Friday, October 30, 2009

Job's Words Perfected

I've noted before that Job is tam, blameless, perfect which is related to the word tamim, spotless, without blemish. In this way Job is a sort of living sacrifice.

A form of the same word is used in 31:40 where Job's words are "ended." They are literally "perfected." The perfect man has perfected his words.


Monday, October 26, 2009

Ellul on Constantine


"After his victory at Milvian Bridge, faithful to his promise, Constantine favors the church from which he has received support. Catholic Christianity becomes the state religion and an exchange takes place: the church is invested with political power, and it invests the emperor with religious power. We have here the same perversion, for how can Jesus manifest himself in the power of dominion and constraint?" (124)

Ellul goes on to say that this alliance between the church and the empire is essentially a capitulation to the temptation which Jesus refused, the offer of the kingdoms of the world by the devil.

But granted that the power of God is manifested and perfected in weakness, granted that wisdom is manifested and perfected in fools, granted that God displays his riches through poverty, etc., is there no place for vindication in history this side of the final judgment? In other words, can there be no resurrection in history for God's people before the final resurrection? Does God never give earthly authority and influence and even power to His people? Yes, the answer may come back, but only in weakness, only in suffering, only in giving up power. But, I retort to myself, that's not what Jesus has done. Jesus did give up his life, he did humble himself for a time but this was so that He might be granted all authority and power. When He ascended into heaven He did not refuse the throne on grounds that power was only found in weakness.

We can ask this question from the other way around: will heavenly/eternal glory still be manifested in weakness and suffering after the final resurrection? Of course it is now, but what about in the eschaton, when death has been swallowed up in victory? Doesn't the removal of every tear from every eye imply that the cross is finished/completed in history and that the human race may enter that final rest? Or will our crowns not really be crowns? Is there a complete inversion of values and no resurrection?

So didn't Jesus assume authority and power over all the nations of the earth after His resurrection and in His ascension? How has Jesus not himself capitulated to idolatry? And if the answer is that He has gone about attaining this power in the *right* way, how was a couple of centuries of persecution and martyrdom not a sufficient cross to bear for the infant church? Why can't Constantine (for all his miserable failures) be an answer from God, a vindication, a resurrection in the middle of history that points, however faintly, to that final glory?

Maybe Ellul would grant this and still complain; I don't know. He goes on to enumerate all the ways political alliances can and tend to compromise the church, and I'm happy to acknowledge lots of what he says there as all too painfully true. I just don't see how we can conclude even with all the mud in the water how it makes sense to throw the baby out as well.


Ellul's Anarchism

From Ellul's chapter on political perversion:

"[T]he biblical view [of the church] is not just apolitical but antipolitical in the sense that it refuses to confer any value on political power, or in the sense that it regards political power as idolatrous, inevitably entailing idolatry." (113)

He doesn't have the space or interest to sketch his "anarchism" thoroughly, which he does elsewhere, but he gives his 3 page summary to explain his basic assumptions. This of course raises questions for the uninitiated (like myself), and so I wonder out loud to my virtual friends:

a. If the Judges era presents something of an "ideal" (is that right?), how does he account for the fact that the book of Judges itself laments the fact that there was no king in Israel and everyone did what was right in his own eyes? In other words, Judges seems to be more of a cautionary tale than an ideal. How could someone read Judges and long for the days without a king? It seems like just the opposite.

b. Granted that Israel was in sin in asking for a king when/how they did, but what about the provision in Dt. 17 regulating the office of a king? It seems to assume that this will be part of Isreal's growing up in the land not an act of idolatry. Related to this, Ellul cites a generality that most of the best kings (politically) were the worst (spiritually) and the worst kings (politically) were the best (spiritually). This may be true -- although I'd want it spelled out in more detail-- but I'd still go to David as the emblem of the kingdom era and that dichotomy doesn't seem present.

c. Seeing Babylon as Rome in the book of Revelation and thereby representing empire and political power is just missing most of the thrust of the New Testament. Rome is an enemy in so far as she is led into idolatry by unbelieving Jews, but the enemy is a certain kind of power-idolatry particularly resident in apostate Judaism. Jerusalem has become the new Babylon, the great harlot, etc. She rides the beast (Rome), and tells him where to go and whom to devour. I suspect that a similar misreading runs through the rest of his New Testament exegesis.

Well, that's a start anyway.


Reformation Sunday: The Little One in Our Midst: Mt. 18:1-20

It’s well known that the Protestant Reformers instigated an overhaul of the Roman church system. Luther recovered justification by faith, the centrality of Christ’s life/death/resurrection was reasserted, and right celebration and understanding of the sacraments was worked toward. It’s less well known that the Reformers also worked toward a recovery of faithful Church discipline. One of the great church discipline passages is Matthew 18, but what’s striking and a bit strange is that Matthew shows us Jesus going from little children to church discipline almost in the same breath. The “children of Israel” weren’t paragons of virtue and wisdom. Our children seem barely civilized. So what’s the deal?

Luther posted his theses on All Saints Eve, the great culmination of Trinity/Pentecost Season giving glory to God for all His saints, all His faithful down through the ages. The desire to purify the Church was a desire to love the children of Israel, to rescue the lost sheep of the Church, and to defend them from the wolves that had crept into the Church. I want to explore why the Protestant instinct to recover church discipline was a recovery of Jesus’ requirement that, “Unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt. 18:3)

Matthew has three scenarios piled on top of one another, all linked by the subject of “little ones.” In answer to the question “who is the greatest in the kingdom?” Jesus sets a little child (paidion) in the middle of them all (18:1-2). Jesus says that they all must be converted and become like little children to enter the kingdom (18:3) which doesn’t quite answer the original question. Once they have become little children, they must humble themselves like this child (in the midst of them) has who has become the model for kingdom citizens (18:4). Jesus explains that the path to becoming children is through receiving a little child in His name (18:5). And this is the same as receiving Jesus Himself.

Little Ones
Jesus continues, but He broadens his subject matter with the term “little ones” (micron) (18:6). Children are only one subset of this category. This would include all of the insignificant, the marginalized, the humble, the lost (cf. 18:12-13). The warning Jesus gives seems extreme. It reminds us of the Red Sea crossing and the judgment on Pharaoh’s men (Ex. 14-15); it also reminds us of the death of Abimelech whose head was crushed by a millstone (Jdg. 9:53). To cause a “little one” to fall into sin is to become an enemy of God’s people. So rather than causing one of these little ones to fall into sin, we ought to be at war with everything and everyone who does this. Cut off the hands and feet and pluck out the eye that causes “you” to fall into sin (18:8-9). And in case some might have thought that Jesus’ warning was merely hypothetical, Jesus assures them that they have advocates who have access to their Father, the Judge of all the earth (18:10).

One Lost Sheep
Even one lost sheep may seem insignificant, little, trifling, but Jesus says that our Father rejoices more over those little ones, those insignificant ones who have been stumbled, who have fallen into sin and been restored (18:11-13). Nevertheless, our Father’s wishes are that none of these little ones should perish. We should not only receive them, not only protect them, but also go searching for them just as God has done for us in Jesus. All of this comes as the context for the famous passage on seeking out a brother who has sinned against you. This is what should be done when someone does fall into sin (18:15ff). Given the context, part of the concern is dealing with those who do cause the little ones to sin. This is one of the ways we deal with “hands/feet/eyes” that cause us to sin. But this can also be viewed as the way we are to seek the little one who has stumbled and strayed. These are instructions for seeking to bring the sinning brother back into our midst, back into the middle of the community.

Refusal to seek out the lost sheep is refusal to receive little ones in our midst, which is tantamount to refusing to be converted and become like little children. We should point out that getting cast out of the Church is worse than drowning in the depths of the sea. Excommunication is an act that hands an individual over to Satan (1 Cor. 5:5) which is the beginning of being cast into hell. But refusal to discipline, refusal to seek out the straying sheep is allowing the “hand/feet/eye” to remain and is only more fodder for the fire. Note that Jesus closes these instructions with the promise to be in their midst when they are gathered in His name, just like the child in their midst whom they receive in His name (18:5, 20). When they gather as little children, Jesus will be in their midst.

Connecting the Dots
God has been very kind to us as a community, granting us a heart for children, and there are a multitude of examples where that love overflows to the sick, the lonely, the weak, and the straying. But we need to make sure we are connecting the dots from loving our children to loving all the little ones.

First, this means seeing the messiness of “little ones” as part of growing up into the wisdom of God. Our children (and all the children in the Church) are types for ministry to the body in general. It’s constant, it’s busy, and it can very easily be frustrating. This means that we need to realize that little ones will act like little ones. Become a child doesn’t mean throwing fits; it means receiving and loving little ones who sometimes do. It’s no accident that Jesus goes from talking about discipline straight into a conversation about forgiveness.

Second, we should not draw a false dichotomy here between loving our little ones and loving the little ones all around us. But we need to have an eye to the big picture. Suppose a brother or sister is in sin, how should you approach them? You should approach them like you would your son or daughter (and vice versa).

Third, the greatest in the kingdom of heaven is the one lost sheep that is found. God the Father rejoices over the little ones that are restored, and therefore so should we. This means that we need to continue to grow up into a community of restoration, rehabilitation, a community that rejoices in finding the one lost sheep. If your child went missing, surely you would not go about as business as usual. The names of those who have strayed from the faith that we pray for week after week should not become ordinary.

It can be easy to think that the messiness of children and little ones means that everything has gone wrong. And of course sin is always wrong. But welcoming the mess, receiving little ones in Jesus name is receiving Jesus into our midst (18:5). When we face the challenges in Jesus name, we are seeking Jesus in the challenge. And this means we are seeking wisdom. We need Jesus in our midst when we gather in His name for discipline (18:20). And we do this by loving the little ones, protecting the little ones. As we learn this wisdom, we welcome the enthroned Child into our midst (cf. Rev. 12:5).

As we celebrate Reformation Day and All Saints Day, we celebrate becoming like little children, rescuing lost children, protecting the little ones, and welcoming Jesus into our midst.

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!


Monday, October 19, 2009

1 Peter 2:11-12

Opening Prayer: Gracious Father, we thank you that have bestowed your love upon us. And we thank you that your love is most evident in the fact that you have made us your sons in your Son and by your Spirit. Teach us as a faithful Father now that we might be your faithful sons in the Spirit. Through Jesus the righteous Son, Amen.

These two verses serve to summarize the ground we have covered to this point and introduce what follows. If the first half of 1 Peter is about God’s people from the inside, the later half is concerned with God’s people from the outside. And when we say God’s people, we mean God’s house.

Beloved Sojourners and Pilgrims
Peter addresses his audience as “beloved,” as those who are loved. This fits with the family theme we’ve already noted, but it’s also the title that God the Father gives to Jesus (Mt. 3:17, 17:5, cf. 1 Pet. 1:3, 17). Given the covenantal context, we should recognize that Peter means they are loved by God (e.g. 2:9-10). Again, we find Peter addressing his audience with these “transitory” terms. We saw this in 1:1 and again in 1:17. It’s also been assumed in all the Exodus imagery. They are the covenant people of God somewhere between redemption from Egypt (1:18-19) and the established house of God in the land (2:4-10). But remember that Israel is the army of Yahweh, and therefore these “sojourners” are to wage war against the “fleshly lusts” (2:11). Many in Peter’s audience were probably literal refugees from Jerusalem (Acts 8:1, 4, 11:19), and this relates to the revelation/visitation language we see throughout the book along with the expectation of immanent judgment (1:7, 1:13, 2:12, 4:5, 4:7, 12, 17, 5:1).

Day of Visitation
Peter urges them to have their conduct be honorable such that those who accuse them falsely may turn and glorify God in the “day of visitation” (2:12). There are two keys to understanding Peter’s exhortation. First, we are dealing with the scattered Jews and believing gentiles who have joined them, and we know from Acts that some of the most intense persecutions were being instigated by the Jews (e.g. Acts 9:23, 13:50, 14:2, 19, 17:5, 21:27, 23:12, 24:5). Based on this evidence, the pattern is fairly clear that the unbelieving Jews frequently stirred up crowds and political authorities against the Christians. This is most likely what Peter is responding to particularly in light of his reference to the “day of visitation” which only occurs with similar meaning in Luke 19:44. There Jesus is describing the destruction of Jerusalem, and He is most likely alluding to a prophecy in Jeremiah 6 which is likewise foretelling the coming destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. (cf. Is. 10:3). The message in both Luke and Jeremiah is to flee the city of Jerusalem (Jer. 6:1, Lk. 21:20-21). We should also note that the theme of “visitations” in the OT frequently refers to God’s blessing (e.g. Ex. 4:31, Ruth 1:6, 1 Sam. 2:21, Lk. 1:68).

Putting it Together
Looking back, we can see other parts of Peter’s argument falling into place. Christians have been given that which is indestructible (1:4), it’s better than gold and withstands fire (1:7), and those who have come to Jesus are the elect, covenant people of God (1:1, 2:4, 9). They are the new Israel, the new house of God, the tabernacle/temple of the Spirit which is better than a building that can be surrounded by armies and burned to the ground. Unlike Jerusalem, they may be tested “by fire” (1:6-7, cf. 4:12, 17), but they will be delivered through the fire and proven to be God’s people by their faithfulness. To put it plainly, the Jewish zealots who are falsely accusing the Christians will be exposed as the real revolutionaries in the Jewish rebellion, and the gentiles will glorify God for Christian obedience. The day of visitation will be for their blessing and God’s glory.

Conclusions & Applications
Notice that Peter addresses the “beloved” as those who must resist “fleshly lusts” which war against the soul. This means that God’s favorite people are not above the fray; they are smack dab in the middle of it. This all goes back to faith in God and His grace and mercy toward us in Jesus Christ (1:4-9, 20-21, 2:9-10).

Although Peter was writing to a specific historical context, the principles remain the same for us. Jesus is in heaven, and He visits us. He visits us through judgments in history; He visits us in Lord’s Day worship. And when He visits, He exalts the humble and weak, and He puts down the proud and mighty. Therefore we are called upon to wage war faithfully, trusting that God will display His grace that the world might see and glorify Him.

Finally, we must not forget that there will be a great and final visitation of the Lord Jesus, and we are rushing forward to meet it. Our lives are short, and we do not know the day or the hour in which Jesus will visit us and take us from this life. And one day every one of us will stand before the throne of the King.

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!

Closing Prayer: O God we ask that you would enable us to see all the ways in which you have drawn near to us and visited us. Help us to see how you have sought us out in our lives, how you continue to pursue us, and grant us the ability to also see that we shall all one day stand before you. Visit us that we might display your grace, that your mercy and truth might be exalted in our land. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who taught us to pray, singing..


Friday, October 16, 2009

Ellul on Islam

Ellul has an interesting chapter on the influence of Islam on Christianity. Like much else in this book, I think Ellul is something of a perfectionist who is overly critical, only seeing the failures of the Church, but this can of course also be helpful in pointing out real error.

Here he says that the rise of Canon Law comes to the West through Islam in the East. "I am inclined to think, for example, that the law of serfdom is a Western imitation of the Muslim dhimmi. Religious law is also important. I am convinced that some parts of canon law have their origin in Arab law." (97)

Ellul goes further by suggesting that it's a philosophical problem. Thoma Aquinas not only gave us a great synthesis of Aristotle and classical philosophy, he did it as a result of Islam. "We speak of Greek philosophy and Christian theology. But this Greek philosophy was faithfully transmitted by Arab interpreters. It was by way of Arab-Muslim thinking that the problem came to be addressed at this time." (97)

Ellul draws a straight line from Muslim unitarian monotheism and legalism to what he calls the "juridicizing of Christendom," pressuring theology into purely legal categories (99). And once religion has taken on this political role, it is not surprising to see it turn violent. Ellul says that it cannot be considered an accident that shortly after Christians come in contact with militant Islam, the crusades emerge on the scene as plausible options. "One fact, however, is a radical one, namely, that the Crusade is an imitation of the jihad. Thus the Crusade includes a guarantee of salvation. The one who dies in a holy war goes straight to Paradise, and the same applies to the one who takes part in a crusade. This is no coincidence; it is an exact equivalent." (103)


1 Peter 2:1-10

We have noted numerous times that Peter is applying the Exodus story to his audience, the new Israel of God, and this becomes even more explicit here in chapter 2.

Children and Family
Running through the beginning of 1 Peter has been this notion of being “begotten again” (1:3), “children” (1:14), God as their “Father” (1:17), “love of the brethren” (1:22), and “born again” (1:23). And Peter picks this up again by exhorting his people to be “newborn babes” (2:2). Salvation is not merely an individual reality; it means being born again into the family of God, the household of faith (e.g. Gal. 6:10). This is where Jesus promises to be and where He promises to meet with His people. Notice that this is the second time Peter has exhorted his audience to be children (cf. 1:14), and notice that in both places it means putting away sin. One of the marks of a child-like faith is repentance, and here Peter particularly stresses being true and genuine (2:1-2).

A Living Stone
Peter says that they have begun to “drawn near” to the Lord as a “living stone” (2:4) and this is likely yet another allusion to the Exodus. Peter ties this “stone” to the Isaiah 8 prophesy regarding the “rock of offense” (2:8) and Paul quotes the same passage in Romans 9. The prophecy in Isaiah 8 comes on the heels of the prophecy of Assyria coming up over the land of Israel like a flood (Is. 7:17, 8:7). Isaiah is warned by the Lord that things are going to get pretty rough when this happens, but the Lord promises to be Isaiah’s “sanctuary” while becoming a “stone of stumbling and a rock of offense” to Israel (Is. 8:14). Likewise, Paul seems to have this image in mind when he warns the Corinthians about being faithful (1 Cor. 10:4). Notice also that Jesus has been rejected by men but chosen by God (2:4), chosen just like they were (1:1). And because He is chosen, He is “precious” (2:6-7) just like their faith (1:7). This is why Peter can say that they are “living stones.” They are being built up into a “sanctuary,” a house of the Spirit (2:5). Thus the central question that divides all humanity is between belief and unbelief (2:7).

People for Praise
Peter calls his audience a “priesthood” twice (2:5, 9), and this word is only used one other place in the Scriptures, in Exodus 19:6 where Yahweh declares that if Israel will be His covenant people they shall be a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Peter blends this image into the first 2 chapters of Hosea where Israel is denounced for her harlotries, and Hosea’s children are named prophetically. Peter picks up on these prophesies, declaring them true for the Church. They are the new creation, the new light from darkness, and the mercy and love of God are the basis for their sacrifices of praise (2:5, 9-10).

Conclusion & Applications
We need to remember that the Church is our first family (Mk. 3:33-34, Lk. 14:26). It is only in this family that our biological family is remade and renewed.

True repentance of sin results in heartfelt worship and praise. Putting off the sin (2:1), guzzling the milk of the word (2:2), and tasting the wonderful mercy and goodness of God must necessarily burst in praise. And if there is no praise, we have to wonder if we are stumbling on the rock of offense.

Finally, this building project that we call the Church is built out of people who need mercy, who need light, who need a family. This means that evangelism is central, and our delight in the goodness of God is all about filling the Church with more voices (cf. 2:12).


Tasting God's Goodness

Peter says that we ought to desire the pure milk of the word like newborn babes that we may grow thereby, “if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” Peter is probably paraphrasing Ps. 34 which we commonly sing a metrical version of which says, “O taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who trusts in Him. O fear the Lord, you His saints! There is no want to those who fear Him. The young lions lack and suffer hunger; but those who seek the Lord shall not lack any good thing.” On either side of this confident declaration of the Lord’s provision is David’s declaration that the Lord saves those who cry out to Him, the declaration that His angel constantly encamps around those who fear Him and delivers them. The Lord delivers out of all troubles and is near to those with broken hearts and saves those who are sad and hurting. He guards even our bones and promises that no one who trusts in Him will ever be condemned. Now this Psalm is hard to read when we have had difficult things happen in our lives. When we have been mistreated or falsely accused. When we have suffered from an illness or when have seen a dear loved one suffer greatly or die. And we read that the Angel of the Lord constantly encamps around those who fear Him. Where is God’s justice? Where is His goodness? David and Peter both say that we have tasted it. They say that the reason we know that God is good, the way we know that He will judge righteously, that He will have mercy on the broken hearted and save those who fear Him and destroy those who act falsely and do evil, the way we know that is seen in the fact that God feeds us. Young lions may lack and suffer hunger, but those who seek the Lord shall not lack any good thing. Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who trusts in Him! And so Peter calls us to taste and see that the Lord is good and gracious. And what are we tasting and seeing? We are tasting and seeing that the gospel, the declaration that our sins are forgiven in Christ, that we have been raised to new life in His resurrection, and that we have been adopted into a new family in the church, the family that God loves, the family that God leads, the family that God feeds. So come eat and drink, come taste and remember, come see and remember, that the Lord is good.


Learning from Infants

There are many children in our congregation. Most of them are still fairly young, and frequently there are a number of baby carriers scattered around the room for our littlest ones. And of course we have the excitement of baby noises and children learning to worship with us. And this is all very wonderful. But Peter says that they are here and they are put into our lives to teach us. We are not merely to teach them, but they are our instructors as well. And he says that the newborns teach us something in particular. They teach us to be hungry. Newborn babies teach us to be almost constantly starving for milk. Newborns even need this milk around the clock. They don’t think that sleeping for eight hours without a snack is a good idea. And when it’s slow in coming or when they wish it was sooner, they cry. Their hearts are broken, and they speak the only way they know how to speak and they tell us that it’s all wrong, it’s all wrong. They’re hungry, they’re starving, they’re thirsty. They need milk. And rather than thinking that that is only a trying and challenging time in this new life, Peter says that we need to watch and learn. He says, “as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby.” Peter says that all of us reborn in the resurrection of Jesus, all of us reborn through the power of the Word of God in the gospel, all us are to imitate the littlest babies and starve for the milk of the word. And eight hours should seem a tediously long time to have to go without milk. Read the word, hear the word, sing the word, meditate on the word, feed on the word. Centrally, that word is the gospel, the declaration that Jesus Christ came, suffered for our sins, died, was buried, and He was raised from the dead the third day and ascended into heaven where He rules heaven earth until every enemy has been put down. Hunger and thirst for righteousness, and you will be filled. But Jesus says that if we do not become like little babies we will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.


Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Ellul and the Cult of the Virgin

Ellul points to the elevation of celibacy as a higher calling and ideal as one example of the crumbling of the original vision of the Christian community. He sees this particularly in the changing views and roles of women. More specifically, he says, "the more feminine liberty was supressed, the more women were accused (of being the temptress of Genesis, etc.), the more they were reduced to silence, and the more, reciprocally, their ideal role was exalted, the model was achieved one time only. The cult of the Virgin flourishes under the repression, veiling it and giving men a good conscience. The cult of the Virgin does not prove that women were placed too high. The exact opposite is the case. It plays the role of an ideology and conceals the mechanism whereby women are despoiled, treated as minors, and negated. The model is perfect because it is unique. Because no other woman can approximate it, all others, in the name of the Virgin's excellence, must be reduced to tutelage." (34)


Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Jacques Ellul: Not Radical Enough

Just started Jacques Ellul's Subversion of Christianity which I am told is vaguely reminiscent of Leithart's Against Christianity. We'll see where he goes, but the early returns are that he follows the anti-constantianism routine, in some fashion, suspicious that the Church sold out in the third and fourth centuries, a victim of its own success. While I'm open to being critical of the history of the Church, I'm generally a little dubious when these sorts of critiques romantically long for the simplicity and radical nature of the gospel, the teachings of Christ, and the tradition of the apostles and then immediately fail to take their own advice. Case and point here: frequently, it's claimed that one of the marks of this devolution in the Church is the transition from a fairly elaborate process of catechizing, testing, and proving of individuals leading up to baptism to a more haphazard, popularizing of entry into the church.

Ellul writes: "In the primitive church personal conversion brought entry and presupposed preparatory training. When the church became an affair of the masses, it became impossible to be sure of the authenticity of each convert. The process reversed itself. People entered the church first and then received the religious instruction that would guarantee the seriousness of their faith. Entry into the church was followed by spiritual training and the acquiring of knowledge. The net had to be cast wide so as to bring in as many as possible. But success put Christianity on a slippery slope. For fundamentally, why wait for deliberate entry into the church?" (30)

The problem with this is that this is actually a place where the movement is toward greater faithfulness to the New Testament and not less. Where Ellul is suspicious of the Church growing soft and trendy (which very well may be true is some ways during this era), the fact is that in the New Testament, all the incidents of baptism that we have present baptism as entry into the church with catechism to follow. In fact, in some of the instances, it's so rushed as to seem a little strange. Why does Paul baptize the Philippian jailer and his family in the middle of the night, for instance? Surely spiritual training would have to follow the baptism in this case. The Ethiopian eunuch is also a pretty short affair, and where Ellul is suspicious of mass baptisms, Pentecost is the great New Testament example of this very thing. A huge crowd hears one sermon, and Peter invites them to baptism. No catechumens, no waiting period, just baptize them. And they did, three thousand of them in one day. If mass conversions and baptisms is a slippery slope, we've got it starting on the birthday of the Church, the day of Pentecost itself.

Talk about radical. And here's where Ellul and folks like him seem to miss one of the most radical aspects of the Christian faith. God welcomes people who don't understand into His family. He welcomes everyone to join his family, and insists that it be full of babies, infants. And God claims His children by sprinkling a little bit of water on people who confess that Jesus is Lord. And when whole cities, tribes, and nations confess the faith, that will sometimes mean gloriously massive baptismal services. And yes that means that the church will quickly fill up with lots of immature, baby Christians who don't know a lick of the Bible or basic morality. But apparently that's part of the Church growing up into a mature man and being conformed to the image of Christ. In fact, that's how we must come to Christ, like little children hungry for the milk of the word, crying, inarticulate, and completely dependent.


Monday, October 05, 2009

1 Peter 1:13-25

Opening Prayer: Our Father, we come to you as your people at Trinity Reformed Church, and we ask for you to direct us, to lead us by your Word and Spirit. Purify us, cleanse us, and teach us to walk with You. Through Christ our Lord, Amen!

Peter writes to the scattered seed of Israel who are the elect, covenant people of God. They have been raised from the dead in Jesus’ resurrection, and therefore their inheritance is secure, guarded in heaven. This inheritance is chiefly the restoration of man to fellowship with God, to the rest of humanity, and to creation. This glory has been revealed in the gift of the Spirit, surpassing even the glory of angels.

Peter says that since this is the case, they must gird themselves for war (1:13, cf. Jdg. 18:16, 1 Sam. 25:13, Neh. 4:12). They must prepare themselves like those who have a mission, a duty to perform (2 Kgs. 4:29, 9:1, Jer. 1:17), like priests dressed for action (Ex. 29:9, Lev. 8:7, 13). Jesus also exhorted his disciples to this (Lk. 12:35). Paul uses similar language to describe the armor which Christians must wear (Eph. 6:14). Peter particularly urges his readers to mental and intellectual readiness. Notice that Paul again grounds this in hope (cf. 1:3, 1:21, 3:15), and this hope is grounded in the event of the resurrection and all of the acts of new creation that follow in its wake (i.e. salvation). We will come back to this, but notice that Peter keeps bringing up the “revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:5, 1:7, 1:12). The “revelation of Jesus” is the “sufferings and glories that would follow” (1:11).

Children of Obedience
This warfare/ministry must be waged through obedience, putting off the flesh and putting on holiness (1:14-16). This is once again covenantal language explicitly from God’s word to Israel (Lev. 11:44-45, 19:2, 20:7), and here Peter again applies the covenantal status to these Christian churches (cf. 1:2). They need to be “children of obedience.” This refers back to the fact that they have been reborn in the resurrection of Jesus (1:3), but this also reaffirms their genealogy as children of the Obedient Son (cf. Rom. 5:19). Peter uses this word similarly in 1:2. The word for “obedience” is also related to the word “to hear.” Hearing rightly means obedience (cf. Js. 1:222ff). The call to holiness is not merely a matter of moral purity. Holiness has to do with the presence and glory of God (Is. 6:3). Israel was required to be holy like Yahweh because He was in their presence. Holiness is access to the glory of God (Heb. 12:14).

During Their Sojourn
Peter exhorts his audience to conduct themselves in “fear” because if they call on God as their Father, they must know that He will evaluate them as His children (1:17). We shouldn’t miss how Peter sees fatherly love and justice bound together and not at odds. Peter particularly emphasizes the call to obedience “throughout the time of their stay,” literally during the time of their “sojourn.” This reminds us of Peter’s greeting where he call them the “diaspora,” the scattered people of God. This is frequently misunderstood along with unbiblical notions of heaven: e.g. “We’re just visiting this world, and it doesn’t really matter.” Our treasure is in heaven, but our mission and prayer is seeing that glory established and “revealed” here “as it is in heaven.” Our “sojourn” is a colonization mission, and so while this is not yet our home, the church is a prototype of the Kingdom which is coming down out of heaven (Rev. 21:2). And worship is access to the control room.

Resurrected Israel
Peter draws his exhortations from a recounting of the history of Israel from the command to be holy and obedient to their sojourn to their “redemption” through the “blood of Christ,” their “lamb without blemish and without spot” (1:18-19). This is all Sinai-Exodus-Passover imagery. Peter says that they have been redeemed from Egypt through the blood of a new Passover Lamb. Jesus was the Son who died in the place of all the firstborn sons. Notice again the reference to “silver and gold” (1:18, cf. 1:7). These scattered Jewish Christians and believing Gentiles may have been tempted by the semblance of beauty and stability found in temples with gold and silver, but those things perish in fire (1:7) and cannot compare with the “precious blood of Christ” (cf. 1:7).

Conclusions & Applications
All of this goes back again to the resurrection (1:20-21). And it’s the same for us. Our inheritance is incorruptible because God’s word is incorruptible and endures forever (1:22-25). And this word is the gospel preached, the same word that beckoned light from the darkness, and life from the dead.

We are strangers, but we are strangers with a mission. We are called to be a holy people which means that we are called to be a point of access to the Father. We are a Passover community, constantly offering and displaying the blood of the lamb and the way of redemption from “aimless conduct.”

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!

Closing Prayer: O God we give you praise and thanks for the new life you have bestowed upon us. Thank you for forgiveness, thank you for grace and mercy, thank you for Jesus whose blood is more precious to than anything we might desire. Grant us grace to love you that we might be life and light to those around us. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who taught us to pray, singing…


Redemption from Slavery

We pointed out this morning that Peter appeals to Jesus as our Passover lamb, who redeemed us with His precious blood. It’s worth pointing out that in the Passover and Exodus event, Israel was redeemed from Egypt. But the Passover itself was more specifically a salvation from the angel of death. We might remember that early in the plague narratives, there was a distinction made between Egypt and Israel in the land of Goshen. But this did not hold for all of the plagues, and in the tenth plague in particular, Israel was just as vulnerable as Egypt. And this suggests that redemption from Egypt was not merely a matter of slaves being freed. We know from Joshua’s exhortations to the elders of Isreal that many of the Israelites worshipped idols in Egypt and brought them along into the Promised Land. We sometimes think that the Israelites were minding their own business, being good neighbors and the new Pharaoh was just a psychopathic tyrant. But there are a number of indicators that the children of Israel embraced idolatry, forgot the Lord their God, and were sold into slavery for a whole host of sins. Redemption from Egypt included being granted freedom, but it was also a cataclysmic forgiveness as well. The sons of Israel, no less than the sons of Egypt deserved death for their sins. But God in His grace provided redemption, providing the blood of a lamb without blemish. But this explains why Peter describes redemption as being saved from an “aimless life.” Paul says something similar in Titus 2:14 where he says that were redeemed from every lawless deed. To be redeemed in the Old Testament was to be delivered from slavery. But biblically speaking, slavery is more than merely being owned or ruled by another person. Slavery is a way of life, a complex tangle of habits, attitudes, and first and foremost sin. This is why Jesus has given us this table. Here we celebrate redemption. Here we display the Lord’s death until He comes. We display the precious blood of Jesus and we remind God and one another that we are freed. But we also enact this freedom. We begin to live like redeemed people. We do that as bless one another in passing of the peace. We do that as we hear the Word read and declared. But centrally, we serve one another in this meal. We give ourselves to and for one another. As we take in that great sacrifice of Jesus, we turn and offer our bodies to God and to one another as living sacrifices. And that is what it means to be redeemed. That is what it means to be the armies of the Lord. So come, eat, drink, and rejoice.


Repentance: Saying No and Saying Yes

Peter exhorts us to gird up the loins of our minds, to be sober, to hope in the grace of Jesus Christ as obedient children, not conforming ourselves to the former lusts as in our ignorance. Notice that Peter exhorts us to both put on and to put off. The exhortation is to put off the former lusts and ignorance and to put on hope and sobriety and alertness. This is what repentance always does. Repentance turns. It turns from one action and turns to another. Put off sin, and put on righteousness. Stop disobeying, and start obeying. Frequently when we find ourselves sinning and frequently when it’s a sin that seems to reappear and afflict us, we tend to think we just need to try harder. We just need to concentrate on saying ‘no.’ And of course we do need to learn to say ‘no,’ but the call of the gospel and the pattern of repentance is always simultaneously learning to say ‘yes.’ Jesus is not the great miser up in heaven. Discipleship is not becoming children of some kind of cranky nanny. We are called to say ‘no’ to the lusts of the flesh and to say ‘yes’ to Jesus, to say ‘yes’ to selfless service, to say ‘yes’ to girding up the loins of our minds and hoping in the grace of Jesus. If you are fighting the sin of angry outbursts, you need to put sinful anger off and put love and kindness and tender-mercies on. If you are battling lust, then you need to put off those desires, but you must also put on biblical love, joy, peace, and patience. Lastly, we should note that Peter emphasizes the mind here. He exhorts us to put off ignorance which characterizes those who are enslaved to the flesh, and instead, he calls us to gird up the loins of our minds. While righteousness is not the same thing as being smart, there is a connection. Fighting sin takes mental alertness, sobriety, and as Peter says, a great deal of hope. But we cannot be surprised when lazy minds drift into the former lusts. But God gives more grace.

“Therefore He says: ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (Js. 4:6-7)


Saturday, October 03, 2009

Proverbs 27:19-22

“As in water face reflects face, So a man's heart reveals the man.” (Pr. 27:19)

The creation narrative sets something of a tone for two different uses of the word “man.” Peter Leithart has pointed this out, and I think he said he got it from Jim Jordan. (But I went back and checked, and it’s true.) In the Genesis story, the man is called Adam all the way up to when the woman is created. At the creation of woman (ishah) man is suddenly called ish (Gen. 2:23). And thereafter, the next couple of contexts for ish are usually in the context of marriage (2:24, 3:6, 3:16, 4:1). Thereafter, the distinction is not quite so obvious, but here in a highly poetic context in Proverbs, it’s interesting to note the different uses.

So far, in Proverbs 27, man has been referred to as 'ish' but here in 27:19, he is called 'adam' (also in 27:20). Thus far much of the emphasis has been on man and his neighbors, friends, and his wife (27:8, 17, 21). The switch to 'adam' suggests perhaps two things: first, that the concern here is with mankind in general and not man as male per se (cf. Gen. 1:27). Second, perhaps the emphasis is on our relationship to God or our standing in creation before God. Notice that here we have “water to water” and the in the following verse (also adam) we have 'sheol' (the grave) and 'abaddon' (lost/destruction). There’s something of a cosmic scope in view in these two verses.

We should recall that the idea of “reflecting” and “revealing” goes back to the creation narrative. Adam was created in the image and likeness of God, to reflect and reveal his Creator. Our actions are always a faithful and unfaithful reflection of the face of God. Creation too displays the glory of God (Ps. 19), and it displays His Godhead and attributes (Rom. 1). The second day of creation even sets up something of a structural reflection in the “waters above” and the “waters below,” inviting us to already wonder about earth reflecting/revealing the glory of heaven.

We should also note the parallel to Js. 1:23: “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror, for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.”

In Pr. 27:19, we might ask, how do we see the heart of man? Is this just something reflexive? Do we meditate on our own hearts and evaluate? Or is this something more objective, something people and neighbors can see? Note that 27:21 suggests the latter.

“Hell and Destruction are never full; So the eyes of man are never satisfied.” (27:20)

Taking these two verses together, the general appraisal of adam is negative. He’s grasping, hungry, greedy, and full of lust for more. This also suggests that “man’s heart” is reflected in creation broadly. This fits with the curses on sin, that creation will be infected with sin and death. Romans 8 says that creation groans with eager expectation looking forward to the redemption of the sons of God.
The word for destruction avadon is usually used to describe things which are lost (Ex. 22:8, Lev. 5:22-23, Dt. 22:3). We might paraphrase this by saying that the “As cemeteries and the lost and found are never empty...” The root verb means to destroy.

The eyes are organs of judgment and evaluation. Think again of Adam and Eve who “saw” the fruit and evaluated it as good for food and for making one wise.
Literally, the comparison has to do with hunger. Graves, destruction, and eyes are never full; they’re always hungry.

On the flip side, if this does go back to the Fall and sin in general, then part of our salvation is satisfaction and contentment. And perhaps this is something of what Jesus is getting at when he says that he will water which will cause us to never thirst again (Jn. 4:14). Whoever comes to Jesus will not hunger or thirst (Jn. 6:35).

“The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold, And a man is valued by what others say of him.” (27:21)

Here “man” is 'ish' again, and here we have a natural image of how people effect one another. Here’s an example of how creation teaches us about people.

We can take this proverb in several possible ways:

1. If the parallel is on “refining” then the emphasis may be on the man who is talked about. He is refined perhaps as he takes criticism and correction.

2. Literally, it says “A smelting pot for silver and a furnace for gold, and a man for a mouth of praising.” This may suggest that a man is refined by his own mouth, that is, who and what he praises.

3. If the emphasis is on value – these are processes of testing precious metals for purity – then the point taking either 1 or 2 above has more to do with revealing “man’s heart) (cf. 27:19) either through the praise he receives from others or the praise he himself gives.

“Though you grind a fool in a mortar with a pestle along with crushed grain, Yet his foolishness will not depart from him.” (27:22)

Here we have another natural sort of image. You can refine or process lots of things in nature, but there are some kinds of fools that will not change. If you crush grapes they can be used to produce wine; crush olives and you can produce oil; crush wheat and you can produce flour. But there are some kinds of fools that will not produce any good.

This can serve as a conclusion to the last few proverbs where evaluation, testing, and proving are themes. Here, the point is that you can only test and prove for so long. If there’s nothing good coming from the man then don’t think you can bring something out of nothing.

Of course we should remember that this is our condition apart from Christ. We are hopeless fools who cannot produce any good. Only the grace of God can transform fools into anything good.

This also comes as a concluding thought to this entire section. The emphasis has been on relationships, friends, family, and neighbors, and warnings concerning fools.


CRF Talk on Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy

Starting with Thankfulness
We want to talk about other branches of the Christian Church with thankfulness. This includes thankfulness for faithfulness in the Roman and Eastern branches of the Church, but this also includes thankfulness for what God has given us and thankfulness for the truth.

Here we also want to be thankful for our history, our tradition and story, and this includes a good thousand or more years we have in common with Rome and Constantinople. We are Protesting Catholics. This means we are professing/confessing catholics.

We also want to thank God for all true reformation, and even granting a critical read on the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, it is simply and wonderfully true that the Roman Church was in desperate need of renewal. And God used men like Luther, Calvin, Bucer, and Cranmer to break up the fallow ground.

We also want to be thankful to God for the churches and traditions we were born and raised in. More specifically, we want to thank God for the particular parents He has given us.

Walking with the Spirit by Faith
Walking by faith and with the Spirit is not easy. Jesus certainly promises peace and a burden that is light, but this is not the promise of an “easy” life where everything is straightforward and simple.

The two ends of the spectrum we are called to balance are faithfulness to tradition and faithfulness to the Scriptures. And the Scriptures teach both of these things: While the Scriptures are critical of certain kinds of tradition (e.g. Col. 2:8), the Scriptures require us to keep and honor other kinds of tradition (e.g. 1 Cor. 11:2, 2 Thess. 2:15, 3:6). The fifth commandment requires that we honor our fathers and mothers, and this command does not cease to apply after they have died. Removing the ancient landmark was a temptation for Israel as much as it is a temptation for us (e.g. Prov. 22:28). At the same time, constrained by Scripture, we also confess the sins of our fathers and cling to the promises of Scripture that call us to work for and expect more glory, new glory. Reformation is not to be understood as merely a onetime event, but rather as our marching orders. Sanctification is not just for individuals, but also for the Church as a whole.

This means we have to commit ourselves to patience, prayer, and reformation.

Let’s Be Critical
1. Idolatry: This is a very serious charge, and we should be careful about how we file it. At the same time there is much popular idolatry in the veneration of images, statues, relics, and the elements of the Supper. We should note that these practices do vary somewhat from culture to culture, but it is very disturbing that there is no widely known effort to curb misplaced devotion but only/usually defensiveness and self-justification (Num. 21, 2 Kgs. 18:4). At the same time, Protestants have sometimes only responded with negative charges. Positively, we should seek to lead in the arts (e.g. Tabernacle, Temple), honoring the saints (e.g. Heb. 11), and venerating living image bearers (Gen. 1:26, Ex. 20:12, 1 Kgs. 1:23, Ps. 115:4-8, Rom. 16:16, 1 Cor. 16:20, 2 Cor. 13:12, 1 Th. 5:26, 1 Pet. 5:14).

2. Schism: Roman and Eastern Christians have schismatic views of the Church. This is centrally evident in their refusal to share the Eucharist with Christians of other communions. Frequently, we in the Reformed and Protestant Tradition have been just as schismatic, and we need to lead in catholicity. The Bible teaches that unity is first of all found in and through the Holy Spirit and is therefore something to be kept and guarded (Eph. 4:3). This is done through putting on the fruits of the Spirit and ministering in and through the Church until we all come to the unity of the faith, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:13). This most certainly means submission to particular elders (Heb. 13:17), but this does not mean that unity is found in a letterhead or central office.

3. Misplaced Authority: The Roman and Orthodox Churches displace the authority of Jesus to varying degrees. They are right to point out that tradition is a lawful authority, but they are woefully insufficient in their response to abuses and failures in the tradition (cf. 2 Kgs. 18:4, Mt. 15:3). We pledge ourselves to the supreme authority of Jesus Christ who has spoken supremely in the Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:16, 2 Pet. 1:21). But this Word is always read, heard, preached, and sung in time. This means that Jesus leads His Church through the Spirit (Jn. 16:13), in the gospel proclaimed (Rom. 10:14), and in the sacraments (Mt. 28:18-20, 1 Cor. 10:16), in short, through the body of Christ (Rom. 12:5, 1 Cor. 12:12ff, Eph. 4:11ff). It is also important to note that we do not dismiss the apostolic tradition, rather, we insist that it is contained infallibly in the NT Scriptures (2 Thess. 2:15, 3:6-14).

4. Misplaced Priorities: This is not so much a criticism of Roman or Eastern brothers, but a criticism of those who “convert.” Protestant converts to Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy are largely what Jesus would call Pharisees. They are after an empty glory, they want human traditions that trump (or simplify) the Word of God, and they are guilty of tithing mint and dill and cumin having neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faith (Mt. 23:23). Church polity and icons need to be discussed, but only after we have cared for the orphans and widows, honored our parents, and loved the needy right in front of us (Mt. 25:31ff, Js. 1:27).

Loving the Reformation
The Reformers were some of the greatest scholars of their day. This does not mean they got everything right, but we should read them with admiration, expecting to learn from them. And in God’s good timing and grace, we should expect to build upon them (e.g. paedocommunion).

An example: Gregory the Great writes: “Therefore I fully affirm that whoever calls himself the universal Priest, or wants to be called that elevates himself to Antichrist, because he vaunts himself over all the others. Not only does this extreme arrogance lead to error, it's also perverse since this person wants to be seen as God over all people; thus whoever he is, who wants to be called the Priest alone, he exalts himself over all the other priests." (Cited in Principle of Protestantism, 169)

This is an example of the medieval and patristic pedigree of Protestantism. It wasn't like Luther and Calvin came along and decided they really didn't like the Pope, flipped through their Bibles till they came to a bad name to call him, and then slapped "Antichrist" on the Papal See. They were in good catholic company calling the office of the "universal bishop of the Church" Antichrist. It was at least part of the teaching of the fathers.

Working and Praying for Unity
In all of this we should be careful to remember that what we are working for is unity with Rome and Constantinople. This means that they are some of the brothers and sisters we want to love, care for, and bless. And this brings us back to thankfulness and patience.