Monday, December 31, 2012

It's just a "flesh" wound...

     "I'm getting better!"  I write this as I sit at home with strep throat... 3/4 of my family has been stricken with this dreadful affliction (to emphasize the melodramatic).  So we proceed with a healthy (pun intended) sense of comedic irony...
     I've noticed I have a tendency, both in living and writing, to be pessimistic and negative (or as I put it, realistic and rational!);  so it is my pleasure in our jaunt through 2 Corinthians to zoom in on a passage that holds great encouragement for us in the suffering this life holds for us, both unintentional (general pain common to all people) and intentional (persecution for the cause of Christ):
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,  as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.  (2 Cor 4:16-18)
     There are so many themes in these few verses to discuss... the transience of mortality, the proper Christian perspective on pain, the superreality of the spiritual, and what we dealt with last time, the selectivity of divinely-empowered perception.  We'll touch on all these as we stroll along...
     I love it when the biblical authors provide a unpolitically-correct "cup-check";  other great examples would include 1 Cor 16:13 and Heb 12:4.  And to be sure, these are gender-neutral:  men have no monopoly being commanded to or provided with spiritual toughness, as opposed to the insensitive, uncommunicative "manliness" that's often marketed in our culture.  So the point Paul intends is to combat the natural despair we experience when things are not precisely as we would wish them;  I was lamenting my own unconscious wimpyness when ill with a friend recently, and this has given me a new look at how to endure physical weakness to succeed in glorifying God through my words and deeds (especially helpful today!).  So all that to say:  Man Up!
"Death cannot stop true love..."
     Next, Paul forces us to admit the limitations that the Fall have introduced into the perfection God created;  namely, we die.  The moment we're born, our bodies begin to "waste away", and no amount of plastic surgery, Rogaine, or even Viagra can restore vitality to our moth-eaten corpses.  This adds new richness to the passages that describe us as spiritually dead (Rom 5:6, Eph 2:1, 5, etc.):  our bodies just take a while to catch up to the spiritual necrosis we experience at birth.  Or to put it another way, birth cannot stop true death.... "all it can do is delay it for a while".  God's word to Adam and Eve ("...you shall die") was true in every sense.
     But the breakdown of our bodies, and by extension every other trial, affliction and discomfort, is no excuse to descend into the doldrums;  on the contrary, the loss of everything our world prizes (youth, strength, energy, and most of all, life!) is merely a tool used by God to fix our attention on what God prizes:  an immeasurably rich, potent measure of the glory that belongs to Him!  If we weigh the pain possible here and now, even in Paul's life which was far beyond what 99.9% of us will experience, it simply doesn't compare to what will be ours in Christ for all eternity. Only by focusing on what's to come can we enjoy it now.
Yes, the stove is hot!  Once is enough...
     This reality is not apparent to everyone;  and a good thing too... if we focused on eternity, it would render all infomercials worthless!  So of course, just as no unbeliever would joyfully anticipate God's glory (or His judgment), the perception necessary to enjoy God's glory is restricted to the saints.  But equally obvious is the fact that Christians are not fixated on God every moment of their lives... they would be very different if we were.  This must be remedied, and in God's timely sanctification in each individual Christian, it will be.  Our text is just one of the many means used to change us into forward-looking, content folks... another is the actual experience of suffering.  As we wrestle with the seeming harshness of God's providence, we will be driven to the sufficiency of His grace and comfort.  If we come to this understanding sooner rather than later, further pain might not be necessary!

P.S.  During the course of writing, the nurse called and notified us we don't have strep in the technical sense, but just a nasty flu.  I feel better already.

Photo courtesy of tychay and eric pas d'accent

Saturday, December 29, 2012

A Dim View...

"But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away.... And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishingIn their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." (2 Cor 3:14, 4:3-4)
Granite countertops look great, but granite minds?
    How important is the Bible?  Even more to the point of our text, how important is the Old Testament?  Tremendously vital... just ask any practicing Jew, Mormon, Jehovah's Witness or Muslim.  The narratives of the O.T. form the historical foundation for all of these faiths;  the moral content is believed to be synonymous and provides a shared code and bond;  the religious authenticity and authority of these 39 books is revered and held to be secondary only to these religions' primary documents (except Judaism, in which it's primary).  Yet all of these faiths are rightly denounced in principle by the teaching of our premier expert on the O.T., Jesus Christ... where do they go wrong?
     If we go to a rabbi, ward elder or imam and ask "Is stealing wrong?" or "Can I cheat on my wife?", we know what the answer will be:  one in accord with the teaching of the O.T.  "Should I be generous with the poor?" and "Can I abandon my children?" (an especially tempting option sometimes!) will also elicit similar responses lining up with biblical morality.  So where's the sticking point? 
"Who do you say that Jesus is?" 
     That bomb will cause our guinea pig clergy to explode into various denials of biblical orthodoxy:  he's an angel, he's a human prophet (secondary to Muhammed), he's a good man who became a god... and when you look at every manmade religion, the same theme prevails:  a superficial similarity on the Golden Rule and other general morality, but irreconcilable dispute over the Person and Work of Jesus Christ.  What's up with that?
     I believe the answer is found in the verses above, and in a firm grasp of what theologians call general and specific revelation;  so last things first:  all people in all times and in all places have been and will continue to be blessed by God with a dim, but inescapable, awareness that they are not alone.  Humanity inevitably clings to the hunch that we've been created, and that our Creator is still hanging around;  we suspect that since we've been created, we are accountable to the One who formed us, and most convictingly, we think He's not exactly happy with us.  Hence the word "general":  God gives every person a conscience with an impression of His Law upon it, and we are "accused or even excused" (Rom 2:15).  On the other side and, in the sense of God's redemption, completing the circle, is specific revelation:  relatively few people are given the spiritual sensory apparatus ("ears to hear" and "eyes to see") to perceive more than this... namely that God has spoken to mankind, most clearly through His Son, and it is the content of this revelation, recorded in the Bible, that dictates ultimate reality and conveys the graciousness of God in the potential of reconciliation with Him in Jesus Christ.  The necessary result of this vision (through regeneration) is an acceptance of and reliance upon the work and Person of Christ and a receipt of the merit of His obedience.
At God's command...
      So what do our texts say about this?  That "their minds were hardened" ("they" meaning the nation of Israel as a whole specifically in chap. 3, but expanded to all "unbelievers" in chap. 4).  By whom?  "The god of this age"...  Wow, that's terrible!  God wanted to save these folks, but Satan was just too quick for Him!  He snuck in and did his mind-hardening hocus-pocus and now there's no hope!  Wait a sec... that's not right!  No one frustrates God's purposes or plans, and "none can stay his hand or say to him, 'What have you done?' " (Dan 4:35).  And above all, "Satan...can do nothing without God's will and consent." (Calvin's Institutes I.xiv.17)  I love when Satan does his worst to Jesus, and then frantically flees at 2 little words:  "Be gone!" (Matt 4:10)  Likely the best example of God concealing His truth from the unbelieving is Christ and His parables:  spoken in simile and metaphor for the express purpose of withholding spiritual insight (Matt 13:13-15).  It is entirely within the realm of God's sovereignty when He ordains that the wicked be confirmed in unbelief.  The terms "double predestination" and "reprobation" are worthy of study, but this post is running a bit long already... I think the best place to close it off for now is where we began:  in and of ourselves, we have no apprehension of, or appetite for, God's truth.  Even repeated, continual exposure to Scripture is insufficient to open our eyes (Jn 5:39).  God must personally intercede with us to enlighten and rescue us.  May this reality encourage and direct your hopes and evangelism.

 Photos courtesy of granite-charlotte and danny.hammontree

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Jesus loves the little children...




Ps 58:3 in action...
   I've got an exciting/terrifying experience to share with you... many, if not most of you have children and can relate to the incessant, repetitive lessons that parents must administer to their offspring.  But there are always the new expressions of depravity that surprise you... the first time they steal, lie, or violently assault their siblings/playmates.  Yesterday, my daughter blasphemed for the first time;  she was playing by herself, got exasperated and blurted out the first name of the second Person of the Trinity!  I know she has heard Jesus's name used sinfully before, so I guess it was only a matter of time... but it still took me offguard momentarily.  I said her name sharply to get her attention and then put her on my lap to explain the situation:
"Tabitha, what's the third commandment?"
"You shall not use God`s name in vain." (if I start her off, she can finish it!)
"Who is Jesus?"
"Jesus is God." (she knows that one pretty well!)
"So you just broke the third commandment... You used God`s name in vain."
"..."
"How did you say Jesus's name? How was your attitude?"
"Mad..."
     I could see the wheels turning, and she's always been sensitive (she`ll cry if you look at her funny!), so I wasn't shocked to see the floodgates burst open.  I let her mourn for a second, then explained to her I wouldn't spank her this time.  She nodded, but continued whimpering and went to her room.  After a couple minutes, I heard her start up again, and headed upstairs to console her.  Nearing the top, I heard what I certainly didn't expect to hear for a couple years, and feared I would never hear:
"What have I done?!?"
     My mind raced... was my little 4 year old actually beginning to understand the implications of sin?  I asked her if she meant what she said downstairs, and she nodded.  I told her that Daddy has broken God's commandments, and if she understood what that meant.
"Remember Adam and Eve?"
"Yeah, they disobeyed God."
"And what happened to them?" 
"They died."
     I explained that everyone who has disobeyed God's commandments deserves to die, but God loved us so much that He sent His Son to die for us, so that we could be forgiven.
     I know my daughter is too young to understand propitiation and substitutionary atonement;  I might be going out on a limb, but I would say she's too young to comprehend most of what the gospel contains and requires.  But she does understand guilt... please pray for her, as I do:  pray that as she grows, God would be merciful to replace her heart of stone with a heart of flesh, and that she would repent.

P.S.  This is my first post entirely on Kindle;  please forgive any grammatical errors!

Friday, December 21, 2012

A Superior Contract

     So in this series (2 Cor 3:6), we‘ve explored what it means to be a minister, and the context of the New Covenant (i.e. the Old Covenant)... it‘s finally time to define what‘s so new about it! What‘s so special and unique that Jesus instituted a timeless ordinance (at least until He comes again!) to remember how it was “the New Covenant in His blood“?
     Now that we‘ve been introduced to its predecessor, we can truly appreciate what‘s so great about our relation to God through Christ; there are 2 or 3 other passages that prophesy and sum up the New Covenant, but my favorite is Ezk 36:22-28:
"Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.”
     Several wondrous lessons can be drawn out of this passage, but I think we can briefly highlight 2 contrastive characteristics between the Old and the New, and 1 contiguous: the power behind the covenant, the direction of that power, and the purpose of the covenant.
God's got a big stick...
     One tiny word dominates the narrative of the Old Covenant: “ if ". What sounds so appealing to modern ears, namely the opportunity and freedom to choose one‘s course, is in reality the death knell of all mankind. The subtext underneath all the blessings promised is “If you obey, you'll be blessed...but you CAN NOT and WILL NOT obey!“ This is painfully proved over and over and over again in the narrative of the O.T.; starting the moment Moses comes down from the mountain, the moment Joshua (or any succeeding godly judge) dies, the moment Solomon starts marrying pagan foreigners... it makes you want to cry over the blindness and stupidity of these people, if the same idiocy was not firmly entrenched in us. We remember Jesus's words of law to the Pharisees: “yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life" (Jn 5:40) and his lament over all Jerusalem (and the nation by extension) "...How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!" (Mt 23:37)  In ourselves, even under a good, right and fair law, there is no hope of blessing.
     So what's a just yet merciful God to do?  How can He be "just and the justifier"?  As an admittedly weak illustration, my wife is OCD about organization;  every chore must carried out and completed according to her exact specifications!  She sometimes wants help, but she is driven crazy by the "unauthorized" methods of other members of the household.  So she is trapped by the maxim:  "If you want something done right, do it yourself!"  God will not accept a hasty, haphazard, sloppy justification;  so He does it all Himself.  You may have noticed the repeated emphasis in the Ezk passage...  the Law of Moses says to us "if you obey... if you keep My statutes... if you do not turn to the right or to the left".  In the New Covenant, God replies "I will..." (9 times!).  Since He requires perfection, and we are wholly corrupt, only God can accomplish and provide the flawless obedience and righteousness we so desperately need.  And this is exactly what He has done in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
"You want me to do what?"
     Then there's the direction of influence upon us...  God's instruction to us in the Law is holy and good, but it always slams into this limitation:  it is external pressure.  The Law's effectiveness in producing holiness is utterly shut down by our stubborn unwillingness to follow/obey.  Just as the external yank on the reins you can give to a donkey, you can brutally pull us around by the threat of pain, but no one can make such a recalcitrant beast submissive and helpful.  Moses laments "O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!" (Deut 5:29)  And Christ's analogy of the sheep and the goats:  those animals are different in their innermost sheepness and goatness, and so behave in different, identifiable patterns.  So since external influence will not manufacture holiness, in the New Covenant God changes our internal makeup:  He gives us a new heart and spirit at regeneration, and we are "born again".  Stupid rocklike stubbornness is replaced by a sensitivity to the Person, character and will of God.  The pressure of God's own Spirit is at work, as He begins to manifest Himself in new patterns and new ways of thinking, inevitably leading to new behaviors.  It is God who works in us both to desire and to do His good pleasure.
     But are the Old and New Covenants totally dissimilar?   No, that last verse in Ezekiel gives us a valuable link to what God had revealed to His people centuries before, and what He desires for all of His people throughout the ages:  "you shall be my people, and I will be your God."  Both in the Law (Ex 6:7, Lev 26:12, Jer 7:23) and in Christ (2 Cor 6:16-18, Heb 11:16), God tells us He wants us for His own!  This is the restoration to Edenic fellowship that we unconsciously long for with every tear and heartbreak we inflict upon ourselves;  to "walk with God" and bask in His Presence, to know, love and serve Him as He deserves to be.  The New Covenant succeeds as only a divinely conceived, divinely empowered and divinely accomplished contract can, remaking us into the people of God's pasture.

Photos courtesy of KairosOfTyre and Knight 725
  

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Evangelistic Summaries

Way better news than in here!
     A friend recently suffered the loss of a presumably unsaved family member, and he admirably sees this as motivation and an opportunity to share the gospel more faithfully and fervently.  I wanted to help, and came up with what I think are the 3 best texts that concisely, yet completely, explain what's so good about the Good News...

Gal 3:10-14:  Paul opens with how all who put their trust in themselves are under the Law, the Old Covenant which promises blessings for obedience and curses for failure.  The kickers are the words "continues" and "all";  the first word communicates a perpetual success in obedience and the second shows how comprehensive God's expectations are (every single one of God's commands).  Paul concludes that justification (God's declaring us innocent) must come another way, especially since the O.T. prophesies a righeous man who is reconciled to God ("shall live") by faith.  The 2 ways can't be mixed:  either we trust in God or we trust ourselves.  We can only trust Christ because He took our place (subsitutionary atonement) as accursed in God's court, and we can be included into God's family in Him.

Eph 2:1-10:  Paul (again! all these are him!) speaks to believers, reminding them about where they came from:  we were corpses spiritually and we proved it by our heinous acts and affiliation with Satan.  We were not victims of sin, but willing participants, relishing our rebellion and storing up God's wrath upon ourselves.  "But God..."  that's the only source of relief or hope;  God, while we were yet sinners, acted to rescue us, regenerating us to see Him in His mercy and restoring us in Christ to the position that Adam forfeited, back to His side seated with Jesus.  And this is only possible in the trust that God gives us, to cling to Him and renounce our self-sufficiency forever.

Rom 3:10-25:  This is the best of the 3;  it's called the "acropolis of the faith", an armed fortress that keeps and holds the essentials of the gospel.  We are universally condemned as law-breakers, Jews and Gentiles alike.  We are evil and wretched, and guilty before God.  God's Law is shown to be the light that shows us
all this, but because of Christ, there is a way apart from our own accomplishments that we can be saved:  the righteousness that Christ has and earned for us.  The word "propitiation" is an offering that satisfies the demands of justice (i.e. God's wrath);  Christ on the Cross explains how God could "pass over" the sins of those before Him (Noah, Abraham, David)... because God looked at the sure work of Christ as a guarantee and payment, allowing a perfectly just God to pardon perfectly wicked people.  This is a key distinction:  God must satisfy the demands of His justice to forgive;  if not, He is not the Judge of all the earth who always does right.

Photo courtesy of VermontJim

Sunday, December 16, 2012

What is the New Covenant?

      What is the New Covenant? I find it tragically odd that something so foundational is so neglected in mainstream evangelicalism. After all, a full quarter of the Bible is named after it (“testament“ is a synonym for covenant!)... so why is it so overlooked? I believe that this woeful ignorance is due to a departure from seeing people related to God and other people covenantally; and looking at our culture, it‘s not hard to see why. We do business with faceless corporations through contracts filled with terms no one reads; we routinely rack up epic financial obligations and then escape them by declaring bankruptcy; and the last figure I saw stated that nationally, less than half of all marital covenants (in some states, barely a third!) survive “till death do us part“. The age of “a man‘s word is his bond“ has given way to contract termination fees. So instead of a covenant with God, we‘re more comfortable with a “personal relationship“ with Jesus, a nebulous, often subjective concept based on an extra-biblical term.
      So just like an actor with a lisp, we must work extra hard to overcome our handicap, and gain a true biblical understanding of what the New Covenant entails. Paul gets us started with the last half of our text: “not of the letter, but of the spirit; for the letter kills, but the spirit... “ (2 Cor 3:6). The best way to grasp the New Covenant is to master the Old (just like the Testaments!): the letter is not only what Paul‘s countrymen (the Jews) were accustomed to, but what all people through all times and places default to: an inescapable foundation of human religion (as opposed to true divine religion) is the correct suspicion that the gods are angry and the faulty belief that there‘s something we can do to get on their good side again. Offerings of food, wine, animals, silver, gold and even infant children were/are all employed to placate them and hoped to be the means by which we can deliver ourselves. Therefore every human stretch upward is tainted by our supposed self-reliance, our labor, by the burden of reconciliation firmly upon our shoulders.
Think that looks hard?  Just try keeping the Law!
      With all this in mind, one has to marvel at the wisdom of God; surely this attitude predates Moses and the giving of the Law at Sinai (one could argue it goes back to Cain). So God in His providence chose to use this foolish self-reliance to cultivate what Paul will later call in 2 Cor 7 “godly sorrow“. Under the Mosaic Law, every transgression has its recompense; imagine the cumulative effect of thousands of sacrifices over dozens of years upon the conscience of a faithful Jew! The ceremonial and ritual demands of the Law were exact and exhausting; surely before long, that Jew would begin to wonder if there was enough animals in the entire world to cover his sin (there aren't; Heb 10:4)! So the end point of the Law, its greatest purpose and goal is utter frustration at our impotent efforts to cleanse ourselves, and total desperation for Someone else to accomplish the work we can't. This is what “the letter kills” entails. We'll apply this to the New Covenant next time, but here's a sampling of verses that demonstrate the economy of the Old Covenant...

Gen 2:17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die."
Lev 18:5 You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the LORD. (quoted in Gal 3:12)
Deu 27:26 "'Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.' And all the people shall say, 'Amen.' (quoted in Gal 3:10)
Eze 18:4 Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die.
Jam 2:10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.
Photo courtesy of Wessex Archaeology

Friday, December 14, 2012

Diagnosis: Depravity

     I'm sure most of you have heard about the school shooting today in New York;  of course, our condolences and sympathies go out to the families of the injured and especially the dead.  This is the latest in a rash of such violence, and I heard Bob Schieffer ask his audience whether this headline was now the new norm;  whether we should just expect those who most folks describe with the words "sick", "mentally ill", and "unbalanced" to routinely murder dozens of everyday citizens, even children, in one fell swoop. 
     Sadly, the answer is yes;  as our country frantically flees everything resembling biblical morality, we can expect more and more of our inherent wickedness (not a blameless illness) to be set free to terrorize even the most vulnerable.  This is the "norm" of human existence after the Fall in Eden;  we are "a fire, a world of unrighteousness... setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell." (Jam 3:6).
the best of things...
     Lastly, I am warmed by God's grace for us at a time like this:  nationally, we are enthusiastic converts to the gospel of human innocence, preaching and proclaiming our goodness and worthiness and how much we deserve not just good things, but the best of things.  But God, who is rich in mercy, will not allow us to slumber in this deluded dreamland;  His providence shakes us awake to the reality of our shocking potential to express the evil lurking within.  We are not merely sick or confused;  we do not need to have a sit-down with Dr. Phil.  We are wretched to the core... we must die and be reborn.  Without this, the best we can expect is a hopeless drowsiness, a satanic abyss which awakens to the fire of divine judgment.


Photo courtesy of John H Wright

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

a Minister of the New Covenant

     We might break form and hit 2 verses in 2 Cor 3: this chapter is just so rich and deep! So verse 6 says: “who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life."  There is an application here in the sense that Paul is in a pastoral role to the Corinthians, and that would likely be drawn out in a sermon on this text. But I think there is another sense that the title “ministers of the new covenant“ is highly relevant to all saints, especially if we “walk worthy of the vocation wherewith we are called“ (Eph 4:1). So I want to explore how our society instinctively views ministers, the biblical root of the word, and just what is the New Covenant anyway?
     If there‘s ever been a society where it‘s tough to answer the question “So what do you do?“ with “I‘m a minister“, it‘s ours. There is a broad perception, especially in those under 30, that religion exists primarily (if not solely) for the purpose of enforcing archaic, vestigial moral codes that outlaw everything fun and enslave humanity (!) to the obedience to those in authority. Professional clergy therefore are the jack-booted stormtroopers of an oppressive regime, kicking down the proverbial door of those who enjoy the finer things in life, and keping the rest of us under the thumb of the fear of divine displeasure. In light of this, the “gospel“ of our irreligious (or antireligious?) culture is that those enlightened by Darwinian materialism can safely jettison the leftovers of our past (a.k.a. religion) and enjoy the liberty of an existence without ecclesiastical constrictions.
     So, with this baggage in mind, it‘s especially pertinent that Christians have a true, balanced grasp of what it means to be a minister. Even a rudimentary sense of the original language (like mine) can help get to what Paul was thinking of when he wrote (or dictated) 2 Cor. So the title “minister“ in Greek is diakonos; defined as “an attendant (or an errand boy); a waiter (at a table or other menial duties)“. Hmmm... so Paul‘s idea of his exalted position and authority over the church is similar to the pimply-faced kid who wipes down tables at your local greasy spoon? Where‘d he get that craziness? Amazingly, Jesus Christ:
 “But Jesus called them to him and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant (Gk. diakonos), and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve (diakoneo), and to give his life as a ransom for many.“ (Matt 20:28). 
     So the more authority, power and prestige you want in the church, the more you have to debase yourself? Yeah, and it‘s perfect that way for several reasons: Christ‘s church is not a business, social club, army or any other secular assembly ( not as the Gentiles) . Christ‘s leaders must lead His church His way, i.e. getting down on our knees and washing the animal dung off our brothers‘ feet (Jn 12). Also, the more a man is willing to humble himself to the betterment of others, the more authority he can be safely entrusted with.  Stay tuned for the New Covenant...

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Implications...

    Bible interpretation is so key, and it's so rewarding to track down what a difficult passage means, but it inevitably leads to the question "What's the point?".  Application is the necessary end result of our study, to change and conform our lives to the truth of God we've received.  So that's the question we want to answer today about 2 Cor 2:15-16, and tease out all the implications my tiny brain can handle.
Soon she'll be bald like me!
     The main big idea that is closely related to these verses is the philosophy of utilitarianism.  (I don't know about you, but I love learning and using big words;  even if you don't, knowing one more foundation of the mindset of most lost people is useful)  I'm sure you're familiar with the fundamentals of utility, if not the term:  basically, if it works, it's good.  If it doesn't work, it's bad.  Real tough, right?  To be sure, there are many useful and necessary areas that this approach functions well in;  if your computer contracts a virus, and banging your fist on it doesn't help, maybe you should try calling the help desk.  If you are in a rush in the drive-thru, and screaming at the poor young woman doesn't make your food magically appear, ask her how school is going instead.  Seriously, the practical applications of utility seem very obvious:  in companies, government, the military, in almost every arena, if something doesn't work, we try something else.  If it ain't broke, we don't fix it. 
     The problem is that, like everything else, this idea has crept into the religious practice of most churches in N. America.  To be fair, many of the "non-spiritual", administrative details of church management are benefitted by utility, from building maintenance to financial arrangements.  So when does utility go too far?  Allow me to relate 2 actual conversations I've had with lost people recently to illustrate, one oblique, one transparent:
     First the oblique:  in the company gym, an admin gal and I got to chatting about Israel and the Palestinians (I love politics), and she was absolutely convinced America should become much more stringent with Israel, threatening to withhold our generous military aid unless they meet certain conditions, driving them to the bargaining table until both sides had laid down their guns and were holding hands around a campfire, singing "Kumbayah".
     Second, in our many exchanges, Friendly Neighborhood Atheist has repeatedly turned to a very simple, straightforward piece of logic to prove the lunacy of the biblical narrative:  "If the Bible is true and God is all-powerful, why does everyone not believe/worship/serve Him?  Why has He failed so badly?" (FNA sees all tragedy in the world as God's fault)  "How come the Bible doesn't work?!?"
     Clear as mud?  Both of these folks were convinced that if something didn't achieve the desired goal, it was inherently wrong in every case and should be jettisoned.  So we as Christians take utility too far when we fail to accept God's declared intentions and goals, and spurn His methods to achieve them, thinking (perhaps unconsciously) that the ends justify the means.  We instead create our own solutions:
  • Is your church not growing numerically?  Just turn to Rick Warren (or any other church growth expert) for the methods, techniques and approaches that are perfect for your locale and demographic.  Never mind that it's "Christ who builds His church"...
  • Is your church or parachurch organization in a financial bind?  Marketing companies can help you, tailoring your message and repackaging the church/parachurch in mass mailings, billboards, bumper stickers and/or any other advertising strategy, maximizing your appeal to your target group.  Never mind that it's "God who makes all grace abound to us"...
Making people happy everywhere...
  • Do visitors find the "hellfire and damnation" of certain passages depressing?  Joel Osteen can help, tutoring your pastor and teachers to focus on positive messages that make people feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  Never mind that "God calls all men everywhere to repent"...
      You get the point, and that's the joy and peace of 2 Cor 2:15-16:  all of the prophets, the apostles, and most importantly, Jesus Christ had a message divinely designed to be unpopular with His enemies, and that's most of humanity (Matt 7:13-14).  By nature, the preaching of the cross is "death to death" (i.e. those who are spiritually dead).  So it's a supernatural miracle when anyone receives and rejoices in God's truth, and it's a great litmus test for us:  if we preach Christ unvarnished, odds are those who rejoice and affirm the gospel belong to Him.  (Kinda like in the 1st and 2nd century:  if you professed Christ even when the lions in the arena were gnawing on your legs, odds are you're a Christian.)
     So all the pressure's off;  we are faithful and stick to God's truth, and He calls whom He chooses.  If our humble presentation offends, we are not discouraged and what's more:  we know why...
"...people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed." (John 3:19-20)
photos courtesy of Cliff1066 and Collegedegrees 360

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Apologetic Interlude...

    While we wait for me to work out some implications of 2 Cor 2:15-16, I thought it would be edifying to relate an apologetic door the Lord opened for me yesterday;  a coworker had just bought the book Stop Living In This Land Go To The Everlasting World Of Happiness Live There Forever by Woo Myung, and wanted to recommend it to me.  I browsed the back cover and detected some universalist tones, and suggested that we google the author on the company computers (which are provided for limited personal use!).  We did and quickly tracked down the man's website with this incredible claim: 

"In 1996, while meditating in the mountains of South Korea, Woo Myung achieved enlightenment and became Truth."

There's only one...
     Who wouldn't momentarily be taken aback by such an preposterous claim?  My astonishment was evident, and I exclaimed,  "Do you know what that means?  Jesus said that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  This man is claiming to be the equal of Jesus!  Further," I added, "that means that everything this man says and everything Jesus says will perfectly line up.  But if it doesn't, either Jesus or Woo Myung must not be the Truth;  they must be horribly mistaken."  My coworker was on the defensive by now, and I decided not to press him further... maybe I should have.  But God be thanked for the abundant and easy research we can do to "test the spirits"!  Take every opportunity to emphasize the exclusivity of Christ... He's not a way;  He's the only Way!

photo courtesy of Michael Peoples


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Smelly Christianity...

     By way of disclaimer, there is truth in every verse in the Bible, so I don't mean, in hitting on average one verse a chapter, to skip over anything in 2 Corinthians; but at the same time, I'm not a professional exegete, just a busdriver who loves to learn.  So most of what I write is a regurgitation of what other people have said, but if you haven't heard those other people, I can pass on their insight to you.
     In my humble opinion, the best verses in 2 Cor 2 are vss. 15-16: 
"For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?"
     I think there are some fascinating insights and implications in these verses;  I hope to cover some insights in this post, and save the implications for the next.
What does holiness smell like?
     How does Paul communicate the effect of godly saints to others?  Just follow your nose to the answer!  You've likely never encountered a article or blog post on what the Bible says about this overlooked (pun intended) nub of cartilage;  at least I never have!  But I think there's much profitable truth in learning exactly what a Scriptural author is thinking and what imagery he's employing to teach us about the truth of God.  So let me give you a sniff of the theology of the nose;  most of the verses I found fall into several categories:
Biological Reality:  This is the most obvious sense; and it adds a subtle scent of truth to the Scripture.  An essential part of our everyday experience is what we smell, and we can't forget that biblical times were much more aromatic than ours!  When we run across this, we see the biblical authors faithfully recording what they smelled (or were afraid to smell!): "...Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days." (John 11:39)
Metaphorical:  In likely the most neglected arena of meaning, God chose to first reveal Himself in a much more expressive language than ours;  for example, the Hebrew word for anger ("awph") literally means "nose".  The link is the unconscious, biological response to the emotion:  your nostrils flare when you're steamed!  Also in this category, we find the figurative use of God's nose to describe His miraculous power in creation, deliverance and most understandably, judgment. He wonderfully condescends to our understanding for our benefit (Ex 15:8, 2 Sam 22:9, 16, Job 4:9).
Relations with man:  The Hebrew way of looking at people was truly remarkable, in a way that our compulsively antiseptic society might find revolting:  if you liked someone, they smelled great (SofSol 1:12-13, 2:1, 3:6);  but if not, peeeeeuuuu! (Ex 5:21, 1 Sam 13:4, 27:12, 2 Sam 10:6, 1 Chr 19:6-7)
Relations with God:  No doubt the most important category, our text in 2 Cor is based on the context of the sacrifices under the Levitical system:  "...it is a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the LORD." (Lev 1:13)  The obvious idea is that our spiritual service wafts up to God in the same way, delighting Him because it is offered with no ulterior motive and in the manner He has established.  We find the same concept behind other NT texts (Rom 12:1, Php 4:18, Eph 5:2, Heb 13:16).
     With this background, I think we can say that the main point behind our text is this:  the appeal of our fragrance (godly words backed up by a godly life) is dependent on the recipient.  If that person has an appetite for righteousness, we will attract them like a magnet.  If God has not graced them with regenerate senses, no amount of persuasion will draw them downwind from us.  This should relieve our burdens regarding the response of others to the gospel... all those nervous thoughts and qualms dissipate in the face of divine work and its symptoms, not our "success" or "failure".  We'll explore the ramifications next time.
 
Photos courtesy of foxypar4

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Promises part 2

      So to recap the central point of our last post, Christ merited blessing from God, due to His flawless obedience while on earth. Another way to put it would be in addition to Christ‘s passive obedience that satisfied negative justice (in bearing our sin on the Cross), He also actively obeyed God by perfectly keeping the Mosaic Covenant. So the one thing left unsaid is how we as Gentiles can be related to the nation of Israel (who were the recipients of the vast majority of O.T. promises), so that all of God‘s promises can be “yes“ and “amen“.
      Why did God choose Israel in the first place? What purpose did He have in mind? Deut 4 hints at it:
God's Beacon
Keep them (God's commandments) and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, 'Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.' For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?“(vss. 6-8)
      Isaiah is the prophet which most clearly draws out Israel‘s “purpose statement“; 4 times in his closing chapters, he uses the same language (42:6, 49:6, 51:4-6, 60:1-3) to express His missional will for the nation, to shine as a beacon to all their neighbors and advertise the blessings of obedience to God. But we know the end of the story... Israel failed miserably both to obey God and manifest His righteousness to the nations. So is God‘s purpose frustrated by human depravity?
      Of course, the answer is ‘Ma genoita!‘ (Paul‘s favorite phrase... “God forbid!‘ in Greek). We find a tantalizing hint in the Isa passages: Israel is repeatedly referred to as God‘s servant, both explicitly (41:8, 42:19 with vs. 24, 44:2, 21, 45:4, 49:3) and implicitly; and then something completely shocking... interspersed and interwoven with these texts, there are “servant“ verses that the N.T. authors use and apply to Christ! In Matt 11:5, Jesus expects John‘s followers to recognize His fulfillment of Isa 35:5 and 61:1; Matt 12:18ff applies Isa 42:1ff; numerous verses link Isa 52:1-53:12 to Christ, and most interestingly, Paul identifies the servant of Isa 49:6 as himself in Acts 13:47 and 26:18! It‘s hard to imagine Paul thinking that he was “the restoration of the tribes of Jacob“ or “the Lord‘s salvation to the ends of the earth“; but it makes perfect sense if Paul saw himself sharing the work of the One who personally commissioned him (Acts 9:15) and issued the same orders to the rest of His people (Matt 5:16, 28:19-20). So how do we reconcile this dual identification of the Lord‘s servant as Israel and Christ? As a student of Scripture, I believe that the nation‘s flawed service in the O.T. foreshadowed the perfect fulfillment, an obedient Servant that both glorified and pleased God (Jn 8:29) and was a blindingly pure illumination to the entire world. So to put it simply:

Christ = the True Israel

      If this is true, then it‘s clear how we Gentile dogs are linked to Israel... in Christ. Since He is the recipient of the blessings of obedience, and He graciously allows us to share in His active righteousness, then we are “joint heirs“ (Rom 8:17) with Him. Because of Him, we deserve to be blessed and the wall of separation between ethnic Israel and the rest of the world is demolished (Eph 2:12-18). It reminds me of that old hymn, which now has new meaning for me...

 I'm so glad I'm a part of the Family of God!
 I've been washed in the fountain, cleansed by His blood!
Joint heirs with Jesus as we travel this sod,
For I'm part of the family,
The Family of God !


For a more scholarly and educated and insightful... well, it's better all around!... article on the topic, I'd recommend Kim Riddlebarger.
photo courtesy of jimmywayne

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Standing on the promises

Good protein in 2 Cor!
     So we‘re off to a great start in 2 Corinthians: 3 meaty posts on just one verse! At that rate, with 261 verses in 2 Cor, that leaves 780 posts to go! No, I may be a chatty Cathy (so my wife says), but even I‘m not that verbose; but seriously, in switching from Leviticus to 2 Cor, I‘ve found there is quite a difference between studying the Old and New Testaments; in the Old, you‘re digging and searching for New Covenant truth in every nook and cranny, tracking down connections, themes, and patterns. In the New, all that just jumps out at you! So all that to say we‘ll be moving a little quicker in 2 Cor.
      The next verse that got me thinking was 1:20: “For all the promises of God in Him are ‘yes‘ and in Him ‘Amen‘ unto the glory of God by us.“ So which promises exactly? I know it says “all“, but is that really an all-inclusive, 1-to-1 transfer of O.T. promises to Christians today? Arminians might say “all means all, and that‘s all all means!“; a better approach would be to remember the first 3 rules of bible interpretation: context, context, and context. And it just so happens that there is one other usage of “promises“ in 2 Cor in 7:1: “Having therefore these promises...“. And rewinding to define “these“ brings us to 6:16-18:
What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, "I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty."
      It‘s reasonable to assume that since “all“ promises are fulfilled in Jesus, these are among them; what‘s more, I believe Paul uses this composite reference to sum up the essence of our inheritance in Christ in 1:20 (toward the purpose of godly separation). So briefly, what are these promises about?
      The foundational occurrence of this bedrock union is in Lev 26:12; it is an important passage forming the official terms of Israel‘s covenant relationship with God. It is not unlike the word given to Adam... in essence, if you obey, you will be blessed; if you disobey, you will be cursed. Specifically, we find our first promise at the end of the blessing section; it‘s not hard to see that Moses is saving the best for last, saying in essence: “Atop all these physical, transitory gifts and graces, the ultimate place of permanent, holistic blessedness is reserved for those who know and are known by God. That will be you!“ This concept of belonging to God as His people is peppered throughout the O.T., specifically addressed to Israel (Ex 6:7, Jer 7:23, 11:4, 30:22, 31:33, 32:38, Zech 13:9, and many more!), so when Paul uses it to express our relationship with God, what‘s he saying? How could the Church be related to God the way Israel was?
      First, it‘s evident that God relates to humanity through covenants; however you see the relationship between Israel and the Church, the manifold instances of the structure of the covenant are impossible to escape. Second, I believe the key is understanding the double imputation that's at the heart of our salvation. Yes, Christ took our sin upon Him on the Cross, and satisfied the demands of God's justice; but He also grants us the positive righteousness necessary to be acceptable in God's presence. 
God's righteousness with a bow!
Where did Jesus get this righteousness... was it His inherent divine purity/sinlessness? Or was it the practical obedience He showed as a man for 33 years, obeying God's Law in spirit and in truth? If it's the former, Jesus could've granted it to us without getting His hands dirty in a fallen world; but if it's the latter, it makes perfect sense why He would deserve to be blessed: He fulfilled the covenant Israel had with God, and so God is obligated to reward Him with all the blessings promised to His human forefathers.  
So in our union with Christ, God looks at us not as law-breakers, but law-keepers, and is fully justified in showering us with the good gifts a father would give to his children. We'll explore the connection between Christ and Israel as a nation next time.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Somewhere under the rainbow?

      One of the most beautiful features of the natural world is given to us often in the Pacific Northwest; while we may complain about the seemingly incessant dampness sometimes (I know I do!), the moisture is necessary to create rainbows. There are not many natural phenomenon we are given the divine purpose for, so Scripture‘s testimony about what a rainbow means is especially valuable. I have encapsulated the basics into 2 questions for my daughter:
What does a rainbow mean?“
A rainbow is a promise from God.“
A promise to what?“
Not to flood the whole earth again.“
      So we were enjoying a quiet Thanksgiving, and somehow, the conversation drifted to rainbows, and I took the opportunity to show off my daughter‘s biblical acumen. My godly stepfather retorted, “Yeah, that‘s not what a rainbow means now!“ It took a sec for the import of his irony to sink in, but when it did, I was stunned by the complete mess our society has made of one of the greatest displays of God‘s grace: before the Flood, Moses describes man this way...
 “And God looked and saw that the wickedness of man was great upon the earth, and the thoughts of the imagination of his heart was only evil continually.“ (Gen 6:5) 
     And after God justly wiped out the entire human race minus 8, it‘s not any better. (Gen 8:21)  Fast forward a couple thousand years and Paul gives his famous condemnation of our depravity (Rom 3:10ff).  So all that to say, if there's a people who should cling to such a sweet, generous promise of mercy, a visible, beautiful sign (the rainbow) that God delights to forgive criminals like us, it's 21st century America.
God have mercy on us...
     Instead, what does the rainbow stand for in our society?  When you see it on T-shirts, bumper stickers, billboards, what's usually the message behind it?  Now are you sharing my speechlessness?  We have turned the first, most broadly disseminated (all over the sky!) announcement that God "does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities" (Ps 103:10) into a celebration of homosexuality!  I am overwhelmed by the feeling we are living in Sodom the day before the angels arrived;  we use God's grace as a license for perversity.  Pray for our sick, sick nation.
"Why will you still be struck down? Why will you continue to rebel? The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.  From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but bruises and sores and raw wounds; they are not pressed out or bound up or softened with oil." (Isa 1:5-6)
   

Friday, November 23, 2012

The end of succession

     As a humorous intro, I recently bought a new Kindle... it works great, and I should be able to write more; if I can just stop accidentally deleting documents! Most of you know how “funny“ that is; God‘s sanctification comes in many ways.
      So the focus of this last installment of this series on our connection to the apostles is necessary and must be continually refreshed in our minds. Just as Rome errs in the direction of too much and wrongly grounded authority, there is an equal and opposite mistake common to many who call themselves Protestants. I've heard it called the “just me and my Bible“ syndrome; the symptoms of this disorder include: bouncing from church to church, establishing home churches that stay pretty small (newcomers stay until they hear something they dispute, and then leave to find a new one!), and an inability to distinguish essential doctrinal truth from secondary issues believers can agree to disagree on. These folks typically think that the proper and necessary right of private interpretation gives them license to fall off the other side of the log and shun/despise all human religious authority. In the first post on this topic, I mentioned that Rome bases their claim of papal supremacy on a supposed connection to Peter as the first pope, so it‘s probably best to start the correction of the aforementioned syndrome, and the completion of our exploration of apostolic succession, with the official title he gives himself in the ecclesiastical structure of the 1st century...
So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ...“ (1Pet 5:1)
      Wait a second...Peter‘s not “ Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, or Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church" (all of these titles actually are claimed by the guy with the funny hat) He‘s just an elder? And not even Head Elder, but a “fellow elder“ (I guess in Hebrew it would be “Elder of Elders“!)?  Just to be clear, I‘m not demoting Peter from apostle to elder; the goal is to realize how the apostles thought of themselves, and desired others to think of them within the church structure; see also 2 Jn 1, 3 Jn 1.
     Which leads to a second point: whom did the apostles want to succeed them? “For this cause, I left you in Crete, that you would set in order the things that are lacking, and ordain elders in every city, as I appointed you;“ (Tit 1:5). So if the chosen leader(s) to replace apostles was/were not a single, preeminent papacy, but groups of locally appointed elders, responsible only for their local fellowship, who are we to argue and set up a central figurehead, contrary to God‘s will (1 Sam 8:4)? (As a side note, if elders are responsible for the souls of 100-200 people, and that‘s considered a great charge and duty, consider the weight of judgment upon the bishop of Rome, who claims watchcare over every Christian in the world?)
      If on the other hand, like our modern-day religious anarchists, you have a tendency to belittle the power and necessity of leadership, and think yourself a sufficient judge of orthodoxy and truth, you think too much of yourself (Rom 12:3): we are not called “sheep“ without good reason! Outside the protective sheepfold of the Church, under biblically qualified elders, we are exposed to the elements of error, sin and apostasy. Left to our own devices, we quickly wander and succumb to sin, the world, and the devil. This is such a dependable constant in those who profess Christ that John equates departure from the fellowship of believers with a departure from Christ (1 Jn 2:19). As a divinely ordained counter, God gives every local body men to lead it (Eph 4:11). With the responsibility of guiding the flock, these “undershepherds“ are given the necessary authority to back it up (Acts 20:28, Heb 13:17, 1 Pet 5:2-5; it would be ludicrous otherwise!).  So the standards for leadership in Christ‘s church are high, as one would expect with the successors of the apostles, and most do not meet them (myself foremost among them!). So in summary, we could depict apostolic succession in church authority like this:
       The apostles wisely ensured Christ‘s church would be well taken care of... thank God for your local shepherds. And while you‘re at it, thank them too!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Careful when you call 911...

     My first post (a whopping 2 1/2 months ago!) was on the ironic coincidence when unbelievers are a commentary to us of God's righteousness, and one more occurrence has popped into view.  So while I finish the last post on apostolic succession, we'll play a game:  I'll give you a quote from a famous celebrity (about whom I have no reason to consider them Christian), let you ponder the question and then, once the suspense has built to a climax, I'll let the cat out of the bag and hopefully you'll see the point.

    Who said this, and what was he talking about?:
"It was very destructive to my soul and my personality...After that, I didn't think I would (insert his profession here) again."
"Hello... my name is Inigo Montoya..."
     Wow, what a drastic statement!  Gone is the tolerant, subjective blandness so prevalent in our society... this is a genuine moral judgment, coming from the depths of this man's humanity, rejecting and condemning what is clearly and overtly evil.  Stumped?  I won't drag it out:  you might know the name of Mandy Patinkin for his iconic role as Inigo Montoya, the six-finger-hating Spaniard (and if you don‘t, you should! Go rent “The Princess Bride“ today!). But what in the world caused this outrage from an actor whom I presume has no biblical basis for his moral compass, who has been in show business for decades, and is steeped in that industry‘s rejection of righteousness? Was it cruelty to animals, or someone not recycling, or the true nightmare of all actors: a shortage of Perrier on the set? No, Mr. Patinkin was inveighing against crime dramas, specifically “Criminal Minds“, the show he recently starred in for 2 seasons. He explains further:
 “I thought it was something very different. I never thought they were going to kill and rape all these women every night, every day, week after week, year after year.“
Yes, those are name tags!
      You might be thinking: “Not every TV show and movie misuses violence like that... can't one distinguish between types of violence?“ I believe we can, simply by asking “What's the point?“; if we can categorize a scene in a book or movie as ethically necessary, like a policeman stopping a thief, or a soldier fighting during wartime, there is some degree in of profitable intake (1 Cor 6:12, 10:23). But is an incessant mental diet of pointless perversity and grotesque violence “destructive“?  Yes, it normalizes and desensitizes us to these horrors, as Mr. Patinkin found out the hard way.  God is to be thanked and praised for the inescapable witness of our conscience; it is a “law unto itself“ (Rom 2:14) and the reason why God will judge all the secrets of men (i.e. the sure internal knowledge we have about our wrongdoings; 2:16). So what happens when unbelievers see more clearly and flee such wretchedness more often than professing Christians do? “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you“ (2:24).  Our tragically enlightened unbeliever called his involvement in this travesty "his biggest public mistake".  Do you want to make the same one?  
     Or do you want to use even the TV that you watch (and won't watch) as a part of the testimony we present to a lost world (like voting according to conscience!)?  People are watching... our children are watching;  what will we show them?  One sure guide to our media intake is Php 4:8: “Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are just, whatever things pure, whatever things are lovely, whatvever things are of good report, if there is any praise or any virtue, think on these things.“

Photos courtesy of Rakka, Nacho Proy

Monday, November 19, 2012

Succcession pt 2

Imagine the depths of 2,000 years of Papal decrees!
      I must open with one more critique of the Roman view of apostolic succession, one I feel is subtle, yet persuasive: it seems characteristic of the Old Covenant, not the New. Under the Law, there was a distinct divide between those who ministered to God and those who watched from the outside; the priests and the congregation. The common folk were dependent on the priests to offer their sacrifices, declare something clean or unclean, diagnose their leprosies, and all the other really fun stuff. This is more than slightly reminiscent of the Roman system: only the priests (they even call them “priests”!) can turn the bread and the cup into the body and blood of Christ (the partaking of which is a key part of working one's way to heaven), accept confession, assign penance, and for many centuries, hold the average person's hand to help them read and "properly interpret" the Bible. Roman priests do this because of the authority delegated to them by the current Pope, who in turn received his title from the 263 men before him. This is exactly how the Hebrew priests acquired their position, through a chain of heredity under Aaron's direct descendant. So the covenantal pattern of Rome is Mosaic; but there are a whole slew of verses and passages that teach that believers under the New Covenant are individually and independently related to God in Christ through the Holy Spirit (Jer 31:33-34, 1Pet 2:9, Acts 2:17, 1 Cor 3:16, 6:19, Rom 6:12-13, 12:1-2, Rev 5:10, 7:15... whew! what a slew!). These texts either explicitly label generic Christians “priests“, or implicitly invite/command us to perform priestly activities. The Law was full of temporary, stopgap measures (like the sacrifices, Heb 10:4, or the ceremonies, Col 2:21-23), and physical descent is one of them (Rom 4:12, Heb 7:3, 12).
      So we have been introduced to apostolic succession via the errors of the Roman perspective; I pray that no one has concluded in despair the doctrine is best discarded entirely. I now hope to make clear why it is necessary to see and operate from a connection with the apostles. As with the O.T. Prophets, the apostles were official spokesmen from God, saying (in effect) “Thus saith the Lord!” They were attested to both by wonders and signs, and the life-changing transmission of the Spirit with the reception of the gospel. Even more compellingly, the message of our salvation in Christ has come to those who live after the first century only through the apostles: they recorded God's authoritative revelation to them in the N.T., and that revelation has ceased (Heb 1:2). And while each of us could (to the limits of recorded history) trace how the gospel came to us personally, we are not chained to the interpretations or idiosyncrasies of the many men and women who were faithful to transmit the gospel down through the centuries. Instead, I propose this concept of apostolic succession:

                                                                  
     Seems a lot simpler, huh? This graphic represents the heart of the Reformation principle of private interpretation that God's truth (revealed authoritatively in Scripture) is intended for every believer, and is not to be mediated by any present human figure or institution.  The joy of this direct transmission is that every person sits at the feet of Paul, Peter, and above all, Jesus to learn (with the help of the Spirit) exactly what God has said to man.  We are "all taught of God" (John 6:45) and "guided into all truth" (John 16:13) personally!  This is one of the key blessings (and responsibilities!) of the New Covenant... a free, open, intimate experience with God via His Word for all of His children.  We'll cover one more variation of this for the local church next time.