Friday, July 1, 2016

A Voice from the Past - Calvin

We grant, indeed, that so long as we are pilgrims in the world faith is implicit, not only because as yet many things are hidden from us, but because, involved in the mists of error, we attain not to all. The highest wisdom, even of him who has attained the greatest perfection, is to go forward, and endeavor in a calm and teachable spirit to make further progress.

John Calvin, 1509-1564, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III, Chapter II, 4, (translated by Henry Beveridge, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1975, Volume 1, p. 471).

Is this the proper attitude? Is there a danger to believing we know it all?

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Peter Waldo - Unlicensed Preacher

As the medieval church's power increased, the opposition increased. This was the result of  corruption in this church and the failure to produce the promised purer church. One opposition group was the Waldensians, the followers of Peter Waldo. He was a wealthy merchant who decided to get serious with God and gave away all his money, mostly to the poor. He also became an itinerant preacher, with his followers, and encouraged translating the Bible into the the common language. This resulted in opposition, which told them not to preach, and they responded that they must obey God rather then men. This seems to have been mainly politics rather than opposition to what was being preached. Translating the Bible into the vernacular was not yet illegal (opposition to the Waldensians  helped bring this about). They were also rejected for being unlearned and not using the correct theological language.

While there does not seem to have originally been much difference between them and the established church, once they were excommunicated they began to rethink things. They rejected belief in the physical presence of Christ in the Lord's Supper. They also rejected purgatory and prayers for the dead, giving of oaths, and engaging in warfare. Some even rejected infant baptism. They held to the idea that all Christians (including women) were able to preach and administer the sacraments and claimed that all good men were priests. Some made the mistake of basing the validity of the sacraments on the character of the person administering them.

There were various groups, perhaps of different origins, that were all classified together as Waldensians, although they ultimately divided over minor issues. What they agreed on was following the Bible as the ultimate authority. There were dissenters who were less biblically based. Some held there were two Gods, a good God and a evil God, and it was the evil God who created the physical world. Others sought mystical union with God, leading to holding that God was the sum total of all things and we are all part of God. Still others held that they should overthrow the government and bring in the rule of saints, where all things would be held in common.  These were all condemned, pushed to the edges of society, and often confused by the established church. They were also often mixed together themselves, different positions being found in the wrong groups. After the Reformation the Waldensians as a whole became Protestants, though there is no evidence early on that they believed in salvation by grace through faith apart from works. They were heavily persecuted in the area of the Alps, but descendants of the movement exist to the present day. But more importantly, they led the way for other later Bible-based groups that opposed the established church.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

God's Discipline

How can we tell if we or anyone else are under God’s discipline? We are told in Scripture that God does use circumstances to discipline His children (Hebrews 12:4-11; 1 Corinthians 11:29-32; Psalms 94:12). But we are also told that we cannot conclude that all suffering is due to sin (Job 1,2; John 9:1-7; Hebrews 11:35-40). How, then, do we tell the difference? It is often too easy to jump to the conclusion that suffering is a result of sin. However, if God is disciplining us we need to recognize our sin and repent. How do we balance these?   

We need to remember that the Lord Jesus has paid the price for all our sins (1 Peter 2:24,25; Colossians 2:13,14; 2 Corinthians 5:21). But God still calls His people to repent and confess their sin (Proverbs 28:13; 1 John 1:9; Psalms 32:5). Further, God wants us to let Him work in our lives to transform us (2 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 2:10; Titus 2:11-14). One of the things He uses in our lives to do this is difficult circumstances (James 1:2-4; 2 Corinthians 4:17,18; 12:7-10). But this is more than just a direct response to specific things we have done wrong. Now it is appropriate to ask God to show us if there is something in our life that needs to change, and troubles can bring us up short to ask this question (Psalms 139:23,24, 19:12; 1 Corinthians 11:28). The problem comes when we find no obvious answer. It is at this point we can start to blow things out of proportion or dredge up things from the past that have already been dealt with. In this case we need to understand that God forgives us (Romans 8:33,34; Hebrews 8:12; Psalms 103:12), and we need to leave our past sins behind and go on with Him (Philippians 3:13,14; 2 Corinthians 7:10; 2:6,7).

There is an old preacher’s saying that the preacher should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. The problem is, this is hard to do because there are people of tender conscience, easily afflicted, and people of callused conscience, who are hard to rouse. All we can do is point to the principle that we need to examine ourselves enough to be make sure we are not ignoring the obvious and avoid gazing at our deficiencies so much that we become over whelmed and discouraged. One thing that helps with this is to trust God (Proverbs 3:5,6; Psalms 127:1,2; Isaiah 40:31). Trust God to bring us through the trial. Trust God to show us if there is anything in our lives that needs correcting. We also need to be very careful about judging others who are going through tribulation (1 Corinthians 4:3-5; James 4:11,12; Romans 14:4). But rather, let us trust that whatever troubles we or others encounter in our lives will be used by God for our good, even if we do not see how that could happen at the present time (Romans 8:28; Genesis 50:20; Romans 5:3-5).

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

We Do Not Need Another Moral Teacher

The cross and resurrection are the central message of the Christian faith. This is not some secondary add-on; it is what Christianity is about. This is why it is difficult to write it off as a legend that developed later. The idea that Jesus was just a great moral teacher is congenial to the modern mind. But if Jesus was just a great moral teacher, then we end up putting Him on the shelf with the rest of the great moral teachers, and He is largely irrelevant. In Jesus’ time there were plenty of rabbinical scholars, there were plenty of secular moral philosophers--He would have been lost in the crowd. There was a man named Apollonius of Tyana. He was what many people regard Jesus as being. He was a standard moral teacher, he had a few odd miracles attributed to him as incidental support for his teaching, and he vanished into obscurity. Because he was totally irrelevant. The truth is we do not need another great moral teacher. We have plenty of great moral teachers. The problem is, we do not live up to their teaching. Even if we claim that Jesus was the best and most perfect moral teacher, that does not help. As C. S. Lewis points out, if we cannot do mathematics, what good does it do to be taught calculus?  

But this is not what Christianity is about. Christianity is about God becoming a man (John 1:1-18; Philippians 2:5-11; Hebrews 2:9-18), paying the price for our sin (1Peter 2:24,25; Colossians 2:13,14; 2 Corinthians 5:21), and validating this by rising from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:1-20; Romans 1:4; Acts 2:22-32). Therefore, the resurrection is the foundation on which Christianity is based. And it must be remembered that about thirty years after the fact, there were people being put to death by Nero for being Christians. Now people will die for a lie. It is unlikely they will die for what they know is a lie. But nobody will die for some vague legend that has not really developed yet. It must also remembered that, right from the start, Christianity had fierce critics. These critics came up with all sorts of theories to explain the resurrection. But the one thing they never said was that it obviously did not happen but the story just grew up over time. They claimed that Jesus did not really die and later revived, that the disciples stole the body, that the women went to the wrong tomb, and similar stories. These ideas do not fit the gospel accounts as we have them. But if we claim the gospel accounts were completely invented, we have to ask why no one called them on it. And if there was nothing to explain, then we have to ask why people came up with these theories in the first place. And the empty tomb still stands as evidence that Christianity really is what it says it is.

Monday, June 27, 2016

A Touch of Humor - Scheduling

How important is eating as part of church functions? How should it be arranged?

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Old Erich Proverb - Validity

The validity of God's sacraments is not in the one who gives them but in the faith of the one who receives them.

Friday, June 24, 2016

A Voice from the Past - John Chrysostom

For not even this small thing itself was of themselves, but of God, who put it into their hands. For lest they might say, What then? are we not to love those that minister unto us? Yea, saith he; but you should know to what extent. For not even this thing itself is of them, but of God who gave it.

John Chrysostom, 347-407 AD, Homilies in 1 Corinthians, Homily VIII, 3:5, (translated by Rev. Talbot W. Chambers, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Philip Schaff, Hendrickson Publishing, 1994, First Series, Vol. 12, p. 46).

What does it mean that all our abilities come from God? What are the implications of this?