April 25, 2013
February 17, 2013
I’ll just go ahead and admit right at the outset here that i am a massive fan of Carl Trueman (despite the fact that he is one of the most virulent opponents of celebrity) both b/c of his historical prowess (he recently had a newly published textbook on the Reformation recalled by the publishers simply by publishing his own critical review of the book’s many inaccuracies – very few have the chops to pull that off) as well as the fact that he just has a rather sharp edge and wit about him that i appreciate very much. So when i saw that Dr. Trueman had a book coming out on Creedalism i immediately added it to my wish list and eagerly anticipated its release. The book did not disappoint, and what follows will simply be a brief covering of the main chapter divisions to give you a general idea of the book. In future posts i will offer some interaction with the main premise of his book, viz. that the statement, “We have no creed but the bible!”, is not only a specious argument but – in Dr. Trueman’s view – an unbiblical one.
(*Note: all page numbering is from my Kobo eReader and does not refer to hard copy editions)
This is where Dr. Trueman really sets the precedent for the whole book by laying out his case that we all have creeds that we subscribe to and that they are – as the title suggests – biblical imperatives. He writes, “… even those churches and Christians who repudiate the whole notion of creeds and confessions will yet tend to operate with an implicit creed.” (p.7) He argues this case well against the “no creed but the bible” folk in many ways, but not the least of which by pointing out that, “Indeed, as soon as one mentions the word ‘Trinity’ from the pulpit, one is drawing on tradition, not Scripture.” (p.10) He is also quick to dispel the thinking that creeds and confessions supplant and/or over-ride Scripture in any way by defining them both as simply “summaries of what is already in Scripture.” (p.4) A key theme here is that we all have creeds and confessions but that the ones who write them down allow for public and biblical scrutiny as well as something tangible to be held accountable to.
1.The Cultural Case against Creeds and Confessions:
In this chapter Dr. Trueman begins by outlining three cultural assumptions he operates from that he believes today’s generation does not share exclusively as they once did. They are:
1. The past is important, and has things of positive relevance to teach us. (1.3)
2. Language must be an appropriate vehicle for the stable transmission of truth across time and geographical space. (1.4)
3. There must be a body or an institution that can authoritatively compose and enforce creeds and confessions. (1.5)
After this, he outlines what he calls “… deep forces within our culture that mitigate against creeds and confessions …” (1.32). He categorizes these as:
1. Devaluing the past (Science, technology, consumerism) (1.8)
2. Disappearance of “human nature” as a category (1.18)
3. Suspicion of words as a reliable means of communication (1.21)
4. Reaction against authoritarianism (1.32)
5. Fear of excluding others (1.42)
Dr. Trueman concludes this chapter by stating, “All of these in their different ways make the idea of doctrinal Christianity, expressed in creeds and confessions, both implausible and distasteful; and all of them are part of the cultural air we breath.” (1.64)
2. The foundation of Creedalism:
Here Dr. Trueman begins to counter these cultural arguments against creeds and confessions by outlining the biblical origins and basis for them. To begin, he addresses the adequacy of words, starting with the idea that we serve a God who speaks, recounting the creation narrative as one clear example (2. 4,5), and that we are a creation in need of hearing from Him, e.g. Amos 8:11,12. Next he addresses the universal human nature category (2.23) stating, “If we understand human nature as fixed, as something not constructed by the individual or by the community but something which is given by God in His address to us, then we are on a much more secure ground in moving theological statements from one time, place, or culture to another.” (2.28) He addresses the authoritarianism issue which includes the church as an institution to be submitted to (2.36). Along with the authority of the church and its role in installing elders, he moves to his main biblical basis for creeds and confessions which is Paul’s words to Timothy in 2 Tim. 1:13 where Paul tells Timothy to, “Follow the pattern of sound words that you heard from me …” which he equates as a reference to some of the first written creeds (2.49).
3. The early church:
Now Dr. Trueman begins to track the history of creeds and confessions through the history of the church, beginning with the “Rule of faith” (3.2) which he places in early post-apostolic times in the church and made reference to by the likes of Ignatius, Polycarp, and Tertullian as a means of maintaining the essentials of Christianity against heresies and or mistakes of that day. Dr. Trueman then moves to 4th C Apostle’s Creed (3.17) and then walks through the results of the seven ecumenical councils, noting that Protestantism only really engages at a creedal level with the first four (3.24):
1. First council of Nicaea, 325 AD (3.24)
2. First council of Constantinople, 381 AD (3.29)
3. First council of Ephesus, 431 AD (3.36)
4. The council of Chalcedon, 451 AD (3.42)
5. Second council of Constantinople, 553 AD
6. Third council of Constantinople, 680-681 AD
7. Second council of Nicaea, 787.
Dr. Trueman also makes reference to the Athanasian creed (3.49) as it finds its way into modern Protestantism (Anglicanism) as well. He concludes that one of the main theological purposes for all that was accomplished in these councils is, “…one cannot hold to the centre of a circle without knowing where the circumference lies. Thus, boundaries, and the drawing of them, are absolutely vital to healthy, orthodox Christianity.” (3.52)
4. Classical Protestant Confessions:
Dr. Trueman now moves to the classical confessions of the 16th and 17th centuries, noting both the theological and political impulses behind them (4.2). He begins with the Anglican articles (39 articles), the book of Common prayer and the Homilies and notes the timeless, majestic language of them (4.4), then moves to the Lutheran documents of the Book of Concord, 1580 (4.15) which is a collection of the Apostle’s creed, Nicene creed, Athanasian creed, Augsburg confession + apology, the small and large catechism, etc. Next he describe the Three forms of unity (4.26) of the Reformed church which include the Belgic confession, 1561, the Heidelberg catechism,1563, and the Canons of Dordt, 1619. One of the most famous and well loved expressions of Christian devotion coming from the Heidelberg catechism as it asks, “What is thy only comfort in life and death?” Next, we learn of the Westminster Standards, 1643 (4.39) which include the Westminster confession, the short and long catechism, the directory for public worship and the form of church government, and Trueman notes the close similarities as well as differences between the Reformed documents and the Presbyterian documents. Though it is given only brief mention, even the Baptists make it into Dr. Trueman’s discussion of confessional history with his inclusion of the Baptist Confession of 1689 (4.49) which is markedly similar to the Westminster confession of 1643 with obvious denominational differences. This he includes he says, not b/c it makes major contributions to confessional theology but b/c “it is proof positive that Baptists have a confessional heritage.” (4.49).
One key theme Dr. Trueman draws out is the remarkable consensus amoung all the documents on the basics of salvation (4.52).
5. Confession as praise:
In this chapter Dr. Trueman outlines some of the many ways in which the truths expressed in creeds and confessions can lead to doxology and praise within the individual and the church. He notes the public act of witnessing Christ before the pagan nations (5.4) and also the personal affirmation of truths which include or exclude one from orthodoxy and the church (5.4) and finally confession simply as praise (5.4), stating that, “For Paul, doctrine and doxology are not separated…” (5.5) and notes a number of times that Paul breaks from teaching doctrine into doxology and praise, eg. Phil. 2:6-11, 1 Tim. 3:14-16, Rom. 11:33-36. Next Dr. Truman moves to what he calls, “The threefold aspect of creedal doxology” (5.37) which he lays out as follows:
1. Creeds offer a corporate summary of the Bible’s teaching (5.39)
2. Creeds are countercultural (5.46)
3. Creeds ascribe to God what belongs to Him and Him alone (5.51)
Finally, he offers what he views as specious objections to including creeds and confessions in worship, viz. a) forms of words lead to formalism in worship, preaching on a catechism is not preaching the bible, and speaking human words supplants the authority of Scripture (5.53).
6. On the usefulness of Creeds and Confessions:
In this final chapter, Dr. Trueman begins with the subsection titled, “All churches have creeds and confessions.” (6.2) and says quite aptly, “no Christian, if asked by a friend what the bible teaches, is simply going to start reading aloud at Gen. 1:1 and not stop until Rev. 22:21. Instead … we all try to offer a synthesis, a summary of what the bible says.” (6.2,3). ”Thus,” Trueman says, “if you take the bible seriously, you will either have a creed or confession or something that fulfils the same basic role, such as a statement of faith.”, (6.5) and adds, “Ironically, it is not the confessionalists but the “no creed but the bible” people who exalt their creeds above Scripture.” (6.11) He then goes on to note how creeds and confession delimit the power of the church and its officials b/c they are a standard by which they must conform (6.11). Next he discusses how creed and confessions offer succinct and thorough summaries of the faith, noting, “[a church that uses creeds and confessions] is unlikely to become sidetracked by the peripheral issues of the passing moment; rather it will focus instead on the great theological categories that touch on matters of eternal significance.” (6.21) He deals next with how creeds and confessions allow for appropriate discrimination between members and office-bearers (6.29) noting how we have different standards of knowledge expected from the two. One interesting section in this chapter is his treatment of how creeds represent “the maximum doctrinal competence that can be expected from a congregation” (6.44) referring to the pedagogical aspect of creeds and confessions. The basic idea is that they put forth that which the church aspires to teach its members. He posits an example of how we all know that making laws against abortion wont mean that no abortions will take place, but that by making it illegal the laws would then, “set before us a vision of the kind of society we would like to see realized.” (6.46) Finally, Dr. Trueman helpfully writes of how creeds and confessions are useful for “relativizing the present” (6.52), in “defining one church from another” (6.57) and in “maintaining corporate unity.” (6.59)
Conclusion and Appendix + further reading:
In his conclusion, Dr. Trueman remarks about some of the recent occurrence of Protestants “swimming the Tiber” and converting to Roman Catholicism. Based on what he admits is a difficult issue to generalize, he counters claims of a lack of historical rootedness, doctrinal weight and long-term stability, with this:
“I believe there is an alternative to Rome: it is confessional Protestantism. By that, i do not mean the confessional Protestantism that cherry-picks which bits of various Protestant confessions it likes … I mean true confessionalism, one that adheres to a particular confession and connects to a particular church order and polity. That is confessional Protestantism as the Reformers and their successors would have understood it. It is also Christianity as Paul would have understood it … It also meets both of those lacunae in evangelicalism: it provides historical roots and serious theology.” (7.6,7)
In his further Appendix, Dr. Trueman offers a brief treatise on “Revising and supplementing confessions” (8.1) and concedes that if confessions or creed are “found to be wrong at some point or fail to articulate the whole counsel of God as needed by the church, they need to be supplemented with further confessional statements.” (8.1) In an example of revisions, he says that while he loves Calvin’s Institutes, differing on points of his book do not have ecclesiastical significance b/c no one is required to take vows to uphold it. But b/c confessions are corporate documents to which the church is bound and officers take vows to as standards of belief, the church is then the ones who alone should do the revising.
Beyond this, he also admits that each and every statement may not express ideas as precisely or in as contemporary language as we might like today (8.3) and writes, “I was not subscribing to the idea that the Westminster divines were the greatest theological prose writers.” (8.4) and so he allows for revisions in this sense as well.
The overall take is that any revisions or supplementation is to be done with the greatest humility and upmost seriousness, as these documents will then become the standards by which the church teaches and by which its teachers are weighed.
Finally, Dr. Trueman then gives a brief offering of suggested readings for further study on collections of confessions, the use of confessions, polity, and even commentary on confessional standards.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in church history as well as church confessions and creeds. Dr. Trueman has a masterful way of uniting history to a modern age as well as sensibilities in a way that is both educational and engaging. A task that any preacher would do well to emulate as we expound the Scriptures to a modern age and ear.
October 26, 2012
I remember a classic moment in Canucks history last season when Kevin Beiksa was mistakenly identified as Ryan Kellser by a news-radio station in LA, and he (Bieksa) then went on to give a hilarious interview pretending to be Ryan Kessler (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AjOHQwbLBlo).
That particular instance was funny, but there are literally millions of examples of mistaken identity today that are not funny at all, but rather, tragic.
I had some of my ‘buttons’ pushed today when i read a blog post that suggested that, as Christians, the well-worn axiom “love the sinner, hate the sin”, was somehow not so easily applied when dealing with the issue of homosexuality. The reasoning implied was that homosexuality is so closely tied to the identity of homosexuals – nay, is their identity – that by hating their sin we are actually, in fact, hating them.
Is that a correct view? Without being overly simplistic or crass about it, does who i desire sexually define who i am as a person at my core? It’s all well and good to retort that homosexuality is more complex than sexual desire and practice, but then we immediately move from the definition of something, into cultural or ethnic concerns. Homosexuality is, by definition, sexual desire towards – including practice with – someone of the same sex, just as heterosexuality is defined in the exact same way only towards someone of the opposite sex. Desires for companionship and deep relationship then don’t fit neatly, in my view, with either of these views, but are rather a separate category unto themselves (though related) which reflects the Trinitarian, relational Imago Dei in all of us, and, thus, cannot be ‘claimed’ by either side.
So where does that leave us as confessing evangelical Christians? Must i abandon the idea of ‘loving the sinner but hating the sin’, in this one, specific case? Am i truly hating who a person “is” by claiming that their sexual practice is sinful? I would like to suggest the answer is ‘no’. Furthermore, i would like to suggest that even using the term homosexual as anything other than a categorical distinction, is misguided.
To illustrate, consider the grapes pictured above. There is a single grape in this cluster that stands out for at least two obvious, categorical reasons: a) it is a different colour than the others b) it is slightly larger than the others. The question that must be asked in light of what has been said to this point, however, is, ‘Is it still a grape?’ Look at the picture once again now and, considering the distinctions we just mentioned, add to that green grape now a personified voice which might say, perhaps, ‘I am not a grape at all, but an apple. I know this because i am green, tart, and – while most others who look just like me enjoy making grape juice – i like making apple juice.’
With the personification added especially, we could rightfully place this green grape in a different category than the others, both for it’s appearance’s sake as well as its stated desires. But at the end of the day, it is still biologically and functionally a grape.
Bringing the discussion back to the realm of sexual desire, consider someone who’s committed adultery, someone who has committed pedophilia, and someone who’d committed necrophilia. What is one obvious common denominator in each of these? They’re all people! Human beings with various degrees of sexual dysfunction, but still people. And so while we may categorize these people in different ways, even calling them ‘Adulterer’ or ‘Pedophile’ or ‘Necrophile’, no one loses the distinction in their minds that these are still just messed up people with dis-ordered desires.
So where’s the disconnect? Why in this specific instance of homosexuality has all the world (even the Christian world to some degree) bought into this idea that category distinctions define personhood? That if i’m a guy who sexually desires another guy, i’m not just ‘a guy who sexually desires another guy’(adjective) but rather a ‘Homosexual‘ (noun)? Huh?!? Is there anywhere else in the world where this works? No, because – even just in each of the three earlier examples (Adultery, pedophilia, necrophilia) – we see a person behind the sexual desire. Looking back historically, slavery was finally seen as wrong (on a human level) because we finally stopped looking at African-Americans (for instance) as categories – like skin colour – and saw instead a person worthy of equal rights and dignity. Women were finally allowed to vote and get better jobs because (on a human level) we stopped seeing them as categories as well, and saw them, rather, as fellow human beings with inherent worth and dignity.
But now we’re all being asked to change the rules (just this once) and go back to defining people by categories again?!? The message often presented: DON’T see me as just another fellow human being with differing opinions and values and desires than you – see me, and define me, by who i like to sleep with. That’s who i am. And if you disagree with that or are uncomfortable with that, you don’t just dislike what i do, you dislike ME.
When we passively allow categories to be made into persons and adjectives into nouns, it stands to make ‘bigots’ and ‘slave-traders’ of all who won’t toe the line, even though their only ‘crime’ is seeking to stem the tide of this mis-guided thinking and pernicious nationalism.
In contrast, one of the flashing neon signposts found in Scripture, that speaks to this issue plainly, is the doctrine of man. That a loving, Creator God formed man out of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.” (Gen. 2:7) That we reflect, as human beings, the very image of God. (Gen. 1:27) And the refrain after each day of creation and thing that was created was a resounding, “And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.” (Gen. 1:31) Later, Psalm 139:14 tells more: that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” and that God himself “knit us together in our mother’s womb.”
The implication of Scripture is this: that you are not what you eat or don’t eat (‘Vegan’ or ‘Meat eater’); that you are not who you do, or do not, sleep with (‘Homo’ or ‘Hetero’ sexual); and no (despite all the marketing to the contrary) we are not “all Canucks”. What you are at the very core of your being is God’s special creation, made in His image, to display His glory, to worship Him alone, and to have dominion over the rest of His creation. That is your identity and the source of your great value and worth.
Everything else beyond that is just category.
October 12, 2012
We’ve all been there. Whether it’s one of those old bowling alleys or bingo halls, Grandpa and Grandma’s place for a visit, or any place, really, where smoking is still allowed these days. We all know that smell. The pungent odour that seeps into furniture and curtains and walls and carpets, that remains long after the last butt was extinguished. In fact, even if no one has even lit up a cigarette recently, you still leave the place with the smell of it clinging to your clothes and hair. It is inescapable. Smoke is just one of those things that ‘stays’ no matter how hard you try to get it off you (ask anyone who’s tried to hide the fact that they smoke from others).
In Daniel 3, we read of a time honored classic; a ‘main-stay’ of Sunday school tradition, in the story of three Hebrews (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego), unwilling to bow to Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image and thrown into a fiery furnace because of their faithfulness. In verse 24 we’re then told,
“Then king Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. He declared to his counsellors, ‘Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?’ They answered and said to the king, ‘True, O king.’ He answered and said, ‘But i see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt, and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.’”
Nebuchadnezzar has his mind blown by this and calls them out of the furnace, and we are then told this,
“[they all] saw that the fire had not any power over the bodies of those men. The hair of their heads was not singed, their cloaks were not harmed, and no smell of fire had come upon them.”
The miraculous salvation of these would-be martyrs is – in and of itself – profound and staggering. But as i learn to understand and see more and more of Christ in the OT canon, (and, by the way, i believe this story includes not simply typology of Christ, but a literal Christophany [a pre-incarnate visitation of Christ in human history], which is one of the keys to the story’s significance.) the glaring correlation between Christ’s saving presence in the fiery furnace for those three men and Christ’s saving presence from the fires of hell in the life of every believer, comes into a sharp and singular focus. Considering, also, what was just presented above about the particular properties and consequences of smoke, and the fact that Scripture tells us these three Hebrews came out of the fire not only unharmed but not even smelling of smoke, we are also given here a glorious vision of the consummate, plenary nature of Christ’s redemption.
In Hebrews 7:25, speaking of Christ’s unending role as our High Priest, we read,
“Consequently, He is able to save to the uttermost, those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.”
Later in Hebrews 10:14 the author writes,
“For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”
2 Cor. 5:21 tells us finally,
“For our sake, God made Him to be sin Who knew no sin, so that in Him, we might become the righteousness of God.”
Christ’s presence in the life of the believer is redemptive and transforming in such a way that, – like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego – we are not only saved from the just wrath of a holy God in the fires of hell, but even the smoke from it’s flames cannot touch or cling to the one He calls His child. Hallelujah! What a Saviour!
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are Mine … when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” Is. 43:1,2
September 28, 2012
Maybe you’ve been there before. Maybe not. You’re on a trip and flying out momentarily, so you buckle up, get comfy, and find an album you love on your brand new iPhone 27 (hey, it could happen!) that you just waited 48 hours in line for yesterday, outside in the freezing cold. You plug in your ear buds, press play and close your eyes … and hear nothing! And you lose it!!! You stayed up all night transferring everything from your old phone to this one – not to mention freezing your butt off just to get the new phone – only now to have this piece of junk fail you! You’re moments away from stabbing a pen into the screen when, quietly and sincerely, a 4 year old girl sitting on the aisle-seat toddles over and plugs in the dangling headphones cable into your phone and goes back to her seat. This is what the kiddos like to called getting “PNWED!”
The waiting. The freezing. All the effort to transfer data: useless without plugging in the headphones!
An image similar to this came to me today as i was reading Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church. In chapter 15 he begins by giving us one of the quickest and most succinct tellings of the Gospel (historia salutis) in verses three and four:
“For i delivered to you as of first importance what i also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures …”
Now if you’re like me you’ve read this in the past and tended to focus on the first action of Christ viz. “died for our sins”, when thinking/speaking of salvation. ”What is the gospel?”, someone might ask you: “that Jesus died for your sins bro! He suffered on a Roman cross in your place to absorb the holy wrath of God that you deserved b/c of your sins.”, you reply. And there is nothing incorrect about what you just said! In fact, it may even lead one to wonder why Paul even “tacks on” all that other stuff about being “buried” and “raised on the third day” and “appearing” to all these people.
But the reason Paul does this is not to paint a broader picture, or prop up the “real” gospel message with extra details. The reason is that without the resurrection you actually don’t have the gospel!
Just 10 verses later, Paul starts to kick the legs out from under a gospel presentation that focuses solely on Christ’s death, like Barry Bonds to a pelican, and then spends the rest of the chapter talking about nothing but resurrection. He says without the resurrection, his (and all the other apostles’) preaching is in vain. Without the resurrection they are misrepresenting God. Without the resurrection our faith is in vain. And finally, the ‘lights-out’ punch comes in vs. 17 when he writes,
“And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”
You ever come across verses like this: verses you’ve read a hundred times, that feel like you’re reading them for the very first time? It feels like this has to be an epic “typo” of some kind when you really see what Paul is getting at here. That everything:
- the Incarnation of Jesus as a baby, born of a virgin,
- the life of perfect obedience,
- the betrayal and horrific suffering,
- even the substitutionary death on the cross,
ALL MEANINGLESS if Jesus stays in the tomb!
(… take a moment and just let that sink in)
It’s little wonder that he follows this profound statement, that should rob our very breath, by adding,
“If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”
The resurrection is essential to all these aspects of the life and substitutionary death of Christ b/c it is the very capstone of them; the place where God places His eternal seal on them all and says, “Accepted! Paid in full!”
Romans 6:10 says, “For the death He died He died to sin, but the life He lives He lives to God.” Hebrews 10:14 says, “For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” This ‘perfection’ for us only comes if Christ’s work is accepted and then applied to us. Finally, in Philippians 2, after speaking of Christ’s Incarnation, life and death, Paul writes, “Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the Name that is above every name, so that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.“
The bodily resurrection of Jesus: the true and only hope of the Gospel and the King’s Seal on Christ’s Person and work on our behalf, making it effective unto salvation. Because of this, we can now worship and praise this living and glorified Saviour in heaven with all its host crying,
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing.”
Take it away, and the heavens – along with us – fall silent.
“Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” Luke 24:5,6
September 27, 2012
How many times have you heard it said, “Hey, don’t shoot the messenger!”? From those guys who deliver court summons to the preacher in the pulpit, this has been the plea of many a person who is tasked with delivering news that may, or may not, be well received.
In times of war, messages were often sent to the enemy camp through some unlucky fellow tasked with delivering it. Who could forget that scene from ‘Gladiator’ when a headless messenger is sent back on his horse to the Roman army from Germania, to have Russell Crowe quip in response, “He says, ‘no.’”?
I think this axiom is especially pertinent in regards to preachers, who are called to be heralds of the Word of God in a world and a culture that is increasingly hostile to anything, or anyone, that would seek to restrain its unbridled will. It reminds me of Pauls’ warning/admonition to Timothy in 2 Tim. 4 when he is told to be ready to preach the Word “in season and out of season.” Surely, the Word of God is becoming increasingly “out of season” and by remaining faithful to its truths, many a messenger has been shot at!
But before we simply clear the table and absolve all ministers of any responsibility, there is something more that needs to be considered. Imagine this scenario:
A herald or a messenger is given a message of woe to return to his own army or city. And what if that messenger then, out of fear of retribution, or perhaps for hope of some sordid gain, changed or altered the message somehow, either as a false declaration of peace or even a ‘close’ victory that needed more financial support to be successful.
How would you then treat such a messenger if the truth of their actions were to be discovered?
One of the recurring themes of the Old and New Testament is the subject of false prophets or false teachers. In the OT we see “prophets for hire” like Balaam in Num. 22 destroyed by God b/c of their unfaithfulness. In the NT we see Paul go all “Driscoll-in-the-old-days” on a false teacher named ‘Bar-Jesus’ in Acts 13 saying (while “filled with the Holy Spirit”), “You son of the devil, you enemy of righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?”, after which he strikes the man blind! Jude describes these false teachers as “hidden reefs” (v.12) and “wandering stars” (v.13) – two nautical references that would have devastating impact on a vessel at sea – as well as those who, “pervert the grace of our God.”
James reminds all who would seek to be God’s heralds in chapter 3 of his epistle that, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”(James 3:1 ESV) It should be painfully evident to all that – in the midst of faithful men and women seeking to herald the good news of the Gospel – there are those who would willfully and maliciously “change the message”, either out of fear of condemnation or for their own personal gain (2 Cor. 11:13-15). Such false teachers may try to shamefully hide behind such a statement of, “Hey, don’t shoot the messenger!” But in light of the massive weight that Scripture puts on messengers – when the truth of their actions is discovered – in fact, this is exactly what you should do!
*note understanding the world we live in today (and seeking here and now to relieve myself of any legal entanglements) let me state here plainly that i am NOT suggesting that anyone should literally “shoot” anyone! I am rather here speaking in a spiritual and metaphoric sense only.
“With the weak sheep you cannot be too gentle. With the wolves you cannot be too severe.”
– Martin Luther
September 18, 2012
If you’re anything like me, you look at the picture above and your knees get weak – not from some kind of heady infatuation – but rather, out of terror and fear. Thankfully for math-challenged people like me (and for ‘Über-geeks’ as well) God has made some equations in life much easier to understand. This does not mean that everything involved is un-complex and without even incomprehensible parts, but that at least the “math-part” of putting all the pieces together is easy enough.
*note: I’ll confess from the outset here that this post is more about exploring an idea than making a point or, to put it another way, the point of this post is actually a question. I’d love for any feedback or push-back you’d care to offer.
When considering the Ordinances (or Sacraments, properly defined) of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, it occurred to me recently how essential both the Word of God spoken, and our faith applied, are to these means of grace to us. Whatever is used to mean, in its modern usage, it must be stated that Baptism and the Eucharist are not “ex opere operato” which holds the idea that these gifts are efficacious in and of themselves irregardless of any outside influence from either the minster or from the one receiving. John Calvin had said, regarding this idea, that, “Grace resides in Christ, not in the elements, and the efficacy and power emanates from the Holy Spirit.” But this begs the question then, ‘How does Baptism and the Eucharist become effective to us?’ ’What do the Word of God and our faith bring to the Sacraments that would not be there otherwise?’
The short answer is: everything!
The Word of God
Consider first two passages of Scripture. In Hebrews 4:12 we read that the Word of God is both a “living” and an ”active” thing. In Isaiah 55:10,11, God reminds us that His Word is powerful and effective; able to accomplish all that He intends it to do.
The language can be difficult for some, but i believe Augustine expressed well the relationship between God’s powerful, effective Word and the elements used in the Sacraments, when he wrote,
“Let the Word be added to the element, and it will become a Sacrament. For whence can their be so much virtue in water as to touch the body and cleanse the heart, unless by the agency of the Word …”
I think it’s safe to say here that what Augustine had in mind when he spoke of the “Word” being added to the elements was the Word of God, which would surely include both a gospel presentation as well as the words of institution.
We have clear statements in Scripture regarding what faith is (“… the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” Heb. 11:1) and its purpose as it relates to God (“Without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and rewards those who seek Him.” Heb. 11:6). But how does our faith then apply to the Sacraments?
Again, John Calvin says of this,
“It is certain, therefore, that the Lord offers us his mercy, and a pledge of his grace, both in his sacred word and in the sacraments; but it is not apprehended save by those who receive the word and sacraments with firm faith” [emphasis mine]. He justifies this fact by reminding us that, “in like manner as Christ, though offered and held forth for salvation to all, is not, however, acknowledged and received by all.” For those who hold to a real, spiritual presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the Westminster Confession states that Christ is only, “present to the faith of believers in that ordinance.” [emphasis mine]
It is essential to add here that all of these factors combined find their power and efficacy in the Holy Spirit, both in the understanding of the Word of God (1 Cor. 2:10-14) and in having faith to believe in God in the first place (Eph.2:8).
When i try to place all these things considered together, then, even a common sense understanding begins to emerge. If i’m in a church and, by some accident or purpose, fall into the baptismal tank, neither i, nor anyone else, is going to think that i am somehow now baptized. No (as we’ve said), the words of institution as well as the intention of my heart and application of faith are necessary for this to be said. In the same way, if i break apart a loaf of bread and pour myself a glass of Merlot while sitting in the pew at church, i am not suddenly taking the Lord’s Supper. Again, the elements of the Word and faith and the power of the Spirit are needed to make this so.
What i take this all to mean is that the Word of God spoken/or the words of institution is about the right application of the Sacraments, and our faith is about the right apprehension of them (again, all brought together and empowered by the Holy Spirit).
But at the end of the day, here is the question i’m left with: what if one of these things is not present? (okay, the Holy Spirit part is obvious, but the other two then!)
If my buddy dunks me under the water at a swimming pool without a single word, but i believe in my heart that i am identifying myself with the death and resurrection of Christ, am i then baptized? How about in a church by a minster (again, with no words spoken)? Conversely, what if a minister in the church administers my baptism faithfully but i don’t truly have faith in God’s saving work in my life: am i still baptized then? Further still, if i take the Lord’s Supper, trusting is Christ’s finished work for me on the cross, but the pastor speaks no words, do i still really take it? Or if the minister faithfully presents the elements, but i eat without faith; what then?
If we believe, as we said at the beginning, that the elements themselves are not ex opere operato viz. that they have no efficacy in and of themselves, then the answer to all these questions above is probably, ‘No.’ Or, ‘maybe no’? ‘Maybe yes’? I don’t know!
One last thing to consider: particularly with regard to the faith of the person in taking the Sacraments, i believe it was Calvin who once painted a picture of wine being poured over a jar with its lid sealed. Without opening the lid, the jar receives nothing (except getting wet). To put it another way, imagine bringing a glass of wine to your lips and tipping it up without opening your mouth. In both these cases, it is the opening of the vessel to receive the wine that brings the benefit (however correctly it may be poured) and Calvin argues that this “opening to receive” is the faith by which we truly partake of the Sacraments.
It’s a question worth pondering anyways whether you are a minster or a congregant. What is our role in the application and apprehension of these means of grace given to us?
September 13, 2012
It happens more often than i’d like to admit: sitting at the kitchen table over breakfast with my kids, reading bible stories from their kid’s bible (stories, so often, sadly gutted of much of their meaning and depth) and God just blows me up with something from His Word! I don’t know why i do that: imagine that God doesn’t have something for me as well as i seek to minister to my kids. But i’m grateful for it none the less.
We were reading the story of Moses and the Israelites after they come out of slavery in Egypt today. In my last post, i talked about how God gives the good gift of the law only after He redeems His people, but He gave them so many other gifts as well. In Exodus 17 (surprise, surprise!) the Israelites are complaining again to Moses and making up all kinds of kooky stories about how “good” they had it back in Egypt as slaves. Right or wrong however, Moses can see this is about to go bad for him, so he prays to God for help. God then instructs him to take some of the elders with him and his staff, and stand before Mount Horeb. Then God says these words,
“Behold, I will stand before you on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.”
The clear and obvious reading of this text shows God’s loving provision, even for a rebellious people such as Israel. But jump ahead to the New Testament and you’ll see a picture of striking resemblance (congratulations to those of you who caught that). In John 19:31-37 we read of the moments immediately after Jesus has given up His spirit and paid the horrible cost for our sins. If you remember, the soldiers are trying to hurry up the crucifixions so that the bodies wont be hanging on the crosses during the Sabbath, and John writes,
“But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.”
Now i know there have been all sorts of medical understandings put forward in times past about what’s going on here, and why blood and water come out when Jesus side is pierced. And yes, the surface reading of this text is simply descriptive of the historical events.
It’s like getting sucker-punched by the Holy Spirit when we go a bit further in the NT to 1 Cor. 10:3,4 and read,
“and all [that is Moses and all Israel] ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.“
Now i know this passage from 1 Cor. 10, and i’m sitting there at the kitchen table reading about Moses and looking at this cartoon picture of Moses striking the rock with his staff, but in my mind and my heart i’m suddenly seeing a soldier ‘striking’ our ‘Rock’ on the cross, out of which life giving Water flows, and i’m struggling to hold it together in front of my kids! They’re both like, ‘What?’ and i’m trying to imagine how to, then, describe this connection to a 5 and 6 year old as i compose myself.
In John 4 Jesus tells a woman at the well, “Everyone who drink of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Two chapters later in John 6, Jesus says, “For My flesh is true food and My blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.” And reclining at table just before He is betrayed and crucified, Jesus takes the third cup of the Passover meal and says, “this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.“
How does this all fit together? Why is this so significant? Go back to Exodus 17. There we read that just after the people are given water from the rock, Moses calls the place both Massah (which means ‘testing’) as well as Meribah (which means ‘quarrelling’) and writes, “because of the quarrelling of the people of Israel, and b/c they tested the LORD by saying, ‘Is the LORD among us or not?’“
One of the Names given to the Incarnate Son of God from Isaiah’s prophecy about Him is ‘Emmanuel’, which means’ God with us’. As we look to the cross where our ‘Rock’ was struck by a different ‘staff’, and as we are then fed and nourished by both His broken body and the double-sign of water and blood – i believe, pointing typographically back to the water at Horeb as well as showing presently this life-giving ‘blood of the new covenant’ – the LORD is surely saying to Israel of old, as well as to us today, ‘Yes! I am surely among you!‘
September 11, 2012
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines anachronism as, “a person or a thing that is chronologically out of place”, and also as, “a misplacing of persons, events, objects, or customs in regard to each other.” As with the picture above, we understand intuitively (or should) that certain things don’t go together, as well as the idea that things tend to follow a certain order in life.
And yet somehow, when it comes to the subject of obedience to God, Christians can often throw this understanding of the order of things out the window; seemingly oblivious to it. We’ll get to the anachronistic part momentarily, but the first problem we face when it comes to the subject of obedience to God is simply a complete misunderstanding of what that actually is! It ends up looking like this: we, who have been redeemed by the blood of the spotless Lamb of God through no effort, choice, or even desire of our own, suddenly get the idea that we need to start paying God back. One of the most obvious ways we try to do this is by “rule keeping” and/or making the ideas of obedience to God and “filling up our account with Him” synonymous. J.D. Greear says in his excellent book “Gospel” that we often land in this place because we view the gospel as the “diving board” into salvation instead of being the pool itself. Or, to put it another way, the gospel is the “starting pistol” that begins the race rather than the race itself. This faulty understanding of the gospel will invariably lead us to the assumption that God has gotten us started in Christ, but we now have the impossible task of earning what Scripture says from start to finish can never be earned.
But the purpose of this post (and my second point) is to suggest that – if we can ever get beyond the idea of obedience to God as somehow earning our salvation – we can just as easily fall victim to a whole new problem viz. an anachronistic understanding of obedience that sees love for God flowing out of obedience to Him rather than our obedience flowing out of love for God. The main problem with this understanding is that it completely sucks the life out our ability to ever obey God!
So, this is where things start to get kooky. Has anyone ever been driving past one of those ‘speed traps’ just a little bit too fast and thought to themselves as they’re flagged down, “Man, i love the police department!” Or been sitting under a mountain of receipts and folders during tax time and felt deeply, “I really love Canada!” How about standing before a counter full of dishes you now have to wash from the Thanksgiving dinner that you just made? Is anyone’s heart overflowing with joy for the gift of family at that moment? Matt Chandler (Matty C) said it best when he said, “Obedience [he used the word discipline] won’t bring about love, but true love will always include obedience [discipline]” So, we actually switch the order that God has lovingly laid out for us when we imagine that trying really hard to be obedient will somehow create deeper love for Him, even though we see this nowhere else in life.
Try something really “radical” then: follow the way God designed things to work, and see if the result is not remarkably different. You can find innumerable examples of this design in Scripture, but here are two i think illustrate this understanding well:
The first is found in the book of Exodus. God miraculously frees His chosen people Israel from slavery in Egypt through signs and wonders and plagues and, finally, by parting the Red Sea for them to cross over, while destroying the pursuing Egyptians in the same path. The thing to see here is that it is only after God has rescued and redeemed His people that He gives them His good laws to obey in Ex. 20.
The second example is seen in the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5 ff. where, again, it is only after Jesus describes the blessedness we have as born again children of God (Matt. 5:2-11) that He goes on to define what obedience to the law (and its depths) actually looks like.
Consider your own experience even: who among us, out of gratefulness and love for the cook, doesn’t go into the kitchen after the Thanksgiving feast, role up our sleeves and dig into helping cleaning up for them? What new parent, out of the joy and love for this new member of their family, does not surrender sleep and sanity to sit up with a screaming baby at 3:00 am? And what redeemed sinner, staggered under the weight of the heavy price that was paid for them on the cross, does not joyfully offer service to their Saviour and His Bride? Yet in every case, He is always the initiator. He, Whom is called ‘Love’ Himself, always gives us the gift first that then elicits the loving response.
He, to Whom we owe all things; the One of Whose love so amazing we sing ‘demands my soul, my life, my all’, demands these, not to repay Him in any way, nor out of any sense of duty, but simply out of the overflow of a grateful heart. When we get the order right, then, obedience to His commands is not burdensome, but our true delight and the plain evidence of our love for Him (1 Jn.5:2,3).
Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small!