Saturday, January 31, 2015

Old Erich Proverb - Walls

We work hard to build walls between us and other people, but God is the great Wall-Breaker.

Friday, January 30, 2015

A Voice from the Past - Calvin

Therefore, let us hear no more of a proportion between our ability and the divine precepts, as if the Lord had accommodated the standard of justice which he was to give in the law to our feeble capacities. We should rather gather from the promises how ill provided we are, having in everything so much need of grace.

John Calvin, 1509-1564, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book II, Chapter V, 7 (translated by Henry Beveridge, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1975,  Vol. 1, p. 279)

How do we avoid trusting in our ability rather than God's promises? What things would tend to discourage us from doing so?

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Dancing with Fairies

There is a modern tendency to lump the belief in God in with the belief in fairies. The underlying assumption is that these are supernatural beings, and science has disproved the supernatural. The truth is that science cannot disprove the supernatural, because science does not speak to the issue. Science tells us what happens in the normal course of nature, if no one intervenes. It cannot say whether there is someone to intervene or whether they will. Gravity says that if I drop something, it will fall toward the center of the earth. But if someone catches it, they have not violated the laws of science, which say how things work when left to themselves.

What then about fairies? There have always been mysterious things observed along the edges of human life. In the old days it was fairies, leprechauns, and goblins. In modern times it is UFOs, Bigfoot, and the Loch Ness Monster. Ghosts seem to be perennial. (Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy are in a different category, being simply games for children. I have empirical evidence that they are not real.) I am high skeptical of any of these being genuine. But I still feel they need some explanation. In terms of UFOs, I like the Klass plasma hypothesis, that what is observed is some naturally occurring form of plasma. It would explain why they are observed by otherwise reliable observers, but do not act as we would expect alien spacecraft to. I sometimes wonder if in earlier times people saw moving lights and imagined there was a person inside. But whatever they are, hallucinations, natural phenomena, real, or even demonic manifestations, I would like considerably more evidence before believing any of these are what they are claimed to be. However, if such evidence were forthcoming, I am convinced that science would find a way to integrate such things into the natural universe, even fairies. It would ask what they were made of and where they came from and expect to find answers. I am not expecting this to happen because I do not believe fairies are real, but the problem is the lack of solid evidence. What this has to do with the existence of God, who was announced publicly by prophets and became a man to pay for our sins in the open light of history, is not at all clear. You can disbelieve in both, but I see no real analogy.

Part of the problem here is a misunderstanding of monotheism. There are two types of monotheism. One wants one God who is a minimal God that does almost nothing. The other believes in one God who is an absolute God and brooks no equals. The God of Christianity is the second type. He is not the last limited remnant of the supernatural, after all the rest are refuted. He is the Sovereign who controls all things, leaving no place for lesser gods, or even fairies.       

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

United We Stand

What should Christians be united around? The basic thing should be Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:18; Ephesians 2:18-20; 1 Corinthians 3:10,11) and His message of salvation (Galatians 1:8,9; Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11). That is, that Jesus is God become man (John 1:1-18; Philippians 2:5-11; Hebrews 2:9-18) to pay the price for our sins, so that we might be saved by faith in Him (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5; Philippians 3:9).

But too often we base our unity on other things. We can claim we have to come to God through being part of a particular organization rather than directly through Christ (1 Timothy 2:5; John 14:6; Acts 4:12). Now God's people are called to be organized (Ephesians 4:11-16; Hebrews 13:17; Titus 1:5). But the organization should serve the people, not the other way around (Matthew 20:25-28; 28:18-20; 1 Peter 5:1-4). Now the message of Christ requires us to hold to certain basic truths (Jude 3; Romans 16:17-20; 1 John 4:1-6). But we can divide over every detail, forgetting that we do not have all the answers (1 Corinthians 3:18; 8:1-3; Philippians 2:1-4). We are also told that putting our faith in Christ results in a changed life (Titus 2:11-14; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 2:10). But it is easy to erect a structure of dubious ethical requirements to distinguish ourselves from others (Romans 14:1-12; Matthew 15:7-9; 23:23-28). It is important to base our unity on the right grounds.

But if we do not have a solid basis for our unity, we can, almost by default, base it on something that lacks any clear definition. This can seem broad-minded, but can often have the opposite effect. Those who see the unity of the church as based in Christ have a definite idea of what unity is based on and know where the boundaries are. But it is often those who have no clear idea what their faith is based on who can make a big deal out of externals. They can divide over names or outward behaviors because they have no clear idea of  what the issues are. It is the individuals who clearly understand what they believe who can recognize those who agree, even if they use different words, and see where they disagree with others, if they do. But those with a superficial knowledge are more likely to be impressed by catch-phrases and procedures. And many of the divisions in church are over methods or personalities or even atmosphere. I would therefore conclude that one of the most important factors for maintaining unity in the Christian church is remembering what and Who we are about. Or we will be forever dividing over shadows rather than substance.

Monday, January 26, 2015

A Touch of Humor - The Introduction

How do we face difficult situations? What can put them in perspective?

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Old Erich Proverb - Imagine

God is always bigger than we can understand or even imagine.

Friday, January 23, 2015

A Voice from the Past - Martin of Tours

(At the time of his death, when those who he was in charge of pleaded for him to stay for their sakes.)

Terrible, indeed, Lord, is the struggle of bodily warfare, and surely it is now enough that I have continued the fight till now; but, if thou dost command me still to persevere in the same toil for the defense of thy flock, I do not refuse, nor do I plead against such an appointment my declining years. Wholly given to thee, I will fulfill whatever duties thou dost assign me, and I will serve under thy standard as long as thou shalt prescribe. Yea, although release is sweet to an old man after lengthened toil, yet my mind is a conqueror over my years, and I have no desire to yield to old age. But if now thou art merciful to my many years, good, O Lord, is thy will to me; and thou thyself wilt guard over those for whose safety I fear.

Martin of Tours, 316-397 AD, as recorded by Sulpitius Serverus, 363 - 425 AD, Letter III to Bassula, His Mother-in-Law (translated by Rev. Alexander Roberts, Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, T & T Clark and Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1997, Second Series, Vol. IX)

How should the Christian think of death? How can we maintain this perspective?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Martin of Tours - The Evangelist

Martin of Tours lived right after the transition from a persecuted Christianity to a Christianity in power. Martin resigned  from the army to spread the newly acceptable faith. He went to Gaul, the area of present day France, to live the life of a monk and to preach to the people. He faced the strong remnant of pagan worship and the advocacy for Arianism (the belief that Christ was not God, but a powerful created being).

Even though his history was written by a younger contemporary, it is hard to evaluate it. I do believe that God does miracles, but some biographers seem to get carried away in this regard. But it is clear that Martin is portrayed as one who cared for the sick and the hurting. The story is told of how he cut the cloak he was wearing in two to give half to a beggar who needed it. He was also a bold preacher. The story is told of how some pagans agreed to cut down a sacred tree if Martin would allow himself to be tied up where the tree would fall. Martin agreed, and the wind blew the tree so it fell in another direction. He is also pictured as questioning whether places which people honored as graves of martyrs really were; he seemed in favor of discernment. But one of the clear things he did was to oppose a decision of the emperor's to use force to impose the accepted orthodox faith on those who disagreed with it. He is pictured as being willing to risk his own life, but not to take the lives of others.

It is hard to be sure of the details of Martin's life. But the concept we get here is the correct one. The Christian ideal is the unarmed missionary who risks his life to bring the truth, rather than the government official who threatens punishment for others who will not convert. The important issue is one of faith from the heart. And we must not to confuse this with outward conformity. Martin lived at the point where this transition was being made. Even after they got into power, the orthodox branch of Christianity initially opposed the idea of imposition of the faith by force and endorsed toleration. But over time this position changed. Martin, in spite of being a strong preacher of Christianity, opposed this. He was, however, in the long run unable to prevail. But he did take a stand against drifting that way. There is a strong temptation for those in power to use that power to impose their beliefs on people. We need to be willing to stand firm to resist this.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

What Might Have Been

One of the great weaknesses we have is worrying about what might have been. It is easy to fall into the attitude that if only I had made that choice, things would have been different. But we are told that God is at work in our life to accomplish His purposes (Ephesians 2:10; 1:11; Romans 8:28). Now if there are particular sins we have committed, we need to repent of them (Proverbs 28:13; 1 John 1:9; 2 Corinthians 7:10). But even then, we need to put it behind us and go on (Philippians 3:12-16; Hebrews 12:1,2; 1 John 2:1,2). We need to go forward based on trust in God, not our capabilities (Proverbs 3:5,6; Psalms 37:3-6; 127:1,2). I am not saying we should not make well thought-out decisions when going forward or ask what things in our lives now may be worth changing. But I do not think we should be burdened with guilt over what we might have done. I know myself that I can continually worry about what I should have done. We need to put those things in the hands of God and go forward.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

God of Creation

Scripture makes it clear that God is the Creator of all things (Genesis 1:1; John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:15,16). He also maintains them in existence (Acts 17:24,25; Colossians 1:17; Hebrews 1:3). (It is not my purpose here to go into the process. I have, in other posts, shown that I am cynical on the question of evolution, but to deal with that here would make this into a different post than I intend.) This is an idea that has very important implications. If God created the world, then from the beginning it has contained good things (1 Timothy 4:3-5; Titus 1:15; James 1:17), and God gives those good things even to those who reject Him (Matthew 5:45; Acts 14:15-17; Romans 2:4). Now it is clear that since then, things have become distorted from their original state (Romans 8:19-23; Genesis 3:17-19; 1 John 2:15-17). But we are not to conclude that the material world is itself bad or evil. Otherwise, God could not have become a an (John 1: 4-18; Philippians 2:5-11; Hebrews 2:9-18).

This fact helps us understand the right approach to created things. We should not be Epicureans, following every impulse, for our desires have become wrong and distorted. But neither should we be Stoics, opposed to every desire, for the things created by God are good and it is not wrong to enjoy them appropriately. I believe C. S. Lewis was right in saying that Satan and his minions cannot create a new pleasure. They can only encourage us to desire them in the wrong way, or at the wrong time, or in the wrong amounts. The biggest problem is that we can put the good things of creation or even our means of obtaining the good things of creation before God, resulting in idolatry (Colossians 3:5; Matthew 6:24; Philippians 3:17-19). There is in Christianity a denial of self (Matthew 16:24-26; Romans 12:1,2; Philippians 2:3,4) that involves putting aside our self-centered desires. But it is not the extreme punishment of self that rejects good things simply for the sake of rejecting them (Colossians 2:20-23; Matthew 23:4, Ecclesiastes 5:18). Finding our ways between these two extremes,being in the world and not of the world, is a difficult task. It is much easier to go to one of the extremes. But to go between is God's task for us.  

Monday, January 19, 2015

A Touch of Humor - The New Assignment

How do we avoid twisting people's arms to fill positions? What do we do when no one volunteers?

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Old Erich Proverb - Needs

We need something more than just getting our needs met; we need a purpose beyond ourselves.

Friday, January 16, 2015

A Voice from the Past - Writer to Diognetus

How surpassing is the love and tenderness of God! In that hour, instead of hating us and rejecting us and remembering our wickedness against us, He showed how long-suffering He is. He bore with us and in pity He took our sins upon Himself and gave His own Son as a ransom for us - the Holy for the wicked, the Sinless for sinners, the Just for the unjust, the Incorrupt for the corrupt, the Immortal for the mortal. For was there, indeed, anything except His righteousness that could have availed to cover our sins?

The Epistle to Diognetus, about 124 AD, 9 (Early Christian Writings, translated by Maxwell Staniforth, Penguin Books, 1968, p. 180)

Why is it important that God came Himself to redeem us? Could He not have simply sent someone else?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Public Welfare

"Citizen 7246859412," stated his wrist monitor, "you have eaten too much carbohydrate. You will have to increase your exercise regime to compensate."

He tried to avoid grimacing. He finished glancing over the morning news vid and pushed the button that would clear the breakfast table and send the dishes to the cleaning process. 

"You are not as young as you used to be," remarked the monitor. "You should consider settling down."

Why did this leave him cold? He did not feel he was devoid of sexual desire or even of romantic impulses. So why did he find women boring? As far as that went, he also found men boring; it just did not matter so much with men.

He left his apartment and headed down the moving sidewalk toward the train. He considered breaking out his own personal transport and going to work that way. It would be frowned on. Unnecessary use of  energy resources. He considered just taking off on a cross-country road trip, with no clear destination or purpose. That would definitely be frowned on.

On the train he noticed a good-looking blonde two seats up. To humor the monitor, he asked for her profile. But as he read about her, he saw she had a standard life with standard interests. Also, she was in a relationship with a guy slightly older than him who made more money. Not a good prospect, but not an absolute bar. But he found he could not work up the interest.

He noticed an advertisement, one of his own, running on the bus monitor. It was about avoiding fatty foods. He found the steak in the advertisement unsettlingly attractive. He could have beef, of course, as part of his regular menu, but nothing like that. He had heard there was a place downtown where you could get steak and soda pop and all sorts of forbidden things. Now he knew that white sugar was the gateway drug to caffeine, alcohol, marijuana, and even cocaine and heroine, but he was still drawn to it. He had even heard you could find women there who were out of the ordinary. But how did you go there? If you tried to remove the monitor, it would set off the alarm. You could put it on silent, like in a public meeting. But he understood it still recorded under those conditions.

As he got out of the train on the way to his office, he ran into a man handing out pamphlets advertising a church. Churches were not illegal (too much trouble to close them down), but they were looked down on. After all, everyone knew the churches were merely upholders of convention. But if the churches were upholders of convention, why did the monitors oppose them?

He could not understand how his job, making advertisements, could be boring. The monitor had chosen it for him as one that fit his aptitude profile. Along with choosing all his hobbies and entertainments. So why was he bored?

He had never been to a church before. But he knew he needed something. He silenced his monitor on the way in. It was a public meeting, after all. He was sure he would get an earful on the way out. But they could not stop him. It was perfectly legal.

He was still not sure what to think about it on the way out. But there seemed to something different there. Something beyond himself. Something more than just getting his needs met. He suspected that it might be what he needed.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Goal of God

One of the fundamental issues underlying the question of the existence of suffering in the world is, What is God's purpose for our lives? In Scripture, that basic purpose is to bring us back into right relation to Himself (Romans 3:23-31; 5:6-11; John 3:14-18), and based on that, to transform us into the kind of people we really should be (2 Corinthians 3:18; Romans 8:28-30; Ephesians 2:8-10). God's goal is not to make us happy or to cater to our natural desires, but to bring us to the point of being willing to put others before ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40; 16:24-26; Romans 12:1,2). And God uses the suffering in our lives to help bring that about (2 Corinthians 4:16-18; James 1:2-4; Romans 5:3-5). Now this in itself is not a full answer to the existence of suffering. In fact, by itself it would amount to an end-justifies-the-means mentality. But I am convinced it needs to be at least part of any answer to the question. If we believe the universe exists solely for the purpose of making us happy on the level of our own selfishness, it is virtually impossible to reconcile the existence of a good God with suffering. But if we believe the universe exists solely to make us happy on the level of our own selfishness, we are bound to be disappointed anyway. Whatever alternative we accept, that one is not realistic.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Letting Go of The Past

Is the United States a Christian nation? Was it ever? What is a "Christian nation"? These are complicated questions that admit to no simple answer. The first amendment of the Constitution is against establishment of religion. Is establishment of religion required to be a Christian nation? Now some would say that not establishing religion makes us a secular nation. But the establishment of non-religion is as bad as the establishment of religion. And is contrary to the free exercise allowed by the same amendment. The basic idea behind the first amendment is freedom of conscience. That at least within broad boundaries we should be allowed to believe what we want about the basic nature of this universe and to practice that belief. This is a principle that cuts both ways and is not necessarily contrary to Christian belief. But if we are to regard ourselves as a Christian nation, it must be argued on other grounds.

We can claim that we have a Christian heritage. Some claim the founding fathers were Christians, others they were Deists. In fact, some were Christians, some were Deists, and some were somewhere in the middle. But Deism is watered-down Christianity. So does democratic government come from the Christians or the Deists? It traces back through the English Glorious Revolution to the Long Parliament and ultimately to the Puritans. In general, the Reformed branch of the Reformation supported popular government. This was reasonable, because it fit with their popular form of church government. Even the idea of separation of church and state can be traced back to the Baptists, who are a particular branch of the Reformed tradition. Therefore, it may be argued here that the modern republican form of government comes through Christianity and works best within a Christian context. But this is an argument that needs to be made, not assumed.

The bottom line is, even if we were once a Christian nation (depending on your definition), we are no longer. We may have a certain part of the population that holds on to certain number of Christian principles and morals (a number getting smaller every day) through pure inertia. But this inertia does not stand up well under pressure.  And unless we are making a specific point, I am convinced we need to regard ourselves as Christians in a non-Christian culture and work from there. I am not in any way suggesting despair or passivity. But I am suggesting we put aside our sense of entitlement that assumes our beliefs will be respected, which often results in anger and vitriol. We need to recognize that God never promised us we would be comfortable in the world. But we must trust Him by continuing to follow Him and do His work, even in a hostile environment. And we must not take the acceptance of Christianity for granted, but work to convince people of it. And use the past only if it is valuable for making a case.

Monday, January 12, 2015

A Touch of Humor - Season's End

Can we make things more complicated and difficult than they need to be? How can we avoid this?

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Old Erich Proverb - Mountaintop

It is not the height of the mountaintop spiritual experiences, but how much of them comes back to the rest of our life.

Friday, January 9, 2015

A Voice from the Past - Matthew Henry

Angels, authorities, and powers are all made subject to Christ Jesus: all power in heaven and earth, to command, to give law, issue orders, and pronounce a final sentence, is committed to Jesus, God-man, which His enemies will find to their everlasting sorrow and confusion, but his servants to their eternal joy and satisfaction.

Matthew Henry, 1662-1714, Commentary on the Whole Bible, 1 Peter III, 22, III, 3 (Fleming H. Revell Co., Vol. VI, p. 1027)

What significant does the power and authority of Christ have? How does it affect our lives?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Christian Meditation

We are told we should meditate on Scripture (Psalms 1:2; 19:14; Joshua 1:8). Meditation is simply thinking about Scripture. But there are hurdles.

To meditate on Scripture we need to be familiar with it, and to do this we need to read it (listening can be a possible substitute, though there are disadvantages). This is, of course, work, but I would make a few suggestions. Get a Bible translation you can understand. Unless you are already familiar with Elizabethan English, an older translation is probably not the place to start. Now some translations are more paraphrasic and therefore easier to understand. These also have more interpretation involved in the translation, and you should compare it with other translations if you want to be sure you have the meaning of a particular text. You want to start in the easier places of Scripture, such as the gospel of John. Choose a length of passage you can deal with. It is good to challenge yourself, but remember, the one chapter you do read is better than the four you do not.  Also, it is good to learn to ask questions about what the passage means and how it applies to our lives.. This is the first step toward meditation.

But the biggest hurdle is often not one of technique.  Many see knowing the Bible as just one more duty to be checked off a list. Rather than seeing it as an opportunity to know God  and hear what He has to say to us (Jeremiah 9:23,24; Philippians 3:7-11; John 17:3). Or we can see the Bible as merely a book of rules to show what we need to do. But Scripture is not about a new and better set of rules, but forgiveness for the rules we have already broken (Ephesians 1:7; Romans 4:4-8; Titus 3:5,6). Also, about God giving power to begin to transform us into the people He wants us to be (2 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 2:10; Colossians 1:29). Now it does seek to show us the correct moral standard so we will know what the real goal is (Matthew 22:36-40; Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:13,14) and to show us we cannot begin to pursue that goal without God's forgiveness and power (John 15:5; Romans 3:19,20; 7:14). And it strongly criticizes the superficial self-righteous that is characterized by the outward observance of rules (Matthew 23:1-7; 9:9-13; Luke 7:36-50). Now you will have to decide how you will deal with difficult questions like the command to kill the Canaanites in the Old Testament (see any of the long threads on the subject between my blogger buddy Kansas City Bob and me in earlier posts.) But I am in favor of facing difficulties rather than hiding from them . And I believe that it is worth it to understand the God who loved us so much that He sent His Son to save us (John 3:14-18; Romans 5:6-8; 1 John 4:9,10). 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Fear of Failure

One of the great fears is fear of failure. This can include moral failure or practical failure. I am convinced that inadequacy is humanist guilt. People throw out moral standards and replace them with secular standards that are often more severe than the moral ones. It is not enough to be a virtuous person; you must be a success. This turns us away from things that we can at least in principle control to things we frequently have no control over. Now Christianity says that all of us are moral failures (Romans 3:23; Jeremiah 17:9; Isaiah 64:6), but we can be forgiven in Christ (Ephesians 1:7; Romans 8:33,34; John 3:16-18) if we put our faith in Him (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5; Philippians 3:9). Also, while a willingness to work is a moral requirement (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12; Ephesians 4:28; Proverbs 6:6-11), we should not hold ourselves or others responsible for success, something we can neither control or demand. Rather, we should recognize that God is in control of our lives (Ephesians 2:10;1:11; Romans 8:28) and we need to trust Him with them (Proverbs 3:5,6; Psalms 127:1,2; 37:3-6). But it is easy to compartmentalize and to believe our sins are forgiven by God but our failures are still something we need to feel guilty about. However, we need to get rid of the dual standards and apply God's forgiveness to everything that requires forgiveness. That we may not be burdened down by unnecessary guilt and unnecessary fear. 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Into Darkest Subconscious

Some see belief in God as wish fulfillment. But personally, I came to believe in God despite the fact I did not want to. The problem with the argument from desire is that it cuts both ways. There are reasons why a person might want to believe in God. There are also clear reasons why a person might not want to believe in God. I find it hard to believe that everyone who does not believe in God wants very badly to believe in Him but suppresses it by sheer logic.

But when we go from the conscious to the subconscious, we are in more difficult territory. It is easy to see the subconscious as some sort of labyrinth totally unrelated to our conscious thought. Now I am convinced that psychology is a legitimate pursuit. Understanding the mind and its maladies is a worthwhile endeavor. But I am also convinced it is a science still in its infancy. It is on the level of medicine before it learned of microbes. It has some value, but also probably contains many fallacies. The current approach is to see mental problems as biochemical. Now it is clear that certain chemicals can affect the brain. That the body may sometimes produce such effects without the use of chemicals is not implausible. But whether this is the solution to mental illness, part of the solution, or merely treating the symptoms is hard to say.

But it is in the specific approach of psychoanalysis that we confront the idea of the subconscious. And it is this approach that I consider particularly problematic. Freud says that the basic motivator of human behavior is sex. We have these sexual thoughts and are so shocked by them that we repress them. These then go into our subconscious mind and come out as other things: dreams, fantasies, perhaps even theological beliefs. But while this idea may have made sense in nineteenth century Vienna, it makes no sense in twenty-first century America. We are an over-sexualized society that has it thrown at us at every turn. I know that for myself I have battled sexual fantasies my whole adult life, clear and without disguise. I know that this repression is seen as applying to infantile sexual fantasies, but I question that in the modern day even these would be so shocking as to be automatically repressed. As for Jung, he has his own pseudo-mythology which he sees as underlying all other mythologies. But there are many mythologies in the world, serious or fictitious, and I do not see any reason to accept his as the right one (I will not say "true one," for it is admittedly not real).

Now there is a certain attraction to the mysterious and esoteric. We want to believe there is a hidden secret that explains other people's behavior. But we really need to stick with the obvious explanations. Or we can end up explaining away everything the other person says without having to ever grapple with the actual issues.

Monday, January 5, 2015

A Touch of Humor - Resolved

What, if anything, should we resolve? How can we make those resolutions work?

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Old Erich Proverb - Paper Walls

Resolutions without the power of God are like paper walls to be blown over by the first strong wind.

Friday, January 2, 2015

A Voice from the Past - Hilary of Poitiers

My soul measured the mighty workings of God, wrought on the scale of His eternal omnipotence, not by its own powers of perception but by a boundless faith; and therefore refused to disbelieve, because it could not understand, that God was in the beginning with God; and that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, but bore in mind the truth that with the will to believe would come the power to understand.

Hilary of Poitiers, 300-368 AD, On the Trinity, Book I, 12 (translated by Rev. E. W. Watson and Rev. L. Pullan, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, T & T Clarke and Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1997, Second series, Vol. IX, p. 43)

Why are the deity of Christ and the incarnation important? What do they mean to us today?

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Falling Off the Opposite Cliff

C. S. Lewis warns us against running as swiftly as possible from the error we are least likely to commit. I am convinced that two opposite errors in the Christian church today are individualism and conformity. And they aggravate each other. Each side sees clearly the errors of the other and is pushed to extremes trying to avoid them.

One side sees the abuses of self-exalting leadership. They see leaders who are promoting their own agenda or even their own ego rather than the will of God or the good of people. They see leaders who require unquestioned obedience and rigidly oppose the slightest disagreement. They see leaders more interested in numbers and facilities than in carrying out God's work in the world. It is easy for them to become discouraged and uninvolved and cynical of the motives of everyone in charge. Or to adopt their own personal, often narrow, prescription on how to fix the problem. Or even to drift from congregation to congregation, being unwilling to commit to any one for fear of being in bondage to an overweening authority. They have been burned once and do not want to risk it again.

Then there are many leaders who are thoroughly frustrated by the lack of commitment on the part of their people. None of them are willing to be put in the effort needed to help the congregation go forward. They are consumers who drift from congregation to congregation, looking only for what they want. They are critical of everything that does not meet their expectations and are always pushing their own agenda. So the leaders push for people to get with the program. They become forceful and exacting, expecting to somehow whip people into shape. They become hostile to criticism, feeling it is just attempting to undercut what they are trying to do. They are overworked and burned-out from trying to accomplish everything without help, and they look on the congregation with a jaundiced eye. They have seen it all before.

Both sides are cynical, both sides are frustrated, and both sides probably have a point. How do we break out of the cycle? Now Scripture pictures the church as a body, as unity in diversity (1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Romans 12:3-8; Ephesians 4:11-16). But how do we get there? We need to start with the idea that God is at work in His people (2 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 2:10; Colossians 1:28,29) and in His church (Matthew 16:18; 1 Corinthians 3:6,7; Colossians 2:19). This is true even though we fall short of what we should be (Philippians 3:11-16; Romans 7:14-25; Galatians 5:17). But though there is a place for correcting obvious sin (Galatians 6:1; Matthew 18:15-18; 2 Timothy 2:24-26), we need to trust God to do His work in His church (Psalms 127:1,2, 37:3-6; Proverbs 3:5,6). Now I am not speaking against calmly reasoned attempts to improve things. But I am speaking against the dependence on ourselves and on our methods that pushes us to extremes