Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Eternal Pre-Existence of God the Son


John 1:1-8  BYZ (BibleWorks).  Words for discussion have been underlined.

1 VEn avrch/| h=n o` lo,goj( kai. o` lo,goj h=n pro.j to.n qeo,n( kai. qeo.j h=n o` lo,gojÅ  2  Ou-toj h=n evn avrch/| pro.j to.n qeo,nÅ  3  Pa,nta diV auvtou/ evge,neto( kai. cwri.j auvtou/ evge,neto ouvde. e]n o] ge,gonenÅ  4  VEn auvtw/| zwh. h=n( kai. h` zwh. h=n to. fw/j tw/n avnqrw,pwn(  5  kai. to. fw/j evn th/| skoti,a| fai,nei( kai. h` skoti,a auvto. ouv kate,labenÅ

Lit:  1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with the God, and God was the Word [Word is the subject].  2 This one [the Word] was in the beginning with the God.  3 All things through him came to be, and without him came to be not one thing, which has come to be.  4 In him life was, and the life was the light of men, 5 and the light in the darkness shines, and the darkness it not seized ["did not seize it"].

Notice the underlining and red coloration of the Koine word meaning 'was'.  Likewise, notice the underlining and blue coloration of various forms of the word ginomai, generically meaning 'come to be'. 

It's well known that the verb 'to be' has the flavor and aspect of "continuing to be," rather than "coming and going."  This is the grammatical form.  This interpretation of this text at the lexical level takes this into account, of course.  But, since Koine Greek is a natural language, not a mathematical formula, how far should we push these uses of 'to be' to indicate the eternal existence of God the Son?

One answer (among many) can be formulated by looking at the use of the forms of ginomai which are colored in blue.  At those places, ginomai is used to refer to creation.  See verse 3.  "All things were made by him (through his instrumentality), and without him was made not one thing that was made!"  The vociferious and distinctive emphasis on the instrumentality of God the Son in creating anything and everything that was ever made implies his own eternity.  He was never "made."

Therefore, by noting the contrast between the verbs 'to be' and 'come to be' in the context of the Greek text, we obtain a clear view of the authorial intention to state the eternal and uncreated deity of the Son of God.

This, in turn, supports the statement that the Son (always) contained life [past tense], that this life was [past tense: even since creation] the light of men, and that, as the light now shines in (or within) the darkness (which came about through sin), it was never "seized and conquered" by that darkness.

Re the light "shining":  This verb, in the context, partakes of the attributes of deity, too!  This light is not a created light.  Ever since there were men, the Word was their unconquered light!

He still is!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Millennialism


This post is about the downside of millennialism.  Not that I'm intending to promote some bland, unexciting, pessimistic "amillennial" world-view.  Actually, as an optimistic amil learning about postmil, I too want excitement and success for the Kingdom of God.  But, it's still the case that the upside and downside of millennialism must be weighed.

A scholarly article on this subject may be found in a Richard Gaffin "festschrift" called Resurrection and Eschatology, edited by Tipton and Waddington.  The chapter I'm referring to is entitled "A Millennial Genealogy: Joseph Mede, Jonathan Edwards, and Old Princeton," by Jeffrey K. Jue.

This article is worth reading (borrow the book if you have to).  Jue details an instance of close connection between historic premillennialism and postmillennialism by showing a genealogical relationship in the writings of Mede (premil), Edwards (postmil), and Hodge.

The interesting thing about the article is that it can portray the two (pre- and post-) millennialisms to be siblings in their nature and effects on theology and the church.  This is distinct from the usual taxonomy which places premillennialism off to itself, and juxtaposes postmillennialism and "amillennialism."

On the last page of the chapter Jue writes:

The similarities between premillennialism and traditional postmillennialism have been observed and analyzed by others such as Richard B. Gaffin Jr.  Gaffin writes, "like premillennialism, postmillennialism -- distinguished from amillennialism -- 'de-eschatologizes' the present (and past) existence of the church." 
footnote: Richard B. Gaffin Jr., "Theonomy and Eschatology: Reflections on Postmillennialism," in Theonomy: A Reformed Critique, ed. Barker and Godfrey, 202.
What Gaffin is pointing out is that the assertion, made by pre- and postmillennialists, that another finite age (the millennium) will precede the eternal eschaton reduces the eschatological character of the present age.  How so?  If the present church age will be followed by another intermediate state, then the church's final eschatological hope is weakened and delayed.
In other words, 'Come Lord Jesus! Come in glory!' falls into the background, the "blessed hope" is deferred to the indefinite future (or reinterpreted to refer to the millennium), and the church goes on with her business participating in the creation of a Kingdom which may be more at home in this age and this world than it ought to be.

My advice for now:  Amils, don't denigrate the progress of God's Kingdom in this age.  Postmils, don't misperceive or overglorify (in worldly terms) the look and feel of God's Kingdom in this age.

The theological regulation of the New Testament scripture is normative here.  Jesus' description of the mysteries of the Kingdom must rule. The motif of 'glory hidden in suffering' does not pass away as the millennium comes in this age.  The children of God do "shine forth as the sun" -- when He Comes to raise them from the dead!  Only then does the "last enemy," which is also the first enemy and the cause of all our tribulations, get swallowed up in victory!

Meanwhile, we may leaven the whole lump -- very quietly -- and inexorably.  We're just not the whole lump.  We share the field with the fruiting tares until the last day.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Under the Law -- Unredeemed


Galatians 4:4-5   4 But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law,  5 to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. 
This is amazing for several reasons.  Firstly, Paul takes the opportunity to object to Jewish complacency under the law, by the simple fact of stating that such people need to be redeemed!  Secondly, Paul makes it clear that (historically) redemption did not happen until Christ died and rose again.

Of course, even Abraham in ancient times before Christ was saved by his faith.  Christ was always the lamb slain from the foundation of the world.  The ancient saints were as secure as we are, but yet without us they were not made perfect.

Christ himself, in his appearing on earth, is the fountain of salvation and eternal life.  Everything else, even creation itself, is designed to lead to this fulfillment.  Before this point, redemption was in prospect only.  Only after this point is redemption accomplished.

This is a paradigm for thinking about Covenant Theology.  The "axis" of Covenant Theology is Christ, and his death and resurrection -- in history. 

All the other covenants are understood in terms of this one.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Hermeneutics and the Mystery of the Kingdom (v3)


And He [Jesus] said to them, "To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables, ...                     Mark 4:11

We are aware of how much the zealous Jews of Jesus' day looked for the coming of the Messianic Kingdom.  We are also aware of how their wishes did not seem to be satisfied by Jesus' deportment, even though he said that the Kingdom of God had come.  They did not see him or those associated with him organizing the army and all other things necessary to bring in that Kingdom in its fullness.  Jesus even said to Pilate that "my Kingdom is not of this world, else my servants would fight."

Jesus' answer to the common messianic expectation was to preach and teach in parables "so that those who were outside would not understand."  There are several astounding revelations made here.  For one, it is a clear premonition of what Paul (and Jesus) speak of, when they note that the Kingdom has been taken away from the Jews and given to the Gentiles until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in.  The parables were spoken to the Jews, but only the rare elect, who were mostly personally instructed by Jesus, really understood them.  Secondly, the phase of the Kingdom of God introduced by Jesus' advent does not look like the Jewish Messianic expectation.  All this is covered by the term 'mystery,' to emphasize that there were developments in the manifestation of the Kingdom at Jesus' time which were not prophesied in the prophetic scriptures (Old Testament), and that these unrevealed aspects are more than important -- they are paradigmatic.  That is, the newly revealed (former) mysteries change the whole look and feel of the Kingdom in ways that could not be understood from the messianic prophecies alone.

Now, we need not overplay the 'mystery,' as if nothing about Gentile salvation and the nature of the future Kingdom were prophesied.  But there were many mysteries unrevealed, since those prophets desired to look into the things that they prophesied which pertain to us, but they were providentially limited in their understanding.  (1 Pet 1:10-12)  There were 'mysteries' of the Kingdom which were unrevealed to them, but which are revealed during the ministry of Jesus.

The Biblical-Historical hermeneutic to be drawn from this is that we must, in our Kingdom expectations and eschatology, be centered on the interpretation of the Kingdom which is provided for us in the New Testament.  The New Testament canonically elucidates and interprets the Old, not the other way around!

If this procedure is not adhered to, then a "judaizing" hermeneutic can pervade our interpretation of the scripture.  This judaizing can either disconnect the Old Testament from the church (as in dispensationalism), or (as in some elements of dominion theology) can color our expectations in this age to expect glory in worldly terms rather than seeing it to be hidden (but real), and experienced most often in our tribulations.

The lesson:  The New Testament teaching on the Kingdom of God must guide and direct our understanding of the prophets and the messianic age.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Death Swallowed Up


We are familiar with the phrase in 1 Cor 15, that at the Resurrection death will be swallowed up in victory (quoted from Is 25:8).

It's meant to be noticed, I think, that death is not just canceled, negated or ignored by victory, though of course that's true.  The authorial intention is something different.  The entire state of death, including all the living tribulations that are so often tied in with the consummation in physical death are included in the concept.  What is being said is that all the death, all the tribulations, all the tears, all sweat and blood, all the terrors and horrors, all the persecutions -- all of it, for the believers, is swallowed up and incorporated into the eternal victory that is given us in Christ.  All that tribulation and death is turned to joy, not simply replaced by joy.  All the rewards of perseverance result in crowns of eternal glory!  God's work in us is not done in spite of tribulations but through them!  Even the tribulations resulting from our own sins are turned by the Lord's kindly discipline to more closely conform us to Christ's image.

Therefore, brethren, we ought to "count it all joy" when tribulations of flesh or spirit come our way.  It may be tears now, and joy only in faith, but it will end in eternal glory.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Apologetics and the "Theology of the Cross"


It is interesting to consider how apologetics functions within the Theology of the Cross.

Typically, apologetics tries to answer questions like:  Does God exist?  What is the source of evil?  How can we tell that God is good?  How do we know that the Scripture is inspired?  How do we vindicate the teaching that Christ was raised from the dead?  Etc.

But, if God always works his good under the guise of tribulation and distress in the elect and among believers, this makes it difficult or impossible to explain him and justify his ways to doubters and nonbelievers.  He intentionally makes his own "theodicy" impossible.  He hides the manifestation of his good, so that only the eye of faith and mind of the Spirit reveal it to us. The "good" amid our tribulations is hidden invisibly behind the "evil" of the tribulation, as the world sees it.  Therefore, in their eyes, laying down our lives for this Faith is obviously foolish.

One thinks, too, of our Lord's parables, in which he often hid himself to the nonbelievers; or of Paul's admonition in 1 Cor that not many mighty or learned are given the knowledge of Christ.  People can only come to God by believing the foolishness of what's preached.

So, is apologetics a waste of time?

One can examine Paul's presentation on Mars Hill (Acts 17) for an example of both its appropriate use and its limitations.

Apologetics ought to be used to convict of sin, to point to the need for the gospel, and to help the believers and those whom the Lord is calling to himself.  But, it is an assistance to the gospel, not a substitute for it.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Opposition of God is Our Greatest Blessing (v2)


Life can be hard, what with all the opposition we face.  It appears on every hand.  Of course, we think that it mostly comes from men.  "They" don't understand me and are always standing in the way of the implementation of my dreams.  Truth is, our own flesh is a much bigger enemy than we like to admit.  Sometimes others oppose us to keep us out of trouble.  Then, there is the devil!  His mission is to destroy both body and soul.

But, it's useless to rummage over the list of these opponents, and to think faithless thoughts, because, as Luther takes pains to point out in his "Theology of the Cross," God Himself is our biggest opponent!!

Think of it!  Christ prayed that prayer in the garden to be delivered from the cup of sacrificial death.  But he wasn't.  Isn't this the only prayer of his that was answered "No!"?  Because he was opposed by his Father, sweated blood, and died as a reject under divine judgment, he became the Savior.

In my own life, I have been quite conscious that my biggest opponent in serving Christ the way I would wish to -- is Christ Himself!  As I have reread again about the "Theology of the Cross," it struck me again, and more fully -- This Is The Plan.  I'll never see the end of His Opposition, and therefore I will be always a sinner, always repenting, and always just.

So, let us have peace enduring the Divine Opposition.  Precisely within God's "alien work" of opposing us, is found his "proper work" of saving us.  In death we find life.  In weakness we find strength.  In tribulation we will find glory.  The eye of flesh sees only the alien work of God, but the eye of faith is finally brought to see, experience and understand the proper work of God!

Then, says Luther, we become theologians!

The Theater of Life


We come into this life with a role to play in the theater of life.  Though this role has been assigned by Christ, it's not always in every way the role that we think we want.

We need to remember that our role in the play ends soon, but that the after-party is a really big deal that goes on forever.  Eternal, glorious rewards for excellence in playing our roles as Christians are given out!

However huge the sufferings and disappointments in this life, the reward for endurance is infinitely greater.  The assigned role can become the real "me"!  This gets the reward that counts!

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Constitution of the Church


There is only one Lord's Table, because there is only one Body and Blood of Christ.  When the church meets at the Lord's Table, the whole church is always there!  There is only one meeting for worship!  The whole church is with us and we are with them, in heaven and on the earth.  That seeming boundary between heaven and earth is transcended in the fellowship of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  

We ought to recognize this and be convinced of it by faith as we gather for worship, even though we see nothing, and it seems so quiet.  Believing this does not make it true.  We believe it because it is objectively true!  As we approach for worship we ought to begin hear that ongoing Holy! Holy! Holy! in the distance!

Where two or three are gathered together, Jesus says, I am there!  And, where Christ is, is the whole church, his body.

The whole glory of God is here, though unseen!  When Isaiah's eyes were opened, he was aghast at his own sinfulness, then was called into the service of his Lord!  When John heard the mighty voice and saw the blazing visage of the Lord on Patmos, he fell as though dead, but was raised to behold the unveiled glory by those words, "Fear not!"

May it be so for us!  As we gather in worship, may we quake, and then be strengthened by his words of peace!  May we see ourselves as we are, and then, gloriously, see him as he is, and be transformed by this vision!
 

Music in the Church


It's interesting to note that music in the church always evolves, and the tension between the old art and the new art is always rising to the surface.  This evolution, in all its directions, has been able to be captured for good by the church, to her eternal benefit.  In all this goodness, however, there is and also always has been a serious tension with the world's art throughout the history of the church.

A study of the history of music in the church (as seen, for instance, in Te Deum, by Paul Westermeyer) shows that the history of the evolution of the best (not pop) music is essentially the history of its evolution within the church.  Perhaps in the 18th century, what we think of today as "high music" broke forth from the bounds of the church as the enlightenment and the "romantic" movements alternated their emphases within the intellectual and emotional sides of the human soul.  But, by and large, music that lasts, whether congregational hymns or high art music, first evolved in the church.  And, also, all this time, the church has been critiquing her music theologically, in order to adjust it to have the best effect in the church.

One might summarize these two points by saying that 1) the best music comes about in the church, through a process of evolution and self-criticism, 2) this kind of music is always in contrast with the music of the world.

NOW!

This contrasts with what appears to be a fascination of modern evangelism, namely, that the music of the church must imitate the music of the target culture being evangelized.  In terms of history, it's hard to understand what this means.  It's historically inconceivable.  If music is next to God's Word (Luther), then what kinds of words, tunes, styles and instruments, especially when taken from the world, are appropriate and elevated enough to be a vehicle for God's Word?  In truth, should not the music of the church become the music of the world, rather than the other way around?

The church and the world have different cultures, and the culture of the church attracts by the difference!  Our music, in its distinctiveness, ought to reflect this difference.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Nature of Christendom


"Christendom" is an evolving concept.  We look back on the growth of this phenomenon as Christianity slowly took over the Roman Empire from the bottom up -- by slave, often.  As it gradually took hold among the elites, a socially-corporate conception of the relationship of the Church and Civil Government began to form.  (But, the actual separation of Church and State, Pope and Emporer, was not lost in principle, and seldom in practice).

The extremely interesting and informative history of this "Christendom" continued until more or less the time of the "Enlightenment," as which point it is commonly assumed to have been knocked in the head fatally.

However, I don't think we should have a disappointed view of developments.  It was said, I believe in the early 1980's, that the conversion rate to Christianity in China was 25,000 per day -- 7 days a week.  This is bound to have an influence, even though it by no means makes Christians come anywhere being any kind of corporate majority in that State.  After all, it's the "leavening" that Christ has ordained.  The wheat and the tares continue to grow together -- coming more and more into their respective fruitages -- until the end of the age, at which the vindication of the Sons of God -- who have been the ones keeping the world running all the time -- will shine forth.

Therefore, as we contemplate the "look and feel" of the new Christendom, we need to recognize several things:

1)  The old Christendom has gifts to convey to us, and it just as well shows us its limitations.
2)  The political turmoil of the Magisterial Reformation itself shows one of the major limits of that Christendom, due to too much intertwining of Church and State.
3)  The Anabaptists also have gifts to give us, just as the Romanists and Orthodox do.
4) The Anabaptist emphasis on church discipline was a gift to the church, and attempts were made to take this over into the Reformed Churches.
5) However, discipline could never be practiced properly, as long as the church authority was preempted by civil authority, as it always was where the churches were not "free." (Only the Anabaptists were free).
6)  The Anabaptist radical disowning of the civil order was wrong, but few of our modern Evangelical "anabaptists" want to do that any more.  They want a certain "Christendom," too!  Therefore, our "catholicity" must extend to them.
7)  Even the Lutherans, during and after the diet at Augburg, had to begin to recognize that the government could be as much of a hindrance as it could a help to the reformation of the church.  The effect of that event was that the government had to "back off" from the imposition of Romanism.  Empire-wide control had to cede to local control.  Even where local government was a help (such as in Electoral Saxony), it bred a dependence that Luther didn't like.
8)  In the Reformed areas, the governmentally-based city reforms still left the question of religion more open outside the city limits.  So, even there, there were limits on the influence of government on the church.
9)  For our part, it is not simply the "American" experience that Church and State need be separated.  This was also the experience of the Magisterial Reformation, when carried to its final point.  You can't have freedom in your church, even the freedom for discipline, much less theological reformation, when you have to tangle with the civil government about it.

Therefore, we have lessons to learn about the concept of "Christendom."  Yes, we need to recognize the fruits of the first one.  And, yes we also need not turn up our noses at every fruit of the "separation of church and state," whatever that is.  History moves on, and we need to continue to develop our understanding of what this means.  The experiment is not over.  We need to be open to the hand of God as worldwide Christendom still evolves, under the lessons of Scripture and experience.

And, these are just the practical arguments and lessons of history.  There are theological reasons why the first Christendom could not endure, and why the subsequent Christendom will look different.  That discussion appears in other posts in this blog!