A key quality, perhaps the key quality, that God looks for in those involved in ministry for Him is faithfulness (1 Corinthians 4:1,2; 2 Timothy 2:2; 1 Timothy 1:12). And all Christians in their own way are to be involved in such ministry. The word is used of waiting tables (Acts 6:1), giving to the poor (Acts 11:29; 2 Corinthians 9:1; Romans 15:31), and general service (Romans 12:7; 1 Corinthians 12:5; Ephesians 4:12), as well as the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4; 20:24; 2 Corinthians 4:1,2). (Note, it is the same word in all these passages, though it is sometimes translated differently.) But faithfulness as the requirement flies in the face of what we often look for. We want someone with charisma, with grand schemes and flashy programs. And we put all our hopes in a few key people given celebrity status. But Christ says He will build His church (Matthew 16:18; 1 Corinthians 3:6,7; Colossians 2:19). What He wants is for all of us to be is faithful in doing His work. Could it be we have hitched our wagon to the wrong star?
Should we expect to understand God? Even the physical laws are beyond our comprehension. Should not our Maker be even more so (Romans 11:33; Isaiah 55:9; 1 Corinthians 3:18)? One of the most basic teachings of Christianity is that God is Three in One at the same time. And one of the most difficult to understand. But it cannot be dispensed with without changing the entire nature of what is taught.
We say that God is love (1 John 4:7-16; John 3:16-18; Romans 5:5-8). Now the problem is, we need more than a vague benevolence. We are sinners and need someone to rescue us (Romans 3:23; Jeremiah 17:9; Isaiah 64:6). We need even less the stern taskmaster who forces us to perform. We are not able to do it (Romans 3:19,20; 8:8; John15:5). We need the kind of love that sends His Son to save us. We need the type of love that comes down from His throne to deliver us (Philippians 2:5-11; John 1:1-18; Hebrews 2:9-18). We need a God who will pay the price for our sins (1 Peter 2:24,25; Colossians 2:13,14; 2 Corinthians 5:21). We also need God to work within us to understand and accept what He has done for us (1 Corinthians 2:14-16; John 3:3-8; 1:12,13). We also need God at work within us to transform us (2 Corinthians 3:17,18; Galatians 5:16,17; Ephesians 5:18). And we need God to unite us in a new community involving unity and diversity (1 Corinthians 12:11-27; Ephesians 4:11-16; Romans 12:3-8).
But there are requirements for this type of love. For it to be fundamental, there must be an object of that love. And for it to be part of the nature of God, God must be more then one within Himself. He must be Three in One. A unitary God can be benevolent. A unitary God can be strict. But a unitary God cannot be love, in the deep sense. And for the ideal among people to be unity in diversity, it makes sense for God to be unity in diversity. From this love in diversity comes the various roles that accomplish our salvation. There is the Giver, the Gift, and the One who delivers the Gift. We have the Father, who gives the Son and receives the payment for sin. We have the Son, who becomes incarnate and pays the price. We have the Holy Spirit, who works in our hearts that we might receive the payment. And together They work in different roles to bring about our salvation. I like C. S. Lewis' analogy which likens our relationships to God and each other to a cosmic dance. A dance where we relate to each other in complicated and varied interchanges of roles. And to make sense, this dance needs to originate in the very nature of God Himself.
The Kingdom of Christ is a proclamation of peace and grace, as the angels sang that He should be Saviour of the whole world to free his people and save them from their sins. That He has done and is still doing. He is not the sort of Lord who fights with the sword and has to do with civil government. Rather he rules with the gracious preaching of peace. For that reason he is called Jesus, meaning a Saviour who helps his people to turn and be saved.
Martin Luther, 1483-1546, The Martin Luther Christmas Book, Shepherds, translated and arranged by Roland Bainton (The Westminster Press, 1948, p. 46)
How does the power of man differ from the power of God? How should this affect our lives?
Joe walked by the row shops with holiday decorations. He always found the gymnastics amusing. Some still used evergreen branches and holly, hoping not to be noticed for it.Others seemed to be trying for every other type of tree or plant. Others avoided greenery altogether. He passed a balloon tree, all gold and red with not a trace of green. Occasionally you saw an elf or something of that sort, but there were more clowns and more dogs and cats than reindeer. And Santa was a problem. Some had a look-alike and called him Father Holiday or even Mr. Holiday. Some still called him Santa and hoped no one would connect it to Saint Nicholas and from there to Christianity. The really bold ones would put him with Hanukkah Harry and other alternatives and hope the egalitarianism would save them. It probably would not.
Joe felt sorry for the storekeepers. All they really wanted to do was sell stuff and not offend anyone. And there seemed to a large contingent of people who made a point of being offended by anything "religious." Joe suspected they were a minority, but a very vocal minority was all it took to affect commercial behavior. Merchants were not generally known for standing up to that type of pressure where money was involved. For a while, Hanukkah had been all right, being a minority belief. Santa lasted longer. But there were more and more people who only felt comfortable if everything was entirely neutral. There were, of course, still some Christians who went around obnoxiously insisting on making a point of Christmas. Joe wished they would stop; it was not a way to win friends or influence people.
He walked into one of the stores. "Happy Holidays," said the greeter looking very nervous. Joe had spoken to her in the past about Christ, and she knew where he was coming from.
"Happy Holidays," he returned. He had better things to do than make people uncomfortable or try to get them fired. There would be other times to witness in a meaningful manner.
He bought a few extra things for supper. They were having roast beef, a change of pace. Nothing against turkey, but there was nothing specifically Christian about it either.
When Joe made it home, the other families were already there. They had supper together and spoke of what God had done during the year. They read Scripture, lit the Advent Candles, sang carols, and played games. Later, they would gather with the rest of the congregation for a candlelight service and celebration of Christ's birth. And if they really wanted to, they could celebrate the holiday season on January first (nothing clearly "religious" about that date) with everybody else. Maybe it was better this way.
Christ came, was born in a manager, and died on the cross to win the victory over Satan and all the powers of darkness (Colossians 2:13-15; 1 John 4:4; Hebrews 2:14,15). This is important to remember during the holidays, when there are those who would suggest we should be afraid even to celebrate them due to a pagan connection. Now it is a dangerous world, and it is well to use some caution (1 Corinthians 10:12,13; 1 Peter 5:8-10; Ephesians 6:10-13). But we should not be hiding in a corner as if Satan and his minions are stronger than God, who is at work in us. But rather, let us go out confidently, based on our victory in Christ (2 Corinthians 10:3-6; 2:14; Romans 16:20).
My previous historical personalities have been real people. I want to deal this time with someone who may not be real or, if he is, little of what has been said about him may be true. I am talking about Nickolas, bishop of Myra, the original of Santa Claus. The problem, of course, is that everything that is said about him was written long after the fact.
There are a number of anecdotes about his kindness, and it is hard afterwards to evaluate which ones are true. There is the familiar story of his providing money for three daughters of a poor man to use for dowries by throwing three bags of money secretly in their window. There is the tale of his rushing to the aid of three falsely accused soldiers to prevent their execution. It is told how he miraculously obtained reduced taxes and grain in time of famine. Even if the miracles are discounted, Nicholas still could have somehow obtained these. Though the specific incidents are dubious, they may still reflect a generous heart of the real man toward the poor and those in need.
He is also pictured as being imprisoned for his faith in the final Christian persecution under Diocletian. Later, when Christianity was an accepted belief, he worked to tear down the pagan temples.At the the council of Nicaea when Arius was explaining his views, Nicholas is said to have lost his temper and to have slapped Arius in the face. It is said that when Arianism later became the official belief, Myra, based on the teaching of Nicholas, was one of the few places that remained firm in its belief in the deity of Christ.
There are questions about whether Nicholas was ever at Nicaea. But this is something that I would not expect to be included if it were not true. Also, we have to ask how Nicholas became so famous. There were many imprisoned for their faith in the final persecution and many who helped dismantle paganism and were generous to the poor. But the slap in the face is the thing that seems to set Nicholas apart. While I am far from dogmatic about this, if it is true there is a certain irony here. That Santa Claus became Santa Claus by slapping someone in the face is very serendipitous.
Here is a man who held strongly to his faith, even through imprisonment. But slapping people in the face is not the way to deal with doctrinal disagreement. He appears to be a generally generous man, strong in his convictions, who at a certain point went overboard and lost his temper. Now there are some folks who are just consistently mean, and it is hard to defend that. But perhaps there is a place for grace for those who are over-dogmatic. After all, we are all people in process, and none of us have arrived yet. But in the end, all this is nothing but a good story that may or may not be true.
There is in that alone the touch of a revolution, as of the world turned upside down. It would be vain to attempt to say anything adequate, or anything new, about the change which this conception of a deity born like an outcast or even an outlaw had upon the whole conception of law and its duties to the poor and outcast.
G. K. Chesterton, 1874-1936, The Everlasting Man, The God in the Cave (Dover Publications Inc., 2007, p. 168)
What are the Christian's obligations to the poor? How should we carry them out?
C. S. Lewis speaks of three different holidays involved in Christmas. One is a commemoration of the birth of Christ. Despite much speculation, we are not sure when Christ was born. But December 25 is traditional and is as good a day as any to remember Christ's birth. There is a question whether it is a replacement for a pagan holiday. I am not sure it is. I am less sure that it matters. I have a great deal of sympathy with Gregory the Great's policy of replacing pagan holidays with Christian holidays. People like to celebrate. You can cancel all the holidays and be a killjoy. You can try to force people to celebrate some different time, which becomes a war. Or you can try to give new meanings to the old celebrations, which has its drawbacks but is not necessarily the worst choice.
Then there is the idea of a general time for celebration. I agree with Lewis in being very much in favor of celebrating. Nor do I see any problem with celebration in connection with the coming of Christ. It is a cause for celebration. Now there is a delicate balance here between Christian celebration and the celebration of the world. The Christian has better reason to celebrate, but must do it with a degree of restraint. There has historically been a danger of falling into the world's excesses on Christmas. But that should not be a basis for avoiding celebrating, though it may be a reason to make the celebration more Christian.
But the third holiday is what Lewis calls the commercial racket. This can easily become a celebration of greed. Now store owners have to live, like everybody else. And there is a legitimate joy, particularly for children, in receiving presents. But when the commercial aspect overtakes the idea of commemoration and celebration, there is a problem. It is hard to know where to draw the line, but when the whole thing becomes a burden rather than a joy, it needs to be reconsidered. And when we make the chief thing concern about what other people think, rather than what is enjoyable, there is a problem. People speak of the war on Christmas, and sometimes I wish the secular side would win. Then they could take the commercial holiday and celebrate it without too close a connection with anything Christian. And Christmas could become a holiday largely celebrated by Christians. But I doubt anything so practical is going to happen. However, I would recommend for Christians to emphasize the Christian and celebration parts of the holiday. And to minimize the commercial. Perhaps it would help to think of them as three holidays. And to ask which Christmas we are celebrating.
We all desire community. And we all fear it. We fear rejection. And we fear losing ourselves and vanishing into some featureless conformity ("You will be assimilated"). Even worse, we fear trying our best to lose ourselves in such a conformity and being rejected because we fail the test. God calls us to a unity in diversity (1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Romans 12:3-8; Ephesians 4:11-16). This pictures the Christian church as different people coming together in one body, while retaining their identity. There is a real unity here: we all need each other and are not simply people who come together in a building once a week. But we are not the same, but each has their individual function. And we gain by being different. We complement each other.
But how do we get there? We need to trust God (Proverbs 3:5,6; Psalms 127:1,2; 37:3-6), and we must be willing to put others before ourselves (Philippians 2:3,4; Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:13,14). The first is really required for the second. For it is not till we trust God that we will be willing to reach out to others. For the simple fact is, if we reach out to others we will be hurt. It is always a gamble. It is safer to hide in our own little shell and never come out. This is also true for leaders. It is safer to try to press everyone into the same mold than to encourage them to give up their individualism while keeping their individuality. Even more difficult is knowing where to draw the lines. If we tolerate everything, it can become destructive. It is so much easier to draw the lines in close, where it is comfortable. But God requires us to take that risk. For it is only by taking that risk that we can become the church of God He designed us to be.
Jesus said that God wants those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23,24). What does this mean? In the Old Testament God very carefully outlined in great detail how He should be worshiped. He also punished those who deviated from this (Leviticus 10:1). But Jesus was saying that the old order in which every detail was prescribed was passing away (John 4:21,22; Colossians 2:16,17; Galatians 4:1-7). This fits with the New Testament, where broad principles are given, but there is no new list of requirements. But we still want to lay down absolute rules as to what can be done in terms of worship. We want to ignore the gift and fight over the nature of the wrappings.
We are to worship in spirit. One thing that is firmly condemned both in the Old and New Testaments is going through the outer motions of worship without the inward reality (Matthew 6:1-18; Malachi 1:10; Isaiah 58:3-12). Now the issue here is not the precise form of worship, but what is in the heart. It is easy to flatter ourselves that if we follow a particular mode of worship, this is proof against doing it by rote. The truth is, the basic issue is whether we mean it. And it is possible to go though the motions of any form of worship in order to please people or call attention to ourselves. We can also go through a wide range of outward forms and mean it. But we need to beware of beating up ourselves and others because we do not have some theoretical perfect attitude of worship (1 Corinthians 4:3-5; Romans 14:4; James 4:11,12). All of us are sinners who fall short of perfection (Philippians 3:12-16; Romans 7:14-25; Galatians 5:17). But there is a call here for basic sincerity.
We are to worship in truth. There is a requirement of basic conformity to Biblical teaching (Jude 3; Romans 16:17; John 17:17). There are certain truths that need to be upheld (Deuteronomy 13:1-3; 1 John 4:1-4; Galatians 1:8,9). But we can too easily sit in judgment and forget we do not have all the answers (1 Corinthians 3:18; 8:1-3; 13:9-12). However, the basic issue is content, not form. For example, there is a continual argument over the various types of music used in worship. But the real issue is what is said, not the form of music, which is nowhere mentioned in Scripture.
I would maintain that within these broad boundaries there is plenty of room for people to choose the forms that are meaningful to them. And to allow others to chose what is meaningful for them. I suggest that much of this is a matter of personality and background rather than principle. I have worshiped in the liturgical, charismatic, and baptistic modes and see valuable things in each. I think it is good to learn to appreciate other approaches to worship. And if we cannot really enter in, at least to respect them.
One has the picture of great centripetal roads coming from all directions, with well-disposed people, all meaning the same thing, and getting closer and closer together. How shockingly opposite to that is the Christian story! One people picked out of the whole earth; that people purged and proved again and again. Some are lost in the desert before they reach Palestine; some stay in Babylon; some becoming indifferent. The whole thing narrows and narrows until at last it comes down to a little point, small as the point of a spear - a Jewish girl at her prayers. That is what the whole of human nature has narrowed down to before the Incarnation takes place.
C. S. Lewis, 1898-1963, God in the Dock, The Grand Miracle, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1970, p. 84)
Is God selective? Is that a good thing? How should we look at it?
The argument from order has long been used as a defense of the Christian faith. It also has serious problems. So serious that some have been inclined not to use it. Part of the problem turns on what we mean by it.
One way to approach it is to see the universe as being designed for us. This runs right straight into the traditional problem of evil. If the universe is designed for us, why do so many bad things happen? Even the argument from size, which I generally consider a very weak one (Does something's importance depend on its size?) is relevant here. If God designed things for us, why so much empty space? There are things that can be said in answer here. We can say that this is a world in rebellion against God, resulting in the existence of evil. We can ask, with Philip Yancey, why there is pleasure and beauty in the world even when there does not obviously need to be. We can ask, with C. S. Lewis, where we get the idea of evil if there is no God to base it on. But all these are arguing points. It may be questioned whether we can make this into a powerful argument for God's existence. And there is a danger here of falling into an unrealistic sentimentalism that ignores all the bad things in the world and only sees the good. I can see how a person might weigh out the things in the world, the good and the bad, and still conclude there is an argument here for God's existence But it is not something to make a real skeptic pause.
There is, however, another argument from design that I believe has some real substance to it. That is the argument from complexity. This argument claims that this universe is too complex to be explained by pure chance. This has to be distinguished from another argument I believe has value, which is why something rather then nothing is here. The argument from complexity looks at how that something is organized and asks whether it looks like it could have come about by chance. It looks at the complexity of the living cell and asks whether it could have simply happened. It looks at the complexity of the physical laws and asks how they came about. It asks questions about irreducible complexity and fine tuning. In this effort, I find science is in many ways on our side. When it was thought the universe could be explained by simple substances acting according to simple laws, it made sense that the only thing God had to do, if anything, was to kick things off, and they would all continue automatically. But the universe is more complicated than that. And we have to ask, given that, whether the explanation of chance really works. I believe there is a worthwhile point to be made here if we can distinguish it from the first version of the argument.
It is easy to see the goal of the church organization as recruiting people to fill open positions. Often there is a desperate struggle to find someone to fill spots. This can result in a frustrated attitude on the part of the leadership. But there can also be frustration on the part of the people. The things they would like to do or are good at seem to be not needed or are minimized. Now we live in a fallen world. It is not surprising that things do not always work out the way we would like them to. But could there be a deeper problem?
Scripture says that the body of Christ is diverse people with diverse gifts, working in unity (1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Romans 12:3-8; Colossians 2:19). This results in people being built up in Christ (Ephesians 4:11-16; Colossians 1:28,29; Matthew 28:18-20). But it is easy to let the purpose become the perpetuation and growth of the organization. Or even the upholding of the authority of the leadership. Now it is appropriate for leadership to have authority, but that authority is for building up the congregation (1 Peter 5:1-4; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:12,13). But when it is turned the other way and the congregation is seen as having the purpose of exalting the leader, there is a problem.
However, there can be a reaction to this of individualism. We can see ourselves as carrying out our ministry on our own, apart from the rest of the body. We can also see our goal as developing our potential, without regard for others' needs. We should understand that we are part of a community (Hebrews 10:24,25; Philippians 2:1-4; 1 Peter 2:4,5).
That is why we need to think things through when it comes to filling slots in the organization. The most basic question is whether the slots should be filled or should be there at all. And there is also more involved here than just the heavy hand of tradition, though that can be a problem. The deeper question is whether this is building up the people or building up the organization. Now part of building people is inviting new people in. But there is a question of what we are inviting them in to. We need to ask what can best be done to encourage people to use the gifts and abilities they have. Now I think there is a place for a person to accept a job they are not particularly gifted in because that is needed. But we have to ask what we mean by needed. And the leaders have to consider what the people are capable and motivated to do. Now there are individualistic tangents that people need to be reined in on. But the issue needs to be the good of the people involved and not just what makes the organization run smoothly. For if our goal is to build people, the organization needs to serve them, not the other way around.
Eusebius was the first church historian whose work has been preserved. As such, he provides a valuable service. He preserves information on many individuals and events which we would otherwise know only limited amounts about. There are a number of other sources from the period that confirm at least the broad outline of what Eusebius writes, if not all the details. One could wish for an alternative narrative that we could compare it with and that would provide a wider view. He seems to emphasize the teachers of the Alexandrian school and says less about some of the others. But he provides us a service by preserving what he does.
The man himself was not extremely impressive. He was a supporter of Constantine and something of a sycophant. His history of Constantine passes over any questionable thing about him and only reproduces the good. (He fails to mention Constantine putting to death his oldest son on the charge, which some claim was trumped up, of the son committing adultery with his stepmother.) Eusebius tried to take a middle road in the dispute between Athanasius and Arius. He was more of a supporter of the party line, and his history may suffer because of it. While he is critical in places, he has a tendency to be laudatory, at least as regards the Christians. He is more of a work-a-day, though solid scholar, but as such he does put together a wealth of useful information. And shows that the studious scholar, without necessarily possessing deep insight, can accomplish things worthwhile for the kingdom of God. We do not necessarily have to be extraordinary to be used of God.
One of the most basic fears of modern times is that life has no meaning. Having lost the idea that there is a God who made the world and is concerned about us, we are frequently left with an idea of meaninglessness. We can feel we are merely white rats stuck in a maze or computer circuits in a large machine. And we can try to define ourselves or create meaning for ourselves. But this is a hopeless endeavor. We can no more define ourselves or create meaning for ourselves than we can pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps with no bootstraps. It all becomes a meaningless game. This fear is one that Christianity speaks to very directly. It says there is a God who loves us and sent His Son to save us (Romans 5:6-8; John 3:14-18; 1 John 4:9,10) if we put our faith in Him (Romans 4:4,5; Ephesians 2:8,9; Philippians 3:9). This results in God working in our lives to carry out His purposes in the world (Ephesians 2:10; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Colossians 1:28,29). This gives us a goal of doing good to others (Galatians 6:9,10; 1 John 4:11,12; Romans 13:8-10). God's saving grace has the ultimate goal of our being with God forever (John 10:27-30; 1 John 5:11-13, Romans 8:38,39). This gives meaning and context to our lives. But it is easy, even for those who have trusted Christ, to fall back into this fear of meaninglessness. So we need to remind ourselves of who we are and what our purpose is. We need to know what we believe and why we believe it. For we need to avoid falling into the void of meaninglessness that characterizes our culture.
There was a man who followed the wind. One day he came upon a large plain.And as he approached it, he saw a man on a strange contraption.It was a platform with wheels, and it had a mast on it with a large sail.
"What are you doing?" asked the man on the contraption.
"I am following the wind," returned the first man.
"You will never get anywhere that way, just on your two feet," remarked the sailor. "You need to harness the wind, then you can follow it with ease."
"How do I do that?"
"You need to fix the mast of faith to the platform of commitment and unfurl on it the sail of surrender. If you get these in the right amounts, they will cause the wind to carry you along."
The walking man was thinking about this when he met another sail platform. This one was very colorful and covered with lights and had a device on the mast that put out strange melodious sounds as the wind blew through it.
"To truly harness the wind," explained the sailor of the second craft, "you must obtain this device that produces the sounds of heaven."
The man walked on, considering this.
Then he saw a sail platform all draped in black. The sail was black, and the driver stood up against the mast with his arms stretched out to the side.
"What are you doing?" asked the walking man.
"I am crucifying myself with the King," replied the man. "If I put my inner self to death, I will be able to perfectly harness the wind."
As the walking man tried to figure this out, he came upon a man whose sail platform and clothes were totally white.
"What do you do to harness the wind?" asked the walking man, curious.
"To harness the wind, you must be perfect," returned the man in white.
"You mean you have no wrong desires?"
"I still have infirmities, but I am free from intentional sin."
As the man considered how he might make sense of this, he reached the hill on the other side of the plain. He looked back and saw the people on the sail platforms. They seemed to be going straight and had a hard time turning. And when the wind was not hitting their sails right, they slowed to a crawl. He had no idea what they would do when they hit rough country.
As he stood and stared, the wind seemed to speak to him. "I cannot be harnessed, I will not be tamed. You do not change Me, I will change you. Just follow Me." And the man left, following the wind.
Today is a national day of thanksgiving in the United States. And it brings up the question, can the two go together? Should a nation give thanks? Should we give thanks for our nation? And on the deeper level, is patriotism a good thing? Have not people done evil things in the name of their country? Is there a good type of patriotism that can be kept without endorsing the bad?
To separate the good from the bad, we must start by separating loving our country from necessarily endorsing its government's policies. I think we need to start, as G. K. Chesterton suggests, with the idea of the love of home. The place I grew up in, the place I belong. Chesterton makes this suggestion, not just with a nation, but with the world as a whole. It is the person who loves something, not just because it is good but because it is theirs, who will work to improve it. The person who sees a place with rose-colored glasses will leave it as it is. The person who sees it as messed up but is indifferent to its fate will leave it as it is. But the person who sees something realistically, with all its faults, and loves it anyway, that is the person who will work to improve it. That is how God deals with us (Romans 8:6-8; John 3:14-18; 1 John 4:9,10). And it is how we should deal with the world around us. We should see it as a world created by God, inhabited by people who are created by God (Acts 14:15-17; 17:24-28; Romans 1:19,20) and are presently in rebellion against Him (1 John 2:15-17; Romans 3:23; 1:18). And it is our job to love and reach out to that world of people (Romans 13:8-10; James 2:8; Galatians 6:9,10).
But there are certain people we have a special connection with and responsibility for And while we have a higher citizenship (Philippians 3:20,21; 1 Peter 2:11; Hebrews 11:13), we are to honor the authorities we are under (1 Peter 2:13-17; Romans 13:1-7; Matthew 22:15-22). It seems to me that within this context, the case for a reasoned love of country may be made. Not a blind patriotism that endorses everything without question. Certainly not one that cannot stand up, if it is required to, based on principle (Acts 4:19,20; 5:29; Daniel 3:17,18). Or one that, when required to, will not stand up and rebuke wrongdoing ( 1Kings 21:17-21; Amos 7:10-17; Matthew 14:3,4). But I also think there is value in loving a place that is home, with shared experiences and traditions, as long as this means working to make that place better rather than mindlessly accepting its policies. Therefore, I think it is appropriate for us to give thanks for our nation and to give thanks for its blessings. If it is seen in the right context.
If we find God's will for our life, will we be successful? I do not here necessarily mean successful as the world sees success. I do not necessarily mean we will have wealth, fame, and power. It is possible to look at success from a spiritual viewpoint. That we will have a congregation that is growing, a family that is living for Christ, a nice, relatively comfortable life full of friends, neighbors, and good times. I mean, does not the Bible say we will prosper (Joshua 1:7,8; Psalms 1:3; Isaiah 40:31) and be victorious (Romans 8:37; 2 Corinthians 2:14; 1 John 5:4)? This should not be taken simply financially (1 Timothy 6:6-10; Matthew 6:24; Colossians 3:5). But it must mean something.
I am convinced that prosperity and victory here are from God's perspective. That when we stand before Him we will be able to look back and see what the point of it all was. But we do not always see it at the present time. There was Elijah, through whom God worked impressive miracles, but the people refused to permanently change their ways. There was Jeremiah, who cried tears over Jerusalem, but his ministry could not bring the people to repent. We are called not to pass judgment on our labors, but simply to continue in faithfulness (1 Corinthians 4:1-5; Philippians 1:6; Romans 8:28-30). Now I am not intending to oppose intelligent taking stock of whether we are doing the right thing in the best way. But I am speaking against that persistent nagging doubt that stalks those whose life has not turned out as they hoped it would. And it is here we need to trust God, even if we do not know where our path is leading us (Proverbs 3:5,6; Psalms 127:1,2; 37:3-6).
When love and justice collide, the product is grace. And the place of this collision is the Cross. There is a fundamental problem here that needs to be solved. There needs to be a moral center to the universe. A basis for saying what is good and what bad. And for believing that good deserves to be rewarded and evil deserves to be punished. God is that moral center (Romans 2:16; Matthew 25:31-46; 1 Timothy 5:24,25). But justice without love is not truly good. It leads to a brittle and austere kind of morality that looks down with contempt on others. And if God had that kind of attitude we, being sinners (Romans 3:23; Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9), could not avoid ending up under certain judgment (Romans 6:23; Hebrews 9:27; Revelation 20:11-15).
But God, being love, was not willing to simply leave the situation that way, but sent His Son to save us (1 John 4:8-10; Romans 5:6-8; John 3:14-18). He did this by paying the price for our sins so we could be forgiven (Romans 3:24-32; 1 Peter 2:24,25; Colossians 2:13,14). This is important, because it upholds the principle of morality while pardoning the offender. And it manages to do both by being very specific in what it does. This will not work with just generalized benevolence. Either it will do too little, leaving severity with only a tinge of mercy. Or it can become simply indulgence, which does not uphold any moral principles.
But the concept of paying the price allows God to offer pardon freely, based on faith in Christ (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5; Philippians 3:9). However, it still can call us to a life of growth in following Christ (Titus 2:11-14; Philippians 3:12-16; Hebrews 12:1,2), without watering down the standard (Matthew 5:48; James 2:10; 4:17). Then it turns around and gives us the power to make that change (2 Corinthians 3:18; 2 Peter 1:3; Colossians 1:29), based on our response to His love for us (1 John 4:19; 2 Corinthians 5:14,15; Romans 12:1,2). It even makes faith possible by reaching out to us (John 6:44; Acts 16:14; 13:48), who would not, if left to ourselves, come to Him (Romans 3:11; 7:18; 8:8). This is grace (Romans 11:6; Galatians 2:21; Titus 3:5,6). It reaches out to sinful women (Luke 7:36-50; John 4:7-26), tax collectors (Matthew 9:9-13; Luke 19:1-10), dying thieves (Luke 23:39-43), and persecutors (1 Corinthians 15:9). It is the answer to the question of how sinners can be pardoned in a black-and-white universe. It is what we need.
And we, too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Clement of Rome, ?- 99 AD, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 32, (The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, Philip Schaff, Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2001, p. 23)
How important is it that our salvation is not based on us? How should it affect how we live?
There are those who say miracles must must be rejected because they do not fit our ordinary experience. They say extraordinary events require extraordinary proof. But does this hold up to examination? One factor to consider in examining an event is whether it fits in with our past experience. But to make this the only or chief criterion for evaluating things leads to serious problems long before you get to miracles. David Hume, who invented this test, admitted that by it the man who lived all his life in India (presumably southern India), would be justified in not believing in snow. A test that leads to a contrary-to-fact conclusion is clearly suspect. The truth is, there are many things that exist in the world which I have not personally seen. Should I reject them because I have not seen them? Now in modern times, one can try to get around this by referring to television or other media and claiming they can supply the place of actually being there. But I have seen Vulcans and Klingons on TV. I need something beyond merely seeing it on TV to evaluate if a thing is real.
There are also many events in history that are unbelievable by our normal experience. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 would have seemed nearly impossible to someone back in the 1960s. That an obscure German monk could start a Reformation that would break the power of the Roman Catholic Church seems incredible in retrospect. But it is in science that this idea meets its biggest check. Take the Theory of Relativity or Quantum Mechanics. That objects change in mass or in the rate at which time passes when they are in motion relative to each another does not fit my normal experience. Nor does the idea that something could be a wave and particle at the time or pass through any barrier that is less than infinite. But I do not feel justified in throwing out basic scientific theories based on this.
There is also the problem of how common miracles are. There are those who claim that miracles occur on a regular basis. I am myself somewhat cynical of this. I suspect that clear-cut miracles are somewhat rare but cannot completely be discounted. But I have known personally of events that are hard to explain naturalistically. Before you can judge whether miracles are common or rare, you have to decide what miracles you believe in. Now a person who desires miracles may see them when they do not happen, but a person who is adamant that they do not happen may refuse to recognize them when they do. I agree that we should require more proof for the unusual than the commonplace. But if we require the kind of extraordinary proof they are seeking before we believe it, we will never find that proof. However we must ask if, by putting the bar too high, we are not cutting ourselves off from reality.
It is common to ask, why do the righteous suffer? But the psalmist in psalm 73 struggles with a different problem. Why do the unrighteous get away with it? If we look at the evil things done in the world. At vicious dictators who amass large amounts of money in Swiss bank accounts while their people starve. At criminals who commit brutal crimes against innocent victims. It is easy to ask, why does God not strike them down with a lightning bolt? Now the simple answer is that God is gracious and has allowed them time to repent (Romans 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9; Luke 13:1-5). But underlying this is the idea that we are all sinners (Romans 3:23; Jeremiah 17:9; Isaiah 64:6) and are all in need of God's grace (Romans 3:24-31; Ephesians 2:8,9; Philippians 3:4-11). This is why Scripture forbids us to stand in judgment on ourselves and others (Luke 6:37; Romans 2:1; 1 Corinthians 4:3-5). Now it does call for loving correction where that is warranted (Galatians 6:1; Matthew 18:15-17; Jude 22,23). But we need to do this with the realization that we ourselves could not stand before God without His forgiveness. Now God will ultimately judge sin (Romans 2:16; Matthew 25:31-46; 1 Timothy 5:24,25). We may ask why God does not more quickly judge some people. I do not claim to know the answer. But we might also ask why He does not immediately judge us. The basic answer is that He is gracious.
A common complaint of church leaders is that the people are not committed. So they preach fervently about commitment. And nothing major seems to change. Now I am not not against preaching commitment; it is a genuine biblical theme (Romans 12:1,2; Galatians 5:16; Titus 2:11-14). Though I do believe that beating people over the head with the rules is counterproductive (Romans 5:20; Matthew 23:4; Galatians 3:21,22). But even apart from that, if it is not working, I have to ask if we are doing the wrong thing.
What do we mean by commitment? Too often we are thinking of commitment to an organization or a program rather than Christ. But the purpose of the church is to introduce people to Christ and build them up in Him (Matthew 28:18-20; Ephesians 4:11-16; Hebrews 10:24,25). The organization exists to facilitate this. We also may have a stereotype of a committed Christian that we expect people to live up to. This often involves ignoring the various gifts in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Romans 12:3-8; Colossians 2:19). And it is easy to question those whose gifts do not fit our expectations. Now we need to correct clear-cut sin (Galatians 6:1; Matthew 18:15-17; 2 Thessalonians 3:14,15), but we should be careful of judging others based on a perception of lack of commitment (James 4:11,12; Romans 14:4; 1 Corinthians 4:3-5).
Now in any congregation there are those who are not serious about following Christ. This is what sermons on commitment are for. But there are also those who are discouraged because they do not fit into a particular stereotype or program. And by forcing them into an agenda they cannot embrace, we discourage them from doing what God has planned for them. They should be told that God is at work in them to accomplish their particular purpose (Ephesians 2:10; 2 Corinthians 3:5,6; Colossians 1:28,29). But the main reason sermons on commitment bounce off the majority of the congregation is that they believe they already are committed. They believe if they are moral people who are involved in church work, they are committed. They need to be reminded that they are sinners (Romans 3:23; Jeremiah 17:9; Isaiah 64:6), saved by the grace of God (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5; Philippians 3:9). The result of this is that God is at work to change their lives (2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 3:12-16; Galatians 5:16,17). But this is a process, and they are not there yet. Commitment is frequently posed as a yes or no question. Therefore, if the individual does not have obvious spiritual problems, they are unwilling to admit that they are not committed. But if growth in God is seen as a process, we should never be satisfied with where we are, but press on to what we are becoming. Real commitment is to a process of change. Not to look for a fictitious plateau to stop at.
And do you be watchful and destroy not
your long discipline, but as though now making a beginning, zealously
preserve your determination. For ye know the treachery of the demons,
how fierce they are, but how little power they have. Wherefore fear
them not, but rather ever breathe Christ, and trust Him. Live as though
dying daily. (As quoted by Athanasius)
Anthony, 251-356 AD, Life of Anthony by Athanasius, 91 (edited by Archibald Robinson, Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, T & T Clarke and Wm. B Eerdmans Publishing, Second Series, Vol IV)
Is this the right way to look at demons? Why or why not?
Anthony was, by Athanasius' account of his life, not the first monk. But he was there at the beginning of the movement. And he used his prestige to help back up Athanasius in defense of the deity of Christ. Now the whole history of monasticism is hard to pin down. This is perhaps aided by the fact that it is a controversial subject, and those on both side would dispute the chronology to support their point of view. It probably started with those within the congregation who took vows of celibacy, poverty or both. This, as a choice, may be argued as not clearly contrary to Scriptural teaching (1 Corinthians 7:7-9; Matthew 19:10-12; Mark 10:21,22). Provided you do not try to impose it on others. But it is easy to slip from there to thinking you are better than other people because of that choice.
Anthony was one of the first, though probably not the very first, to push these things to a new level. He chose to leave all human society and live alone in a cave in the desert. This was his way of separating himself from the world. There were others who took up his example and also sought solitary places. Others, not quite ready to live in total isolation, formed groups that lived together in isolated places apart from normal human society. This kind of dedication impressed people and encouraged them to follow their example. Athanasius was sufficiently impressed by this and by Anthony personally to promote it. It may be that one reason people embraced this was in a reaction against the nominal Christianity produced by the actions of Constantine. Martyrdom was frequently not available, and people wanted something they could do to show the depths of their commitment.
Now being a monk did show dedication. And there were good things done by monks and nuns in caring for the sick, preaching the Bible, and other positive actions. There was also the danger of self-righteousness. It was easy to believe that yourself to be holier than others for making an impressive sacrifice. Even if it was not one God explicitly commanded. But there is a more important problem. This course tends to shield you from the corrupting influences of the world (Romans 12:1,2; 1 John 2:15-17; James 4:4). But it does so by separating you from other people, making it difficult to reach out to those in need (Galatians 6:9,10; Matthew 25:31-46; 1 Peter 3:15) . This act of consecration can, in some cases, produce people who are willing to reach out to others. But it can also result in an attitude of indifference to others in pursuit of your own personal holiness. Therefore, we need to beware of the attitude that we can follow Christ by doing something that involves hiding from all contact with others. And we should avoid applauding things that look impressive but are not what God commands. But should concentrate on the things that God does command.
It is easy for goodness to degenerate into a cliche.The goodness described in the fruit of the Spirit is a positive goodness. There are various words for good in Scripture. This word describes the goodness that gives good things to others. The example of this is God, who gives good things even to those who oppose Him (Matthew 5:44-48; 7:11; 20:15). It goes beyond kindness, which can be understood as being somewhat passive, to giving positive benefits. One who is good produces good things that benefit others (Luke 6:45; Acts 11:24, Galatians 6:10). It is frequently used of good things done for the poor or unfortunate (Acts 9:36; Luke 1:53; 2 Corinthians 9:8). There is an idea that the way to relate to people is to be kind and not interfere. It says the best thing you can do for people is leave them alone. I certainly have some of this idea. Goodness goes beyond this to ask how can I positively help people.
There is a cartoon in Charles Schultz's Peanuts where Lucy comes across Linus paging through a Bible. "What are you doing?" she asks. "Looking for a Bible verse to support my preconceived notions," he replies. Too often this can be our approach to Scripture. But God calls us to start with beliefs based on Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16,17; 2:15; John 17:17). This is difficult to do. We all have ideas that we have been raised with or taught that we find difficult to question. There are also the general assumptions of our culture that we find hard to put aside. But Christianity is meaningless if it has nothing in it to challenge our own presuppositions. However, to undertake this there are serious fears that need to be overcome.
1. There is the fear that it must be left in the hands of the experts. But the Bible was written by ordinary people for ordinary people. There are things in it that boggle the mind, but they boggle every mind. In my opinion, there are an excess of technical terms used by experts that could be dispensed with, and though some of these may still need to be understood, they do not require great expertise. It is not an impossible task.
2. There is the fear that if we examine our faith, we may lose it or at least end up with a set of beliefs no church organization will accept. This is a real fear. But I believe that God will stand up to examination and that it is worth it to know what the truth is. I know there is a danger in examining our faith. But an unexamined faith will always be superficial.
3. If we attempt to figure things out for ourselves, we might lose some cherished belief. I have faced this many times. Sometimes to have the belief confirmed. and other times to find it will not stand up to examination. But I would rather have God's truth than stay in my comfort zone.
4. We may worry that we will go off on tangents or get caught up in bizarre ideas. This again is a real danger. We need to consider the message of Scripture as a whole and not go off based on some detail. We need to be familiar with the teachings of others, not as an unquestionable authority, but as something to compare our views with. And sometimes we need to honestly ask whether we alone have all the answers.
Often the concern is not just for ourselves. If we are leaders, it can be fear for the people we lead. We may be afraid to encourage people to think for themselves for fear they will get the wrong answers. But an unexamined faith is often a faith which collapses when challenged. I therefore feel it is worth the risk to encourage people to think their faith through. And we need to trust God with the results (Proverbs 3:5,6; Psalms 127:1,2; 37:3-6).
All the glory that passes from fallen man to God, so as to be accepted of him, must go through the hands of the Lord Jesus, in whom alone it is that our persons and performances are, or can be, pleasing to God. Of his righteousness therefore we must make mention, even of his only, who, as he is the Mediator of all our prayers, so he is, and I believe will be to eternity; the Mediator of all our praises.
Mathew Henry, 1662 - 1714, Matthew Henry's Commentary, Romans 16:25-27, II, 2, (Fleming H. Revell Company, Vol. VI, p. 504)
What difference does it make that Christ is our mediator? What impact does it have on our life?
Sam Stout checked out his assault weapon carefully before flinging it over his shoulder. He also made sure his pistol was in his concealed holster in case he needed a back-up. He pinned his clan badge on his beret and prepared to go out. The USAPs were coming, and something had to be done about it.
No one knew precisely where the USAPs, United Society of Amalgamated People, (a loose translation of their own name for themselves) came from. The Travelers said they seemed to come from somewhere in the vicinity of Old Europe, but it was not clear where. But you had to be careful about believing the Travelers. Normal people did not travel much; it was too dangerous. Travelers made it a lifestyle by being well-armed and not carrying much of anything else worth stealing.
He stepped outside and made sure all the alarms and locks were in place. He did not want anyone trying to get to his family while he was gone.
It was ironic, Sam thought, that theirs was once the mightiest nation on earth. They had possessed weapons so powerful that no one dared invade them. Sam wondered where those weapons were now. But the stronger the nation grew, the more powerful the government became. Legend said you could not even build a house or start a business without wading through tons of red tape. Finally, all the common-sense people revolted and started a society based on the idea of the less government, the better. Some local rulers tried to keep some order, but it pretty much failed. Once the clans got started, they helped. It made a difference if people knew that if they attacked you, they faced a vendetta by the whole clan. But there was a period when life was very dangerous, though it was better now.
Sam walked warily past the barbed wire fence that marked the boundary of the Fox clan. They lived up to the reputation of their namesake from sneakiness. Now would not be a good time to fall into one of their traps. But Sam passed without incident.
For a while they had been safe from invasion. Maybe others remembered the old, powerful weapons. Maybe they just had their own problems. But now the USAPs had come. And they were everything the locals detested. They were rigid, disciplined, unquestioning followers of their leaders. They had not been observed to show any traits of individuality. And they seemed bent on expanding their territory and integrating everyone into their structure. Rumors had it that in those areas that had already been captured, you faced an ultimatum: fit into the USAP's system or die.
Sam approached the old meetinghouse that had become the gathering place for the clans. He saw people streaming in from every direction. They sported the badges of different clans and seemed to be mingling together randomly, ignoring all the protocols for a meeting of the clans. As they entered the meetinghouse they saw Tom Riley from the Eagle clan standing in the front.
"We all know the situation," began Tom. "We face the danger of being run down and then gobbled up by the USAP machine. Individual and clan efforts to stop them have proved ineffectual. To successfully oppose them we need to organize, perhaps even find the old weapons. Therefore, as distasteful as we may find it, we need to put our feelings aside and bite the bullet. We need to form a government."
They all looked around in horror, realizing that he was right.
One of the dangers of the Christian community is a tendency to enforce conformity. Church organizations can require uniformity on a large number of issues. Now Scripture does speak of unity (Ephesians 4:1-6; Philippians 2:1-4; Colossians 3:12-14). It also says there is a need to correct those who have violated that unity by their actions and beliefs (Galatians 1:6; 2 Timothy 2:24-26; Jude 22,23). However, it says that Christ's body is diverse, having many different types of members, all of which are important (1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Romans 12:3-5; Ephesians 4:14-16). Further, it says that there is room for disagreement on minor issues (Romans 14:1-12; 1 Corinthians 8:1-3; James 4:11-12). The picture we get is of a broad unity with a wide allowance within for diversity. This is not what I see in the Christian church today. I see churches divided based on spiritual gifts, methodologies, or even personalities. We have evangelistic churches and teaching churches. Emotional churches and unemotional churches. Formal churches and informal churches. And where these different types ought to be together, rubbing the rough edges off each other, they tend to gather with those of a similar mindset which will not challenge them. Now it might be said that it is dangerous to try to build a congregation which reflects this kind of diversity. It is easier and safer to produce conformity. This is true. But I believe real diversity is what God requires.
Some see one key source of theological belief as the agricultural cycle. This is connected to the idea of a living and dying god. This god is then seen as personifying the life and death of the crops. Jesus is therefore regarded as just one more example of this theme. How should this be looked at?
There is a worldwide idea of a god or hero who is involved in a battle with death. It is found in wildly different forms. It includes Orpheus, who tries to save his wife Eurydice and fails. Rama conquers, and his followers, who consist in talking monkeys, are resurrected. Balder is killed and comes back to life again. These seem to have nothing in common except the bare idea. There is also the very common idea of some kind of sacrifice, generally an animal, to pay for sin.
Now the Scripture says that God spoke to human beings from the very beginning. Therefore it is not surprising that the first events are found, in some form, in a number of cultures. But God also promised that there would be One who would be the seed of the woman, who would crush the head of Satan the bringer of death, but would do so by suffering a wound of being crushed on the heel (Genesis 3:15). There was also the early idea of the need of sacrifice (Genesis 4:3-5). I suspect there was more told to people than was actually recorded. We are not informed how they knew to bring an offering or the difference between clean and unclean animals (Genesis 7:2). But we have a broad picture of a god or hero of abnormal birth, who would at some cost to himself conquer death, and an idea of sacrifice. It is not surprising that this was connected to the harvest cycle. I am convinced that in the seasons God intended to offer a picture of death, burial, and resurrection. The cycle of Jewish festivals was based around the harvest cycle. Jesus was resurrected on the feast of firstfruits and is the firstfruits of those redeemed from death, and their salvation is the firstfruits of the future life (1 Corinthians 15:20-23; Romans 8:23; James 1:18).
But Jesus is more than just another clone of the corn king. He appears in the full light of history, not in some long ago and far away or even imagined country. He brings together the ideas of death, sacrifice, and resurrection by being the One who pays the price for sin so that we might live (1 Peter 2:24,25; Colossians 2:13-15; 2 Corinthians 5:21). He accomplishes this by being God who becomes Man to carry these things out (John 1:1-18; Philippians 2:5-11; Hebrews 2:9-18). He brings all the pieces together and makes them make sense. If the whole world is expecting the coming of the One who will conquer death, should we be surprised when He arrives?
(speaking in the person of His Abysmal Majesty Screwtape, who is instructing a younger tempter in Satan's employ.)
I have great hopes that we shall learn in due time how to emotionalise and mythologise their science to such an extent that what is, in effect, a belief in us (though not under that name) will creep in while the human mind remains closed to the belief in the Enemy. The 'Life Force', the worship of sex, and some aspects of Psychoanalysis, may here prove useful. If once we can produce our perfect work - the Materialist Magician, the man, not using, but veritably worshipping, what he vaguely calls 'Forces' while denying the existence of 'spirits' - then the end of the war will be in sight.
C. S. Lewis, 1898-1963, The Screwtape Letters, 7 (Harper-Collins, 1996, pp. 31-32)
Is such a materialist magician possible? How close are we to seeing one? What would the results look like?
There is a danger of Christians becoming paranoid of things demonic. This happened in the Late Medieval and Early Modern periods, resulting in the witch hunts. It seems to be happening again today. The problem is making Satan and his followers too strong and God too weak.
There are three views on the power of demons. One is that they have no power or do not exist. This is the traditional view of modern society, but we are drifting away from it. Many Christians buy into this view in some form. But this leads to complacency and ignores the Biblical warnings to be alert (Ephesians 6:10-13; 1 Peter 5:8,9; 2 Corinthians 11:2,3).
Or one can hold the Late Medieval view that sees demons as having great power to influence the world. They can change one thing into another and work serious harm, while God seems to be far off. This is contrary to the fact that Christ is victorious over evil (Colossians 2:15; 1 John 4:4; Luke 10:19). This leads to being afraid of demons and building conspiracy theories based on what they are doing. We see that same attitude at work today. If you want stir up a furor, suggest that something is connected to witchcraft or Satan worship. Now I do not want endorse these beliefs, but there are a large number of beliefs that are just as contrary to Christianity. And inventing vast conspiracies does not seem to be the right way to approach the issue. Nor is it helpful to become irate over things like Harry Potter or the Wizard of Oz. The truth is that the majority of books out there do not fit in with a Christian worldview. We need to learn to read all of them with our guard up. But to single out the ones that seem (often very questionably) to have some connection to witchcraft or Satanism is simplistic. Satan does not care who or what you worship as long as it is not God.
While Scripture does not teach the particulars, the view that makes the most sense to me is that of the early church fathers and the Early Middle Ages. This view is that demons have power, but it is limited. They do not really turn people into wolves or make them fly around on broomsticks, but put them into a trance where they think they have done such things. They do not really know the future, but there are a lot of them and they move about and communicate at high speeds, so they can make good guesses about what will happen. They cannot really make living things, but they can do some good sleight of hand that enables them to switch rods with snakes. But most of all, God is greater than they are and is in ultimate control of the world (Romans 8:28; Ephesians 1:11; Isaiah 43:13). It is only as we have God in perspective that we can avoid blowing demons out of proportion.
What do we do if we have encountered what we believe is demonic influence in our lives or the lives of others? How do we deal with it? We should use prayer (Mark 9:28,29; Ephesians 6:18; Philippians 4:6,7). (The presence of fasting is a textual issue, but this does seem to be a proper approach to serious prayer.) We can use the Scriptures (Matthew 4:1-11; Ephesians 6:17; Psalms 119:11). There also seems to some value in the act of worship (1 Samuel 16:23) (I would suspect that it is this, rather than just music, that is in view here). And if you feel certain there is something demonic involved, there is a place for the direct rebuke (Mark 1:25-27; Acts 16:18; Luke 4:41).
But none of these should be seen as magic talismans, like waving a cross in front of a vampire. They must be used with faith (Ephesians 6:16; Mark 9:23,24; Proverbs 3:5,6) and humility (1 Peter 5:6-9; James 4:6-10; Luke 10:17-20). And this must be rooted in our knowledge of Christ, that He is victorious (Colossians 2:15; 1 John 4:4; Romans 16:20). There is an example in Scripture of what happens to those who try using these things merely as a form (Acts 19:11-16). It should also be noted that, except for the direct rebuke, these are the same remedies that should be applied to the problem even if there is no demonic influence involved. Which is why I think that, unless it is really clear, we should start by dealing with the problem and confront the demonic aspect only as it becomes evident.
"God is love" is clearly found in Scripture (1 John 4:7,8). But what does it mean? Love is something highly valued but variously defined. As C. S. Lewis points out in The Problem of Pain, often what we want in the love of God is a vague benevolence. A love that will simply let us do what we want and never call us to account for it. But as Lewis explains, this is actually a fairly weak form of love. The love of God is pictured as that of a father to a child (John 1:12,13; Romans 8:14-17; 1 John 3:1) or of a groom for his bride (Ephesians 5:22-33; 2 Corinthians 11:1-3; Revelation 19:7,8).
Now the love of God is unconditional; He loved us when we were His enemies (Romans 5:6-8; John 3:14-18; 1 John 4:9,10). He loves us though we are sinners whose righteousnesses are as filthy rags before Him (Isaiah 64:6, Romans 3:23; Jeremiah 17:9). And He offers salvation as a free gift in Jesus Christ, if we are willing to put our faith in His promises (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5, Philippians 3:9), not based on anything we do to earn it (Titus 3:5,6; Romans 3:19,20; Galatians 3:10-14). But in that love is the desire to change us into what we should be (Titus 2:11-14; Ephesians 2:10; Philippians 2:13), to transform us into the image of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18; Romans 8:28-30; 1 John 3:2,3). Now this change is a response to God's love for us (1 John 4:19; 2 Corinthians 5:14,15; Romans 12:1,2). Nonetheless, it is the response God is working to produce in the lives of those who put their faith in Christ.
The father may love and even sacrifice for the child, even though that child is misbehaving. So may the husband, the wife. But love cannot simply be satisfied with this situation. It is a very nominal love that says, "Fine, live that way" and means it. Now there can be someone who, in the name of love, is so overzealous they drive people away. But I do not see indifference as being the result of a deep love. Serious love must care. That is why I do not have a great problem reconciling God's love and God's justice. I do not believe God can love people and simply stand by and allow them to be mistreated without judging. Or even allow them to go down paths that will ultimately be damaging to them. However, that same love also holds back judgment to allow space for repentance (2 Peter 3:9; Romans 2:4; Proverbs 28:13). But God loves us too much to simply leave us alone to follow our own desires.
And on the other hand it was not his own death but that of men the Saviour came to fulfill. Therefore he did not lay aside the body by his own death - for he had none since he was life - but he accepted the death imposed by men in order to destroy it completely when it came to his own body.
Athanasius, 293-373 AD, De Incarnatione, 22 (translated by Robert W. Thomson, Contra Gentes and De Incarnatione, Oxford on the Clarendon Press, 1971, p. 189)
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.
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).
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?
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.
We live in an apocalyptic age. We live in fear of the end of the world. Whether it's nuclear holocaust or environmental catastrophe. Not to mention the year 2000 bug and the end of the Mayan calendar. Christians, in disobedience to the clear teaching of Scripture (Matthew 24:36-51; Acts 1:7; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3), have often jumped on this same bandwagon, to the discredit of Christian faith. Now Christianity does have the ultimate answer to this fear, that Christ will one day come and remake us and the world we are in (Romans 8:19-23; Philippians 3:20,21; 1 Corinthians 15:50-58). But we are clearly told we do not know the time. And false predictions undermine rather than help our position. We should have hope, based on what Christ has promised us (Romans 8:24,25; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Titus 2:11-14). But we must avoid letting ourselves so fall into the modern apocalyptic thought pattern that we see this only as an escape from the present crisis, rather than a confidence that can, if necessary, lead us through life even if Christ tarries.