Saturday, March 24, 2012

Intellect, Mystery and Worship

As good Presbyterians, we are especially attracted to the system of theology.  Biblical interpretation and the establishment of systematic theology through the rational investigation of the teaching of Scripture is one of our "forte's."

But, what do we do with the mysteries?

For one, we seem to believe that we should try to eliminate them :-) .  But, without in any sense wanting to disparage the investigation of questions, I might broaden the base of the inquiry by making the following suggestions:

1)  Since God is incomprehensible (cannot be fully comprehended by the creaturely mind), then there must be mysteries.  This fact should not be resisted.

2)  We do need to investigate mysteries, not only to seek explanations, but also to seek not to explain them away, but to see their true bounds.  What exactly is a mystery?  What are the reasons for its existence?

3)  We are masters at "using" the doctrines we think we understand -- at least by babbling the words, but also most times having little enough illumination about their true scope.  But, of what use is a mystery?

I conclude that mysteries are at the root of worship.  Insofar as our theological efforts try to explain everything -- an impossible and un-Scriptural goal -- then our efforts tend to do away with real aspects of Christian worship

Let me give an example:

Why am I a true believer in Christ?  Is it because of anything I did?  No.  In fact he did not have to choose me for salvation.  He could have chosen someone else in my place, and left me in my sins.  How should I feel and think about this?  With wonder, admiration and gratitude!  Every day I spend in Heaven, in the fellowship of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and all my fellow saints, and the holy angels, I will think with abounding and daily increasing holy gratitude how all this is a gift.  I, who am nothing, and have been a sinner and rebel, have been brought to this by the grace of God, for no reason but his goodness and grace.  How can the contemplation of his goodness and grace, and the mystery of his choice of me, not result in ever-increasing worship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit now and forever?

Or, consider the Fatherhood of God.  I know what a human father is, having known my human father.  I know what being a father is, for my own part, though I cannot boast.  But, how can we ever exhaust the simple meaning of this word "father" as we live under the fatherhood of our Father in Heaven?  Will we ever cease to extoll his greatness, the more we perceive of it forever?  We will be eternally worshiping, marveling and saying, "Thank you, thank you, thank you -- I never realized before how much you have cared for me!"

Thursday, March 22, 2012

On Heaven's Seat

It's hard, from our lowly position in God's World, to envision how our attitude toward this world should be shaped, unless our vision is shaped by God's Word.  In that Word there is certainly a lowly vision of ourselves, as servants, even slaves of God, living by the rule that the last shall be first, and that the greatest is the servant of all, and that our hope is in resurrection.  But, behind this Godly lowliness is the Godly vision of the human race on the Throne of Heaven.  It is all in Christ, of course.  But how little do we ponder how he rose to heaven's throne in our nature.  Of course, we believe he is a real human being.  But, don't forget:  We are in him!  In him, we are risen and seated there!  Think of yourself on that throne!  What is your perspective on the world's business as you sit on that throne?  What do you think of all the outward excellence in the world, even if it came to the Christian dominion of all the world's business?  Is this vision of the government of this age ultimately worthy of your position?  Is this what you are co-ruling with Christ to bring about?  No.  Isn't the current vision of Christian dominion a sanctified Enlightenment, Western 19th-century liberal, upper-middle class, educated vision, which is successful in business, science, liberal arts and politics?  Is this really a Christian vision?  Most of the believers in this world have not, and up to now cannot, share this vision because of "backwardness," "lack of progress," and persecution.  No.  They have a higher vision.  Even if you told them of the Western Enlightenment vision that God's dominion might eventually bring to them, would they truly look forward to it?  Would it replace the Eternal Vision?  No.  It would be a seduction.

We must be grateful to God in his providence for the excellencies of our earthly life, and the seeming successes of our Christian efforts, but these are not in themselves God's Kingdom, though they bear traces and signs of it.  But, God's Kingdom is far higher than these things.  We should think again, how the last shall be first, and the lowest shall be highest, and the least will be the greatest, and how the cross will triumph through his suffering servants, and God's Kingdom -- the one that really is his -- will one day, when all cares of this earth are past -- shine forth in eternal glory, in the fellowship of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Seeing this now, we shall have power.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Christian Sacrifice

Romans 12:1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. (NKJ)

First of all, this is not the command of God, but rather our Father beseeches us, in view of his sacrifice of his best for us, which he made by not sparing his own Son from death on the cross for our sins, that we should in response to his sacrifice give over ourselves entirely to him as living and active sacrifices for the sake of his Name and Glory, ready to do all that he calls us to do in the light of his sovereign grace.

It is not my life to live, but His in me, nor my ambitions, but his for me and through me. Whether he call me to menial or maximal service, in the end it will have his praise, his crown of reward, near his throne.

Is this yours?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Be What the Lord Wants You To Be

Last evening in our small group we discussed the Divine Election to salvation which all of us believers enjoy.

A big take-away for me is to continue to contemplate the intersection of ambition and predestination.  It seems that they are at cross-purposes when carnal ambition masquerades as godly aspiration to Christian service.

How hopeful and satisfying it is to rest in God's predestination (of me).  If I follow Him, then I can "be all I can be," to use the old slogan, knowing that I will be made to be what He wants me to be, and it will please Him.  That's all that counts.

Glory be to God.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Distinction from the World (Revised)

This is a comment on the previous post.

The point of the previous post is that the church must maintain spiritual separation from the world.  But, sometimes the word "separation" has a bad image.  So, I will express what I mean by using another word -- "assimilation."  The church permeates the world, but is not to be "assimilated" to the world.  There remains a spiritual distinction from the world -- a distinction which is visible not only in worship and in personal Christian behavior and testimony, but also in the serious requirement of intra-church Christian social communion where the Lord's grace, wisdom, and encouragement is shared between the believers.  This fellowship manifests the spiritual bond which makes the believers' first priority in prayer and action to be the welfare of other believers in Christ.  We should do good to all men, but especially to the household of God.  Our lifestyle is not to dissipate ourselves by throwing ourselves into the embrace of the world to convert the world, but to draw people from the world into the embrace of Christ.  The church is a "counterculture."  That distinction of worship, life, and spiritual separation must characterize the body of believers, lest their testimony before the world lose its vitality.  My thesis in the previous post is that engaging the world while forgetting to be the counterculture is spiritually fatal to the welfare and testimony of the church.

Therefore, whether it's too much preterism, or too much visionary medieval-style communion of church and state, the spiritual effect is the same.  The church and the world become only formally, but not vitally, distinguishable, to the detriment of the church.

During the days of union and communion between church and state, it was the monks who continued to preserve the distinction between the church and the world.  In a sense the church of Christ, following Judaic principles rather than Greek philosophy, must adopt the monk's sense of spiritual separation from the world, without the asceticism.  The good that those monks did could only be done because they were monks -- separate.  Likewise, the good that we do can only be done because we are separate.  If we lose our separation, we will lose our calling and our effectiveness in the world.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Preterist Hope and Resurrection

This article keeps being revised, in order to clarify the language, remove unnecessary offense to brethren, and be more correctly adjusted to its practical environment. However, any hyperbole still present is intentional, because if there were no hyperbole, no attention would be paid to its technical language and apparent theological blandness.  This article is commented on in the next post.

In the Reformed "Covenant of Works" it is regularly assumed that the destiny of the race is properly understood from the standpoint of the original creation, as if the Fall was a fatal blot on that original plan which was cured by Christ's redemption, so that the recovered plan of world dominion can now be carried forward in the present age in Christ.  When this idea is coupled with a preterism which denies a final apostasy, the Kingdom of God becomes an immanent kingdom.  It comes here and now, in this age, though gradually.  The distinction between the "Now" of Kingdom life in the present age, and the "Not Yet" of Kingdom life in the Age of Resurrection gradually fades away as the kingdom comes, and, in the end, a saved and glorious world is made ready for the final advent of the Savior, and the destruction of the last enemy -- death.  But, resurrection is icing on the cake, in what may be a far distant future.  The focus of the church is on this age,* and on the expectation of the increasing triumph and glory of the kingdom of God in this age.  As a consequence the resurrection age inadvertently becomes distant, ethereal, disembodied, perhaps even "gnostic," compared to the realism of kingdom now, the beginnings of which we perceive with our senses.  Life is now.

This focus has a profoundly negative effect on the practical mission of the church and on the life of faith. By asserting a vision of increasing fulfillment, contentment, triumph and glory in this age, the church embraces the world, hoping to redeem the world through Christian accomplishments and good works and (hopefully) the preaching of the gospel, but the result is that the world embraces the church.  A vision of world-conquering, world-integrating moral triumph through charity (and a subsidiary profession of orthodoxy) replaces the gospel vision of salvation from the world-system, personal and corporate holiness, and Christian accomplishments and good works that preach this deliverance.  We've been here before:  Look at the policies, activities and failure of the "liberal" churches.

There are theological reasons why this is an unworthy way to conceive of the divine plan.  For one thing, the Fall occurs so early in the Scriptural record, and so little is revealed of the original creation, that it's clear that the Scriptural record is just not focused on the restoration of the original creation in its original form.  That original creation is irretrievably lost in death, just as Christ's participation in the life of this age was brought to the fullest and most complete death on the cross and in the tomb.  And yet, in triumph, Christ rose from the death of the first creation, and he himself became the embodiment of the New Creation, along with all those spiritually in him.

The New Testament is clear that this redemptive work is accomplished by our Lord's participation in the first, fallen creation (yet without sin on his part), as he dies.  But he is not resurrected back into the first creation.  He remains "dead to the Law," which killed him, for ever and ever.  Yet, He himself becomes the New Creation in Resurrection, living to God in a new way, by the Spirit, corresponding to the New Covenant.  The home of the New Creation is the resurrection body, ultimately in the resurrection age.  Therefore, we should only see our redeemed destiny in resurrection terms.  We are spiritually resurrected now, as believers, but we live in bodies which are the products of the first creation, and we live in a fallen age.  We cannot see the Kingdom of God fully manifested in this age, because this is not the age of resurrection.  The Kingdom of God is not inherited by flesh and blood (the Adamic inheritance of the first creation).  The Kingdom of God is fully inherited only in the resurrection body, in Christ.

This explains why Paul is so insistent that our spiritual attention be directed to Heaven where our treasure lies waiting for the age to come, the resurrection age, and that our spiritual attention not be directed to this age, which is groaning under bondage to corruption and death.  After all, the creation is also doomed to be delivered from death in the same glorious resurrection that we will experience at the Last Day.

Therefore, we must divert our vision from an immanent kingdom of God, with a vision of glory in outward life in dominion and triumph in this age, and direct our vision to the future and transcendent kingdom coming with resurrection, with only a hidden glory now in the triumph of our suffering, until the great day of deliverance from death comes, and we participate in the full manifestation of the Kingdom of God.  This is the only vision that separates us from the world-system and makes us a holy people of Kingdom-come, and this is the only vision which testifies to the world that Christ has come.

Unless the End comes first, we will all die a death that was ordained for our sin, and that has been transformed by Christ's resurrection into a doorway to the presence of Christ, until eternal glory dawns.  Yes, the last enemy to be destroyed is death, but what an enemy!  It's really paradigmatic of all evil and sin in our lives.  Death is the curse!  Therefore, let us no more have "boys' religion" about these things, confusing our vision of eternal life with a vision of worldly glory in this age.  No.  Our destiny is death and resurrection, following in the steps of our Lord, unless he should return first.  Focusing on the glorious manifestation of the Kingdom of God in this age will have a carnalizing influence on us and on the practical ministry of the church.  But, focusing on the eternal kingdom in resurrection will make us a holy people who preach a holy gospel, and do holy works testifying to the glory of Christ.

There is a warning here:  The true vision of the city whose builder and maker is God is held by those who view themselves, like Abraham, as migrants and pilgrims through life in this age, seeking that city and glory which is eternal, and is not of this age, but of the age to come -- the age of resurrection.  Only a converted heart can rest in that vision.  The flesh wants glory now, and anything that satisfies that urge in this life has corruption in it.

This post is commented on in the next post.

*  My claim about "focus on this age" is not vain, because, after writing this post, with my own ears I heard an ordained PCA Teaching Elder (Minister) not associated with my church, use these very words unguardedly in a comment stating that our attention should be focused on this age and not on some other (future) age.  He wasn't thinking, but the loose and uninterpreted comment nevertheless illustrates what I mean.