Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Meeting Christ in the Apostolic Word

 1 What was (1)from the beginning, what we have (2)heard, what we have (3)seen with our eyes, what we (4)have looked at and (5)touched with our hands, concerning the (6)Word of Life— 2 and (7)the life was manifested, and we have (8)seen and (9)testify and proclaim to you (10)the eternal life, which was (11)with the Father and was (12)manifested to us— 3 what we have (13)seen and (14)heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our (15)fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. 4 (16)These things we write, so that our (17)joy may be made complete. 

(1) John 1:1f; 1 John 2:13, 14
(2) Acts 4:20; 1 John 1:3
(3) John 19:35; 2 Pet 1:16; 1 John 1:2
(4) John 1:14; 1 John 4:14
(5) Luke 24:39; John 20:27
(6) John 1:1, 4
(7) John 1:4; 1 John 3:5, 8; 5:20
(8) John 19:35; 1 John 1:1
(9) John 15:27; 1 John 4:14
(10) John 10:28; 17:3; 1 John 2:25; 5:11, 13, 20
(11) John 1:1
(12) John 1:4; 1 John 3:5, 8; 5:20
(13) John 19:35; 2 Pet 1:16; 1 John 1:1
(14) Acts 4:20; 1 John 1:1
(15) John 17:3, 21; 1 Cor 1:9
(16) 1 John 2:1
(17) John 3:29
      From Biblegateway.com

      An amazing point of the teaching in this paragraph of I John is that the personal familiarity, to the point of tangible, tactile fellowship with the God/Man, the Creator of the Universe, was not only had by those apostles, and could be described by them to us, but that it is also a fellowship that can be spiritually communicated to us by the Word of those Apostles!

      We are accustomed to hearing the Word as the Word of truth.  We also know that this Word, in its truth, is spiritually perceived.  But, do we always understand that the communication that is instituted through spiritual perception of this Word mediates the Real Presence of Christ to our souls?

      This ought to give us a hint why the forces of evil always work in our lives to draw our attention away from this Word.

      Monday, September 5, 2011

      Luther on God's Glory, Justification, and the Covenent of Works

      I providentially opened one of my books, The Theology of Martin Luther, by Paul Althaus, a “standard” work often referenced by others, to the midst of Chapter 10, “God is God,” and found the following material.
      Here are some excerpts, with my comments. Remember that Althaus is a secondary source. All his comments and quotations need to be verified from the readings of Luther that he notices in his footnotes.
      Beginning of Quotes from Althaus
      The quotes, in alternate typeface, also contain quotes from Luther in quotation marks.
      The Creator Works All in All [p 105]
      For Luther, being God and creating are identical.  God is God because he and only he creates.
      God creates and preserves everything. Nothing is and nothing continues to be without his activity.  “All things must be God’s, since nothing can be or become, if he would not bring it into existence; and when he stops, nothing can continue to exist.”  [p 105]
      This living omnipresent working of God is the mystery of all reality.  God who causes all things is also the only causal agent.  For the agent who really works in all things is God, and not the personal and impersonal powers of the world which we think of as causes.  God is the first or principal cause; all others are only secondary or instrumental causes.”  [p 107]
      The knowledge that God and God alone works everything has immediate significance for faith.  The unchangeableness and the constancy of God’s purpose as well as the trustworthiness of his promises (and threats) depends on his being alone the one who works all in all.  Since he determines everything with his almighty working, I know that nothing and nobody can resist his will, change his mind, or restrict his activity.  There is therefore no doubt that God is able to achieve the eternal purposes of his love as they are made known to me in his promises. [p 110]
      This inescapable living presence of God in all that exists is either the most blessed or the most terrible reality for a man, depending on what he knows God’s relationship to himself to be. It is never neutral but is always either saving or damning.  We are here confronted with the twofold character of God’s dealing with men in the law and the gospel.  The man who has peace with God through believing the gospel can be confident in the midst of the most terrible reality; for God is present even in such a situation and holds it in his omnipotent hand – whether it be death, hell, or hostile earthly powers. … We should therefore fear and trust only in God and most certainly believe that nothing can destroy us; for God is Lord of all the powers that threaten us.  We are in his gracious hand, no matter what happens.  This is the believer’s royal freedom and joy. Ultimately, he is always dealing with God himself and not with the creature: and he knows how he stands with God. [p 111]
      Giving Love [p 115]
      Viewed in relationship to men, God’s creative activity is pure giving and helping.  He thus demonstrates not only his divine ability but also that he is goodness and love, constantly engaged in giving.  Whoever wishes to describe God as God, in terms of his “nature,” cannot speak of him merely as the only and constant creator, but must also speak of him as love.  God in the depths of his being is nothing else than love; and love is divine, for it is God himself.  “It is God’s nature to do only ‘good.’”  This is his glory: not receiving, but constantly giving, freely without hope of gratitude, independently of man’s attitude toward him, that is, in a completely different way than natural men do good. Thus God’s goodness is “genuinely natural goodness.” It “gladly loses its good deed on the unthankful.”  [p 115]
      … In addition to all these temporal gifts God gives men eternal goods, his Son, and therewith himself.  “He has poured out upon us both temporal and eternal goods and with them his own being; and he has poured himself out with everything he is and does for us who were sinners, undeserving enemies, and servants of the devil.  He can neither do any more than this for us nor give us anything else.”  Thus Christ and the fact that he is “for us” is the greatest gift of God’s love.  In this gift, God gives himself.  [p 116]

      Justification Means that God is God [p 118]
      At this point two elements of God’s creative activity are to be emphasized.  First, creating means creating out of nothing. … For Luther this is more than an assertion about the origin of the world. It is an all-inclusive characteristic of God’s creating and working. As such, it manifests itself also in the way in which God works men’s salvation.  In this too God creates everything out of nothing.  He takes the man who is nothing before Him and clothes him with the worth of the righteous man. [p 119]
      As a second characteristic of God’s creative activity, Luther emphasizes that God makes what he makes under the veil or form of its opposite, and therefore also out of its opposite.  He creates life under the form of death, yes, by way of death.  When he intends to exalt a man, he first humbles him.  When he intends to give his gifts to us, he first of all destroys us and what we have and thereby creates room for his gift. … “You exalt us when you humble us. You make us righteous when you make us sinners.  You lead us to heaven when you cast us into hell. You grant us the victory when you cause us to be defeated.  You give us life, when you permit us to be killed.” … Thereby God demonstrates that he is God and shows the majesty of his creating activity which cannot be compared with any human work.  [p 119]
      Luther’s doctrine of justification must be viewed in the context of these characteristics of God’s creativity. … [p 120]
      Why is a man not righteous before God through his “works,” that is, through fulfilling the law of God?  The first answer to that question is certainly this: because no individual from the beginning of the world to its end, and not even a Christian, perfectly fulfills God’s law.  Man’s obedience is always imperfect and blemish.[1]
      But this is not Luther’s complete and final answer, as is evident from a whole series of statements, many of which derive from the years 1531 to 1533.[2] … Even though a man had fulfilled the basic commandments of the law by fulfilling the double commandment of love, he still would not thereby be righteous before God. For God simply does not recognize the fulfilling of the law as the way to righteousness.[3]  Whether a man attempts to fulfill God’s law with his own powers or whether he achieves the righteousness of the law with the aid of God’s power is not of decisive significance.  Luther expresses this even more sharply than he did in the Galatians commentary in a conversational comment made about the same time in the fall of 1531.  Here he comes to terms with Augustine’s opinion that although man’s attempt to fulfill the law with his own natural powers would not lead to justification, fulfilling the law with the help of the Holy Spirit would.  Luther explains that what is at issue is really the validity of this latter righteousness.  Luther denies its validity. “If a man were completely and absolutely to fulfill the law through the power of the Holy Spirit, he would still have to appeal for God’s mercy; for God has determined that he will save men through Christ and not through the law.”  Whatever significance the law continues to have, it is not intended to be used as a means to justification and salvation.  This means that God wills that under no circumstances is the relationship between himself and men to be determined by the law but solely and absolutely by his free grace received through faith.  Man is not only unable to gain merit before God in fact, but he is also unable to do so in principle.  In every case, he is dependent on God’s unspeakable mercy for his salvation.
      Any doctrine of grace or of the Holy Spirit therefore which sees the meaning of the grace of the Holy Spirit in the fact that it creates a supernatural capability of fulfilling the law and thus of earning merit completely misses the meaning of God’s will. For this doctrine of grace still turns man’s attention to the value of his works and ethical achievement, even though these things are carried out with the help of grace.  The fact that there is justification only through Christ, that is, freely and through faith alone, is true independently of the fact that sinful man cannot fulfill the law.  It is therefore also valid for someone who might be able to fulfill it with supernatural powers of grace, that is, for the Christian.  Fulfilling the law avails as little for justification before God as the failure to fulfill it.  God simply does not wish to deal with men in this way [underline mine, Boyd].
      This will of God is rooted in his very nature and in the primal relationship which, as God, he bears to men.  God’s very deity consists in the fact that he is the creator and giver.  The desire to bring “works” as achievements before God is the equivalent of a lie that dishonors God as the giver and creator. …… Whenever man seeks to live before God on some basis other than forgiveness, no true fear of God remains.  God, however, says “I will remain God; I will be loved, honored, and feared!”  And so that he may both remain God and be feared, he forgives man and orders him to live solely by this forgiveness.  For this is what it means to fear God as God: to recognize him as the one who both gives us and wants to give us everything for nothing and who desires nothing else from us than that we allow him to do this giving.  Whoever will not accept the gifts of God’s free grace for nothing takes away the glory of God’s being God.
      Luther’s criticism of moralism is therefore characterized by its theocentricity.  Its standard is the fact that God is really God.  Moralism is regarded as idolatry and blasphemy.  “Works righteousness is actually and essentially idolatry.” … Moralism and true fear of God thus exclude each other.  “Desire for the righteousness of the law, and having a God, cannot possibly be combined.  There is a greater contradiction between fearing or honoring God and wanting to be righteous according to the law than there is between fire and water or between Satan and God.”
      As moralism is idolatry, so faith in God’s promise in Jesus Christ is the true worship of God.  Faith is the proper way of relating to God, not simply in the present because man necessarily breaks down along the way of works, but from the very beginning, because of what God is. … We are to believe not only because nothing else remains for sinners but because God is God and man cannot honor him as God in any other way than by believing – because faith is the fulfillment of the First Commandment.[4]  Faith is the only attitude of man which corresponds to God’s nature, God’s deity.  God’s true godliness consists in the fact that he is the creator and that he creates out of nothing and even out of its opposite.[5]  Faith corresponds exactly to this.  Faith expects something from God where nothing can be seen; it waits expectantly against all appearance.
      End of Quotations from Althaus
      It’s clear that Althaus portrays Luther as having a different doctrine of God and doctrine of Salvation than what we are used to hearing. That is, a doctrine much less “legal” than what we are used to hearing, even in our own evangelical circles. By the way, this, in no way, makes Luther less an advocate of substitutionary atonement (to meet the demands of God’s Law). It is not as if God’s Law doesn’t exist because of God’s Grace, but rather that Free Grace is not a mere instrument to restore the hegemony of the Law, and thus a relationship to God partly based in our own “legality.”  Rather, the Law is the instrument to bring death, against the background of which the grace of Christ brings a whole new life.
      I believe that all this is worth investigation in the original Luther materials. The strange thing is that when I familiarize myself with the Lutheran views on things, I begin to see these things in Calvin, too, in a way that most Calvin commentators don’t.

      [1] I fully recognize here that Luther taught that Adam was created very good (not a sinner at all), and therefore don’t know what to make of Althaus’ allegation about Luther’s teaching, as it would apply to Adam. Perhaps the secondary source (Althaus, a man of the modern era) has unwittingly imported his own idea here, concerning the historicity of the Fall.
      [2] This was when Luther was giving his Galatians lecture.
      [3] Though Althaus is not discussing Luther’s doctrine of Eden and the Fall, if his allegation of Luther’s doctrine is correct (one should check his references to Luther’s works), then Luther would be no fan of the “Covenant of Works.”
      [4] It was quite noticeable in the early part of Book 3 of Calvin’s Institutes that unbelief was clearly the prototypical sin for Calvin – the “original” sin.  You will see other commentators on Calvin say that Calvin thought pride was the original sin (the traditional view, and about the only other orthodox choice), but it seemed clear to me that Calvin (at least in the part we covered) clearly implied that unfaith was the original sin.
      [5] I.e., from sinners creates saints.

      Saturday, September 3, 2011

      The "Rule of Faith"

      In the early church, at the time of the Apostles, the Scripture was what we now call the "Old Testament."  The New Testament teaching was embodied in the oral teaching of the apostles and their representatives (people like Timothy or Titus).  As circumstances required, letters, histories, and gospels were written by the apostles or their representatives (such as Mark and Luke).  These writings, some of which only went to certain church assemblies at first, spread through the church in process of time, and were regarded as inspired, just like the Old Testament.  As the apostles passed from the scene, their immediate heirs taught the church through a combination of the memory of the oral teaching of the apostles and the written works by the apostles or their representatives.  In time, the written record of the Old and New Testaments became the repository of truth for the whole church.

      In the early period, before the fading of the direct, personal witness of the apostles, the memory of the nature of the apostolic teaching came to be called the "Rule of Faith."  The Rule of Faith, with slight variations in each region of the Roman Empire, guided the interpretation of the (Old Testament) Scripture, and set the standard for the New Testament teaching, even in those churches which at that time did not yet possess the entire New Testament. 

      Several consequences flow from the nature of this historical process:

      1)  We ought to be curious about the "Rule of Faith" in the early, post-apostolic church.  Though their deeper intellectual understanding of theology required considerable time for full development, their use and interpretation of the apostolically authorized writings and and their memory of the oral apostolic teaching is of value to us.

      2)  Regarding the development of Christian "denominations" we see a similar phenomenon.  Each denomination has a "Rule of Faith," which is supposedly derived accurately from Scripture by the founders, which then guides further interpretation of Scripture, often for generations.  When persons are "catechized" (even if it's not called that), they are taught the denominational Rule of Faith by which they afterward then interpret the Scripture.  As a starting point, this is not wrong, because it is wrong to teach people to approach the Bible from "square one," as if they do not need the fellowship of their brothers in Christ or any preexisting system to interpret it.

      Sadly, in many cases, the Rule of Faith is taught by non-contextual proof-texting from Scripture, so that those being taught are not aware of the existence of any Rule of Faith, though an unacknowledged Rule is nevertheless being used to  govern their understanding of Scripture.  The Scripture and their Rule cannot be distinguished, because the unacknowledged Rule by which they are being taught appears in their own eyes to be Scripture.

      It seems to me that several consequences follow from the phenomenon of the "Rule of Faith."

      A)  The learned in any denomination of Christian believers have a duty to discern what their own transcendent Rule of Faith really is, and to always be prepared to test their Rule against Scripture.

      B)  This process is beset by two dangers:  1)  Questioning the Rule of Faith may be regarded as dangerous and unorthodox among strongly confessional churches, because it threatens changes in the Confession of Faith.  These churches may put the Confession (Rule of Faith) above the Bible.  2)  Questioning the Rule of Faith, as is done in more liberal churches, may become quite the fad (especially in an academic context), with the result that the historic faith and the truth of Scripture is dissipated with human philosophy and doubts.  As a consequence of these two temptations those who critically question Rules of Faith and compare them to Scripture must walk a fine line.

      I suggest (these suggestions are not all mine):

      A)  Rather than abandoning all Rules of Faith, and attempting to start over from the Bible ("reinventing the wheel"), one should start by discerning one's own Rule of Faith, which must be studied and compared with other versions of the Rule of Faith in other denominations, including that Rule of the early church.  As it is claimed in the Reformed branch: "We must always be Reforming." 

      B)  Hopefully, through concerted study on the part of all fellowships and denominations, a Scripturally based convergence may ensue over centuries, leading to increase of fellowship.  After all, there is only one church.

      As a consequence of these thoughts, we see that we must study how to interpret the Bible.  This is called "hermeneutics."  Presuppositions set in place at seminary may "program" future Bible teachers to interpret the Bible a certain way.  But, any such presuppositions always need to be uncovered, investigated, and critiqued believingly.