Tuesday, September 30, 2014

God Is Good

God is good (James 1:17; Lamentations 3:25,26; Psalms 25:5-7). But He is not necessarily nice. Niceness is the idea that we should try to please everyone. And those who try it tend to end up not really able to please anyone. Goodness, rather, is a strong thing that is concerned about people's welfare and not just what they want. And herein lies the problem; we do not always agree on what is good for us. Now the Bible does say that God does good things for everyone, even for those who oppose Him (Acts 14:15-17; Matthew 5:45; Jonah 4:2). But this is not the same as conforming to their every wish. In fact, it is meant to bring us to repentance, that we might turn to God (Romans 2:4,5; Acts 17:26-31; Psalms 19:1-6).

Goodness is not a negative or a passive thing, but a positive, active one. Goodness, I am convinced, is too often portrayed as something that stands by, helplessly wringing its hands at the evil in the world. God in the Bible is rather portrayed as One who was willing to humble Himself and suffer to conquer sin and death and hell (Philippians 2:5-11; Hebrews 2:9-18; John 1:1-18). Goodness stands up for and works to accomplish what is right. But it does not do so by simply trampling over those who it is claiming to help. It rebukes the religious establishment for its hypocrisy (Matthew 23:23-28; 6:1-18; 15:3-9).  But reaches out to the social outcasts who needed God's grace and forgiveness (Luke 19:1-10; 7:36-50; John 4:7-26). This is not based on the naive idea that the world is really a nice place if we could only see it. It is rather based on the idea that this world is a nasty place that needs to be redeemed (Romans 8:19-23; John 16:33; 1 John 2:15-17). And that the people who are in it are not nice people but sinners that need to be saved (Romans 3:23; Jeremiah 17:9; Isaiah 64:6). But in the midst of this, Christ and those who put their faith in Him will ultimately be victorious (Colossians 2:15; Romans 8:37; 2 Corinthians 2:14). And this will, over time, be gradually worked out in our lives (2 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 2:10; Galatians 5:16,17). But it helps in this to see goodness as a positive thing, a thing that reaches out to help and rescue. A hardheaded goodness that see the world as it really is and reaches out to change it.    

Monday, September 29, 2014

A Touch of Humor - Holiday Season

Can we let our concern over the commercialism of the holiday season rob us of the joy of the season? How can we put this in perspective?

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Old Erich Proverb

The gospel plus something equals something different than the gospel.

Friday, September 26, 2014

A Voice from the Past - Constantine

The great majority, however, in their folly, ascribe the regulation of the universe to nature, while some imagine fate, or accident, to be the cause. With regard to those who attribute the control of all things to fate, they know not that in using this term they utter a mere word, but designate no active power, nor anything which has real and substantial existence. For what can this fate be, considered in itself, if nature be the first cause of all things? Or what shall we suppose nature itself to be, if the law of fate be inviolable? Indeed, the very assertion that there is a law of fate implies that such law is the work of a legislator: if, therefore, fate itself be a law, it must be a law devised by God.

Constantine the Great 260-337 AD, (as transcribed by Eusebius, 263-339 AD), The Oration of the Emperor Constantine, Chapter IV,  (translated by Ernest Cushing Richardson, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, T & T Clark and Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1996, Second Series, Vol. 1) (This speech comes down to us by way of Eusebius and it is difficult to know how close these are to Constantine's exact words.)

Can fate be seen as an adequate explanation for the existence of all things? Can there be an initial basis for how things work that exists of itself without God for a cause?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Constantine - The Watershed

There are occasions when history hits a watershed that fundamentally changes things. Often this takes on a life of its own and goes beyond the influence of the people who started it. One such event was the adoption of Christianity by the Emperor Constantine. This led to its being tolerated and advocated and, in the long run, becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire. Constantine, as the architect of this, has been both greatly lauded and greatly vilified. But what was his real contribution?

There are those who claim he helped decide the contents of the New Testament. But those contents were repeatedly referred to and copied before Constantine. There was some doubt around the edges, but the basic substance was not in doubt. Nor does it seem credible that the Christian faith would have existed for 200 years with no concept of what its foundational writings were. Now there was a council after Constantine's time that made the list official and ruled on the questionable books in the margins, but it was not working in a vacuum. Nor did Constantine originate the idea that Jesus was God. This comes from earlier times and was a belief of Christianity noted even by the pagan observers. In the controversy over this, Constantine seemed indifferent and just wanted both sides to get along. His son Constantius was totally hostile to the idea and tried unsuccessfully to stamp it out. 

It is hard to be dogmatic about what Constantine himself believed, because what we have from him was passed down through others. But there is a sermon of his recorded by Eusebius that is instructive. It  emphasizes belief in one God and a strong ethical standard. He does speak of Christ: His life,  His death and resurrection, but my perception is that this is not the main point. I am convinced that the conversion of the Roman Empire was very much of a foxhole conversion. Constantine was looking for something to hold the then deteriorating Roman cultural fabric together and decided on Christianity. I do not believe the decision was arbitrary, but was probably rooted in the stability of Christianity even under persecution. However, it did not necessarily represent a deep understanding of Christian teaching. The main thing Constantine contributed was to make the transition. But this had a considerable effect on the Christian church and society. Christianity became identified with the Roman authority and became respectable. This enabled it to have a period of peace to spread its message and work out its theology. But it was at the price of entanglement with the world and of acquiring members who joined because it was the respectable thing to do or in order to please the emperor. This resulted in a more worldly church, though there were many who fought against this. It also resulted in a nominally Christian society that used Christianity for its political purposes. And Constantine was the catalyst for bringing this about. But his direct personal contribution to it was more minor.  

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Kindling Kindness

Kindness is associated with being tenderhearted, forbearing, and forgiving (Ephesians 4:31,32; Colossians 3:12; 1 Corinthians 13:4). It is related to long-suffering, but it is not quite the same thing. Long-suffering is more the negative, the bearing with others. Kindness is more the positive, being concerned about those in need. Long-suffering is more of an encounter of equals, letting go of the daily rubs that come from being human. Kindness looks to those struggling and in need and seeks to help. It is the attitude God has toward us as sinners in need of rescue (Titus 3:4; Romans 2:4; Isaiah 54:8). It is, I fear, a fruit that can be somewhat rare in the modern American church. We have, I fear, too often adopted the ethic of the stoics, with its hard imperviousness. We can, in many cases, maintain an attitude of restraint, of some degree of long-suffering. But we can lack real kindness for those who fall, even though we are told to act to restore them (Galatians 6:1; Hebrews 12:12,13; 2 Timothy 2:24-26). In this it helps to remember that we ourselves are sinners who require kindness (Romans 7:18,19; Philippians 3:12-16; Galatians 5:17). Now there is a danger here, as with other fruits of the spirit (for example, self-control), of taking it in isolation and pushing it to the extreme. The result can be a refusal to correct sinful behavior. But we must not let fear of the extreme discourage us from trusting the Holy Spirit to cultivate in us the fruit of kindness (2 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 2:10; Philippians 2:13).  

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Spiritual Exercises

There are many spiritual exercises recommended to help us in our walk with Christ. These are often valuable. But there is also a danger involved. It is easy for things that are done on a habitual basis to become a matter of course, and through that, a rote routine, Now it does say in Scripture that there is a place for spiritual discipline and exercise (1 Timothy 4:7,8; Hebrews 5:14; 1 Corinthians 9:25-27). But it also speaks against a superficial, external practice of such exercises (Matthew 6:1-18; John 4:23,24; Malachi 1:10). It  is important for us to find our way between the extremes. In this it does not matter if we are involved in corporate worship or individual  worship. I am convinced that our gatherings for corporate worship are the practice sessions for the game of life. It is there we come to be instructed and encouraged by each other to face the rest of life (Hebrews 10:24,25; 12:12,13; Colossians 2:19). But we need to put these exercises in proper perspective.

One of the most important things involved is attitude. We need to remember God's love for us in sending His Son to pay the price for our sins (John 3:14-18; Romans 5:6-8; 1 John  4:9-10). It is based on this that we come to love God (1 John 4:19; 2 Corinthians 5:14,15; Matthew 22:36-40) and to desire to know Him (Jeremiah 9:23,24; John 17:3: Matthew 11:27). And from that we come to trust Him (Psalms 127:1,2; 37:3-6; Proverbs 3:5,6) as He works in us to transform us (2 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 2:10; Titus 2:11-14). This results in our loving others as an overflow of our love for God (Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:13,14; 1 John 4:20,21). Now if we see certain spiritual exercises as a way to learn to love and know God and from that to love others, rather than having just an attitude of duties to be performed or a checklist to run through, it makes a difference.

But this is always a struggle. There is always a danger of slipping back into simple routine. In this I believe God often honors our efforts in ways that are beyond what our efforts deserve (Acts 12:1-17; Ephesians 3:20,21; Mark 9:24). But I also believe we need to pursue genuinely loving and knowing God and not just go through a form (Philippians 3:12-16; Hebrews 12:1,2; Romans 12:1,2). For God sees beyond the outward appearance; He sees the heart (1 Samuel 16:7; Romans 2:16; Matthew 23:23-28).

Monday, September 22, 2014

A Touch of Humor - Last Request

How can we avoid using the work of God as a steppingstone for our own advancement? How would these two motivations for working for God look different in practice?

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Old Erich Proverb - Wool

God is not a man, that we can pull the wool over His eyes regarding our spiritual state.

Friday, September 19, 2014

A Voice from the Past - Anselm

It seems to me that the mystery of so sublime a subject transcends all the vision of the human intellect. And for that reason I think it best to refrain from the attempt to explain how this thing is. For it is my opinion that one who is investigating an incomprehensible object ought to be satisfied if this reasoning shall have brought him far enough to recognise that this object most certainly exists; nor ought assured belief to be the less readily given to these truths which are declared to be such by cogent proofs, and without the contradiction of any other reason, if, because of the incomprehensibility of their own natural sublimity, they do not admit of explanation.

Anselm, 1033-1109, Monologium, Chapter 64 (translated by Sidney Norton Dean, Proslogium; Monologium; An Addendix in Behalf of the Fool by Gaunilon and Cur Deus Homo, Open Court Publishing Company, 1926, p. 89)

Is this the correct approach to these things? Where should we conclude we can not figure something out but should still accept it.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Priest's Dilemma

Bacchus, High Priest of Gaia, gazed out from his sacred grove to the steel towers beyond and shook his head. He wondered why so few took the state religion seriously. They showed up for the feasts and did some basic duties like recycling. But then went on their way, ignoring Gaia, the embodiment of the Earth. There were always the few serious, who left the cities to live in nature. But most of the people went back to their mechanized world, little moved to change.

Apollo, his assistant, came up to him."I have heard there are Christians infiltrating," he stammered.

"I need proof and names," said Bacchus firmly.

"But I also heard about some sort of treachery within the priesthood," said Apollo undeterred

"I cannot act on rumors," said Bacchus firmly. "Get me facts."

Then came Thor, a new member of the priesthood. "We are ready for the blessing of the new generator in B-12 sector," he remarked with distaste.

"You do not approve?" replied Bacchus.

"I wonder, if these generators failed, whether people would leave those sterile halls and return to the bosom of Gaia. It is the machines that separate them from true communion with nature."

"An interesting thought. But more likely it would lead to violence and destruction."

"Violence is not necessarily a bad thing. Survival of the fittest is a principle of nature."

"The way of peace is the way of Gaia," stated Bacchus firmly. But Thor walked away, not looking particularly convinced.

Bacchus walked over to Richard, the city manager."Ready for the blessing of the generator tomorrow?" asked Bacchus.

"Everything is prepared," replied Richard.

"I had an interesting conversation with one of my priests. He claimed violence is the way of nature. But the standards say the way of nature is peace."

"The problem with nature is it has so many contrary things in it. It is almost like you need something outside of nature to judge it by."

"You watch that," said Bacchus sternly. "If you are not careful, you will fall into heresy."

"It sounds like your priest is in the same danger," replied Richard. "I would watch him carefully if I were you. If he starts down that path, who knows where he will end up."

Bacchus headed toward home, that thought spinning in his head.

The next morning, as he approached the generator room, an enforcer ran out to meet him."Don't go in yet," the enforcer blurted out.

In a few minutes the enforcer sergeant waved him in. "Good thing you called us," remarked the sergeant. "This could have been a real disaster."

He came in to see Thor sitting in the corner in restraints, glowering at them.  "He was planting an energy feedback bomb," continued the sergeant. "When the generator was turned on, it would have blown. It would have created a feedback wave that took out all the generators in the area, probably the whole city. Who knows when they would have been repaired? Good thing you warned us to keep an eye on him."

"It is the only way," interrupted Thor. "It is only if the machines are destroyed that people will return to living in nature like they should,."

As Bacchus walked away, Apollo came running up to him. "I have the facts you wanted," Apollo proclaimed. "I have a list of people who are secretly Christians. And the ringleader is City Manager Richard."

"Looks like we will have two arrests today," remarked the sergeant.

Bacchus walked away, shaking his head, not sure what to think.    

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Restoring The Brother

One of the goals in dealing with those we conclude we must confront due to sinful behavior is restoration (Galatians 6:1; Hebrews 12:12,13; 2 Corinthians 2:5-11). But often this is not seen as the goal. The goal may be simply to condemn them and drive them away. Now we need to realize that not not everyone will be willing to be restored. But we need to instruct and correct them with that in mind. The issue involved is a genuine love and concern for the person involved (John 13:34;35; 1 John 3:14-16; 2 Timothy 2:24-26). And we need to be willing to forgive (Ephesians 4:31,32; Colossians 3:12-14; Matthew 18:21-35). Now there is a danger of a glib false repentance. But while I believe we do need to take this into consideration, we must beware of putting self-protection over love of the brethren. And God demands we make every effort to restore the erring brother. To do so we need to remember that we are ourselves sinners (Romans 3:23; Jeremiah 17:9; Isaiah 64:6) and should not be sitting in judgment on others (Romans 2:1; 14:4; James 4:11,12). Our goal needs to be to help put that person back on the right path, not kick them to the curb.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Holy, Holy, Holy

Sometimes the most intimidating thing about God is His holiness and justice (Isaiah 6:1-3; 1 Peter 1:14-16; Romans 1:18). Being confronted with God's majesty and holiness can bring a person to their knees (Isaiah 6:4,5; Luke 5:8; Revelation 1:17). But the alternative to a holy God is a universe with no basis for moral right. A universe where the strong oppress the weak and everyone is simply out for their own self-interest. But the problem is that all people are sinners and fall short of God's standard (Romans 3:23; Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9). Even those who are believers in Christ fall short of what we should be (Philippians 3:12-16; Romans 7:14-20; Galatians 5:17). The solution is not to bring down the standard so that we can keep it, but to realize that we cannot keep it (Romans 3:19,20; Galatians 3:10; Titus 3:5,6). Rather, we need that failure to live up to the standard to be paid for so we can be forgiven (Ephesians 1:7; 1 Peter 2:24,25; Colossians 2:13,14) through faith in Christ (Romans 4:4,5; Ephesians 2:8,9; Philippians 3:9). God can then begin to change us (Titus 2:11-14; Ephesians 2:10; 2 Corinthians 3:5,6) based on our love for God, for what He has done for us (1 John 4:19; 2 Corinthians 5:14,15; Romans 12:1,2).

But the standard needs to be upheld. The standard is the character of God (Matthew 5:48; 1 Peter 1:14-16; Colossians 3:10) and being conformed to the image of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18; Romans 8:29,30; 1 John 3:2). This is important because it totally undercuts our self-righteousness. If we recognize the standard, we will recognize how badly we fall short. And even we who have put our faith in Christ will realize we are far from where we should be. Also, we will see we will not get there in this life. Certainly, we will not lightly think we have attained to that standard of perfection. But we will realize that nonetheless we can, based on what Christ has done, enter boldly into the presence of God and call Him Father (Romans 8:14,15; Galatians 4:4-7; Hebrews 4:16). And this is not based on what we have done, but what Christ has done (Romans 8:31-39; 5:1,2; 2 Corinthians 2:14). This destroys at the same time the discouragement that we will never measure up and the pride that thinks we can do so by our own deeds. And it leaves the goal as something we are pursuing but have not yet reached. And the majestic holiness of God is what it should be, without our being crushed under the weight of it.

Monday, September 15, 2014

A Touch of Humor - Tentative Conclusion

Is it important to take worship seriously? Why?

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Old Erich Proverb - Comfort

God never promised us that we would be comfortable in this world, and it is a mistake for us to expect it.

Friday, September 12, 2014

A Voice from the Past - Lewis

This does not mean, of course, that we are committed to believing all stories of miracles. Most stories about miraculous events are probably false: if it comes to that, most stories about natural events are false. Lies, exaggerations, misunderstandings and hearsay make up perhaps more than half of all that is said and written in the world. We must therefore find a criterion whereby to judge any particular story of the miraculous.

C. S. Lewis, 1896-1963, Miracles, 13: On Probability, (Harper Collins Publishers, 1996, p. 159)

What criteria should we use to test the historical reliability of miracles? Why?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Divine Right of Government

The Bible makes it clear there is an obligation to honor and obey government (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17;1 Timothy 2:1,2). But it also makes it clear there is a place for disobeying when required to do what is wrong (Acts 4:19,20; 5:29; Daniel 3:16-18). There is also a clear place for rebuking those in authority when they do wrong (1 Kings 21:17-29; 13:1-10; 2 Samuel 12:1-15). Therefore, the idea that those in charge cannot be questioned is a serious error. But so is our common modern assumption that those in power are virtually always wrong. The truth lies somewhere in between.

Tyranny and anarchy are both destructive. And the one is often the cause of the other. People see an unacceptable political situation and jump from one extreme to the other. Democracy is the standard alternative, but even it can degenerate. When it becomes a tyranny of the majority over the minority, even it can become unjust. There needs to be a concept of justice that is higher than the government, to which it is required to conform. The problem is we do not necessarily have a universally agreed on rule of justice in this country. And to make the civil law an authority that cannot be questioned is also dangerous. The Christian may base such a rule in the commandments of God. But even Christians do not always agree. One temptation is to try use tyrannical methods to impose our idea of justice. This does not work in the long run and frequently results in a backlash. The only workable approach is to try to convince people of your point of view. And that requires  the ability to question the people currently in charge.

This means being willing to put up with people you do not agree with having a freedom to advocate their point of view. It also means being willing to meet them honestly and fairly in the realm of ideas. But merely trying to force your ideas down someone's throat almost never works and only produces hypocrites. This has an effect on Christian legal action. If the intent is to maintain our freedom to express and practice our belief, it is appropriate (though we should carefully pick our battles). But if this is so, we may need to grant with it the option for others we disagree with to express and practice their beliefs, even ones we find abhorrent. However, if our intent is to force others to observe our beliefs without being convinced of them, it is unworkable. Now I am speaking of beliefs and conviction. The government must enforce certain kinds of behaviors. But what those behaviors are need to be arrived at through the free exchange of ideas. And we must allow our opponents the freedom to make their case so we can have the freedom to make ours. Otherwise, we cannot persuade; we can only browbeat.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Identifying Demons

Sometimes I think the Bible says as much by what it does not say as by what it does. If not every sin or every illness is the result of demons, I have to ask, how do I tell which is which? But I search in vain in Scripture for some kind of an easy method for diagnosing demonic involvement. There are extreme cases, such as the person who lived among the tombs and broke chains (Mark 5:1-13), but this was indeed an extreme case. There may be supernatural powers (Acts 16:16-18) or the demon speaking or acting through a person (Acts 19:13-16), but not always. And we have to ask what is real and what is simply faked. One can rely on a gift of discernment of spirits (1 Corinthians 12:10). But how do we test the genuineness of such a gift (1 Thessalonians 5:21,22) if we do not have something to test it by?

The thing I would conclude from the Scripture's silence is that it is not always necessary to understand whether something is demonic to deal with it. When we encounter problems of whatever type, the basic thing we need to do is to pray (Philippians 4:6,7; Ephesians 6:18; 1 Thessalonians 5:17) and trust God (Proverbs 3:5,6; Psalms 127:1,2; 37:3-6). This is true whatever the source of the trouble. When we do this, sometimes we may be led to conclude that there are unusual circumstances that suggest demonic involvement. We may even feel led to pray against or directly rebuke such involvement. We may in the long run conclude, through a series of unusual occurrences, that we have the gift of discernment of spirits (I have).

This can be helpful. It can remind me that I face things bigger than myself and cannot simply rely on my ability and intelligence. It can help me not be surprised if things go wrong when I am trying to do the right thing. It can encourage me to look beyond the superficial in understanding a situation. But it is not the main thing. God can answer our prayers even if we do not perfectly understand what is going on (Romans 8:26,27; Ephesians 3:20,21; Acts 12:1-17). What we need to do is turn to Him. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Great Divide

There is a great divide in our world that is a hindrance to living a consistent Christian life. That is the division between the spiritual and the secular. The concept is that we can push God into some corner of our lives. We then proceed to live our secular life the same as we would without God. And then, on a regular basis, cross over into the spiritual area and offer respect to God. That paints a rather extreme picture, but the reality can often be much more subtle. We start out with good intentions, we avoid blatant compromises, but we drift slowly, bit by bit, into a divided life. And it is hard to put the parts back together again. Also, it does not help that there is a tendency to confuse spirituality with those things that are connected to the church organization. Those things associated with the organization are sacred time and sacred places. Everywhere else is simply mundane. Is there a way to avoid this dichotomy?

We need to start by realizing that God is at work in all of us all the time (2 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 2:10; Philippians 2:13). We are told to respond with obedience to this working (Romans 12:1,2; Galatians 5:16; Colossians 2:6,7). Nowhere is this confined to a specific area of life. Rather, we are told we can do all things to the glory of God, including even the most menial of work (1 Corinthians 10:31; Ephesians 6:5-8; Colossians 3:22-25). Also, the church, the body of Christ, is the people (1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Romans 12:4,5; Colossians 2:19). Now those people are required to be organized (1 Corinthians 14:40; Hebrews 12:17; 1 Peter 5:1-4). But the organization is an expression of the people; it is not the people who are made acceptable by being part of the organization.

But bringing Christian teaching into the rest of life is the real test. It is easy playing the Christian in an entirely  Christian  context. It is hard being a Christian out in the world. It is hard being pure without being self-righteous and loving without compromising principles. That is where the rubber meets the road. I have said that church is the practice session for the game of life. It is where we are encouraged and instructed to face the rest of life (Hebrews 10:24,25; Colossians 1:28,29; Ephesians 4:11-16). I am convinced that we very much need that practice session. But it is the preparation for the real event. We may do well in practice and fail when the pressure is really on. And if we see the practice session as the main event, we set ourselves up for that.

Monday, September 8, 2014

A Touch of Humor - The Proper Feeling

What is the proper emotional approach to worship? Is there more than one?

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Old Erich Proverb - Construction

The work of God in our life is not a minor remodel, but a total reconstruction from the ground up.

Friday, September 5, 2014

A Voice from the Past - Origen

It is not irrational, then, to form associations in opposition to existing laws, if done for the sake of the truth. For as those persons would do well who should enter into a secret association in order to put to death a tyrant who had seized upon the liberties of a state, so Christians also, when tyrannized over by him who is called the devil, and by falsehood, form leagues contrary to the laws of the devil, against his power, and for the safety of those others whom they may succeed in persuading to revolt from a government which is, as it were, “Scythian,” and despotic.

Origen, 185-254 AD, Against Celsus, Book I, Chapter 1 (translated by Rev. Fredrick Crombie; Fathers of the Third Century: Tertullian, Minucius Felix, Commodian, Origen; Philip Schaff; Christian Classics Ethereal Library; 2006; p. 587)

Is it proper for Christians to stand against the government? Under what circumstances? What kind of approaches are appropriate?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Origen - A Pitfall of Apologetics

I am convinced that apologetics, the rational defense of the Christian faith, is vital. But it does have its pitfalls. One of them is falling into the mindset of those you are trying to convince. One example of this problem is a man named Origen. He was of the same school as Clement of Alexandria. He followed the basic principles of that school, trying to reconcile Christianity with secular philosophy, and was well learned in his studies. As such, he was successful in persuading many people to embrace Christianity. He was also a detailed Bblical expositor.  Though as a member of the Alexandrian school he had a tendency toward understanding Scripture in a symbolic manner. He was a very zealous man, somewhat overly zealous. In his youth his mother hid his clothes to prevent him from going to the authorities and volunteering to be a martyr. Also in his youth, he mutilated himself by cutting off his male organ in obedience to his understanding of Christ's commandment to cut off an offending member (an ironically over-literal interpretation). However, he did show an appropriately charitable attitude toward his opponents.

But one of the results of his trying to understand the mindset of those around him was that he developed a complicated theology that borrowed heavily from Greek philosophy. This involved the idea of preexistant spirits that can become in turn humans and then angels and work their way back up to union with God or else might take the wrong path to become demons. But Origen suggests that everyone, including Satan, will in the end be saved and forgiven. The result of this is an emphasis on our works rather than God's grace, even with the positive ending. We may all eventually make it, but we will have to work our way there. Origen was condemned for these views by some, both in his own time and later, though he was also respected and supported by many for his other works. His views do reflect the Greek philosophy of his day more than what the Bible teaches.

We are met here with a difficult conundrum. If we do not try to understand the world around us, we will have a hard time reaching people. But if we do try understand it, we can end up altering our beliefs to fit it. One thing that helps, from my perspective, is to remember the temporary nature of the world's philosophies. What is thought to be a necessary conclusion today may be out of favor tomorrow. And if we count on it too much, ironically, we may end up conformed to a world that no longer exists. But the main thing is to remember the dangers on both sides here and avoid extreme dogmatism on things that may change tomorrow.   

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Time of Exile

The question has been asked recently what tradition could best serve the church in the United States during its time of exile. The idea is that the Christian church is about to be pushed to the margins of our culture and we need to ask how to weather this storm and what tradition will help us. Others have disagreed with the question by calling for a return to basic Christianity that crosses all the traditions. But I believe we are still asking the wrong question. So though I am somewhat behind the curve, I would like to make a few comments.

The modern Christian church in the United States has commonly trusted in gimmicks, in organization, and in programs; trust in a tradition seems a step up. But I question whether any tradition has everything exactly right. We suffer from the sin of Corinth, of dividing into factions, often over names and minor points (1 Corinthians 1:10-17; 3:10-23; 4:1-5). We have also followed them in thinking we know all the answers and everyone that disagrees is clearly wrong (1 Corinthians 1:18-25; 3:18-20; 8:1-3). While I believe there are issues we divide over that are important, I am convinced many of them have little or no basis in Scripture. But while I have a certain degree of sympathy with C. S. Lewis' "mere Christianity," I am afraid I cannot follow him all the way. I do believe there are important issues involved in the Protestant Reformation. And I do believe there need to be boundaries somewhere (Jude 3; Romans 16:17; 1 John 4:1-3). But while I have a definite opinion where those boundaries should be, I cannot expect everyone to agree. Therefore, I am skeptical of coming up with a definition everyone could agree on.  As a result, while I am in favor of breaking down the various denominational divisions, I am not optimistic on eliminating all of them.

But I am convinced this is really the wrong approach. The problem with trusting in current traditions, broad or narrow, to bring us through the time of exile is that this implies that it depends on us. Rather, God is the One who is at work building His church (Matthew 16:18; 1 Corinthians 3:6,7; Colossians 2:19). Therefore, we need to trust in Him and His power and not the other things we are prone to trust in (Psalms 127:1,2; Proverbs 3:5,6; Isaiah 31:1). Now He has not promised we will necessarily be in charge of our culture (John 15:18-21; 16:1-4; Matthew 10:17-22). And frankly, I am not convinced that the demise of cultural Christianity in this country is necessarily a bad thing. It will cause people to consider what they really do believe. And while I hope that the current situation might force us to reconsider the petty things we divide over, I see no guarantee of this. But even in our current divided state, God will bring us through.   

Monday, September 1, 2014

A Touch of Humor - A Study in Depth

What kind of depth should we seek in worship? Is there a place for a variety?