Thursday, October 23, 2014

Athanasius - The Man Who Stood Against the World

Athanasius was a man who, at a crucial time, stood up for his principles against those around him. Alexander, archbishop of Alexandria, had gotten into a dispute with one of his subordinates, Arius, over the deity of Christ. Arius claimed Christ was just the first and greatest of all created beings. The Emperor Constantine wanted them to ignore their differences and get along. When this failed, Constantine called the leaders of the church together for the Council of  Nicaea. At the council Alexander and his supporter Athanasius carried the day. The deity of Christ was affirmed in the Nicene creed, and Arius and his followers were sent into exile. But Constantine, wanting to promote peace, allowed the exiles back. They continued to spread their ideas underground.

Alexander and Arius died soon afterwards, leaving Athanasius as archbishop of Alexandria. Those who opposed him or desired a middle ground held a council and, with the concurrence of Constantine, sent Athanasius into exile on technical and trumped-up charges. Constantine died soon after and was succeeded by his sons. As a result of which one was in power, Athanasius was recalled and banished numerous times. Finally, Constantius gained sole power and tried to impose Arianism by force. Many went along to be safe, and others followed Athanasius into exile. Then Constantius died and Julian attempted to revive paganism. He brought Athanasius back from exile to get the Christians fighting one another. But Athanasius immediately preached a sermon against paganism and was sent back into exile. Athanasius died as archbishop of Alexandria, but it was not until after his death that the Nicene creed was reaffirmed at the council of Constantinople. Athanasius's epitaph was "Athanasius against the world"; and by the power of God, Athanasius, against the world, had won.

It is claimed that Athanasius got into an argument over a single letter. But a single letter can make a big difference in meaning. Whether Jesus was God come in the flesh to save His people from their sin or just one more messenger, with only limited ability beyond delivering the message, makes a huge difference in theology. It is claimed he used force to impose his viewpoint on others. Rather, he stood firmly against those using force to impose their views on him. Even the pagan historians note it was the Arians who used force and the orthodox, at least initially, who practiced toleration. Athanasius did encourage the idea of monasticism by writing a bibliography of Anthony (more on that in a later post). Athanasius was a man who stood firmly for his principles. Like all such men, he was perhaps too firm at times, though he seems to have maintained his composure and sense of humor under stress. Some of the technicalities he was accused of may have been the result of cutting a few technical corners to defend his principles. But it requires a man of strong convictions to stand against such opposition, and in this situation Athanasius proved to be that man.   

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Leadership Divide

A great division found in the Christian church is between clergy and laity. To understand it, we need to look at the history. It comes from the idea of apostolic succession. This was an error made by good men trying to help ordinary Christians avoid doctrinal error. They noted that the apostles passed their message on to those who followed. Should people turn away from that to some new guy just coming on the scene? As one argument, this is something to consider. But it became a conviction that the church historically descended from the apostles could not be wrong. There is no basis for that anywhere in Scripture (Mark 9:38-41; Galatians 1:8,9; 2:11-16).

This succession is seen as passed down through an unbroken series of ordinations. The word ordination in this sense does not appear in the Greek text of the New Testament. It is translated from various words meaning to place in office. There is a specific ceremony for commissioning the priests in the Old Testament, but it does not apply to any other office (Exodus 29:1-28). There is also the practice of laying on of hands, which is used for many different purposes and is connected with prayer (Acts 8:14-17; Matthew 19:13-15; Mark 6:5). Now this is often used for commissioning people to various positions, prayer being appropriate for such occasions (Acts 13:3; 6:6; Numbers 27:23). But it is not reserved for any particular office; I can see using this on Sunday school teachers or nursery workers. But Scripture puts no importance on who performs the ceremony. (The Old Testament priesthood was hereditary, not based on who ordained them.) It is reasonable to seek a Christian of good reputation for this purpose.  But I see no basis for a mechanically passed down authority.

Coming from this is the idea that only those with authority can administer the sacraments. Which also has no basis in Scripture. The result is a group seen as having authority based purely on an outward ritual. Protestants have rejected this in its full form. But we can still hold that ordination bestows some special authority and gives the authority to perform the ordinances. Along with this we require other things such as learning or dynamic leadership. But this means these people need to have these things on a level sufficient to justify putting them in a separate class. It also encourages the congregation to believe that just by being part of a group that has such authority, they are pleasing God.  

Now the church is to have leaders (Ephesians 4:11-16; 1 Timothy 3:1; 1 Peter 5:1-4), and we are called to be subject to them (Hebrews 13:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:12,13; 1 Timothy 5:17 ). Their job is to shepherd, to instruct, to be an example, not to claim a fictitious authority. For to do so is to put them as a mediator between the people and God. A position only one Person qualifies for (1 Timothy 2:5; Acts 4:12; John 14:6). 

Monday, October 20, 2014

A Touch of Humor - Extortion

Is trick or treating just good clean fun? How should we approach it?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Old Erich Proverb - Climb

Life can be a tough climb up a difficult slope, but we should stop to admire the vistas God shows us on the way.

Friday, October 17, 2014

A Voice from the Past - Luther

What Paul means is that whatever good we do in preaching is done by God; when we preach it is God's work if it has power and accomplishes something among men.Therefore if I am a good preacher who does some good, it isn't necessary for me to boast, It's not my mind, my wisdom, my ability.

Martin Luther, 1483-1545, Sermons, The Twelfth Sunday After Trinity, 1531 (Luther's Works, edited and translated by John W. Doberstein, Muhlenberg Press, 1959, Vol. 51, p.224)

How do we base what we do on God's power rather than on own? How do we remember that this is so?  

Thursday, October 16, 2014

It Is Okay to Not Be Okay

One idea that has become prevalent is that if we can just convince ourselves that we are okay and everyone else is okay, all the pieces of our life will just fit into place. But there are problems with this. If whatever I am is okay, then okay becomes meaningless. But the alternative seems to be to go back into the hamster wheel of performance. However, there is a better answer. God loves us, even though we are sinners and not okay (Romans 3:23; Jeremiah 17:9; Isaiah 64:6), and sent His Son to die for us (John 3:16-18; Romans 5:6-8; 1 John 4:9,10). Therefore, if we put our faith, not in what we can do, but in what He has done (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5; Philippians 3:9), we can stand before Him based on grace and forgiveness (Ephesians 1:7; Romans 8:31-34; 5:1,2). And while God is at work in us to change us (2 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 2:10; Titus 2:11-14), we are still far from what God would have us to be (Philippians 3:12-16; Galatians 5:17; Romans 7:14-25), and we need to trust in His grace. Therefore, it is okay for us not to be okay.

Also, if we look at other Christians, we realize they are in the same situation. And while we may encourage them or even correct them (Hebrews 10:24,25; 12:12,13; Galatians 6:1), we must recognize it is also okay for them not to be okay. And as for unbelievers, they can be right in God's sight if they will simply trust Christ, and it is our job to gently persuade them to do so (1 Peter 3:15; Colossians 4:5,6; 2 Timothy 2:24-26). Therefore, it is okay for others to be not okay. But I think the biggest problem with the present day church is that we have tried to convince ourselves we are okay based on our performance. If we are good, moral people and good churchgoers, God will be pleased with us. But what we mean by that falls short of what God really requires (Matthew 22:36-40; 5:43-48; 1 Peter 1:14-17). What we need is God's grace and forgiveness.

Now our attitude here greatly affects how we approach the spiritual helps. If I want to know more about this God who saved me and want to get to know Him. If I want to praise Him because of what He has done for me and call upon Him for help to face the challenges of life, as one inadequate to face them alone. If I realize I need the help and encouragement of other believers to be built up to stand firm in the Lord. Then I will not approach spiritual exercises as simply one more duty to be checked off my list. But if I see myself as basically having it all together, that is how I will tend to approach it. It all starts with how I see myself.