"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Monday, July 30, 2007

I Suck: Why I Need Hope.

I wrote this post, then found this essay which captures the idea much better than I could. Here's the point in better prose.

Eph 1:13-14 - You were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.

I am saved. But I still sin, hurt others, hurt myself and I am going to die.

We often talk about the work of salvation as a past event. “When were you saved?” A popular answer is “when I asked Jesus into my heart at age ___.” Yet, we still sin, we still hurt, we still hurt others and we all die. Why? This is what the Bible says: Because we are not yet saved.

While we have been saved, and are presently saved, if that is all we have in “the finished work of redemption,” then salvation is a disappointment. We are not yet glorified and the problem still exists: we all hurt, sin and die. What is so great about that?

Paul, however, tells us by God sealing us in the Spirit, we have an earnest (or down-payment) of our inheritance. Paul reminds us of the necessity of hope. We hope because salvation is not finished and we look towards “the redemption of the purchased possession.” We have been bought and we will one day be saved.

John tells us:

Rev 21:4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

The next verse floors me. The final two chapters of Revelation pull back the curtain and flood our mind with hope and Christ declares:

Rev 21:5 And He who was seated on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new."

We have been told Christ is done. It is finished. He sat down at the right hand of God. While the payment has been made, He is not done. He tells us so. This is not as good as it gets. Hallelujah for that.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Golden Key

George MacDonald wrote a children’s story called “The Golden Key.” The children in the story are sent on a reverse quest, they are first given the golden key, and then must find what it unlocks. MacDonald used this as a metaphor for Christ. We see bumper stickers that declare “Jesus is the Answer” which begs “What is the question?” That is the paradox of the Christian spiritual journey. While philosophers ask their questions and then seek the answer, Christians have an answer and seek the questions.

I used to be a little embarrassed by this fact. It seemed faith was not rational, not the product of reasoned inquiry, but a logical fallacy in search of justification. One may read with Enlightened condescension a definition of faith as “belief seeking understanding.” Then how did I figure it out?! What foolishness. What foolishness to us Greeks.

Our search lacks perspective. Humanistic philosophy looks at the ground, illuminated by light and asks how each thing here on earth provides its own light and knowledge. To the elect, God lifts their vision to the Sun, no, God provides the Sun. We see all things physical by an apriori (before the fact) reality: the Sun. This is why God must seek us, and not the other way around. We have no means of sight. We must first be given the light, the Sun, the answer, the key: Christ. Then our journey begins and illuminates all other things along the way.
But we are proud. We tell God we want to find Him ourselves. To one who wants to find the way themselves, to credit their own insight and powers for finding God, God tells us:
I spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices;
a people who provoke me to my face continually, sacrificing in gardens and making offerings on bricks; …
who say, "Keep to Yourself, do not come near me, for I am too holy for You." These are a smoke in My nostrils, a fire that burns all the day.
Behold, it is written before me: "I will not keep silent…”
Isaiah 65:2-6

We, who did not seek God, but were sought by Him now have light.
We have a key. Happy journey in looking for the doors it unlocks.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Christianity is African.

You may have heard the thesis: The "center of gravity" in Christianity is moving South. Stories abound of Africans in the Anglican denomination resisting the liberalization in the U.S. branch of the Anglican Communion. In the public mind, this thesis gained popularity in the works of Philip Jenkins, namely his work The Next Christendom, and his newer work New Faces of Christianity. One of my favorite stories from the later book tells of an African and American bishop sitting down for a Bible study over the issue of homosexuality. Finally the African bishop exclaimed in disbelief: "If you don't believe the Bible, why did you bring it to us?!"

The statement above displays a common misconception of African Christianity, even by some products of Western missions. Lesser known scholar Andrew Walls fills in some gaps. He was recently interviewed by Christianity Today as the "most important person you don't know." His work is not limited to the strange contemporary events, but the long history of African Christianity. From the story of Philip and the Ethiopian in Acts, Africa has not just played a secondary role in the grand Christian narrative, but, Walls argues, a primary part. Walls, an Oxford grad and professor, in a series of lectures delivered at DTS in 2003, lays out how all roads in the Christian narrative do not lead to Rome, and how African Christianity was the mind of early Christianity, the arms of the missionary movement throughout history, and, perhaps, the soul of future Christianity when "Envoys will come out of Egypt; [and] Ethiopia will quickly stretch out her hands to God"[Ps 68:31] Give a listen:

Part 1: Two Thousand Years in African Christian History

Part 2: A Tale of Three Continents

Part 3: Tales of the Unexpected

Part 4: Africa as Leader in World Missions

Apostolic Father: Ignatius of Antioch

or Sanctification by the Church.

Ignatius was bishop of Antioch, another member of the generation after the apostles.
Protestants all know, one can have too high a view of the Church. But another sin Protestants forget, is having too low a view of the Church. Ignatius introduces us to a very foreign topic to Protestants: Sanctification by the Church. While we know the primary agent in sanctification is God (1 Pet 1:2, 1 Thes 5:23, 2 Thes 2:13), we may forget that sanctification is also mentioned in a group context (1 Cor 1:2).

Ignatius develops this thought further, in lines such as:

“He, therefore, that does not assemble with the Church, has by this manifested his pride, and condemned himself. For it is written, ‘God resisteth the proud.’”

“I am far inferior to you, and require to be sanctified by your Church of Ephesus.”

“being subject to the [Church leaders], ye may in all respects be sanctified.”
So Ignatius might say to the modern Christian: Just you and Jesus? A Christian without the Church? No such thing. God may alone sanctify, but he does by means of the Church and if we take Rom 6:22 seriously, sanctification must precede eternal life. And if the Church is the means, either here or in the next life, we have to learn to love the Church, and be sanctified by it.

Ignatius wrote seven letters which survive. His letter to the Ephesians is best for a one letter introduction to his thought.

Ignatius also ended his life in martyrdom, fed to the lions in Rome.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Apostolic Father: Polycarp

Polycarp, a leader or bishop in Smyrna, was a direct student of John. Some speculate that if the angels in Revelation are bishops, he is referred to in Rev 2-3. Reading his epistle, one can see the similar simplicity with John. He quotes Scripture as much as he uses his own words. He says little profound, but has a loving spirit towards the believers in Philippi. The account of his martyrdom reveals his wittier side. The Roman officer gave Polycarp an opportunity to avoid death by his association with the ‘atheist‘ Christians, telling him:

“Swear by the fortune of Caeser; repent and say, Away with the Atheists.”

"Polycarp…looked up to heaven, [and] said, 'Away with the Atheists.'" Adding later, “if you wish to learn what the doctrines of Christianity are, appoint me a day, and thou shalt hear them.”

Polycarp was burned alive.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Apostolic Father: Clement

For most evangelicals, The early church consists of the book of Acts, and it picks up in the Reformation, or with Billy Graham, or perhaps when they were born. But Paul, Peter and John had their own disciples, many who died for their faith. They are a rusty treasure of the church.
I begin with Clement. This may very well be the Clement mentioned in Php 4:3. A man who knew Paul and Peter. Clement is identified by Irenaeus as one of the Bishops of Rome. His only surviving work is his letter to the Corinthians. Though we may think the Apostolic Fathers may merely confirm our perception of Scripture, often they challenge it. For instance, see how Clement explores the tension of justification by works and by faith:

“Let us cleave, then, to those to whom grace has been given by God. Let us clothe ourselves with concord in humility, ever exercising self-control, standing far off from all whispering and evil-speaking, being justified by our works, and not our words…does he that is ready in speech deem himself righteousness?…Let our praise be in God, and not ourselves; for God hateth those that commend themselves Let testimony to our good deeds be born by others, as it was in the case of our righteous forefathers.”

Clement juxtaposes works and words. Clement talks about praising our own works, indicating he is talking about our faith in the presence of others. We are shown justified (in the right) before men by our works, not our words. Though modern evangelists may object, Clement tells us the gospel is confirmed as true, not by our words (logical, apologetic, rational, or whatever our approach) but, as James said, by what we do. But then if we might think our relationship with God is of works, Clement continues:

“[The Levite priests were] great, not for their own sake, or for their own works, or for the righteousness which they wrought, but through the operation of His will. We, too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men; to Whom be glory for ever and ever, Amen.” (Clem XXXII)

Friday, July 06, 2007

Celebrating Dependence: Calvin and Communion

From a Baptist background, the ministers always explained the "only" or “merely” aspect of the Lord’s Supper. “This is MERELY a symbol of the forgiveness of sins.” It was only described in the negative: Not Catholic. One begins to wonder if this tradition is so minor, so mere, why do we do it at all?

This “mere” idea comes from Zwingli and dominates the sacramental theology of Baptists and Presbyterians, Reformed and otherwise. Yet, Calvin’s mind in Soteriology is acknowledged as far superior. Why not entertain some of his thoughts on the Lord’s Supper?
Turns out Calvin’s Institutes find little “mere” or “minor” in the symbol of Christ‘s blood and body. Some selections:
“As bread nourishes, sustains, and protects our bodily life, so the body of Christ is the only food to invigorate and keep alive the soul. When we behold wine set forth as a symbol of blood, we must think that such use as wine serves to the body, the same spiritually bestowed by the blood of Christ.”
Calvin invites contemplation on the “similitude” of bread and wine to the “giving daily” of the benefits of Christ. I find Psalm 104:15 lists both and their function:
“Bread to strengthen man's heart” (ESV)
I may surmise that Christ continually is to be our strength.
“wine maketh glad the heart of man, making the face brighter than oil” (JPS)
Christ is to be the gladness of our heart, making our face beam more than oil.
While Christ’s sacrifice for sin was once for all, the Lord’s Supper reminds us of the continual nature in which Christ is the source of our strength and our joy. Our sustaining Providence and the source of our delight. Thus, while we may see baptism as our death and new life with Christ, done once, the Lord’s Supper is the continual coming to Christ for strength and joy. Calvin does not leave the symbolism to the past grace of Christ, but the present and future. We are continually given the benefits of Christ’s “wonderous exchange.” What does Calvin mean by this phrase? He tells us:
“the wonderous exchange…having become with us the Son of Man, He made us with Himself sons of God. By His own descent to the earth, He prepared our ascent to heaven. Having received our mortality, He has bestowed on us His immortality. Having under-taken our weakness, He has made us strong in His strength. Having submitted to our poverty, He has transferred to us His riches. Having taken upon Himself the burden of unrighteousness with which we were oppressed, He has clothed us with His righteousness.”
In the Lord’s Supper, perhaps we ask the wrong question of “Does the bread and wine become Christ?” Perhaps we should ask “Does Christ become our bread and wine?” Our strength and delight.