Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Capable Counselor

The Capable Counselor is, of course, Our Lord Jesus.  But, one might ask, how can he be the sympathetic High Priest that he is, when he never knew sin?  Not being susceptible to temptation means not feeling the pull of sin like I do.  How can he sympathize with me, a sinner?

There are many problems and questions with this approach.  I think that the answers to these questions lie here:

The Word of God, the One who was in the beginning and who was with God and who was God, took on flesh and became a man.  When he did so he gave up nothing of his deity, but he did take upon himself our nature, yet without sin.  When this happened, the Person who took on flesh did not become a different person.  The Divine Logos, the Lord, the Second Person of the Trinity, the eternal Son of God, took on a full human nature, while remaining the same Person that he was and is forever and ever.  He was, is, and ever shall be full deity -- for the Son exercises all the powers of deity and is worshiped.  He took on, is, and ever shall be a man, in all the fullness of all humanity.  And in this manhood he was tempted by the direct, personal ministry of Satan -- a true temptation, but he did not fall.  As he was tempted in all parts of his manhood, and yet resisted that temptation successfully, he then became the sympathetic high priest who can come to the aid and comfort of the tempted in all their temptations.

We see, then, that it is not the case that those who fell are those who felt the temptation more strongly, and therefore that they are those who can sympathize more with the fallen.  Rather, it is the case that their weakness could not preserve them.  Therefore, those who fall, until recovered spiritually from their fall, are poor counselors for those faced by temptation. 

The One who never fell, but who did feel the whole strength of all temptations, is the best counselor.  He knows all, sees all, feels all, and having made the first creation, he is competent to make the second and greater re-creation.  He is able to make sinners whole, by Himself.  He said, No one who trusts in me shall be put to shame.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Love One Another (Revised 07/29/2011)

Do not love the world or the things in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world -- the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life -- is not of the Father but is of the world.  And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever. 1 John 2:15ff
Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!  Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.  Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.  And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.  1 John 3:1-3
Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you.  We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren.  He who does not love his brother abides in death.  Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.  1 John 3:13-15
By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us.  And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.  1 John 3:16
... whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing to His sight.  And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment.  1 John 3:22-23
... every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God.  And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.  You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.  They are of the world.  Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them.  We are of God.  He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us.  By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.  1 John 4:3-6
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.  In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.  In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  1 John 4:7-11
Little children, keep yourselves from idols...  1 John 5:21

It probably seems simple-minded to many nowadays that the New Commandment, and virtually the Final Admonition to the Christians from Our Lord himself (and John) is to "Love One Another."  We take it for granted that we do, but don't understand the context in which this is said.

Close examination of the contexts of John and 1 John shows that the context of "loving one another" is the evil context of the "world."  The unremitting and lethal envy of the world, now more hidden, and then again exposing itself, is obviously one main reason for this exhortation.  The experience of Our Lord in the world is and will be our experience in the world, until the Day of Glory when we are revealed to the cosmos as the Sons of God.  This is a good reason to "hang together, lest we hang separately."

This comment may seem to you to be extreme in our current situation.  After all, we are going forth into the world, boldly by our influence and quality activities increasing the Lord's dominion over all his enemies.  But, let me put forth a caution.  Even though it seems so plain to us that we are not deceived by the world's evil, we need to look more closely at this question.

We are exhorted by Our Lord to love one another.  So, think about what will it look like to love.  Remember Jesus' description of eternal life -- it is to know the Father and the one whom he has sent (Jesus Christ).  This knowledge, of course, is not a bare external knowledge, but an intimate knowledge.  In fact, it is hard to discern the qualitative difference between knowledge and love.  In a relationship these two go hand-in-hand.  So, we might say that for us to "love one another" is much the same as for us also to "know one another."

But, knowing and loving one another cannot be based on mere acquaintance.  It takes time spent with one another in all the vicissitudes of life -- the pains and joys, ups and downs, sins and graces.  We must see our fellow believers as the true spiritual friends and family members that we can rely on in the midst of our enemies.  We must know and love one another, and help and pray for one another, in order to reap the fruit of Our Lord's commandment!

You have to see that institutional, routine acquaintance, and friendship by "Sunday-howdy's" and slaps on the back does not manifest the degree or kind of love which is the fulfillment of Our Lord's New Commandment.  We all have our friends, to one degree or another, but how much time and effort is expended on becoming acquainted with and actually coming to know our fellow believers with whom we are bound together in this church?

Nor is fulfillment of Our Lord's commandment found in the vision of the church as a smoothly running institution, maintaining membership lists, listing prayer requests, working the mercy ministry, and tending the budget.  The necessary formal side of institutional life is not the inner life of the church.  Without that inner life with one another, developed in corporate worship and private spiritual fellowship, the best run church institution is a mere husk.  One can be caught up participating in the institutional life of the church and have no time left to experience the spiritual fellowship called for in the New Commandment to love one another.

Do we even have a desire for the real thing?  Is there even any kind of cognizance of what the real thing is in the souls of many?  It's hard to say.  The eternal, time-kept business of our lives truly belies the Christian profession that we hold.  The Word may be in us, as the parable says, but the thistles and thorns of worldly busy-ness are choking out its fruit.  There is no time for spiritual fellowship!

Why do we think that the "cares of the world" which strangle the Word are bad things!  Bad things would drive us to God!  The "cares of the world" in that parable, at least the kind of "cares" that can infect us, are likely to be "good things," such as the business of the world, making a living, getting educated, traveling, being excellent in our professions, being good citizens, training our children, engaging in acts of charity, etc.  But, these things become idols when the fruit of the Spirit and the spiritual intimacy of our relationship to one another as believers are sacrificed to them.

Is it even possible that we could change?  It will obviously take a miracle.  But, all I know to do is to pray, and not give up.

Paraphrasing John: "Little children, love one another -- and keep yourselves from idols"!  These two thoughts are intimately related in John's thought, and ought to be in ours! It is precisely the idolatry of "good things" that seduces us and subverts our love for one another!  Moloch sometimes wears a pretty face, and he is then all the more dangerous!

Participation in all the "good things" takes away from us the short time we have to spend on the thing that really counts -- to love one another (sacrificially) as Our Lord loved us.  Only then, seeing this in us, can the world know that Christ has come (John 17:20-23.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Holy Catholic Church

It's important, especially in the Reformed theological context, to think about the origins of the Covenant of Grace, especially as it is revealed in the Covenant with Abraham (Gen. 12, 15, 17, 22).  We find that this covenant, with its prophesied innumerable offspring and great Seed (Christ), is the prototype and model for the New Covenant, based in the work of Christ.  As such, the prototype made with Abraham is a pattern for certain elements of the New Covenant.

We find that the Abrahamic Covenant requires the circumcision of Abraham and his (male) offspring, and that this circumcision is made in hope of the Seed (Christ) to come.  We also find that this circumcision is the sign and seal of justification by faith alone (Rom 4).  Therefore, the model of the application of circumcision is the model of the application of Baptism in the New Covenant (Col 2:11-12).

Now the Covenant with Abraham created the People of God.  That People was created on the basis of Abraham's faith.  It is a family of old and young, sustained by God down through the generations.  But, not all the heirs of Abraham had the faith that Abraham had (Rom 9:6ff).  Nevertheless that People was all marked off from the world by the Covenant of Circumcision, circumcision representing the conversion of heart associated with faith like Abraham's.  Therefore, the People of God are holy as a body, but not always all holy as individuals, having the circumcision of the heart (male and female).  As a consequence there was frequent judgment during times of disobedience and apostasy, ultimately even exile from the Land.  But, the Covenant remained and still remains for God's People, even in view of the judgment.  There will be both judgment and restoration.  This all happens in Christ.

Just as the People of God in old times were a people separate from the world, professing the True God, so are the People of God in our day.  God the Father has special care over this people, the catholic and apostolic church of believers, which is found in all churches which preach the Word and administer the Sacraments in a Scriptural and godly way.

We conclude then that God's Power to redeem will be shown in this worldwide People, regardless of the depths to which they sink, and that the families of the earth will be blessed, in accordance with the promise made to Abraham, all by the power of God.

So, who are Christians?  They are the People of God, identified with the profession of his Name in Baptism.  Are they every one individually converted, that is, spiritually born again in such a way that they show forth the fruit of the Spirit of Christ in them?  They are not.  However, they are the people of God, over whom he rules in both judgment and grace.  Judgment begins at the house of God, and the disobedient and apostate are weeded out.  Yet, also, in that self-same household and family we find the salvation of our souls in true and living faith.

Pay attention to the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds.  They all say that we believe in God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, and we believe the Catholic and Apostolic church!  This Holy Catholic Church, the People of God, is a Body important enough to be mentioned in the essential creeds of the church along with the Holy Trinity!

This church is the Household and Family of God, built by God, affirmed in the Creeds, and is no optional fellowship created by mere associations of believers.

May God grant that we pay proper respect to the wonder and glory of our participation in this Body!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Testimony of Glory

Our Lord Jesus prays for us in the Upper Room:

"I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word, that they all may be one, just as You, Father, are in Me and I in You -- that they also may be one in Us, in order that the world may believe that You sent Me.
And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, in order that they may be one just as We are one -- I in them, and You in Me -- in order that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.   John 17:20-23.
In this prayer, we see that our destiny, as a result of our Savior's prayer and sacrifice, is that we shall be and now are one in the fellowship of the Father and the Son, just as the Father and the Son are one in each other.  Furthermore, this unity is created by the same glory now given to us which was first shared by the Father and the Son before all worlds.  This union in glory, visible to the world, effectually converts the world.

In the unity and glory being revealed in us, things ordinarily considered incommunicable to the creature have become ours, such as having God the Father of the Eternal Son also be our Father, a present sharing in the blessings of the divine nature (2 Pet 1:4), and present participation in his glory (Rom 8:30).

Contemplation of these astounding facts ought to lead to boundless spiritual astonishment and love for the Father and his unique Son who think of us this way. Wherever we see Christ speak of the love and glory between the Father and the Son we ought to recognize that this love and glory is meant for us, too.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.  John 1:14

As the Son was full of grace and truth, so are we, by his grace.

No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.  John 1:18

No one has seen God at any time -- but we have seen him in Christ, and the world will see him in us.

The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand.  John 3:35
For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel.  John 5:20
Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do itJohn 14:12-14
By Christ's authority, from his works and signs, comes to us a testimony of like kind.  Built upon this foundation we glory in his Name, and shed forth his glory before the world, and do signs in his name and power which continue the witness to his glory and majesty through us, that the world may believe that Christ is the Savior.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Head and Heart Meet Sin

It's out of fashion to speak of the difference between head and heart, but I'll follow Calvin's example and do it anyway.

Head and Heart on Faith

It's easy to give lip service to faith in Christ, and to speak with head knowledge, but still be tempted to fall away under temptation.  The head alone just talks, but it is the heart that believes unto righteousness.  Yet a person who is weak of heart in regard to faith doesn't always know it, and may speak from the head confidently and with enthusiasm about loving Christ.  (Remember the parable of the sower, and the seed thrown on rocky ground.)  A person must develop depth of faith in the heart, in order to have the spiritual fortitude to follow Christ through thick and thin.

Head and Heart on Sin

Likewise, looking toward sin, the head and heart may not agree with one another.  Repentance of the head is easy, because we all really do know the difference between right and wrong.  It doesn't take the gospel, or faith in Christ, to know this.  However, to truly repent of one's own sins takes the heart as well as the head, and is the gift of God.  There has to be a depth of heart in repentance before one's own sin is seen in its true horror.  Even then we never really know it all, because repentance is a life-long process.  Our sanctification could be defined as backing up over the lines we've crossed that we know about, and then discovering, behind those lines we knew about, ever more lines and degrees of sinfulness we had crossed negligently and ignorantly before getting to the ones that got us in outward trouble.   Discovering lines behind lines and striving to back up behind them continues throughout a life of sanctification.  Repentance toward sin, then, is the process of backing back up over not just the main line we crossed to get ourselves in outward trouble, but also all those other lines we crossed first, while we were on our way to the main one.

This is why the initial stages of repentance from any particular sin may leave a person in danger of relapse.  The sense of horror about that sin may be very low.  One is aware of a line that's been crossed, and one may think that moving back on the right side of that one line (outwardly) is good enough.  The sin is known, but the knowledge is not a deep heart knowledge.  Actually, to get back securely far from that one line that was crossed to get in outward trouble, a person will need to back up over a lot of other lines in the heart.  Staying near that main line, though outwardly on the correct side of it, tempts the Lord, and will leave a person susceptible to relapse.

The cure, which is the gift of God, is to not stop with repentance about the outward things which get us in trouble, but to begin to slaughter the inward sins that lead to the outward ones.

God said, through James, "Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you."  We should count on it.  Jesus said, "Come unto me, all you that are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."

Also, hardness of heart, or lack of repentance, isn't something that's just relative to certain sins.  We can't be hard of heart here and soft of heart there.  If we're hard of heart about one particular sin, then we're really hard of heart about them all.

True repentance affects the whole man.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Sin and Apostasy

One usually thinks of apostasy as due to an intellectual rejection of the doctrine of the faith.  This can be true.  John (1 John) says that the antichrists who have gone out from us indicate that it is the last hour.  However, in Scripture there are many passages that speak of apostasy, and most of those passages do not speak of intellectual denials, but of moral apostasy.  They speak of sin.

John said that people do not believe, to begin with, because their deeds are evil (John 3:19-20).  Therefore, it stands to reason also that apostasy can come about due to a fundamental heart-preference for sin rather than fellowship with Christ.  This happens in those who have professed allegiance to Christ, but who have not believed the gospel with their whole heart.

In 1 Cor 10, Paul shows that tinkering with sin is the path to apostasy.

1 Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, 2 all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. 5 But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.
6 Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. 7 And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” 8 Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell; 9 nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; 10 nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer. 11 Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.
12 Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.

The context shows that the warning is about apostasy on the part of those who have received the sacraments and professed the faith, but who have preferred sin to Christ when the going got tough.  This occurs in this place in 1 Corinthians because the Corinthian laissez-faire attitude toward holiness (as portrayed in their emphasis on enjoyment of rights) is tantamount in Paul's eyes to a threat of apostasy.  He doesn't want to see this, and so he gives the warning.

Now there is also assurance here.  Paul goes on to say that, for those who truly know God,

13 No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.

Therefore, for those who truly know the Lord Jesus, we have a secure guarantee that he will not permit us to be tempted in such a way as to cause us to fall away from him.  But, along with this guarantee, and concurrently with it in our own hearts must be respect for the exhortation:

14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.

Sin is characterized as what it really is -- idolatry.  When we flee it and trust in Jesus Christ clothed in the gospel, we know that our Christ will carry us through and not permit us to be lost.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Marriage Rights versus Married Love

In 1 Cor 9 and 10, the Apostle is concerned to address the Corinthian habit of expressing their Christianity in terms of "rights."  And, the context will show that he is not opposed to respecting the rights, and especially the moral sensitivities and weaknesses, of others. It is living by one's own rights, regardless of the effect on others, that the Apostle regards as un-Christian and dangerous.

He points out that though "rights" have their place, they are not an absolute, and the real Christian life is motivated by love and not by "rights."  He goes on in those chapters to speak of this at length.  Furthermore, he points out at the end of chapter 9 that he keeps his body under, disciplining himself lest he be cast away even though he has preached to others.  Clearly, he sees that an emphasis on "rights" (for oneself) can lead not only away from ministry opportunity (which depends on the sacrifice of rights), but can lead to the loss of ministry -- or worse.

As an example, consider marriage "rights."

The Lord sometimes ordains a degree of celibacy between married couples (apart from disability) as a consequence of poor spiritual fellowship between the spouses, even when his own word makes that celibacy ill-advised (1 Cor 7:1-5).  Our Lord has the sovereign right to ordain this, and we must accept it, and pray.  This hopefully may have the effect of revealing to our own hearts how much our relationship to our spouses is based on ideas of our own rights instead of on love.  The “love” that we give to our spouses, if we do, could be an ulterior motive. 

However, if we begin to actually love our spouses, even in celibacy, we may begin to see this kind of estrangement resolve, given enough time.  From creation, the marriage union was designed to be a union of persons through love, and the body was given to provide a means for the expression of that love and to promote the welfare of that personal union.

Marriage was never designed to be a tool by which to satiate our flesh or to manipulate our spouses.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The New Commandment (Revised)

This post has been slightly revised for emphasis in the last three paragraphs.

I grew up dispensational, being taught Dispensationalism by Hal Lindsey while he was assistant pastor of Berachah Church, Houston TX, a long time ago, before he wrote books or became famous.

Much later, along about 1982, I think, through hearing teaching and doing some reading, I saw that the Dispensational approach was not in full accord with the Scripture.  But, rather than trying to find a substitute for Dispensationalism, I decided to withdraw from detailed study of eschatology, and simply to hold the "catholic" position that Christ is coming again, bodily, for the Day of Judgment, at which point we will be resurrected bodily to enjoy eternal fellowship with him.  In other words, I gave up direct study of eschatology, and gave my attention to other topics.

This benign neglect of curious detail worked until 2005.

At that point we joined a church with a strongly postmillennial cast, and so I began to hear about this approach first-hand, being immersed in both the doctrine and the practice of the church.  I did not know that this experience was also set to be a lesson in eschatology!

Even now I do not know to what extent the functioning of the internal, mutual ministry of the church is influenced by what appears to me to be the reigning postmillennial eschatological doctrinal position.  So, perhaps this exercise is simply a learning experience for me.  It is certainly the case that Our Lord has decreed that I will now learn some eschatology! 

Now, my main interest is not an abstract investigation of millennial types.  My main interest concerns the effect eschatology has on the spiritual life of the church. 

This investigation, in turn, takes place amidst my personal redemptive-historical theological view which regards the New Testament scriptures to contain the preeminent hermeneutic for interpreting all of Scripture -- both Old Testament and New.  Therefore, all the unfulfilled, and yet to be fulfilled, eschatology of the Old Testament, as well as the New, is interpreted and explicated according to the norms of the New Testament writers.  The New Testament is never transcended throughout the age.  It is not a standard of ecclesiology and Christian ethic suited only for the childhood and youth of the church, but is also supremely suited for her maturity.

Now, the New Testament carries within it themes of triumph, themes of conflict, themes of judgment, themes of love for the world, and themes of separation from the world.  All these themes need to be well-balanced and Scriptural in the life of the church.

Now, we know that the church is both separated from the world and in the world, just as the individual Christians are.  We are in the world but not of the world.  Furthermore, my reigning concern on this topic is that the mutual love shown in the internal fellowship of the church, in separation from the world, is (along with gospel preaching) the visible testimony to the world that Christ has come.

Another way to put this is to say that the redeemed humanity, the visible church, is a new, gospel-preaching and gospel-acting culture, a counter-culture to the world, which testifies in the world and to the world what is the nature of the inner life of the New Humanity, and that this testimony of the true inner life of the New Humanity is the testimony to the world that Christ is the Savior.

Jesus said, in the Upper Room, after Judas had gone out (John 13:31ff):

So, when he [Judas] had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in Him. If God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself, and glorify Him immediately. Little children, I shall be with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come,’ so now I say to you. A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

We are probably so used to reading about the New Commandment that we hardly grasp the astounding significance of Jesus saying this:  He's exceeding Moses (not that Moses would ever disagree with what Jesus is saying).  John, of course, was lying back toward Jesus while they were reclining at the Table and marked this saying well.  Even the testimony of the Apostolic Fathers about John's deportment as he was carried to church in a chair in his old age was that he was continually exhorting them to "Love one another."  This is not some kind of mushy, gooshy emotionalism, but John's recollection and re-anouncement of the New Commandment, which he obviously regarded as the real guiding principle of the New Covenant:  In the quote from the gospel given above, "Love one another" is repeated three times!

Therefore, a scriptural eschatology, regardless of the positioning of the "millennium," and regardless of how much the Kingdom of God is fulfilled in this present age, must teach us how to execute the New Commandment!  The Church must know, or come to know, what real Christian love for one another actually is, and must live it in Christian community.

But, there is a problem.  There appears to be no time for the cultivation of deeper Christian friendship and mutual ministry amidst urban busy-ness and the accompanying idolatry-of-good-things.

It may also be so hard to see the need because the upper-middle class church is materially "rich and in need of nothing," even though spiritual poverty is actually widespread (Rev 3:14ff).

Might it also be, to some degree, a defect in eschatology?  Can an eschatology and vision of individual and church "world-engagement" be a detriment to the inner social life of faith, apart from the world?