douglas Wilson's forthcoming book A Primer on Worship and Reformation: Recovering the High Church Puritan.
As the title suggests, this is a short, accessible introduction to the practice and importance of Covenant Renewal Worship. This is the sort of book you want to hand to visitors at church and have a stout little pile of sitting on the literature table. At the same time, even though it's short and an intentionally simple presentation of the vision for a recovery of robust Puritan worship, there's enough meat here for any famished evangelical to begin bulking up on.
And that leads us to the subtitle: "Recovering the High Church Puritan." In the opening chapters Pastor Wilson introduces the idea of reforming evangelical worship using the Puritans as fathers in the faith who are examples of what we are striving for. In the first place that means recovering a more historically grounded picture of who the Puritans actually were and what they were actually striving to accomplish. While they are popularly maligned for being sour cranks and finicky prudes, history suggests that they were by and large neither of these and quite the opposite in fact. But more to the point of the book, Pastor Wilson designates "High Church Puritans" as those who were simultaneously seeking to be obedient to the Scriptures on the one hand and patient lovers of Mother Kirk on the other. He describes this as the twin virtues of obedience and kindness. And this is an important point to stress since many of the folks who will be most attracted to this book will be people who are already starving for something with a little substance. And when you're starving, you don't always think clearly and act with a thoughtful kindness towards those around you. But the last thing we want is a bunch of cranky reformers. It won't do to thrash all your neighbors in the name of reformation and go out and start a new church in the name of obedience. Sectarians beware.
But the simple point of this book is that worship drives the world. Our culture is in the shambles it is in because of the worship that is being offered in Christian churches throughout our land. We need reformation, revival, renewal, or whatever you want to call it, and that will not happen until Christians begin to do it. And this means we need to go back to the Scriptures and love them, sing them, learn them, feast on them, and most importantly submit to them, particularly when it comes to how we approach the Triune God of heaven. Pastor Wilson presents the basic outline of what has come to be called 'Covenant Renewal Worship' which follows the general pattern of covenant renewal in the Old Testament, was figured in the levitical sacrifices, and finds its fulfillment in the spiritual sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving which Christians offer in their worship. This pattern, as it turns out (and not surprisingly), is basically the way Christians have worshiped for the last two thousand years and flourished particularly during those ages in which the Church had the greatest influence for good in culture and society.
Pastor Wilson urges his readers to recover the centrality of word and sacrament, considers the historic exegetical methods of typological study of Scripture, and he says that the weekly observance of the Lord's Supper is one of the central ways that God transforms his people into the image of Christ. He closes with chapters on singing the Psalms, celebrating the Sabbath, and covenant succession. In places it can feel like too much is being covered in too short of space, but again, this is a primer and merely meant to introduce someone to these practices and customs which have made up the culture of the churches of the Reformation for centuries. And it is the last chapter on children that is arguably one of the greatest reasons for pressing these themes and continuing to make them accessible to the broader evangelical church. Short of winning the hearts and minds of our children with the culture of a robust Christian faith, reformation will continue to be a word that people say and have no actual experience of. We will know that God has blessed us with reformation when the vast majority of Christians today see their grandchildren walking with the Lord, wielding the Psalms as the weapons they are, and rejoicing in Sabbath living with their children and neighbors. And by the grace of God, worshiping faithfully each Lord's Day is the way God has promised to bless us with that glory.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Frankenstein's creature explains his realization of his monstrosity: "I was, besides, endued with a figure hideously deformed and loathsome; I was not even of the same nature as man. I was more agile than they and could subsist upon a coarser diet; I bore the extremes of heat and cold with less injury to my frame; my stature far exceeded theirs. When I looked around I saw and heard of none like me. Was I, then, a monster, a blot upon the earth, from which all men fled and whom all men disowned?" (Frankenstein, Penguin Classics, 150)
The creature's realization of his individuality, his overwhelming uniqueness is the realization of his monstrosity. To be utterly different and unrelated is to be a monster, an outcast. It is in fact our relatedness to others that establishes our identity, and that identity is already bound up with others. And then there are all of the characteristics that we share with one another. The Disney-MTV Gospel proclaims the glory of difference, the salvation of isolation and autonomy, and is it any wonder then that this comes to its fullest expression in people that embrace increasingly monstrous expressions. To be completely different, to be completely unique, one must become completely other, completely severed from the human race. One must become a monster to become a pure individualist.
When I say evangelism, I mean evangelism for everyone, evangelism for dummies. There are Evangelists like Pastors and Elders in the church, but every Christian is commissioned to be Christ to the world.
What is the gospel?
The gospel is the good news of a dead king. The word "gospel" first appears in 1 Samuel 4:17, when the messenger arrives to tell Eli about the death of his sons. The word “messenger” is the substantive form of the word. The word is also used several times to describe the news of Saul’s death (1 Sam 31:9, 2 Sam 1:20, 4:10, 1 Chr. 10:9). The passage with the most prolific use of the word is in 2 Samuel 18 in conjunction with the death of Absalom. Some form of the word is used seven times in 2 Samuel 18:19-31. The six or eight other uses of the word throughout the prophets regularly have a context of false or tyrannical kings or rulers being driven away or destroyed (Ps. 68:11-12, Is. 40:9, 15-24, 41:25-27, 60:3,6,10, 61:1, Nah. 1:15). And the death and destruction of these old powers always assumes the establishment of a new king, a new Lord. But the story of EUANGELION also takes on a new character in the story of Jesus when Jesus Himself dies. As is shown throughout the gospels, Jesus is becoming Israel for Israel, keeping the law, living faithfully what Israel could not. But even more than that, Jesus has become the failed monarchy, the dying king, in order to be raised back up to life again, in order that the Kingdom might never die, in order that the Kingdom might never be without a King.
The Gift of Other People
The other important element in Laundromat Evangelism is godly attitude toward other people. God likes other people; it’s bound up in his own being as Trinity. Does the Father ever need “alone time?” So God said it was not good for man to be alone, and this is not merely a statement about marriage (Gen. 2:18). Even though this is in the context of marriage, the principle is that two are better than one (Eccl. 4:9-12). All things being equal, it is better to be with people than not. And this is presupposed by the greatest commandments (Lk. 10:27). There must be God and neighbor in order for us to carry out those commands. But these other people are not merely decorations; they are helpers (Gen. 2:18). The wise man says that there is a better reward when two work together on a project; woe to the one who is alone when he falls (Eccl. 4:10). Other people even keep us warm. They are comfort, courage, and strength against enemies (Eccl. 4:12). And this is why it is important to ask, “Who is my Neighbor?” A significant part of the story of the Good Samaritan is the answer to the question, ‘Who is my neighbor?’ The answer comes in the form of a story that reveals that your neighbor is the person right in front of you. Jesus says, ‘go and do likewise.’ You need to love and be loved by these particular people: God has given you your siblings, your roommates, your parents, your elders, your co-workers, your neighbors. These other people are God’s good gifts to you (Eph. 4:4-12). Do not act, speak, or think as though it would be better to be alone, to be free of these other people, free of their opinions, free of their challenges, free of their input. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30). It is not good to be alone: through the neighbors that God has given you, God’s image is being revealed and perfected in you.
Compassion for the Lost
Part of emulating Christ, is learning to feel the way that he does. One feeling Christ gets when he sees piles of confused people is compassion. And when he feels compassionate for these people he doesn’t shrug his shoulders and wish he could help. Christ heals (Mt. 14:14), feeds (15:32), forgives (18:27), cleanses (Mk. 1:41), teaches (Mk. 6:34), frees (9:22), raises the dead (Mk.7:13), and celebrates repentance (Lk. 15:20) out of compassion. The good news that Jesus brings Israel in the power of the Spirit includes good news for the poor, freedom for prisoners, forgiveness of debts, comfort to those who mourn, bestowing beauty, joy, and clothing, and rebuilding ruins (Is. 61:1-4).
Believe the Gospel. Jesus is King; live like you belong here.
Like people. God loves the world, and give His Son for it. Expect the blessing of God in other people, saved and lost. They’re made in God’s image; they’re neat.
Have compassion for those in need. Be their friends. Love them even while they are still sinners just like God did for you.
Evangelism is living like the gospel is true even when you’re doing your laundry. And it is.
Monday, September 22, 2008
“‘What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from strangers?’ Peter said to Him, ‘From strangers.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Then the sons are free.’” (Mt. 17:25-26)
At least part of what Jesus is implying here is that since the disciples are “sons” they don’t really owe the tax. The principle here is that sons are privileged; they are not outsiders. They are favorites; they are accepted, welcomed, and treated as princes. And that is what occurs here at the table of the Lord. You are sons and daughters of the king; you are all accepted in the Son as sons. And you are accepted as you are. You are accepted freely. You are welcomed here as part of the royal family. And there are at least two responses to this declaration that are unacceptable. First, you may not look down your row or in front of you or behind you and silently judge whether or not you think others should be welcomed to this table. The gospel is the declaration that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. So those sinners in your family, those sinners down the row, those are sinners that Christ bled and died for. This body was broken for sinners; this blood was shed for the forgiveness of sins. And this leads to the second, do not think that you have ever gone beyond the grace of God. Do not think that your sins are too great for God, do not give up in despair over sins that you just don’t seem to be able to overcome. Don’t come to this table resigned to just deal with the status quo. Jesus is the Lord of this table, and it is his Spirit that feeds you on the flesh and blood of Jesus. You are eating and drinking the power of God to deliver from sin. You are feasting upon the perfect sacrifice, that once for all offering that completely satisfied the justice of God. And more than that, as you feast upon this well-beloved Son of the Father, you are more and more joined to Him. You are in Christ, his blood flows through your veins, his face is in your face, his words are your words. And this is the way that God has decided to remake you, remake your family, and completely renovate the entire world. It’s with the simple question: do you believe? Do you believe that crucified man is the salvation of the world? Do you believe that his blood was shed for your sins and the sins of many? Then come and rejoice. You are beloved sons, and the sons are free. Your sins are forgiven. You are clean. You owe God nothing but deep thanksgiving and gratitude. Some come and rejoice and give thanks.
In the sermon text this morning, Jesus will be questioned regarding the temple tax which has its origins in the “atonement tax” of Exodus 30. God discouraged the practice of counting fighting men by requiring that payment be made if such an action were to take place. At least part of this regulation would discourage kings and rulers from counting their fighting men, thinking that their strength resided in the armies at their disposal. If you’re going to count your armies, God requires a sacrifice, atonement, and offering of worship. Think of David who was not content with the peace that God had bestowed, and feeling the need to know his strength in numbers was a great sin. And people do this all the time. People count their money and check their balances, counting meticulously in order to know how secure they are, how strong they are. Maybe you think your strength is in your accomplishments, and so you regularly recount your degrees, your qualifications, your expertise, and you rest secure with your portfolio as your strength. Or maybe it’s your family, your children, your spouse, and you think that you are secure because you have them, and you consider how they will provide for you, how they are your qualifications. Or maybe you think you’re strong because you are a homeschooling family. Or maybe you think you’re family is secure because you send your kids to Christian school. You think you’re strong because you have health insurance; or you think you’re mighty because all your children were homebirths. Of course all of these decisions, all of these realities are part of life, and they are all part of the freedom bestowed upon us in Christ. But the question is: are they your strength? Are they your armies? Are they your security? Are they your might and glory? Not all. They are gifts of our King, they are opportunities, talents, decisions that must be made in wisdom. But we serve the Lord of Hosts. Yahweh is the Lord of Armies. He is the God of battles. He fights for us. He defends us. He is our glory and our strength and our might. We will not put our trust in horses or chariots. We will not put our trust in stocks and bonds. We will not put our trust in presidents or vice-presidents or supreme court justices. We do not put our trust in Reformed Theology or in our liturgy. We trust in the Lord our God, the Lord of Hosts, Yahweh of Armies is his name. And having found our strength in him, we find that he has bestowed great gifts, great opportunities upon us, and so we offer those up as offerings, we offer them up as sacrifices of praise. They are not our strength, but they are gifts from the One who is strong, and therefore we offer them up to the Lord.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
We thank you, heavenly Father, for the witness of your apostle and evangelist Matthew to the Gospel of your Son our Savior; and we pray that, after his example, we may with ready wills and hearts obey the calling of our Lord to follow him; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Posted by Toby at 8:32 PM
Saturday, September 20, 2008
With help from Bruce Waltke...
23:12 is a sort of chorus line that echoes the way the book of Proverbs began. Similarly, verse 15 is addressed to “my son” which is also the way Solomon began. In fact, the entire section is addressed to the son a number of times explicitly (23:15, 19, 22, 25, 26). The beginning of the section in verse 13 would seem to apply to the son’s son which perhaps gives us a better idea of how old this “son” is that is being addressed. Similarly, verse 22 says that the mother of the “son” has grown “old,” suggesting that this “son” is a grown man. Verse 12 is also a repetition of 22:17ff which was a sort of preface to the “ten commandments” of the poor (22:22-23:11).
Notice too that the passage opens with an exhortation which applies specifically to the “ears” and “heart” (23:12). A similar exhortation ends the section referring to the “heart” and “eyes” (23:26). “Heart” is repeated several times in this passage (23:12, 15, 17, 19, 26). The father also says that his “kidneys” rejoice when his son’s “lips” speak right things (23:16). All of this reinforces a pattern in Proverbs that wisdom is a physical thing, a skill, a pattern to follow, a sort of imitation.
Apply Your Heart and Ears
This parallel is a repeated idea throughout Proverbs which implies the close connection between the heart and the ears on a number of levels. These faculties have a reciprocal relationship toward one another. The heart must be open in order for the ears to be open, but listening to wisdom or folly effects the heart as well and inclines it toward wisdom or folly.
The natural result of learning “knowledge” (musar) is the bestowal of this knowledge in teaching and discipline (23:13, musar). This word is used in 22:15 to refer to the “rod” as well. This implies the close relationship between physical discipline and instruction. One of the important reasons for using corporal punishment is for getting an audience with a child. The proverb first insists that “he will not die” from the rod, but it goes on to insist that not only is it not lethal, it is actually medicinal and salvific. But this also gives a trajectory to discipline; children who are not flourishing under the rod are not being “delivered from sheol.”
Your Heart and My Heart
The father says that his own happiness is tied to the heart of his son (23:15-16). This is a good sort of motivation when there is already a good relationship. This is also an encouragement to appeal to this in instruction (cf. 23:24-25). This works negatively too, knowing that certain actions will be particularly disappointing and hard on parents. Part of wisdom seems to be found in learning how to be grace and mercy without creating a softness for sin. But that balance is found in a real understanding of grace. The father also says that his son’s right words will cause his “kidneys” to rejoice. He will be rejoice with all that he is, deep down in his bones. The proverbs teach parents to celebrate when their children obey.
Your Heart and Sinners
The father continues the theme of the “heart” and warns the son against envying sinners. The opposite of “envy” in this proverb is “fear” (23:17). And this proverb ties “fear of Yahweh” particularly to the promise of final judgment (23:18). But the underlying exhortation has to do with what we “earnestly desire.” If we admire sinners, it’s envy; if we admire and desire the fear of the Lord, it is fruitful and faithful (23:18). And the promise of “hope” not being cut off builds upon the two previous references to the end where the faithful son “will not die” and will be delivered from “sheol” (23:13-14).
Hear and Guide
The father again addresses his son as “son,” ensuring him of his love and concern. In addition to the general exhortation to “be wise,” the father tells him to “guide” his heart. The word for “guide” means to make straight and proceed forward. One obvious implication is that this is possible. It is possible to direct one’s heart in a different direction; moderns have a tendency to believe that the heart has a mind of its own. And this has to do directly with where you go, who you’re with. Directing your feet is one of the ways you direct your heart, the father says. “Drowsiness will clothe a man with rags,” is a positive statement concerning the effects of such a lifestyle.
Who Begot You
The father plays up his fatherhood and his wife’s motherhood in 22-25. There is an inclusio in verses 22 and 25 which emphasizes the close connection between “buying truth” and causing a father to rejoice and delight in his son. The implication is the refusal to pursue truth, wisdom, instruction, and understanding is actually preventing father and mother from being happy. It is a form of theft, taking their happiness and joy from them. Think about God the Father’s delight in his Son.
Who Has Your Heart?
Notice in 23:26-28 that loyalty to father is juxtaposed to the love of a harlot. In fact the implication is that giving the “heart” to his father and putting his “eyes” upon his father will protect him from the harlot.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Robert Letham points out that it is rather ironic that it was a council (Vatican I, 1870) that declared the doctrine of papal infallibility. Given the historic tensions between councils and popes, it's a little curious in itself. But as one commentator put it, "the Pope needed a council to pronounce infallibly that he never needed it!"
Just got catholic theologian Francis Sullivan's book From Apostles to Bishops, and here are a few excerpts from the introduction and first chapter to wet your appetite.
"[Christian scholars both catholic and protestant] agree, rather, that the historic episcopate was the result of a development in the post-New Testament period, from the local leadership of a college of presbyters, who were sometimes also called bishops (episkopoi), to the leadership of a single bishop... Scholars differ on details, such as how soon the church of Rome was led by a single bishop, but hardly any doubt that the church of Rome was still led by a group of presbyters for at least a part of the second century." (viii)
Distinguishing between the catholic and protestant views of the development of the episcopacy in the early church, Sullivan writes: "The 'catholic' view, on the contrary, will see some developments in the early Church as so evidently guided by the Holy Spirit that they can rightly be recognized as of divine institution." (7) Sullivan rightly recognizes that the Protestant view is that outside of the New Testament whatever helpful and wise developments may occur remain nevertheless human and subject to correction or alteration in accordance with Scripture.
"Admittedly the Catholic position, that bishops are the successors of the apostles by divine institution, remains far from easy to establish. It is unfortunate, I believe, that some presentations of Catholic belief in this matter have given a very different impression... To speak of "an unbroken line of episcopal ordination from Christ through the apostles" suggests that Christ ordained the apostles as bishops, and that the apostles in turn ordained a bishop for each of the churches they founded, so that by the time the apostles died, each Christian church was being led by a bishop as successor to an apostle. There are serious problems with such a theory of the link between apostles and bishops." (13)
All for now.
A couple of thoughts on Foxes' Book of Martyrs:
Foxe structures the narrative to set the early church as running parallel with the reformation era church. Foxe sees the the one thousand intervening years as years of prosperity and peace and growth for the Christian Church. It was the early church, the first three centuries of the Church that was the crucible out of which sprung the glorious period of medieval Christendom, or something along those lines. The parallels of course are striking: the obvious circumstances of persecution and martyrdom are easy to see, but there are others. First, Foxe clearly sees the origin of persecution as the same: the city of Rome. In the early Church it was Imperial Rome perpetrating the injustices, in the reformation era, it is the Papal Rome carrying on this tradition of bloodshed. This creates a running commentary then on both persecutors and the persecuted. The Popes are Diocletians and Neros, and the Reformers are Peters and Polycarps. This perhaps also sheds light on the routine reformation era ascription of the Pope as Anti-Christ. If any of the apocalyptic literature of the New Testament is dealing with the persecutions that Christians faced from Rome and Imperial collaborators (i.e. Revelation), then it becomes easier to see how the Reformers made such a connection (exegetically). But the narratival parallels also imply an eschatological outlook. If the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church, Foxe has every expectation that the period of persecution he is witnessing will likewise break out into a purified, glorified, and growing Christian Church just as it had centuries before.
Monday, September 15, 2008
After a lengthy discussion on the gifts of the Spirit that have been poured out in the church, the chief of which is love, Paul addresses the issue of tongues in 1 Cor. 14. He says "How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. ... Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues. Let all things be done decently and in order." (I Cor. 14:26, 39-40)
Paul is addressing a number of issues together here, but I wonder if his instructions don't apply to some of our conversations regarding scripture, tradition, and authority. At first glance at least, it would seem that certain readings of Scripture and Tradition end up doing the very thing Paul forbids here. He certainly limits how "wide open" the open mic is at Corinth, and the preceding chapters give an order to church society which prioritizes the apostles, prophets, teachers, etc. (12:28) And Paul clearly states that not all are teachers, prophets, etc. That would seem to have a limiting effect on who would speak in the assembly as well. But Paul clearly does not say that psalms, teachings, revelations, and interpretations may only come from those special people. He insists that the Corinthians must exercise wisdom, showing honor to those over them, and use discretion and deference in the assembly.
My point is merely to insist again that the doctrine of Sola Scriptura is meant to be a doctrine that is open to the working of the Spirit in the entire body of Christ. Remember the whole discussion of spiritual gifts begins with the common Spirit that we all share, and the prohibition against saying we don't need some bodily appendage. Isolating authoritative church teaching to councils, bishops, popes, or (for us Presbyterian types) confessions, does the very thing that Paul says not to do: Do not forbid the speaking in tongues and do not discourage any from earnestly desiring to prophesy. As Paul makes clear, this does not mean that meaning and authority and order is all up for grabs, but it does mean that there ought to be a generous spirit of patience and humility bound into the body of Christ, for we have all been made to drink into one Spirit, and we were all baptized into one body.
Austin and Laura, I want to meditate for a few moment s on the Scripture Lesson from Isaiah 61. In the verses leading up to the ones that were read, Yahweh, speaking through the mouth of the prophet says to the people of Israel in exile that he will one day pour out his Spirit upon one who will preach good news to the poor, heal the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to the captives, and announce the acceptable year of the Lord. Of course Jesus is this one who is anointed with the Spirit, and he reads this very passage when he begins his ministry in Galilee. And he explicitly insists that what Isaiah the prophet was talking about is coming to fulfillment in him. Later, Jesus makes reference to this when the disciples of John are sent to ask whether he is the Coming One or if they should look for another. Jesus points to his ministry, and sends the disciples back to John with that report. Jesus insists that the Spirit is upon him, and he has been going through Israel enacting this healing, this liberation, and preaching good news to the poor. And Isaiah 61 concludes with what was just read: God declaring that he loves justice and hates robbery, and because this is the case, he will make an everlasting covenant with Israel. The result of this covenant will be that the people of God will be famous throughout the world as God’s people. And this covenant of salvation will be like a glorious wedding, like a bride and groom decked out in ornaments and jewels.
St. John picks up on these same themes in Revelation when he sees the holy city, the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, “as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:2). Later, one of the angels takes John on a tour of the city and says, “Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife” (Rev. 21:9). And the book ends with the Spirit and the bride speaking as one, calling out “Come!” (Rev. 22:17). The Spirit and the bride call the thirsty to come, to drink the water of life freely. The bride and the Spirit call the thirsty world to come and drink, to quench their thirst in the waters of life. Of course earlier in the chapter we’re also told that on either side of this “pure river of water of life” are trees of life bearing twelve fruits, yielding fruit every month, and the leaves of the trees are for the healing of the nations.
Bound up into the Isaiah passage and this imagery in Revelation is the idea of marriage and healing, or marriage and mercy. God promises in Isaiah to come marry his people, and when he does he will bring healing and mercy and liberation. When John sees the New Jerusalem, the bride of God coming down out of heaven, John sees a bride adorned with the water of life to quench the thirst of the world. John sees the trees of life with their twelve fruits and their leaves for the healing of the nations. When God describes his salvation, his covenant, he says it’s like a marriage, it’s like a wedding.
But this means that we need to learn to reason back the other way as well. When we witness a wedding, we are witnessing a picture of the way God promises to heal the world. We’re celebrating a picture of the way God preaches good news to the poor. We’re here with you today to enact a small portion of the acceptable year of the Lord. This is what proclaiming liberty looks like. This is what good news looks like. This is what the healing of broken hearts looks like. When God describes himself performing these things, he says it’s like a groom all decked out in all his glory; it’s like a bride all adorned, all lovely.
And that being so, the charge to each of you is to be what you are. Be a groom and a bride that continue to portray the healing and mercy and freedom that God has brought to this world in our Lord Jesus. But start by being this for one another. It’s not our custom to anoint men and women when they get married, but you are becoming a king and queen today. And that’s why in some Christian traditions, the bride and groom are literally given crowns or wreathes that symbolize their royal callings. Austin and Laura, you are becoming King and Queen to one another and for one another and all that God gives you. But the exhortation is to cultivate healing and mercy and freedom with one another first. The river of life in Revelation is flowing out of the city, out from the throne of the lamb, out into the world for the healing of the nations. This means that the city, the bride, is already saturated with life. The city has already been healed, the city has already been set free, the city has already been shown mercy. She now has plenty of life to give, healing to bestow, liberty to proclaim, and justice to enact.
Austin, when you get up in the morning tomorrow and the next day and the day after that, remind yourself of Isaiah 61. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because the Lord has anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor. He has sent me to heal the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord…” And then get busy doing that for your wife. Let your words to her be good news. Let your words be words of healing and encouragement. Proclaim liberty and freedom to her. And continually give her Sabbath rest, continually celebrate the acceptable year of the Lord. Commit yourself to establishing a home that is full of the spirit of Jubilee. Forgiveness must flow from you like the waters of life. And be quick to seek forgiveness teaching your family by example. Assume responsibility for your household; it is a small kingdom, a city that you are being given charge of. So rule in wisdom. Cancel debts, keep no record of wrongs, enact justice, care for the poor, and do not allow bitterness to reside under your roof.
Laura, when you get up tomorrow morning and the next day and the day after that, remember that you are called to do the same. You are called to be a bride saturated with life, producing trees of life for the healing of the nations. But remember that this calling begins with your husband. Let your water of life quench your husband’s thirst. Proclaim good news to him, bestow mercy and healing upon him, cultivate a home that rejoices in the God of salvation, the God of mercy, the God of Jubilee.
Together, you are for us today a picture of what God plans to do with the entire world. You both are dying today. You are dying to your old lives alone, dying to your selves, and being raised up to a new life together as one flesh. You are clothed in wedding garments, and we will feast and celebrate together shortly. In an important sense, you are even a picture of forgiveness in that you are putting your past behind you. You are repenting of your singleness and turning toward one another, and when you kiss in a few moments, it will not only be a kiss of love but most assuredly it will be a kiss of peace. And all of this is a picture of what God is doing in our world. He plans to clothe this world in the garments of salvation. He has put away our sins and forgiven all our debts in the death and resurrection of Jesus. He proclaims liberty to us, and the acceptable year of our Lord Jesus. And in the gospel, the angels continually declare peace on earth, goodwill toward men.
You are this picture of freedom and gladness. You are this image of salvation and mercy and healing and peace. And your calling is to continue in this. Even after you’ve returned the tux and packed up the wedding dress, remember that you have been commissioned by the Holy Spirit to enact mercy and healing and liberty to one another and those around you. You are jubilee today, and your vows are promises to walk in that grace all the days of your life.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!
Friday, September 12, 2008
St. Irenaeus was no stranger to the claims that the Scriptures are insufficient. He writes: "When, however, [heretics] are confuted by the Scriptures, they turn around and accuse these same Scriptures, as if they were not correct, nor of authority, and that they are ambiguous, and that the truth cannot be extracted from them by those who are ignorant of tradition." (Against Heresies III.2)
Irenaeus says that the gospel of Matthew was written first in Hebrew ("among the Hebrews in their own dialect"), and then Irenaeus goes on to explain that the other three gospels, Mark, Luke, and John were written in that order. (Against Heresies III.1)
Irenaeus (c. 202 A.D.) explains that the plan of our salvation, the Gospel which has come down to him and his contemporaries was that which "they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures." (Against Heresies III.1)
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Toward a Theology of Scripture or Sola Scriptura is Latin for the Freedom and Sovereignty of the Holy Spirit
Thanks, Brad for your thoughtful comments. I appreciate some of your criticism, though I think you've misread me on a couple of points. Also, I hope this continues the conversation to some extent with Josh.
Let me suggest several principles for thinking about the catholic doctrine of sola scriptura.
1. In an important sense, the doctrine of sola scriptura is really nothing less than an unfolding of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. We confess every week that the Holy Spirit is "the Lord and Giver of Life... who spoke by the prophets." It is the Holy Spirit who speaks in Scripture, in the Church, in tradition, through creation, in groanings which cannot be uttered. Peter says that Scripture is the result of holy men being moved by the Holy Spirit (1 Pet. 1:20-21). While the written Scriptures are themselves a permanent and unbreakable record of the Word of God, I would certainly agree that there is a kind of imprecision in the doctrine of sola scriptura, there is a certain unpredictability in the way truth and light emerge in the history of the Church. But I would want to argue that this is one of its greatest glories. The Spirit is not bound by our tidy categories. The Holy Spirit is not frustrated by our attempts to bottle and distribute his blessings. The Spirit is like the wind, Jesus says, it blows where it wishes. This does not mean that there is nothing certain, but it does mean that we walk by faith here just like everywhere else and not by sight. This means that the doctrine of Scripture is not a science, a pseudo-rationalistic enterprise wherein theologians and pastors and laymen may put words under a microscope under certain fixed conditions and following certain prescribed methods arrive at a certain, infallible conclusion. The doctrine of Scripture is the study of a person, it is the dogma of the Holy Spirit. Sola Scriptura in its fullest sense means submission to the third person of the Trinity as He leads us into all truth.
2. As Mathison and many others have pointed out, sola scriptura is not antagonistic toward tradition, but rather it insists that faithful tradition be grounded in and consistent with the Scriptures since they are from the same source: the mouth of Christ and the apostles and prophets. And should there be conflict, our appeal must be to the law and the testimony. The early Church fathers clearly taught this, and many RCs and EOs (I think) would happily affirm this as well. This also means that time is an important part of our doctrine of scripture. More on this below.
3. St. Vincent famously quipped, "Now in the Catholic Church itself we take the greatest care to hold that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all." But this itself is qualified by St. Vincent who recognizes that there may be a disease or infection that works its way into a large portion of the church such that the orthodox and catholic position becomes a minority. Vincent says to "cleave to antiquity," and one would assume that this includes ultimate recourse to the Scriptures themselves. The point here is to establish the fact that the "catholic" position on any given subject, while it is ordinarily a universally held position, may sometimes be so distorted or lost or subverted that it actually becomes a minority position, and St. Vincent urges us back to the law and the testimony, back to the apostles, back to the fathers, back to the sources, back to Christ and His Spirit.
4. The Church is the body of Christ, and Christ is her head. Ever since Pentecost, when the Spirit was breathed into the Church and she became a living being, we have been commissioned to be Christ for the world. The Church as the Bride, and animated by the Bridegroom's Spirit, is authorized to be Christ. We are not identical with Christ, but we share His Spirit, and we have become one flesh in his flesh and blood. This means that what the Church proclaims in union with Christ is to be the Word of Christ. And thus the question becomes what has Christ declared over the last 2000 years. We all agree that the words of Scripture are the words of Christ. But what about beyond that? Again, we all agree that the canon is closed, the apostolic foundation of the Church has been laid once and for all. But the Church has continued to grow up into Christ. Our actions, speech, understanding, practice, etc. is being perfected by the indwelling Spirit. Our world is being hovered over, and the old, degenerate creation is being fanned into the new, regenerate Jerusalem. But again, where is the authoritative voice of Mother Kirk to be heard? In the sea of competing words, whose is the Shepherd's voice? One of the fundamental problems with isolating the vox dei to councils, the ordained clergy or (worse still in my view) one member of the ordained clergy is that this ignores the fact that all have been given the Spirit. All have been made priests and kings to God. And while this does not justify some kind ecclesiastical democracy or anarchy, it does mean that there needs to be more humility and openness in the process of discerning the Spirit.
5. If the entire body of Christ is bound together by the One Spirit (and it is), then the authoritative voice of Christ cannot be limited to one class or one office or one action of the Church. Sola Scriptura is an attempt by many throughout the centuries of the Church to articulate to greater or lesser degrees of clarity the need for an organic, personal, and patient co-mingling of the entire body of Christ. In other words, Sola Scriptura is the Spirit-guided result of the meditations, proclamations, declarations, sermons, treatises, prayers, conversations, excommunications, liturgies, and councils based on the Holy Scriptures. This means that church councils are a significant part of this conversation. This means that pastors, priests, bishops, and deacons are also significant parts of this conversation. Theologians, dogmaticians, philosophers, and other sciences contribute their part to this conversation. And even the Bereans of the world contribute to this universal meditation on the Scriptures, searching daily to see if these things are true. Sola Scriptura insists that the Holy Spirit is the Lord and Giver of Life, and this means that the Spirit is sovereign over the spiritual life and vitality of the Church no less than individuals. Bottling the Spirit in the councils of the Church is too obvious. Of course we should give great weight and honor to those gatherings, but we should not expect the Spirit to limit his work to those events. We should expect pastors and priests and bishops to be exemplary men, full of the Spirit, and their writings, rebukes, sermons, prayers, exhortations, and counsel should be received with thanksgiving and humility. But the Spirit is not bound to them either. The Spirit has been poured out in the entire Church, and if this is true, we should expect to be led by children. We should expect that the occasional no-name monk will be used of the Spirit to give great light to the Church. We should expect donkeys to speak and rocks to cry out and the very heavens to declare the glory of God.
6. And this leads to my last point concerning time. All of this means that patience and humility are part of this process. There will be moments in history when an Athanasius will be called to step forward in the face of great opposition and risk his neck for the truth of the gospel. That was a dark day in the history of the Church, and for all appearances Athanasius seemed to be one man against the world. Was his the catholic position, though it appeared to be the extreme minority? It most certainly was though that was not readily clear to all involved at that time. There will be other points where a council will take several hundred years to be reckoned "ecumenical," and that's OK. And there may be some issues upon which there really has not been a universal opinion held (though some have held their views vigorously), and those in authority need to teach according to the best of their abilities but not force issues that the Spirit has not yet solidified. And there are some doctrines or practices which may (demographically/democratically speaking) be rather universal which nevertheless are incorrect. Which is to say, there are some things in the Body of Christ which time will sort out, and if the Spirit is OK with that, so should we.
7. One of the points that I have tried to make in a number of different conversations, posts, and sermons is that we need to be thankful for the Protestant Reformation. For whatever mistakes were made, for whatever errors our people committed, the Reformers breathed life into the world. There was a spiritual cancer that had filled the Church, and the Reformation was the beginning of a great surgery wrought by the Lord of Life. The Reformation is nothing close to the last word on many subjects, but it is at least one significant contribution to the conversation. The fact that three or four no-names wrote a few books and set the civilized world on fire is no accident. The fact that ignorance and superstition were rolled back in many lands, and the fact that the gospel began to be preached with clarity, and the Scriptures were translated freely into the common tongues of the people is evidence that the Reformation was a work of the Spirit. Orphanages and hospitals and missions exploded throughout the lands of the Reformation. The arts and humanities and sciences and commerce similarly took off, filled with the exuberance of life and freedom and forgiveness. Now I would certainly contend that there is still much work to be done, and for all the blessings of the Reformation there were plenty of failures, errors, and inconsistencies. But this is part of the conversation, that co-mingling of the Body of Christ in the communion of the Spirit in obedience to the Word of God. Through the mysterious working of the Spirit, we are being led into the truth, we are being built up into that spiritual house, the dwelling of the God of heaven.
More than anything, sola scriptura is a plea for the freedom of the Spirit, openness to the working of God through his Word in numerous different ways (while seeking to prioritize them Biblically), and trusting the wisdom and goodness of the Spirit to preserve us safe and secure in the holy ark of Christendom. We need to honor our past, honor tradition, honor our fathers in the faith, love the Scriptures, and trust the Spirit for the details, trust the Spirit through the messiness of history.
Tuesday, September 09, 2008
My friend, Wes Callihan, of Schola Tutorials fame, an avid historian, appreciative student of Eastern Orthodoxy, and a thankful Protestant writes in comment on my recent post on the invocation of the dead in Christ:
"I was just reading your post of last Monday on invocation of the dead in
Christ and your reference to Hebrews 12.1 and the "great cloud of
witnesses." It seems to me that the proper sense of this phrase and
especially of the word "witness" is almost universally missed -- almost
everyone takes it as meaning that all the old saints (the "hall of faith")
in Hebrews 11 are witnessing, or watching, *us*. But the sense of the verse
seems rather to be that they are witnesses, as in a court trial, to the
validity of *faith*. That's the whole point of chapter 11 -- that they are
called, one by one, to the witness stand to testify to faith, and so we are
to imitate that faith.
The verse does not at all say that they are watching us. And this seems to
weaken even further the case for invoking the dead in Christ."
I think Wes's point is really well taken. And it actually fits better with the beginning of chapter 11 where faith is described as the 'the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.' They are "witnesses" and thereby provide the "evidence" for our faith. And their "evidence" is all their acts of faithfulness during their lives. Their good "testimonies" are their faithful lives.
The sense of the passage is that they are not presently "watching/witnessing" our lives so much as their lives in the flesh which were lived "by faith" were themselves witnesses/evidence/testimonies for our benefit. It was what they did when they were alive in the flesh that is a witness for us, and not something they are currently doing in heaven primarily.
Monday, September 08, 2008
"What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?..." (Rom. 6:1-3)
We considered this morning the fact that our culture is busy preaching a false gospel. This false gospel says that if you follow your feelings everything will work out well in the end. Every story has a happy ending, these false evangelists claim. But Paul says that we must not continue in sin; we have died to sin and therefore we cannot live any longer in it. Paul immediately turns to baptism, and insists that baptism is the proof that as many as have been baptized into Christ have been baptized into his death. Paul says that following our sinful lusts and desires is a form of slavery, but that enslavement ended in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. If we have died with Christ then we have died with him and been freed from sin. Of course the Disney gospel insists that following your heart is a form of freedom. Doing what feels right, what you want, despite everything else is the way to freedom, to happiness, to liberty.
Of course the Christian gospel is quite different. The Christian gospel is an invitation to die. It is an invitation to give up your life. Disciples of Jesus are called to take up their crosses and follow Jesus, not their own heart. And this is not because our hearts do not matter. This is not because God does not like our emotions, our affections, our dreams, and desires. No, it is because God’s freedom is a better freedom than the world offers. It is the freedom of resurrection. It is the freedom of communion with our family and friends. It is the freedom of being forgiven. It is the freedom of honoring and loving our parents, the freedom of being in fellowship with our children. Ultimately, the freedom we want is the living blessing of God. All the freedom in the world is a curse if God is against us. If God is not in it, if God is not there smiling upon our endeavors, what is anything else worth? What profit is it if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?
Baptism is the sign of our entrance into the death of Christ. It is the point at which God issues us our cross, and says: ‘follow me into the grave, and I promise to bring you back out again.’ It is the point at which we are called to true freedom, the freedom of resurrection, the freedom of communion, the freedom of fellowship, the freedom of forgiveness. This is ultimately the freedom of life. The ultimate slavery is death; ultimate freedom is being alive, fully alive. So Paul says, “reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The logic of the gospel is that if you are alive, then live like it. Don’t act like a corpse if you’ve been brought back to life. And this is why the Scriptures are full of warnings to those who act like they prefer the grave, who prefer slavery, who love the darkness, the sadness, the worms. And some of the most terrifying warnings of Scripture are that people who act like they would rather be dead are sometimes given what they ask for. In other words, it simply is not true that if you follow your heart, everything will work out in the end. There will be those on the last day who thought they could sin that grace might abound, and Christ will say to them, ‘depart from me you workers of iniquity, I never knew you.’
But God calls us to live. He calls us out of death, out of the grave. He calls us to be alive. And this is salvation: that we begin to live resurrection life here and now, and then after our bodies die, we trust that the seed that goes into the ground will one day burst up out of the ground, a new and glorious body. Our hope is in the resurrection of the body, and the life of the world to come. And this is the real gospel story. It does have a happy ending, and in the end, God does promise to bless us beyond measure and to give us the desires of our hearts. But the way to life, the way to real life is through the cross and tomb of Jesus. And that’s why we are here. Trusting the promises of God includes not only our lives, but the lives of our children. Dan and Cece, as you bring Ceri, you are called to do so in faith, trusting the God of the resurrection. We are enacting now what Ceri is called to for the rest of her life: dying to sin and living to Christ. This is freedom; this is grace. And teach your daughter to understand this. Teach this to her by living it in your own lives. Teach this to her by encouraging her to give herself away, so that she might find herself, giving up life in order to be given it back again. Teach her to delight herself in the Lord, trusting and believing that he will give her the desires of her heart.
Opening Prayer: Gracious Father, you are the Lord of love and romance and all of our relationships. Give us grace to submit to you as we consider your Word now. Give us your Spirit that we might hear you rightly, obey you, love your ways, and trust you for all the details. And bless us as we do so. Through Christ our Lord, Amen!
This morning we consider principles for courtship. This is one of the areas that we are called upon to love other people: parents, children, spouses, siblings, friends, and of course those other people who might one day become your spouse.
Marriage is the goal of courtship (Gen. 2:18-25). And the goal of marriage is a family (Gen. 1:28, Mal. 2:15). Believers may not be unequally yoked with unbelievers (2 Cor. 6:14). Fathers and mothers are to be honored in this process (Ex. 20:12, Eph. 6:1). Fathers in particular are required to assume responsibility for their daughters (Num. 30:3-16, Dt. 22:16). Father’s must not exasperate their children in this, and the best way to avoid provocation is by “feeding” them with lots of instruction and discussion before you get there (Eph. 6:4). Women need to be honored as sisters, and men as brothers (1 Tim. 5:1-2). The way you honor parents, siblings, and friends now is all training for how you will live with your family later. Wise decisions are more often made in the company of wise counselors (Pr. 11:14, 15:22). Do not be like the gentiles who worry about everything, but cast your cares upon your Father who cares for you (Mt. 6:8, 1 Pet. 5:7).
Principles and Methods
Every so often we need to be reminded that God wants us to grow up into unity and like mindedness, but that is not the same thing as cult-like uniformity. These are the Scriptural principles that are non-negotiable. We may not pick and choose from these principles. On the other hand, it is absolutely essential that we apply these principles with wisdom otherwise we’ve only multiplied fools not wisdom.
Thinking Through the Principles
Prepare for marriage by working hard now in ways that will actually be helpful when God gives you a spouse. Practice hard work, financial responsibility, serving others, and being faithful in all the little things (Mt. 25:21).
Don’t assume that because they’re (you’re) courting that means they’re (you’re) getting married. Obviously, wise parents and young people won’t get into relationships without some reasonable hope of success, but all parties need to take care that they don’t assume more than is true or make things more difficult than they already are.
Assume you don’t know and communicate more than you need to. Cultivate open, honest communication early, and go the extra mile to talk to one another. And practice this before you get there. It’s not too early to begin establishing this culture and these expectations with your children.
Get counsel: get wisdom. Related to the previous point, this means the only thing it’s safe to assume is that you need help. Seek out counsel and listen to those God has surrounded you with. In particular, trust God, and suspect your feelings. The Disney gospel is false; learn to hate it (Rom. 6:1).
Living in covenant community means that we must constantly guard against the twin errors of privacy invasion and ignorant isolation. In other words, mind your own business and watch out for one another. And much of this has to do with having humility and being gracious.
Beware of acting out of fear. Do not believe the lie that says if you don’t say yes now, you will never have an opportunity again. Remember that love is patient, and remember that God is good.
Because you trust God, trust the counselors he has surrounded you with: parents, teachers, pastors, elders, spouses, siblings, and friends. And remember that the wounds of a friend are faithful (Pr. 27:6).
Remember that the gospel applies to this area of life too, and it doesn’t stop applying after marriage either. The gospel applies in that Jesus is lord of love and romance. The gospel applies because forgiveness and grace have been provided for this area of life like all others. And the gospel applies because we are called to be a disciple here as well as everywhere else.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Closing Prayer: Father you have been so kind to us in this community. You have been merciful when we have failed in these things, and you continue to promise grace and mercy where we are still picking up the pieces. Thank you for the understanding you have already given many fathers and mothers and children in these areas, but we ask for more wisdom. Pour out your spirit upon our churches, our families, and schools, and give us faith to trust you, to cling to you, and to cast all of our cares upon you. Through Christ our Lord who has taught us to pray singing…
Wednesday, September 03, 2008
Cyril, bishop of Jerusalem writes in his Catechetical Lectures: "For concerning the divine and holy mysteries of the Faith, not even a casual statement must be delivered without the Holy Scriptures; nor must we be drawn aside by mere plausibility and artifices of speech. Even to me, who tell thee these things, give not absolute creedence, unless thou receive the proof of the things which I announce from the Divine Scriptures. For this salvation which we believe depends not on ingenious reasoning, but on demonstration of the Holy Scriptures." (IV:17)
Notice that Cyril does not appeal to his authority as a bishop but rather insists that all Christians must search the Divine Scriptures for themselves. They cannot take his word for it unless they have demonstration from the Holy Scriptures. Salvation and those things necessary for it do not depend upon "ingenious reasoning." The Scriptures are clear and sufficient to serve as the ultimate, infallible authority for matters of faith and piety.
Cyprian (c. 200-258) carried on a controversy with Stephen, the bishop of Rome, over how lapsed (but penitent) Christians were to be viewed and received by the Church. Their arguments deal with the basis for their stance, and Cyprian describes the stance of Stephen as the following: "Let nothing be innovated, says he, nothing maintained, except what has been handed down." But Cyprian asks, "Whence is that tradition? Whether does it descend from the authority of the Lord and of the Gospel, or does it come from the commands and the epistles of the apostles? For that those things which are written down must be done, God witnesses and admonishes, saying to Joshua the son of Nun: 'The book of this law shall not dpart out of they mouth; but thou shalt meditate in it day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein.'" (Epistle 73:2)
During this same controversy, Firmilian, the Bishop of Caeserea wrote to Cyprian and explained his view that "they who are in Rome do not observe those things in all cases which are handed down from the beginning, and vainly pretend the authority of the apostles." Here we see that it certainly was not the universal understanding that the bishop of Rome had some sort of special dispensation from Christ or Peter. Firmilian actually goes on to explain that Stephen the bishop of Rome is guilty of heresy and dividing the unity of the Church.
Again, my primary point being that clearly the early church fathers believed that the written Scriptures ("book of the law") was the authoritative source of the teachings of Christ and the apostles.
This is an invitation to more dialogue on this subject. Last time I brought this up, there were concerns that I was overstating my case.
As far as I can tell the "biblical case" for talking to the dead in Christ is based upon the teaching of Hebrews which clearly tells us that we are surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses. And a verse in Revelation presents the saints in heaven offering bowls of incense before the lamb on the throne, and those bowls of incense are the prayers of the saints (Rev. 5:8). My question is, "Am I missing anything?" Those Scriptures do not tell us to talk to the saints in heaven, and they do not tell us that they can hear us. Nor do they imply this. And part of our interpretation of these passages needs to include the rest of the apostolic traditions in Scripture.
Paul in particular has numerous occasions where he might make mention of such a reality. He is constantly writing to churches while he is in prison, awaiting trial, and having to deal with the reality of persecution, death of saints, and the doctrine of the resurrection. Why does Paul never make mention of this? And in fact, why does he seem to present things in a way that actually pushes against any notion of prayer to the saints?
In Philippians Paul is struggling with whether or not it would be better to live or die. He of course says plainly that to die is gain since that would mean he would be with Christ (1:21-23). But he says that for him to remain in the flesh is better for the Philippians. Staying alive a little while longer, staying in the flesh, means Paul gets to "remain and continue" with them for their progress and joy of faith. But by the logic of prayers to the saints, Paul has it backwards. It would be better for Paul to die and go to heaven so that his prayers might be more effective for the Philippians. The arguments defending invocation of the saints insist that those who have died and gone to be with the Lord are more sanctified and in closer union to the Trinity and therefore their intercessions are that much more potent. But Paul says just the opposite. He says that staying in the flesh is more needful and more useful for the Philippians. Dying does not mean that he will go on to heaven and carry on a more effective ministry on their behalf. Neither does dying mean that Paul will "remain and continue" with them, only via the Holy Spirit. Paul assumes that his death will be a departure from the Philippians and that his ministry to them and for them will change significantly. Do not misunderstand me, Paul is carrying on worship and prayer before the lamb even now, but Paul knows nothing of the doctrine of the invocation of the dead.
Another example is 1 Thessalonians 4. Paul wants the Thessalonians not to be "ignorant" concerning those who have fallen asleep, and he wants to give comfort to those who are alive (1 Th. 4:13-18). First, here's a perfect opportunity for Paul to explain how those who have died in Christ actually can hear us when we talk to them. Here's a perfect opportunity to dispel our ignorance regarding those who have fallen asleep in death. But the comfort that Paul brings is the comfort of the resurrection, the comfort of the promise of Christ's appearing. The doctrine of the invocation of the saints is not the comfort Paul offers. Talking to the dead, far from being an affirmation of the doctrine of the resurrection, actually seems to be at odds with it. We are not gnostics, and therefore the victory of the resurrection of Jesus has only begun to burst out into this world. But the fullness of that victory will occur when I get my body back from the grave. When the worms and maggots are deprived of their gluttonous feasting, then we shall be reunited to speak to one another again. Prior to the resurrection, death is swallowed up in victory because Jesus is risen and he is busy driving death and evil out of this world, but talking to dead people is some form of hyper-preterism. Why do we need the resurrection if death is already done away with? The sting of death is gone; sin does not plague believers and therefore we can die and rest in peace in Christ. But death is still a reality; death does separate us from direct contact with those we love. Lastly, on this Thessalonians passage, Paul uses the description of the dead as being "asleep." I fully grant that this is metaphorical language, and I am not a proponent of the doctrine of "soul sleep." At the same time, the metaphor means something. And if Paul is trying to dispel our ignorance regarding those who have died in Christ, he is in no way suggesting that we ought to pray to them, ask them to pray for us, or in any way try to communicate with them. We don't talk to people when they're taking a nap or in the middle of the night when they're sleeping. The metaphor doesn't invite us to think that we ought to be talking with them. Rather, it invites us to think that we must wait for them to "wake up" at the resurrection.
Ok. Please hear me carefully. I'm throwing these passages out for discussion. I invite honest interaction here. I know I may sound polemic at points, but my point is not to offend anyone or suggest that people who don't agree with me are fools. My point is simply to restate what I've said before. We cannot invoke the saints in faith because God has not invited us to do so in His Word. At best, we are ignorant of how we commune with the departed saints. The biblical writers have countless opportunities to clarify, and they do not ever suggest that we can keep talking to them and they hear us after they have died. They are with Christ, they are worshipping the lamb on the throne, death is swallowed up in victory and we do not mourn like unbelievers, and yes their lives and legacies surround us as a great cloud of witnesses. And yes, in the Holy Spirit we are united together, and all of our lives are hid with God in Christ. Yes, and Amen. But to extrapolate beyond that, that we can and ought to talk to departed saints is to speculate beyond the Word of God.
And if God has not spoken, then we cannot act in faith.
Monday, September 01, 2008
Part of Ezekiel's prophetic mission is a theatrical calling. Ezekiel is commissioned by God to create a rendering of Jerusalem on a clay tablet and then lay siege to the clay tablet. This siege includes a siege wall, a mound, camps, and battering rams (4:2). In addition, Ezekiel must "set his face against" the city, and he is to use an iron plate as a symbol of this. Of course his siege is enacted over the course of a year and a half, laying on his side in front of this model of Jerusalem (4:5-6).
During this siege, Ezekiel is given specific instructions regarding his diet. He may only drink water by certain measures (4:11), and a certain amount of bread. And this bread must be prepared over a fire fueled by human feces. After all that God has required, Ezekiel finally objects to these particular instructions insisting that this last dramatic enactment of the folly of Israel goes too far. It would actually require him to defile himself. "Ah, Lord Yahweh, Indeed I have never defiled myself from my youth till now; I have never eaten what died of itself or was torn by beasts, nor has abominable flesh ever come into my mouth" (4:14). And God relents and allows Ezekiel to cook over a fire fueled by cow dung instead.
Ezekiel's objection to God runs parallel to Peter's objection to the invitation to kill and eat on the balcony in Joppa (Acts 10:9-16). Similarly, Peter objects on the grounds that he has never defiled himself before. His specific objection is that he has never eaten anything common or unclean (Acts 10:14). Both stories have to do with the Gentiles. Peter is being prepared to preach the gospel and baptize the gentile Cornelius; Ezekiel is picturing how God will drive his people out of Israel into the lands of the Gentiles and eat defiled bread with them (4:13). Arguably the story of Acts is the record of the Spirit driving Christians out of Jerusalem into Gentile territories in order that the gospel might go out to the ends of the earth. But of course there are important contrasts: one situation is clearly a curse while the other is the beginning of blessing.
A couple other thoughts and a question: This scenario raises questions about morality and the arts. Ezekiel seems to object to God's instructions here based on the assumption that actually performing the theatrical act will itself constitute defilement even though it serves a higher prophetic purpose. But wound into this situation is the factor that God is the one commanding Ezekiel to do it.
So is Ezekiel right?
Josh says in the comments that he was taught to ask the questions "Says who?" and "On what authority?" And it is those questions that has led him to question the reliability of some protestant doctrinal stances (Josh, correct me if I'm misrepresenting you).
Of course this goes to the heart of one of the central points of difference between Protestants and Orthodox and Roman Catholics. Protestants say that Scripture is the only ultimate, infallible authority, Orthodox point to Tradition/the Church as the ultimate authority, and Roman Catholics have the Pope. Orthodox and Roman Catholics object to the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura on the grounds that this introduces anarchy into the Church. Instead of one Pope, we now have millions. And granted, there are plenty of anabaptists still carrying on like they are in fact descended from St. Peter, and some of them call themselves "presbyterian" or "reformed."
But the Magisterial Reformers have always been at war with such unbridled autonomy. At the same time, they also insisted that the Church could submit to the Scriptures as ultimate without resulting in relativistic splintering. They said that the Scriptures could be (and are) ultimate, and what they authoritatively say is not a secret so deep we need bishops to decipher the code nor is it so mysterious that disagreement between interpreters means it is insufficient. Of course all branches of Christendom hold the Scriptures in high regard, please don't misunderstand me. The question that we keep bumping into is whose interpretation is correct? And how do you know?
But one of the fundamental problems with asking the question this way is that it already assumes that Scripture isn't clear. Is the Word of God unclear? Or do reckless men twist the Scriptures to their own destruction? Yes, I know that there are some things that are hard to understand, but it is our problem, not God's, right?
And the comeback I anticipate is: Well, why do we have denominations and sects breeding like maggots in a trash can? How come every time you blink there's a new group of people and churches forming a new association and excommunicating the rest of Christendom? But my point is that in so far as these are acts of schism, bitterness, envy, and arrogance, they are acts of sin. And anyone who's been around the block in Eastern Orthodoxy or Roman Catholicism knows that those sins are not absent there either. Unity on paper is not closer to real unity of purpose, unity of mind, communion of the saints, etc. And often this counterfeit unity passes for the real deal. We have apostolic succession, they solemnly insist, and meanwhile various branches of the church transfer their allegiance to a different archbishop, a different metropolitan, and they can call it "autocephalous" or "transferring jurisdictions" and claim they cannot be accused of being protestant schismatics. Come on, people. Just because Protestants tend to do their laundry out in public for everyone to see doesn't mean our Roman and Eastern brothers aren't busy bickering and dividing over their issues.
And the point: the sin of schism does not prove that Scripture is any less clear or any less sufficient for our needs. It does not prove that we need a class of gypsy priests to interpret the Scriptures like so many tea leaves for the ignorant masses. In fact, if anything, it proves our need for God's Word, and our insufficiency as sinful humans.
Today we consider the call to love the other people in our homes and families by considering a few more portions of our liturgy. The logic of the gospel is that we have been made alive together with these other saints, and we continue to live out an ecclesiology in our homes whether we realize it or not. Today, we think particularly about how God grows up and teaches us as his children in a context of mercy.
Lord Have Mercy
Since the early church, Christians have begun worship with the prayer, “Lord have mercy.” This is one of the common ways we see people addressing Jesus in the gospels (Mt. 15:22, 17:15, 20:30, Mk. 10:47, Lk. 17:13), and it comes with rich covenantal overtones in the Old Testament (e.g. Ps. 136, cf. Dt. 7:9, 12, 1 Kgs. 8:23, Neh. 1:5, Ps. 89:28). And the birth of Christ is the fulfillment of that covenant and mercy (Lk. 1:50, 54, 58, 72, 78). The Kyrie is a plea for God’s covenant promises in all of life for the whole world in Jesus. And as soon as we begin talking about covenant, we’re talking about generations, and that means children. We come as suppliants, inferiors, servants before a master, subjects before a king, as children before the Father. And this raises the question, how does our Father respond?
Jubilee is a Person (Lk. 7:18-29)
This mercy is not merely forgiveness, but comes in the form of sitting at the feet of Christ, listening to his teaching and instruction and finally being invited to eat with him. This pattern is played out vividly in the gospel. John has sent messengers to inquire if Jesus is the “Coming One,” and Jesus responds by describing his ministry (7:18-23). This description is in part a reference to Is. 61:1 which was the passage that Jesus began his ministry with in Luke (Lk. 4:16-21). Jesus has said that his ministry is to proclaim the “acceptable year of the Lord.” This word for “liberty” is only use a few other places, one of which is Lev. 25:10, describing the year of Jubilee, the year of forgiveness of debts, the return of land and inheritance (cf. Is. 61:2, 49:8). Jesus reflects on the ministry of John, and even tax collectors justify God (7:24-29).
Wisdom is a Forgiven Sinner (Lk. 7:30-50)
Because the Spirit of the Lord is upon Jesus, we should expect him to be filled with wisdom (e.g. Ex. 31:2-3, 28:3, Is. 11:2, Acts 6:3). And therefore, Jesus responding to the rejection of the Pharisees and lawyers (7:30), says that this generation is like foolish children who are amazed when the world doesn’t conform to their whims (7:31-32). Neither Jesus nor John the Baptist conformed to their preconceived notions (7:33-34), but Jesus says that wisdom is a woman whose children justify her (cf. 7:29). This flows right into the story of Jesus eating in a Pharisee’s house (7:36), and the implication is that the woman is an example of this wisdom. Notice that Jesus has just described his ministry as characterized by eating with sinners, and the very next episode is Jesus eating with a Pharisee and woman shows up who is a “sinner” (7:37, 39). The woman’s actions are lavish, overdone (even grotesque perhaps to us), but they are acts of hospitality and love (Lk. 7:44-47). While there is perhaps room for nuance, the parable suggests that these great acts of love are a response to a great act of forgiveness (7:41-42, 47). The word for “forgave” means to release, to free, to bestow liberty (e.g. Acts 3:14, 25:11, 16, Phm. 1:22), and of course it also frequently refers to how God has dealt with us in Christ (Rom. 8:32, Eph. 4:32). And as this story teaches us, forgiveness forgets debts. If this story is a picture of the liturgy, following the pattern of our worship, then Christ’s teaching and instruction comes in the context of mercy and forgiveness at a meal. The love of the sinful woman is evoked by the embodiment of Jubilee in the person of Jesus. Jesus is the return of the inheritance, Jesus is our return home, Jesus is our invitation to begin again.
Conclusions & Applications
As we consider the pattern of our worship as a blueprint for treatment of other people, and particularly those other people in our own home, it should be noted that the entire liturgy works as a good outline for disciplining our children in general.
Jesus eats with sinners; Jesus is a friend of sinners. And this means that we are called to imitate this in our homes cheerfully. The sinners that come to your table need to be invited in the spirit of Jubilee: Welcome home.
Bestowing forgiveness is an act of nobility and royalty. God wants us to live lavishly, with forgiveness to spare at every point (Mt. 18:22). We have endless supplies of grace, treasuries of mercy untold. We are rich because God is (Eph. 2:4). Fathers, you are called to this in particular.
We want our homes to be rich with mercy and grace. This is not to downplay the need for discipline, it is to insist that it be surrounded with mercy and forgiveness. He who is forgiven much will love much, and we are required to believe this and live it even when it doesn’t look like it’s “working.” Grace works.
We are called to live as embodiments of Jubilee, and Jesus says that there are particular rewards for those who bestow mercy upon the youngest and most insignificant disciples (Mt. 10:42). This is wisdom.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!