Saturday, July 30, 2016

Old Erich Proverb - Height

The height of power is a dangerous place to fall from.

Friday, July 29, 2016

A Voice from the Past - Anselm

For we affirm that the Divine nature is beyond doubt impassible, and that God cannot at all be brought down from his exaltation, nor toil in anything which he wishes to effect. But we say that the Lord Jesus Christ is very God and very man, one person in two natures, and two natures in one person. When, therefore, we speak of God as enduring any humiliation or infirmity, we do not refer to the majesty of that nature, which cannot suffer; but to the feebleness of the human constitution which he assumed. And so there remains no ground of objection against our faith. For in this way we intend no debasement of the Divine nature, but we teach that one person is both Divine and human. In the incarnation of God there is no lowering of the Deity; but the nature of man we believe to be exalted.

Anselm, 1033-11000, Cur Deus Homo, Book I, Chapter VII, (translated by Sidney Norton Dean, Proslogium, Monologium, An Appendix on Behalf of the Fool by Gaunilon and Cur Deus Homo, The Open Court Publishing Company, 1926, p.123)

What does it mean for Jesus to be both God and man? What can we understand about what such a situation would be like?

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Innocent III - The Height of Papal Power

From the perspective of worldly power, Innocent III was the most successful of the popes. He was a sincere and competent individual, but he shows that these traits can be very dangerous when used in the wrong way. He held to the absolute authority and infallibility of the pope, giving him unquestioned rule over all ecclesiastical and civil powers.

He increased the pope's power over the areas of Italy surrounding Rome and worked to humble kings, using political maneuvering and the interdict (denying to nations the priestly services until their rulers submitted). When John Lackland of England tried to force his own choice for archbishop of Canterbury over the one elected by the local church leaders, Innocent annulled both choices and put in his own candidate. The pope was no longer defending the local church leaders against political encroachment, but was imposing his will on everybody. Later, after John submitted to Innocent but the barons rebelled against John, forcing on him the Magna Carta, Innocent absolved John from having to obey it. Thus Innocent defended absolute rule over the attempt to deal with genuine grievances. Also, when the fourth crusade took Constantinople, Innocent, while initially deploring the act, ended up endorsing it in the hopes of reuniting the eastern and western churches. But in the long run, it ended up greatly alienating the eastern church.

The Albigensians, who were mainly Mancheans who believed there were two Gods, a good and an evil God, but who may have included other elements in rebellion against the established church, were multiplying in areas of France. When efforts at persuasion failed, Innocent called a crusade against those areas affected. He also created the Inquisition to deal with heresy in a systematic way. While the Medieval justice system was not very just at any time, including trial by ordeal and by combat, it was arbitrary to the advantage of either side in the dispute. But the Inquisition was clearly on the side of the accuser, allowing anonymous accusations and examination by torture, procedures taken up by other courts. Innocent also officially affirmed transubstantiation as the required belief, that Christ was physically present in the Lord's Supper, making reconciliation with some of the rebel groups more difficult. He also approved the creation of the Franciscan and Dominican orders (of which I will have more to say in a later post), which became very useful to the papacy.

All this use of strong-arm tactics created a reaction which other, less powerful popes had trouble standing against. The use by the pope of political clout made people cynical of the spiritual pretensions of the office. Also, while Innocent tried to correct some of the clerical abuses common in his time, setting the pope above question helped lay the foundation for future abuses and made them difficult to cure. And the attempt to suppress all rebellion against the papacy failed in the long run. The attempt to solve spiritual problems with political power ultimately proved futile. And it still is.                  

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

I Can Do It Better Myself

I can do it myself, can’t I? Surely I don’t need other people and other people’s help? I mean, I realize I need God; that is a given. But after admitting that, do I really need other people? While we may not be willing to express it or even admit it to ourselves, I believe that many of us, deep down, have this attitude. I know I do.  And we say that we are the only ones who can really do this right. And we cannot really trust anybody but ourselves. And we end up like Moses, wearing ourselves out because we are not willing to delegate and not willing to admit we need help (Exodus 18:13-27). This can end up being hard on ourselves and hard on others. How do we avoid this trap?

We need to realize, first of all, that the root of this is pride. And pride is something that can be highly destructive (Proverbs 16:18; Romans 12:3; Philippians 2:5-11). We need to realize that we do not have all the answers and all the abilities. In line with that, we need to recognize that God has made us part of a body and we are required, as part of that body, to work together to accomplish His purposes (1 Corinthians 12:14-27; Romans 12:4-8; 1 Peter 4:10,11). If there is any question that the idea we should go it alone is something other than conceit, this is the answer. God means us to work together to do His work. Now let us be honest, sometimes God’s people are not all that easy to work with. But we need to realize that we too are imperfect and we need to help each other along (Hebrews 12:12,13; Colossians 3:12-14; 1 Peter 4:8). 

Part of the problem here is a distorted idea of leadership. Scripture makes it clear that leadership is necessary (Hebrews 13:17; Titus 1:5; 1 Timothy 5:17-20). But the purpose of leaders is not to do everything themselves, but to build up others to work together as Christ’s body (Ephesians 4:11-16; 1 Peter 5:1-4; Acts  20:26-32). This can sometimes be difficult, to allow other people to do things. It is risky; they might fail. But sometimes that is what needs to happen to help people  grow. A good example of this is John Mark, who failed, but Barnabas gave him a second chance and he ended up writing a gospel (Acts 13:13; 15:36-41; 2 Timothy 4:11). 

But most of all, we need to remember what our purpose is. Our purpose is not to build the most efficient organization but to build people, to make  disciples (Matthew 28:18-20; Colossians 1:28,29; Titus 2:14). Therefore, even if we can do something better ourselves, by doing it that way we may be frustrating our real purpose. And ultimately, we need to trust God to accomplish His plan, even if we are not personally involved (Matthew 16:18; Psalms 127:1,2; 1 Corinthians 3:6,7).

Monday, July 25, 2016

A Touch of Humor - Turnabout

Is this country in a state of spiritual weakness? What can be done about it?

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Old Erich Proverb - Pretense

God wants our willing obedience, not our grudging pretense of devotion.

Friday, July 22, 2016

A Voice from the Past - Augustine

For no fruit is good that does not grow from the root of love. If, however, that faith be present which worketh by love, then one  begins to delight in the law of God after the inward man, and this delight is the work of the spirit, not of the letter; even though there is another law in our members still warring against the law of the mind, until the old state is changed, and passes into that newness which increases from day to day in the inward man, whilst the grace of God is liberating us from the body of this death through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Augustine of Hippo, 354 - 430 AD, On the Spirit and the Letter, Chapter 26 (translated by Peter Holmes, Rev. Robert Ernest Wallis, and Benjamin B. Warfield, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Philip Schaff, T & T Clark and Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1997, First Series, Vol. V, p. 94).

Is a good work only a good work if motivated by love? What are the implications of this?

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Whence Morals?

Outside of the teaching of the Word of God there are only two arguments for the sinfulness of human beings. All of human history and all of human experience. We try frequently to evade this conclusion by grading on a curve. But God does not grade this way (Romans 3:23; Matthew 5:48; James 2:10). However, there is a deeper question here: why is it we as human beings fall short of God’s standard? But more than that, we even fall short of our own standards. What person who has more than a rudimentary idea of right and wrong can say they honestly consistently live up to it? So what are the possible explanations for this?   

We can say that this is just the way it is. Human beings are just more developed animals, with a veneer of civilization. We really cannot expect any more from them. Which makes our situation hopeless. And leaves us with the question of where we ever got this strange idea of moral standards anyway. Do animals evolve standards of behavior that are totally contrary to their nature? Or we can put our trust in progress; if we just have enough education, enough science, enough time, we will overcome our problems. The problem with this is it has been the philosophy of western civilization for some time now. And it has failed miserably. Instead of a culture steadily ripening toward perfection we have experienced two world wars, the cold war, the killing fields, Nazism, Communism, the atom bomb, chemical and biological warfare, and many other major setbacks. The last century was quite possibly the bloodiest one in the whole history of the human race. Or maybe if we just try and work harder at it we can change things. But we always seem to fail.

The Christian answer is that we live in a world in rebellion against God (Romans 3:10-12; Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9). Now I realize that this raises the question of whether it is fair for me to be responsible for something that is the result of the sin of another (Romans 5:12, Genesis 3:1-7). I do not know of an easy answer to that one. I am not sure God’s justice always fits our ideas of fairness. But it is this situation that makes a solution possible. It is because we live in a world in rebellion against God that God can intervene and offer salvation. Jesus Christ, the One who is without sin, can offer Himself to pay the price for our sins (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 1:18-21; Hebrews 2:14-18) and can undo what was done in Adam (Romans 5:15-20). Therefore, we can be saved through faith in Him (Romans 4:4,5; Ephesians 2:8,9; Acts 16:31) and can wait for a time when God will change this world from its present condition to one in conformity to His will (Romans 8:19-23; Philippians 3:20,21; Revelation 21:3,4). For only in Christ do we find a real solution to the problem.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Led Into Difficulty

God can discipline, but He also can lead people into a difficult situation. We see this happening with Moses and the Israelites (Exodus 14). God had just delivered them from Egyptian bondage. But the Egyptians were pursuing them to recapture them. And God led them to a place where they were trapped between the Egyptians and the Red Sea. They were following where God led them, and it looked like an impossible trap. We see a similar event in the life of Christ (Matthew 8:18-27). Jesus gave the disciples orders to cross over to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. And while Jesus was sleeping, a storm came up strong enough to cause  veteran fisherman to fear for their lives.  What should we make of this?

There is a tendency to believe that if someone is undergoing difficult circumstances it must be because they have done something wrong. There is a real Biblical basis for believing that God does use circumstances to correct people (Hebrews 12:4-11; 1 Corinthians 11:29-32; 1 Kings 8:31-53). But there are also clear passages of Scripture that repudiate the idea that this is a universal explanation of all suffering (Job 1,2; John 9:1-3; Isaiah 53). We are given the idea that those who follow God should expect trouble (John 16:33; 2 Corinthians 4:16-18; James 1:2-4) and even persecution (2 Timothy 3:12; 1 Peter 4:12,13; Matthew 5:11,12). Why does God allow this? I do not claim to have easy answers or ones that explain every case in detail. But the basic idea is that God’s goal is not to make us happy but to teach us to trust Him, even in difficult circumstances (Proverbs 3:5,6; Psalms 37:3-6; Hebrews 11:13-16). The result is that the struggles we go through help us to grow in Christ and become the people He wants us to be (Romans 8:28-30; 5:3-5; 1 Peter 1:6-9).

Now the Israelites who followed Moses experienced clear deliverance when God split the Red Sea. The disciples of Jesus also experienced such a deliverance when Jesus calmed the sea. But Abraham died never possessing the land he was promised or seeing his descendants become a great nation. Elijah was taken up into heaven when Ahab and Jezebel were still reigning and Israel was still worshiping Baal. Jeremiah died with Judah having gone into captivity and the last remnant in the land going down into Egypt. So what we need to remember is that God is able to deliver us from whatever situation we find ourselves in (Luke 1:37; Matthew 19:26; Jeremiah 32:17). But God acts according to His will, and why He does particular things may be beyond our understanding (Romans 11:33-36; Isaiah 55:8,9; Ephesians 1:11). However, we need to trust Him even if things do not go the way we think they ought to (Isaiah 40:31; Psalms 127:1,2; Hebrews 11:6).