Dec 112017
 

Essentials

Irenaeus of Lyon

Against Heresies

Even the title is frightening – Against Heresies.  Today, we either don’t like talking about something being heretical or, conversely, we love using the term “heresy” about anything that differs from our particular theological, denominational or confessional opinion. 

 

There seems to be little middle ground.  Maybe this goes back to the original meaning of the “heresy” which comes from the Greek word meaning to choose or to make a choice.  In the early Church the term was used for those who had “chosen” not to follow the teaching of the Church as it was revealed in Scripture and handed down in the apostolic tradition and to those who had chosen to physically separate themselves from the fellowship of the Christian community.   Moreover, the term seems to be specifically reserved, at least in the first five centuries, for those who had chosen, in one way or another, to deny the full reality of the Incarnation – that is, that Christ was fully God and fully human. 

It is in Irenaeus of Lyon that we first see all these elements brought together in an attempt to refute those who had chosen another way.

Irenaeus was born just after the turn of the second century (c. 115) in Smyrna (Asia Minor). From his own account, we know that he came under the tutelage of the local bishop, Polycarp, who had been a disciple of the Apostle John (Adv. haer. III, 3,4) It was from Polycarp that Irenaeus imbibed the Johannine tradition.  It appears that in due time he made his way to Rome and, by 177, to Lyons in Gaul (present day France) where he was a presbyter in that community which was experiencing severe persecution. He is known to have carried a letter to church in Rome from those awaiting martyrdom in Lyons. It is thought that the letter urged toleration toward the Montanist sect, which while being thought heterodox, was apparently not considered heretical – and this from people facing martyrdom for their faith. Upon his return, Irenaeus became the bishop of the Christian community in Lyons, eventually passing from the scene in the late second century.

It was during his time in Lyons that Irenaeus wrote Against Heresies. Now, this work is slightly longer than the other texts we have encountered, but not by a great deal.  It is divided up thematically into five books containing a total of 36 chapters, each chapter being only a few paragraphs in length.  It can be easily read in the course of one or two evenings.

The heresy with which Irenaeus is concerned in this treatise is Gnosticism.  Christian Gnosticism in the early centuries is a field of study unto itself and it is beyond the scope of this small article to provide a comprehensive overview.  There are numerous monographs, some popular, some scholarly, that are available.  A good introduction to the field is Elaine Pagels’ The Gnostic Gospels (1979) which provides a popular approach to the movement and the related Nag Hammadi manuscripts.  Essentially, Gnosticism promoted a “spiritual” approach to the life of Christ and many of the sayings found in the Gospels and the Pauline epistles.  Arising out of an amalgam of Platonic thought, non-rabbinic Jewish sects and early Christian splinter groups, Gnostics believed that the material world was the creation of a lesser god and therefore to be rejected, ignored or thought inconsequential (depending on the group in question). This was also the case with humanity, except that each person had trapped within them a “divine spark” which only “secret knowledge” (gnosis) could liberate, thereby making a person truly “spiritual”.  For Christian Gnostics, this meant that the Scriptures were filled with secret meanings that only the enlightened would discover.  Owing to their view of the physical creation as the creation of a lesser emanation or god, Gnostics in some sects were ascetics (rejecting the creation) while others were libertines (counting the creation of no importance).  The Docetists of Ignatius’ time who rejected the physical nature of Christ’s birth, death and resurrection, may well have been an early gnostic sect.  This denial of the physical, the embrace of secret knowledge and the rejection of the created order has remained with us in many Christian circles through the centuries down to the present day, in lesser or greater degrees.

In his five little books, Irenaeus speaks directly to the Gnostics of his day, but also speaks to us through the centuries, to many of the issues of our own day.  In Book 1, he refutes the Gnostic position by the use of reason; in Book 2, he gives a brief history of Gnosticism and the traits by which it may be recognized; in Book 3, he refutes Gnosticism by appealing to the handing down of the teaching of the Apostles through the tradition of the Church; in Book 4, he cites the saying of Jesus himself in the Gospels in an open, rather than secret, manner; in Book 5 he provides a view of things to come and his own eschatological views.

Now, Irenaeus is important for many reasons.  Firstly, he openly embraces the use of both faith and reason.  While faith (rather than secret knowledge) was the only way to attain true salvation, reason could be used to appropriate and to understand  what has been communicated to us through faith, such as the Gospels and the traditions handed down to the Church from the apostles.  No secret tradition or knowledge could supersede the revelation given to the Church and handed down in its open, public and common tradition.  This understanding would later influence Augustine – one believes in order to understand – yet reason and faith remain different dimensions of a single reality. Secondly, he openly embraces, and extensively quotes from the emerging canon of Scripture.  Indeed, he quotes from every book of the New Testament apart from Philemon, II Peter, III John, and Jude.  Moreover, he indicates knowing of at least one false Gospel – the Gospel of Truth – which he considers heretical. Finally, Irenaeus “sets the bar” for what would be seen as heretical in the centuries to come – the rejection of the physical nature of the Incarnation and, thus, the faith of the Church.

In the centuries to come, this would inform the issues which the Church would address. Essentially it is about the manner in which God, in Christ, is present in the world and the Church.  Now, most of us will hold to the Ecumenical Creeds.  We will accept the outcome of the Arian controversy and confess that Christ is of one substance with the Father.  We will accept the outcome of the Monophysite controversy, settled at Chalcedon, that there are two natures in the person of Christ, human and divine.

We will accept the conclusion of the later Monothelite controversy, that indeed Christ possessed a human and divine will.  We will even accept (at least most of us) the earlier conclusion of the Council of Ephesus that Mary may be called, Theotokos, (the “God-bearer”) not merely to honor her, but to emphasize the reality of the Incarnation. The overarching theme of Irenaeus is that Christ is not only fully present in the Incarnation, he is fully present in the Eucharist (Adv. haer. V, 2).  Yet, not only is he present in the Eucharist, he is present in the apostolic tradition and teaching of the Church (Adv. haer. III, 3)

That is, he is present in the Church itself as a real and physical manifestation of Christ’s presence among us. I have come to believe that to deny Christ’s presence in the Church is, in some sense, to deny his Incarnation or, perhaps as bad, like the Gnostics, to spiritualize what “Church” and/or Christ’s presence really means.

When we relegate “Church” to an amorphous spiritual entity that we say we belong to, but that we never engage in on a real, physical basis, I believe we are verging on heresy.  In my reading of the Fathers of the Church, if one were to say that, “I’m a Christian, but I am not a part of a body of believers”, they would most likely consider you  to be in grave error, or perhaps a Gnostic, but almost certainly verging on heresy, if, in fact, not a heretic already.   We are very good at quoting the promise that Christ will be with us “always, even to the end of the world” (Matt. 28:20), but look at the context… Christ is talking to “them”… the Church.  Almost every promise of Christ’s presence is related to the Church.  “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20).  The Book of Acts is about the Church.  The Pauline epistles are to churches – real, physical, communities of believers in Rome, Corinth, Ephesus and the rest.  Even in the Book of Revelation it is, “John to the seven churches that are in Asia…” (Rev. 1:4).  It is inescapable.  

Now, the obvious question will arise, “Are you saying I can’t be a Christian without being part of a church?” 

Ultimately, only God can answer that question.  What I will say, is that one does not find it in Scripture, the Church Fathers, the Nicene Creed (“We believe…”) or the tradition of the Church. The Apostles Creed, used at baptism, of course says, “I believe”, but that is used as a profession of individual faith as one enters, yes, the Church. Indeed, without “spiritualizing” either the nature of conversion, the meaning of baptism, the presence of Christ, or the concept of what “Church” means, it is very difficult to make sense of a Christian apart from a body of believers.

For those of us who live in the post-apostolic age, who are not “eyewitnesses of his glory”, the Church is the place of the Incarnation.  It is the place of Christ’s continuing physical presence among us – the physical act of baptism, the physical act of chrismation, the physical presence of fellow Christians, the physical movement through the Church year, the physical act of hearing the Gospel proclaimed, the physical nature of the Eucharist.  This was the case in the early Church, the medieval Church and the Reformation Church.  Today, however, we have, as a society and as Christians, embraced the modern, secular, post-Enlightenment idea of “the individual” and personal choice and fulfillment as being the highest good. In many cases, we have overlaid that secular idea on to Christian faith and life.  In so doing, we have abandoned the historic faith in favor of a self-affirming personalism.

Many have been hurt at one time or another by churches and church leaders.  Sometimes this has been intentional, and at other times it has been unintentional. It is important, however, to realize that there are numerous churches that are providing light and life to those who attend and participate. Yes, we have all witnessed conduct by churches and church leaders that is wholly unacceptable by any standard. I will admit, there are times, in my darker moments, when the American ecclesiastical scene appears to be a vast wasteland of politics (right and left), intolerance and tribalism. Indeed, one has to believe that many church leaders, and some congregants, will face an accounting for what has been done, as well as that which has been left undone.  Yet, the Church is  there and it remains the means by which Christ comes to us in time and space. To make the “choice” to deny it, or spiritualize it, may well be our very own personal modern heresy.

Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD

The Project

Dec 092017
 

The Martyrs Project is own own Duane Arnold and Michael Glen Bell.

This is their new song, “Poet’s Fall”.

If you haven’t yet heard their albums “Mystic Chapel” or “The Martyrs Prayers” you can listen by clicking here.

Dec 092017
 

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and the comfort of your Holy Word we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Dec 092017
 

The Book of Revelation – Introduction Pt. 2

From my point of view, Revelation is a 5th gospel. The other four (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) gave accounts of Jesus in his humiliation – conception to his ascension. Revelation is the account of Jesus in all his glory, to the end.

 

This is a look through the eyes of John, through the visions that were given him; we will see what Jesus is up to now that he is in his glory – his state of exaltation. First and foremost we see that he is in control – no matter how chaotic, wild, violent, reckless and evil it is down on earth, Jesus is above it all and completely in control. All of the evil and violence go only to the point, to the bounds Jesus has set and will be used for the purposes he desires.

With the proper understanding of Revelation as a 5th gospel, we will see that this may be, as opposed to how it often and usually presented today, the most comforting book in the Bible.

Revelation is also the most powerful and focused book in the Bible to discuss Christology – the study of Jesus Christ. A Lutheran saying is “all theology is Christology.” Who is this Jesus? How is he manifest and what is he doing today? We will hear of many, but here are a few;

The Son of Man

The Lamb of God

A Mighty Angel

He is the Lord of the Church

The Judge of the World

The Everlasting God

The Word of God

The Source of the New Creation (the new heaven and the new earth).

The purpose of the Book of Revelation is to reveal – not weird stuff, although there is weird stuff going on, and not really the future, although we do peak into the future – it is to reveal the already from a heavenly perspective and to give comfort for that which is to come. What is to come? We will see terrifying horrors and suffering here on the earth and we will see the comfort of Jesus Christ, the slain lamb exalted in heaven. This will be a story told as a back and forth – terrible things happening on earth, ‘but meanwhile, back in heaven…’ So what is the point? We Christians, the church militant can take heart that we are a part of the family of heaven and because of this, we are not to be disturbed by the things happening on earth. We are not to allow the world to impede our mission as the Church.

We see so much gospel in Revelation. The 7 Beatitudes of Revelation show clearly where God’s heart is in this book.

  • 1:3 – “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.”
  • 14:13 – “And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!”
  • 16:15 – “(“Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!”)
  • 19:9 – “And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.”
  • 20:6 – “Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.”
  • 22:7 – “And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”
  • 22:14 – “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates.”

The Cast of Characters

Jesus Christ as himself (we looked at titles and roles under Christology above)

John, as the author and the receiver of the visions

The Seven Churches as themselves and as representatives of all churches

The 144,000

The Great Multitude

The Two Witnesses

The Four Horsemen

The 7 Angels blowing 7 Trumpets

The Dragon

The Beast

The False Prophet

The Two Women

The 200 Million Man Army — can you name others?

Recapitulation

This is the style John uses telling the Revelation story – the story from God’s point of view. Some examples – (very simple and not comprehensive – just to get the thought rolling.) – at each stop, this is all end of the world language

  • The 7 Seals (5:1 – 8:5) leads to the end = 6:12-17.
  • The 7 Trumpets (8:6 – 11:19) leads to the end = 11:15-17
  • The Interlude (12:1 – 14:20) leads to the end = 14:9-20
  • The 7 Bowls (15:1 – 16:21) leads to the end = 16:17-21
  • If the back half of Revelation were lost to the ages and ended at Rev 7:17, I am sure that the readers would have been satisfied that they had been shown the end and the following heavenly scene.
  • If true, then this would show that John was not writing a chronology, but indeed, retelling the same history, over and over again.

A modern day example of Recapitulation. (Side note on seeing from God’s perspective.)

  • Let’s use a televised football game as an example. To see it all (to see it as God would see – so to speak) you would need to go up in the blimp to see it unfold as one continuous action
  • You are seeing it all at once, but you cannot describe it all at once – so John will then go back and in order to describe what he has seen, he will keep going back over the same action and go over and over again from different perspectives from all different angles and views. But it is the telling and retelling of the same events. (We will see this most clearly with the Seals, the Trumpets and the Bowls – recapitulating the story from the ascension to the end.)
  • John may first join in the tunnel walk – then give a view of and from the concession stands, and then a sideline view of the cheerleaders. Remember, all of this is a part of the football game.
  • How many ways can you see and describe a single play of a game? We mentioned the blimp, various sideline shots, from behind the QB, from behind the LB for example – and that does not include the close in shots following a WR as he runs down the sideline … all on the same play.
  • Each angle, each replay may be highlighting on that play a single piece (were both feet in?) that shows greater intensity and importance to that single play – do you see the hands to the facemask from the blimp?
  • Keep this in mind for the whole book.

Next week we will begin Chapter 1 (1-8)

 

Dec 072017
 

Psalm 145: Praise to God, the King! – Part 1

Martin Luther called the Psalter “a little Bible. In it is comprehended most beautifully and briefly everything that is in the entire Bible.”1

If Luther’s claim is even half accurate, then for many years I have underappreciated an important book of Scripture.

I have attended churches that rarely mention the psalms; and I have attended others that incorporate psalms into worship regularly but without any explanation regarding the selection or meaning of any particular psalm. Therefore, I have decided to test Luther’s claim and perhaps discover what I have missed from the Psalter for many years.

So that my studies might also benefit others who are interested in, or curious about, the psalms, I intend to share what I am learning from the psalms in a series of articles, drawing on the many topics which we find addressed in them.

To orient our look into the psalms, I have incorporated into this first article the following introductory remarks concerning the psalms generally:

“The book of Psalms expresses the whole range of emotions that God’s people experience in this life. Nowhere will you find words expressing greater joy than in the psalms of praise and thanksgiving. Nowhere will you find words expressing deeper sorrow than in the psalms of repentance. Nowhere will you find more fervent expression of both the sorrows and the joys that life brings. The book of Psalms is a book for every occasion and for every season of life.”2

Like all of Scripture, the Psalter transcends time. It is a worship book within the Bible inspired by the Holy Spirit for the people of God in every generation. Summarizing Luther’s usage of the psalms:

“The psalmists asked for blessings and gave thanks for blessings as members of the covenant people of God, relying on God’s grace, trusting His promises, worshiping in His temple, receiving His forgiveness. Yet all of these – covenant, grace, promise, temple, forgiveness – found their fulfilment in Jesus Christ. Christ [says Luther] ‘is Himself the God whom we are exhorted to worship.’ When the psalmist exults that God’s ‘love endures forever,’ Luther responds that Christ ‘stands hidden’ in that phrase.”3

Luther divided the psalms into five groups: prophesy; instruction; comfort; prayer; and thanks.4 I will select psalms from each of these groups for upcoming articles.

With these introductory remarks in mind, let us begin our look into the psalms with one of the great psalms of praise:

Psalm 145: Praise to God, the King!

Psalm 145 is a psalm of thanksgiving for the kingdom of Christ, which was to come. This psalm belongs to the First Commandment with undivided worship of God the King who is above all things; the Second Commandment by using His name properly in praise and proclamation; and the Third Commandment by hallowing the genuine Sabbath with true worship and gladly hearing God’s Word. This psalm also belongs to the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer, which prays for the hallowing of God’s name; and the second petition, which prays for His kingdom.

“A Song of Praise. Of David.

1 I will extol you, my God and King,
and bless your name forever and ever.
2 Every day I will bless you
and praise your name forever and ever.”

David, whom the Prophet Samuel anointed as king of an earthly monarchy, recognized that his God is the King over all creation. We cannot “extol” (i.e., exalt, praise, magnify, worship) Christ the King enough because it is His work as Redeemer which alone avails us before God. In this way we join in David’s vow to bless and praise the name of Christ the King both “forever and ever” and “every day.” “For David says about [Christ], ‘I saw the Lord always in front of me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart was glad and my tongue rejoiced; my body also will live in hope, because you will not leave my soul in Hades, nor permit your Holy One to experience decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of joy with your presence.’ ” (Acts 2:25-28)

“3 Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised,
and his greatness is unsearchable.”

In Psalm 145, David alternates between sections of praise and sections of proclamation. Verse 3 is a burst of proclamation. We might ask why proclamation? St. Paul rhetorically asked: “And how are they to believe in one they have not heard of?” (Rom 10:14b)

God’s “greatness is unsearchable” (i.e., unfathomable, inscrutable). To an unbeliever, this attribute of God is only terrifying. Mankind is endowed with some natural knowledge of God: “For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, because they are understood through what has been made” (Rom 1:20); but knowledge of His power and divine nature, without reconciliation through Christ the Mediator, only brings into sharp relief the contrast between the holy God and sinful man. In such a circumstance, man only fears God’s wrath, as, for example, Isaiah experienced in his vision: “And I said: ‘Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’ ” (Isa 6:5)

The problem is that man cannot reason or observe our way from the unsearchable God to the Lord God, from sinner before a Holy God to adopted child before the Father in heaven. The only move fallen man, left to ourselves, is capable of making is to the cult of sacrifice in the hope of placating an unsearchable deity. Here Luther answers aptly:

 “If the cross were not extolled through preaching, teaching, and confession, who could have ever thought of it, to say nothing of knowing it? But such is His kingdom and power, that He aided the fallen, called the needy to Himself, made sinners godly, and brought the dead to life.”5

Thus the Gospel of Christ and His kingdom must be preached, from one generation to the next. When one hears the grace of God proclaimed for him or her, e.g. – Christ “was given over because of our transgressions and was raised for the sake of our justification” (Rom 4:25), the Holy Spirit teaches us about the grace of God, who through faith makes us His children, and turns our focus away from the “unsearchable” God to “the Lord” who is “great.” In Christ, God’s “greatness” is now for us and becomes the source of great comfort, rather than a source of fear and trepidation about God’s unsearchable providential works in creation. Amen.

Thank you for reading. Next week, we will pick up Psalm 145 at verse 4 where David begins his second section of praise for the wondrous works of his God the King. Amen.

 

_________________________

 

1 Ngien, Dennis. Fruit for the Soul: Luther on the Lament Psalms. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015. Print. p. xviii.

 

2 Brug, John F. The People’s Bible Commentary: Psalms 1. rev. ed., St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1992. Print. p. 2-3.

 

3 Concordia Publishing House. Reading the Psalms with Luther. 2007. Print. p. 10.

 

4 Ibid. p. 14.

 

5 Ibid. p. 344.

Dec 062017
 

“There are other people who are slowly becoming Christians though they do not yet call themselves so. There are people who do not accept the full Christian doctrine about Christ but who are so strongly attracted by Him that they are His in a much deeper sense than they themselves understand.

There are people in other religions who are being led by God’s secret influence to concentrate on those parts of their religion which are in agreement with Christianity, and who thus belong to Christ without knowing it.

 

For example, a Buddhist of good will may be led to concentrate more and more on the Buddhist teaching about mercy and to leave in the background (though he might still say he believed) the Buddhist teaching on certain other points.

Many of the good Pagans long before Christ’s birth may have been in this position. And always, of course, there are a great many people who are just confused in mind and have a lot of inconsistent beliefs all jumbled up together. Consequently, it is not much use trying to make judgments about Christians and non-Christians in the mass. It is some use comparing cats and dogs, or even men and women, in the mass, because there one knows definitely which is which. Also, an animal does not turn (either slowly or suddenly) from a dog into a cat.”

 

Dec 052017
 

The Reformation viewed from the East…

Great piece on Warren Throckmorton’s change of mind about reparative therapy…

Jesus didn’t come to bring peace on earth…

Cop movie theology…

Where evangelicals are giving the most and the least…

Ravi and his PR firm’s response in CT…

Why that response cleared up nothing…

Remembering theologian Thomas Torrance…

Congregational serial killers…

Younger evangelicals indifferent towards Israel…

The Advent question…

Are American evangelicals reinventing Christianity?

Why we should all be observing Advent…

How often communion?

Four Christmas myths we’ve totally bought…

Mere sexuality…

Christmas belongs to those who mourn…

Are you ‘struggling” with sin?

Cocktail theology…

Don’t mess around with Jerusalem…

When a woman rewrites Proverbs 31…

The church’s fate is not electoral…

God’s plan for Mike Pence…

Russell Moore’s 17 best books of ’17…

Huge thanks as always to EricL for the link help…support him at top right…

 

Dec 052017
 

1. The Ravi Zacharias scandal has went just as I expected. He lawyered up, hired the standard PR firm, and used the mainstream Christian media whores to change the narrative to one that the insanely idolatrous free market celebrity church would accept. It will be accepted, accompanied by raging scorn for those who dared stand up to the machine.

If Nathan stood up to David today, David would hire a PR form, a host of attorneys, and sue the prophet into silence…

2. The prophetic ministry of the church today is almost solely being staffed by people with no resources except a computer, an internet connection, and the truth…and it’s going about as well for them as it did for many prophets of old who the enemies of God destroyed…

3. The reputable bloggers I know always have information that for one reason or another they can’t publish, usually to protect victims. It’s often the unpublished material that pushed them to publish in the first place. I will go to my grave with some things…and go to that grave early because of them…

4. What have we learned again? Never, never, repent, just ‘explain”… repentance is for losers and people who can’t afford lawyers…

5. It’s really hard to enjoy a football game when you’re waiting to find out if one of the participants will be paralyzed for life…this might be my last season trying…

6. When I look about at all the moral corruption and violence of this world and realize that this is the world Christ came to save in the Incarnation, wonder abounds…

7. I thought I’d given up my favorite sins to follow Jesus, then He had to mention my cynicism…

8. When that player was injured last night there were hundreds of comments on social media celebrating the injury. The next big reality show may feature lions and those deemed criminals by society…

9. The cure for cynicism is Advent…

10. Loving ones enemies is very difficult…because it requires that you have actual enemies before you can try to love them…Jesus wasn’t speaking hypothetically…

 

 

%d bloggers like this: