Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Radiance of His Glory


It seems to me that the meaning of the word "glory" needs a good deal of contemplation.  We should never skip over this word casually when we read it in the Scripture  
(quotes from the ESV):

John 17:1-5  When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 

I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.  And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

Jesus speaks of his earthly ministry as glorifying God the Father on earth.  This was Christ's work that he was sent to do, and he accomplished it.  In this phrase, Christ encapsulates a way of looking at his work which we need to ponder.

Notice that he does not simply describe his work as ethical teaching, though an ethic is certainly taught.  Nor does he merely inculcate right religious doctrine, though right doctrine is vital.  Neither is he merely a miracle worker, proving the benevolence of God.  Nor is he merely an example.  He does not just fill the mind with teaching, or the emotions with love, or the will to action only.  What he does is show forth the glory of GodIt is the sight of the glory which saves us from our sins.

John 1:14   And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

At Cana, after turning water to wine:

John 2:11   This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

The glorious thing was not the supply of better wine, but the spiritual vision of Christ's personal glory that radiated through the incident.

Regarding the sickness of Lazarus, who died, and who was raised by Jesus:

John 11:4  But when Jesus heard it he said, "This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it."

and

John 11:39-40   Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, "Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days."  Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?"

Lazarus' coming out of the tomb was not the glory of God.  The fact that there was a miracle was not the glory.  The glory to be seen spiritually is the glory of the person and nature of Christ himself, which is radiated through his saving action.  The nonbelievers at the funeral never saw the glory, because after seeing the miracle they went to the Jewish leadership, who promoted Jesus' destruction.  But, the believers saw the glory.  Those who were being saved saw it.  The saving knowledge of Christ came by the manifestation and vision of his glory.

John 12:36-41   While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light." When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them.  Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: "Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?"  Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, "He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them."  Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him.

Radically, we find that Christ has shared his glory with us!

John 17:22-23   The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

Therefore, our ministry to one another is a manifestation of this same glory, and when this glory is seen and understood by the world, it testifies (savingly) to the world that Christ has come and saved his people.

To act like a Christian in spiritual love to one another, and then to the world, radiates Christ's glory.  To preach the gospel is to radiate the glory of Christ.

This is why the preaching of the gospel is not merely the teaching of right doctrine, nor just the exhortation to right affections, nor only the call to right actions.  All of these follow from something else:

2 Corinthians 3:7-11   Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses' face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory?  For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory.  Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it.  For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory

2 Corinthians 4:3-6   And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing.  In 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. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake.  For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Hebrews 1:1-3   Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.  He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, ...

Lord Jesus, deliver us from our spiritual dimness!  Show us your glory, so that we may truly glorify you!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Christian Community in the City


Christian "community," (sometimes called fellowship), is that social and active fellowship enjoyed by the believers, whereby we edify one another in our life in Christ.  This post investigates the nature and vitality of Christian community in the city.

Now, the greatest impediment to Christian Community, in city life, is the lack of time.  The ceaseless round of weekly activities uses up all the time.  There is no Christian quietness or time for spiritual fellowship.  Quietness is boring -- or frightening.  It is certainly not a virtue in our busy world.  If you are quiet, you may lose an opportunity to get ahead!

Most times, I'm sure, our weekly activities are all considered to be necessary or excellent benefits to ourselves and to our children which we cannot afford to pass by.  Particularly is this the case when it comes to giving our children that initial boost in life which we believe that they need for future success.  Business requirements, too, including "church" business, can dominate our schedules.  Whatever the cause, a vital casualty of this lifestyle is Christian community.  When, in the city, there are so many available activities, even so much "good" that can be engaged in, even so much Christian good, the virtues of a quiet life are lost and remain undeveloped in our souls.  Christian community, if it exists at all, can only be "scheduled" like everything else.  But, can those necessary heart-to-heart talks always be "scheduled"?  No.  They will just never happen.

The church has always thought this busy-ness to be dangerous and wrong.

So, how does time for Christian community, or even time for personal contemplation, come about?  Something has to be sacrificed!  And, if your life and your family's life is not filled with time-wasting activities, then something good will have to be sacrificed.  And, in order for something good to be sacrificed, Christian virtues of a quiet life must rise in our consciousness, beyond the good of the good things we must sacrifice!

Here are some random thoughts:

You train your children in all sorts of intellectual programs and physical sports for their future good.  Yet, how much of this is competitive training which teaches them to be motivated by the desire to be "first"?  Is this realistic -- or Christian?  Think of your own life experience.  How will this motivation to be "first" serve them throughout their lives?  How much of the intellectual activity or physical sport which they engage in are to train them in accordance with their actual gifts?  Is any part of their lives given over to "play"?  "Boredom" is a vital stimulant to creativity.  Can you arrange your educational program to train them ultimately in those things that they are best at, and in which, by living as quietly as their calling permits, they will contribute to society and church in a productive manner?

People in business, educators and church-workers, male or female, can ask the same questions about their own professional activities.  How much of this is necessary, and how much of what I do is to feed my personal ambitions?

The bottom line is this:  Is it spiritually clean to be busy all the time?  Have we made "idols" of good things?  Can life be quieter?  Can there be more time for God and our fellow believers?

The answer to this must be "Yes!".  But, then, we Christians must live differently than the world -- even differently than the rest of the "Christian" world that is as busy as the world!

There needs to be a taste of Paradise in our Christian social lives, just as there is in worship.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Bible


The Bible is not a resource for the church or for the Christian life.  It does not exist so that the world or the church may draw upon the elements of knowledge, understanding and wisdom that are found in it.  It is not a resource for liturgy, or for personal sanctification.  It is not a resource for academic study, or the accumulation of doctrinal knowledge, or any or such like use.  The Bible is not a passive resource under our hands, and if we make it so, we rebel against it!

Consider Paul's exhortation to Timothy:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.  (2 Tim 3:14-17)

By understanding the text in red above, it is clear that the word of the Apostle Paul (preaching the New Covenant) is on the same level of authority as the Sacred Scripture (by which Paul means what we call the "Old Testament").

Furthermore, just as Paul was not primarily a resource which allowed himself to be passively used, but on the other hand was an active instructor, so it is with the Scripture.  The Scripture is not a passive "resource" which we use, but is an active power, through the Spirit, that has within it the ability to make us wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

In fact, as seen in the words in blue, above, the very words of Scripture are breathed by God.  This is reminiscent of the divine in-breathing into Adam at his creation.  New life comes to us by the Spirit as we hear the creative Word spoken by God.  The Church of Christ lives by the actual, active speech of the Word of Christ, bringing spiritual life to our souls.

How serious it is, then, that we listen to this Word in every way that it speaks to us.  How serious it is to study the Bible, not as a "resource," but to be taken hold of by it, and by it to be recreated into new men and women of God!  We should marvel at this divine speech, pine to hear it, and seek to understand it.

A church which is not characterized by this hunger is a church which merely uses the Bible as a resource, implicitly under men's control, to justify their own projects, and to bring a nostalgic smell of Christianity into her life!  Cut off from her food, this church will eventually die.  Her spiritual soul will fade away into a haze, her work mechanically operated by those who trample her courts, until finally the Lord himself takes away her candlestick!

May it not be this way.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Luther, and Justification by Faith Alone


Revised 10/13/2010

Luther's spiritual state, and his spiritual evolution and ultimate conversion to new views of justification, are commonly separated from the doctrine itself in our understanding.  This is because we approach the Scripture seeking the Scripturally objective sense of it, concerning this doctrine.  It matters not what we or (or Luther) think, or what our spiritual state is.  What matters is what the Scripture teaches.

But there needs to be a wrinkle here.  Yes, it is true that the Scripture teaches "justification by faith alone."  But, we need to consider how to use and apply this doctrine.  We are helped toward this goal if we really do closely consider the relationship between Luther's spiritual turmoil and his "re-discovery" of this apostolic doctrine.

Luther originally accepted and labored under a doctrine of repentance which was usually stated like this:  "To those who do what is in them, God will not deny grace."  The question for Luther was whether or not he actually, honestly did "what was in him," that is, whether he ever did what he was really capable of doing for God.  In the end, he thought not.  All his works, he saw, were contaminated by sin.  The result was that the "system" of repentance and Christian assurance broke down and failed.  Now, if Luther isn't just out of his mind (an untenable position), then this means that Luther finally cared about the experiential truthfulness of this plan of salvation, and he found that the plan was a failure.

One might ask why other serious Christians did not discover this.  It's a mystery.  Perhaps they just did not put as much faith in that plan of repentance, or perhaps they did not worry about the sin which remained in their works.  If they were serious Christians, they must have thought, just as Johann Staupitz, Luther's confessor said to Luther, that one must at some point just stop being angry at God and confessing sins all day, and trust in the God who grants grace.  (This, of course, is implicitly to trust in justification by faith, while denying the doctrine).  Luther, however, tested the medieval church doctrine to the bitter end and found it wanting.  Because he strove for The Truth in this respect, he came to see The Truth on this point in the Scripture.  Consequently, there was a Reformation, which was provoked in largest measure by this doctrine of free justification.

This is all highly instructive.  We have to conclude then that justification by faith alone is only understood from the heart and relied upon by believers who truly see, mourn and hate their own ineradicable depravity.  Only those who have despaired in their striving for sanctification can know the glory of free grace.  Believers who have not reached the end of themselves cannot have heartfelt faith in Christ's free justification.  For them, "Justification by Faith Alone" may be a battle cry of their religious party, but spiritually, it is just words.  Such believers are open to false gospels.  They are open to the use of legal methods for sanctification -- if they are interested in sanctification.  Some may think in their hearts, "I'm justified, so I don't need to repent," thus implicitly denying their professed religion.  Therefore, we must conclude that misbehavior by Christians, truly converted or not, is not a denial of the truthfulness or usefulness of the doctrine of justification by faith alone.  When repentance comes alive, and sensitivity to sin constantly increases, and personal depravity becomes an ineradicable object of mourning and hatred in our souls, then salvation as a free gift (justification by faith alone) opens the doors of paradise to believers such as these.  The joy and love imparted by this experience is truly sanctifying.  It is spiritual deliverance.  It is a power-relationship to the Spirit and to grace, instead of a power-relationship to law.  It is the only truly sanctifying doctrine, and therefore is ultimately the doctrine of a standing or falling church.  The whole Christian life is the continual re-discovery of free grace, as we struggle against our remaining depravity and sin.

How should we ever think, then, that "Justification by Faith Alone" is simply an easily accepted initial doctrine of the faith, and that once this "believing" is done and we are justified, then, as a separate activity, we take up the serious business of "working on our sanctification."  It is only in the midst of the struggle of sanctification that the inbreaking of the divine peace continually delivers us!  In the end, in the day of final deliverance, the free justification and unmerited reward of God will be all there is, in glory, forever and ever.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Megachurch


If you take close look at events on and after the day of Pentecost, you'll notice:

1)  The little gathering in the Upper Room before the Spirit came was about as big as a typical church of any denomination today -- about 100 people, 120 to be more exact.

2)  The church after the day of Pentecost contained 3000 men.  Assuming their households are not included, we have to add those, if they are residents or have their families with them.  This reckons to, say, 15,000 souls.  There was another conversion later (Acts 4:4), where the head count of men in the church increased to 5000, or perhaps another 5000 were added.  If the latter, and if this count does not include households, we're now talking about 40,000 souls.  All this assumes a household count of 5, including the head.  This is probably small.  Even if they church grew to only 5000 men, then assuming 5 per household, this multiples to 25,000 souls.

One concludes from this calculation that the initial task of the apostles and elders was to take up emergency measures to handle church growth.  We know later (Acts 6) that they set up 7 men to act as "deacons."

So, we conclude that 11 apostles and 7 deacons could take care of 25,000 - 40,000 church members, including dealing with the funds which were brought in due to the sale of property (Acts 4:32ff), and the logistics of distribution to widows, etc. (Acts 6)??

No.  We do not conclude this.

There's no way 18 guys could take care of this.  We have to conclude that a barely functioning infrastructure (there were complaints) was set up to help the leadership do this job.  We have to conclude that those 7 deacons were leaders and managers of the relief effort.  We likewise have to conclude that the apostles had help in their particularly pastoral duties.  After all, it's clear that at the time of the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15), that there were a lot of elders and leading brethren under them!

Therefore, the mere statistics of this episode show that elders and deacons are the leaders and managers of a much larger pastoral and ministerial effort to care for church members spiritually and physically.

As a consequence, when we see the blessing of church growth among ourselves, it is mandatory that we, by the wisdom of the Spirit, also imitate the early church by creating the necessary pastoral and diaconal infrastructure using reliable church members in order to carry forward the work of the church.

Any other approach will lead to organizational failure and leadership burnout.

I started out the day opposed to megachurch.  Hmmm.

If a church happened to gain 30 members every two months and stopped losing folks out the back door, they'd need to be ready.

PS:  Information about the total population of Jerusalem at feast time (such as Pentecost) varies from 600,000 (Titus, in AD 70) to 3,000,000 (Josephus).  Another source states, 120,000 - 200,000 (presumably not just at feast time) in the time of Herod the Great.  Edersheim says people camped out during feast time.  Some claim that Jerusalem was 70,000 - 80,000, but this is probably not at feast time, when huge crowds of pilgrims would come to the city.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

More on Sanctification


One might ask a fundamental Protestant question about justification and sanctification:  How do the two concepts of "rest" and "war" comport with one another?  "Rest," of course, refers to the "rest" of faith on the justifying work of Christ's cross.  "War" refers to the active fight between flesh and spirit inside ourselves as believers.

Those who emphasize "rest," spanning the spectrum from orthodox Lutheranism through "deeper-life/higher-life/let-go-and-let-God" spirituality expect to prosecute the war within by spiritual rest.  Will they not always be suspected of harboring antinomianism?  Likewise, the fighting side will always be suspected by the others of having a commitment to legalism.  War periodically breaks out between various proponents of these two camps. 

The most significant engagement is that between orthodox Lutheranism and the orthodox Reformed.  The Reformed always doubt the ability of the Lutheran way to really come to grips with sin and sanctification.  The Lutherans are certain that the Reformed only have a half-way commitment to grace.  This war has not yet been brought to an end through a common understanding, and therefore, the Lutheran/Reformed schism remains unhealed.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Sanctification (revised)


The original badly written article has been revised to improve the sentence structure.

If sanctification were a process of becoming better and better by striving against sin by the Spirit (which, of course, we must do), and if we measured our progress by comparing ourselves against the standard of the Law, how would this comport with the doctrine of justification by faith alone?  Likely this way:  We would have to separate the process of justification from that of sanctification, because justification and sanctification were carried out by different methods.  Justification would be carried out through faith only in the gospel apart from Law, and sanctification would be carried out by laboring at holiness (which, of course, we must do) while using the Law as our guide.  This results in a common doctrinal dualism found in the churches.  The consequence among the insensitive Christians is perhaps legalism, as they practice a socially acceptable Christianity.  The consequence among the sensitive Christians is despair, through their (correct) perception of their constant sinning.

This kind of distinction between justification and sanctification does not do justice to the fundamental principle of grace inherent in the doctrine of justification by faith alone.  It reduces the relevance of this doctrine to the process of sanctification, and to the whole Christian life.  This is wrong.  We need a doctrinal formulation which makes justification and sanctification work together in a holistic doctrine of the Christian life that actually works.

Now, if justification by faith alone be the key doctrine for sanctification, it is obvious that real sanctification comes about by moving away from striving for personal self-improvement (before the Law) and toward Spiritual reliance on free grace in Christ.  Sanctification is measured less by accomplishment, as we perceive it, and more by repentance, humility, the sense of forgiveness, and the empowering vision of free grace in Christ, producing the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience ... .

This does not mean that we need not strive against sin when it threatens.  Because we are still in flesh, we have to fight and hopefully defeat sins at least some of the time.  But, real victory comes by deliverance from the power of sin by the grace of God.  It is not a product of human effort.  We may not see holiness coming over us as we persevere in repentance, and in humility, and in our joy and peace in Christ -- but others do.  The most self-forgetful, who are least fond of measuring their spiritual accomplishments, and who meekly boast in the merits of Christ will be the sanctified.

And vice versa.