I met Herman Selderhuis in Geneva back in 2009. His biography of John Calvin had just been released and he was to deliver a paper during the week long celebration of Calvin’s 500th birthday.
He couldn’t stay long…it was he and his wife’s anniversary and he had to get back to the Netherlands…she didn’t think listening to scholars bleat on about John Calvin was a properly romantic way to note the occasion.
He was still gracious enough to give me some of his time and I appreciated it greatly.
His work on Calvin was outstanding and now he’s applied his gifts to the life of Martin Luther.
Selderhuis has a way of capturing the men behind the copious mythology that surrounds them and has an almost miraculous way of translating massive amounts of research into almost conversational text.
There are tons of books about Luther…but if you want a great biography that is not laden down with scholarly verbiage, this is the place to start.
Buy it with Herman’s volume on Calvin and you will know more about these two great Reformers than most…
“Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” (Phil 3:17)
Verse 17 preaches well, does it not? What pastor would not want his flock to imitate the Apostle Paul?
What Christian does not admire Paul’s singular devotion and faithfulness to the Lord? But, checking our enthusiasm for a moment, we need to stop and ask: Which man is Paul referring to when he says: “imitate me?” Because Paul describes two distinctly different men in Chapter 3, and if we are not careful, we can confuse them and misinterpret Paul.
Imagine the most “godly” Christian you ever met. The person is generous, honest and devout, tireless in service to the church, and is an expert in the Scriptures. That was Paul, if not more so. In Paul’s own words, he was: “as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” (3:6) Paul was right up there with Job as to righteousness. He lived according to the law of God, including the Ten Commandments, tithing, fasting, praying, etc. Paul was, of course, describing his pre-Christian life, but upon his conversion did he not simply adjust and redirect all his energy, devotion and faithfulness to Christ? Is this basically the example he is placing before us to imitate?
But Paul had written something quite shocking about his pre-Christian life: “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Phil 3:8-9).
Upon his conversion, Paul relinquished his own righteousness entirely, and in fact counted all his godliness and works under the law as garbage. He set aside his own quest for righteousness in order to “gain Christ and be found in him.” Through faith alone in Christ, God gave to Paul a perfect “righteousness from God that depends on faith.” Therefore, the “godly” Paul, the one with the impeccable résumé of good works, is not the Paul he would have us imitate. Instead, Paul urges us imitate his teaching and life which seeks no godliness or righteousness of its own, but only the perfect righteousness of Christ which is ours by faith alone in Christ.
“For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.” (Phil 3:18-19)
The question of the “righteousness” of a Christian, that is, is it ours by our works or is it Christ’s imputed to us by virtue of His work for us, is a big deal for Paul because you cannot have both or any mixture of the two.
In Philippi, there were “Christians” inside the church who Paul called “dogs.” (3:2) These were Judaizers who were trying to persuade the Philippian Gentile Christians to adopt aspects of Jewish law, including kosher food laws (“their god is their belly”) and circumcision (“they glory in their shame”). Paul calls them “enemies of the cross of Christ” because they were saying essentially that Christ’s blood shed for them was not sufficient alone to reconcile God and mankind. Something else in addition to Christ, said the Judaizers, must be added. Paul replies “absolutely not!” Either we are clothed with perfect righteousness that is ours by grace through faith alone in Christ, or we “walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.”
Lest we read Chapter 3 as only interesting history, these things are also written as an example for us, because in every age the Gospel and faith always appear weak and insufficient to justify man before God. The issues are always the same: There must be something required of me; or Salvation and eternal life are too precious to be given for free; or Christians cannot be trusted with this kind of freedom.
The result is that we will not let God be God (Adam’s problem). We think we know better. Thus we add to or place conditions on God’s grace and plan of salvation, because we do not believe that Christ has done it all for us. Must I give more? Serve and volunteer more? Study the Bible more? Attend more church functions? Sin less? Vote and hold the right political opinions? Be a member of the right denomination or church? Experience or manifest the Holy Spirit in a certain manner? It is so tempting to begin by grace, but want to finish by works.
“But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” (Phil 3:20-21)
Jesus is very clear: “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.” (John 6:63) There is nothing that you or I can do to advance ourselves towards God; the flesh and its works are no help at all. But what does avail is God’s imputation of righteousness for Christ’s sake, through faith. God declares to us in his Word that the believer in his Son shall, for Christ’s own sake, have God’s grace and eternal life. He who knows this is able, as a citizen of heaven, to wait in hope for the last day, having no fear, no disposition to flee from God’s Word to one’s own futile works.
Once we come to a firm conviction that our righteousness is not our own, but is Christ’s righteousness imputed to us, and that this righteousness is apprehended by faith alone, then we are truly free to serve, not for God’s favor, but for the benefit of our neighbors who need our works, as it is written: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Eph 2:10) These are not the self-chosen works that out of pride or guilt we offer to God to atone for our sins or to obtain His grace; these are the mostly unspectacular everyday works that God has prepared for us to carry out in our individual vocations, as spouses, parents, children, employers, employees, and in the service of our congregations.
Therefore, let us rejoice in our God and Savior Jesus Christ “who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’ ” (1 Cor 30-31). Amen.
“By grace I’m saved, grace free and boundless;
My soul, believe and doubt it not.
Why stagger at this word of promise?
Has Scripture ever falsehood taught?
No! Then this word must true remain;
By grace you too will life obtain.
By grace! None dare lay claim to merit;
Our works and conduct have no worth.
God in His love sent our Redeemer,
Christ Jesus, to this sinful earth;
His death did for our sins atone,
And we are saved by grace alone.
By grace God’s Son, our only Savior,
Came down to earth to bear our sin.
Was it because of your own merit
That Jesus died your soul to win?
No, it was grace, and grace alone,
That brought Him from His heavenly throne.” Amen.
By Grace I’m Saved, Christian Ludwig Scheidt, 1709-61, verses 1-3.
This book by C.S.Lewis is a favorite of evangelicals…even though a lot of what he says is hardly in line with evangelical theology.
Today, we read his take on how the faith is received…and and we’ll let Lewis speak for himself…
“There are three things that spread the Christ life to us: baptism, belief, and that mysterious action which different Christians call by different names—Holy Communion, the Mass, the Lord’s Supper. At least, those are the three ordinary methods. I am not saying there may not be special cases where it is spread without one or more of these.
I have not time to go into special cases, and I do not know enough. If you are trying in a few minutes to tell a man how to get to Edinburgh you will tell him the trains: he can, it is true, get there by boat or by a plane, but you will hardly bring that in. And I am not saying anything about which of these three things is the most essential. My Methodist friend would like me to say more about belief and less (in proportion) about the other two. But I am not going into that. Anyone who professes to teach you Christian doctrine will, in fact, tell you to use all three, and that is enough for our present purpose.
I cannot myself see why these things should be the conductors of the new kind of life. But then, if one did not happen to know, I should never have seen any connection between a particular physical pleasure and the appearance of a new human being in the world. We have to take reality as it comes to us: there is no good jabbering about what it ought to be like or what we should have expected it to be like. But though I cannot see why it should be so, I can tell you why I believe it is so. I have explained why I have to believe that Jesus was (and is) God. And it seems plain as a matter of history that He taught His followers that the new life was communicated in this way.
In other words, I believe it on His authority. Do not be scared by the word authority. Believing things on authority only means believing them because you have been told them by someone you think trustworthy. Ninety-nine per cent of the things you believe are believed on authority. I believe there is such a place as New York. I have not seen it myself. I could not prove by abstract reasoning that there must be such a place. I believe it because reliable people have told me so. The ordinary man believes in the Solar System, atoms, evolution, and the circulation of the blood on authority—because the scientists say so.
Every historical statement in the world is believed on authority. None of us has seen the Norman Conquest or the defeat of the Armada. None of us could prove them by pure logic as you prove a thing in mathematics. We believe them simply because people who did see them have left writings that tell us about them: in fact, on authority. A man who jibbed at authority in other things as some people do in religion would have to be content to know nothing all his life.
Do not think I am setting up baptism and belief and the Holy Communion as things that will do instead of your own attempts to copy Christ. Your natural life is derived from your parents; that does not mean it will stay there if you do nothing about it. You can lose it by neglect, or you can drive it away by committing suicide. You have to feed it and look after it: but always remember you are not making it, you are only keeping up a life you got from someone else. In the same way a Christian can lose the Christ-life which has been put into him, and he has to make efforts to keep it. But even the best Christian that ever lived is not acting on his own steam—he is only nourishing or protecting a life he could never have acquired by his own efforts. And that has practical consequences.
As long as the natural life is in your body, it will do a lot towards repairing that body. Cut it, and up to a point it will heal, as a dead body would not. A live body is not one that never gets hurt, but one that can to some extent repair itself. In the same way a Christian is not a man who never goes wrong, but a man who is enabled to repent and pick himself up and begin over again after each stumble—because the Christ-life is inside him, repairing him all the time, enabling him to repeat (in some degree) the kind of voluntary death which Christ Himself carried out.
That is why the Christian is in a different position from other people who are trying to be good. They hope, by being good, to please God if there is one; or—if they think there is not—at least they hope to deserve approval from good men. But the Christian thinks any good he does comes from the Christ- life inside him. He does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us; just as the roof of a greenhouse does not attract the sun because it is bright, but becomes bright because the sun shines on it.
And let me make it quite clear that when Christians say the Christ-life is in them, they do not mean simply something mental or moral. When they speak of being “in Christ” or of Christ being “in them,” this is not simply a way of saying that they are thinking about Christ or copying Him. They mean that Christ is actually operating through them; that the whole mass of Christians are the physical organism through which Christ acts—that we are.
His fingers and muscles, the cells of His body. And perhaps that explains one or two things. It explains why this new life is spread not only by purely mental acts like belief, but by bodily acts like baptism and Holy Communion. It is not merely the spreading of an idea; it is more like evolution—a biological or super-biological fact. There is no good trying to be more spiritual than God. God never meant man to be a purely spiritual creature. That is why He uses material things like bread and wine to put the new life into us. We may think this rather crude and unspiritual. God does not: He invented eating. He likes matter. He invented it.”
1.I’m glad my dating days are long gone…the rules of engagement with the opposite sex have changed so much over my lifetime that I would be afraid to try…
2.Here’s what the defense of Ravi Zacharias will be, guaranteed… “but, he’s such a good teacher!”…
3.Jesus is “the whole counsel of God”…
4.There was a news report here in my town that after a man was evicted from his home the authorities found 70 cats living in the house. I just want to make it clear it wasn’t me…
5. I think one of the reasons why we are so unhappy and overmedicated is that technology has exceeded our capacity to to use it wisely. Your brain wasn’t meant to deal with the sensory barrage it receives …
6.In Gen 15:6 it says that (speaking of Abram) “he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness”. What did Abram believe?
7. It is amazing to me that after all the sex abuse scandals (and all the other scandals that we seem to get on an average of one per hour), that nobody in the media has yet come to the conclusion that humans have a sin problem. If you don’t understand the problem, you’ll never find a solution…
8.All these scandals should serve to remind us of our own depravity…but it’s more fun to deal with the depravity of others…
9.I’ve become so inured to bad news that the only thing I remember that I read on Facebook yesterday is that my friends cat came home after going missing. It felt good to rejoice…
10.The only time I think about the return of Christ is when I read something that makes me doubt it’ll happen anytime soon…my guess is that is not healthy…
At some point, in the first two decades of the second century of the Christian era, the bishop of Antioch in Asia Minor was arrested by the authorities. His name was Ignatius. Apparently, he was a man of some importance as he was not immediately put to death in his home city but, instead, was sent to Rome where he expected to be killed in the arena by wild beasts. In the course of his journey he stopped first in Philadelphia (in Phrygia) and then in Smyrna where Polycarp (also later to be martyred) was the Bishop. While there he received visits from the bishops of Ephesus, Tralles and Magnesia, and gave to each a letter to be read to their churches. During this period, he also sent a letter to the church in Rome, alerting them to his coming and enjoining them to do nothing to prevent the martyrdom that awaited him. Traveling on to Troas, he sent letters to the churches in Philadelphia and Smyrna, and a final letter to Polycarp himself. We are told by the church historian, Eusebius, that is was reported that Ignatius eventually arrived in Rome and there suffered martyrdom, likely during later years of the reign of the Emperor Trajan (98-117) or slightly thereafter.
The writing of these letters took place in a time of persecution, yet it was not consistent or empire-wide in its scope or in its ferocity. We might think of it as similar to the persecution of Jews in the last two centuries. Many cities in Europe and America had large Jewish populations that were often integrated into the life of the cities in which they lived. Yet, on occasion, virulent anti-semitic outbreaks took place as in the pogroms of Russia. At other times laws curtailing Jewish life and activities could be found in other countries, including the United States. (The Holocaust in Europe, of course, looked to its final destruction.) This very much mirrors (apart from absolute numbers) the local and regional nature of the persecution of the Church in the first three centuries of its existence. It also helps us to understand how Ignatius could be on his way to be martyred in Rome, guarded by Roman soldiers, but, at the same time, be allowed to stop in various cities and communicate with other Christian leaders. Yet, as Ignatius’ fellow bishop, Polycarp, was to find out, death for the faith could be just around the corner, even when all seemed safe. This was the reality that was lived out by Christians for over three centuries.
So, in light of such a precarious position, how is the Church to conduct itself? Perhaps more to the point, as Ignatius is facing his own death, what are his principal concerns with regard to the Church?
Firstly, it is important to note one very important thing in these letters, the Church is “presupposed”. That is, Ignatius is not trying to “invent” the Church. It is there. It has a structure. It has a life as a worshipping community, with baptism and the eucharist seen as normative. It had all of this… and the first apostles were still within the living memory of many in the Church. Just to make the point, some readers may remember the evangelical youth revival of the late 1960s and 1970s. You may have heard, or even known personally, some of the leaders of the time. Writing in 2017 we are no more distant from them than Ignatius was from the apostles and the first followers of Christ. He is not writing about something that is “new”, he is writing about something that is “known”.
In Ignatius we see the struggle of the early Church with schismatic movements. In his letter to the Philadelphians, for example, he indicates that there are schismatic movements that are growing like “evil plants” (Phil. 3). In writing to the Magnesians, he writes that there is a group which advocates the keeping of the Jewish sabbath (in preference to the “first day of the week”) and yet another offshoot of Docetists who denied or disregarded the physical aspects of Christ’s life, such as his physical birth, death and physical resurrection. Ignatius counters both groups in grounding Christian faith in the physical resurrection which is celebrated each Sunday (Magn. 8, 12). Elsewhere, in opposing a non-physical Christianity, Ignatius makes use of stark realistic language concerning the elements of the Eucharist, calling the bread the “flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins” (Smyrn. 7,1). Equally, however, Ignatius is willing to use symbolic language in reference to the Eucharist when he speaks of Christ’s body being the “bread of God” and “his blood” as “incorruptible love” (Rom. 7,3). In each case, he uses the language suitable for his readers and his message and should not be seen as mutually exclusive.
Above all, however, the message of Ignatius is that of Church unity. Alone, of all the Apostolic Fathers, he sees unity as the ground and being of what it means to be the Church. While he writes very little of individual spirituality, in the course of the seven letters, Ignatius uses the noun form of unity eleven times and the verb form of unity six times. For Ignatius of Antioch, “unity” was the primary mark of the Church – that is, to be one with Christ, to be one with the leadership of the Church and to be one with one another.
Ignatius desired the Church to be one with Christ and to show that spiritual unity in faith and love (Eph. 14, 1) in imitation of the unity of Christ and the Father (Eph. 5, 1; Magn. 7, 1; Smyrn. 3, 3). Mindful of his coming martyrdom and the oft-persecuted Church, Ignatius saw this as yet another opportunity for oneness with Christ as individually and corporately Christians imitated Christ’s passion and suffering in their own (Eph. 8, 2). Moreover, when we celebrate the Eucharist (which is itself the Church’s celebration of the passion of Christ) as we break the one bread together, we receive a “medicine” which creates unity (Eph. 20) among all the members of the Church.
For Ignatius, this unity is exemplified by the leadership of the Church. Earlier Christian writings, including the Pauline epistles, indicated the presence of elders or presbyters or, as in the Didache, bishops and deacons. In Ignatius, for the first time, there appears a three-fold ministry of bishops, presbyters (elder or priests) and deacons. While much ink has been spilled through the centuries on the exact duties of these three orders of leadership, perhaps it is enough to say that at this juncture the bishop is the primary leader who presides over baptisms, the Eucharist and marriages. (This would grow, in time, to oversight of several churches within a region.) All these functions, somewhat in the range of any local congregational leader, belong to the Bishop as the representative of God (Magn. 3,1 and 6, 1) or of Christ (Tral. 2,1; Eph. 6,1). Most importantly, however, the Bishop stands as a sign of unity for the Church – not just the local church – but the Church universal or, as Ignatius says for the first time in a Christian document, the “Church catholic”; i.e. the whole or complete Church. This, of course, carried the responsibility of reflecting the holiness of the union of Christ and the Church in the conduct and practice of the bishop.
Much more could be said about the theology of Ignatius of Antioch, most especially his theology of martyrdom and I encourage you to read the letters for yourself. I hope, however, that this short article will at least give you a taste of the treasures that can be found in these seven short letters written in a time not wholly unlike our own.
We live in an age of fragmentation. Churches and denominations split and split again. We look for absolutes of purity and/or practice. The building of walls and fences, keeping people out and keeping people in, seems to be the model of the age. We custom design our “shibboleths” designed to determine and protect our own brand of “orthodoxy”. Yet, here in the early Church is the longing for unity. A unity not merely of doctrine, but a unity of heart and of spirit. Unity is the sign of the kingdom and of Christ’s Church, although it now seems densely veiled. Yet in spite of all evidence to the contrary, for those of you who will be attending or celebrating the Lord’s Supper this coming Sunday, on the first day of the week, the day of resurrection, be mindful… all the Church will be there with you.
Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
MLD will return soon with a new set of studies on the Book of Revelation.
Until then, we’re going to take a look at a Christian classic, “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis.
As a side note, I think this is the most lied about book in the history of Christendom, in that if all the evangelicals who claim to have read it actually did, they would run screaming from it as if their hair were on fire.
I picked it up some thirty years ago and quickly set it back down.
It was full of heresy according to the narrow orthodoxy I’d been taught.
Now that I have found a broader path on the narrow way, it’s quite enjoyable and thought provoking.
I love this quote, which matches my own ecumenical leanings, and which will be our passage for the weekend.
“I hope no reader will suppose that “mere” Christianity is here put forward as an alternative to the creeds of the existing communions—as if a man could adopt it in preference to Congregationalism or Greek Orthodoxy or anything else. It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. If I can bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I attempted. But it is in the rooms, not in the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals. The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in. For that purpose the worst of the rooms (whichever that may be) is, I think, preferable.
It is true that some people may find they have to wait in the hall for a considerable time, while others feel certain almost at once which door they must knock at. I do not know why there is this difference, but I am sure God keeps no one waiting unless He sees that it is good for him to wait. When you do get into your room you will find that the long wait has done you some kind of good which you would not have had otherwise. But you must regard it as waiting, not as camping. You must keep on praying for light: and, of course, even in the hall, you must begin trying to obey the rules which are common to the whole house. And above all you must be asking which door is the true one; not which pleases you best by its paint and paneling.
In plain language, the question should never be: “Do I like that kind of service?” but “Are these doctrines true: Is holiness here? Does my conscience move me towards this? Is my reluctance to knock at this door due to my pride, or my mere taste, or my personal dislike of this particular door- keeper?”
When you have reached your own room, be kind to those Who have chosen different doors and to those who are still in the hall. If they are wrong they need your prayers all the more; and if they are your enemies, then you are under orders to pray for them. That is one of the rules common to the whole house.”
We have a lot of folks here in the hall and many who have found their room…and some who are in the process of changing rooms.