Huge thanks to EricL for the link help…support him at top right…
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
Robert Webber, for many years, taught Theology and Church History at Wheaton. His evangelical credentials were flawless, from his undergraduate years at Bob Jones University to his doctoral degree from Concordia, St. Louis. He even had the great fortune to marry the daughter of Harold Lindsell, the long time editor of Christianity Today. I first met Bob in 1979, shortly after he had written his classic book Common Roots, exploring the call of the Early Church to modern evangelicals. We became friends and occasional correspondents over the next number of years. He was a force of nature. Visiting his office at Wheaton, a window looked out on onto the Billy Graham Center… except Bob had surrounded the window with icons! Curly hair, mustache and a mischievous smile, he was clearly on his own journey. It was a journey back and forward, to what he termed an ancient-future faith.
Robert Webber died in 2007. His last book was, Who Gets To Narrate The World?. I have to take Bob at his word, that “… this book is primarily about the face off between Islamic and Christian ideology” (p. 102) which he believed would be the struggle of this century. Yet, however much I am willing to allow Bob or, indeed, any author to lay out in plain terms the intent of their writing, I have to take issue with Bob’s perception, at least in this case. Moreover, as a result of the Pew Research Study of 2007 and the more recent exhaustive study America’s Changing Religious Landscape (May 12, 2015) it has become abundantly clear, at least to me, that this book was really about something that transcends the mere geopolitical/theological confrontation between Islam and the West. Rather this book sought to explore the nature of a Christian community and theology that is, literally, “adrift”. It is a community (across almost all denominations and faith traditions) that is no longer anchored to the cosmic redemptive narrative which Webber’s book considers essential to confront the dual challenges of Islamic fundamentalism and secular humanism. It is my conviction that this drift has become accelerated in the course of the last forty five years with a marked decline in denominations and Christian faith traditions across the board in America and in Europe. We may rejoice that in the latest Pew study, evangelicals seem to have somewhat held their own, but in a time of population growth, they have actually suffered a loss as well. If we also include in the Pew analysis that the evangelicals surveyed included numerous faith communities whose theology can only be described as “Christianity light”, the picture becomes even more sobering.
I have hinted at what I believe is the cause of this acceleration in referencing the poem The Second Coming, written by Yeats in 1919. “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…” and “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” Within numerous denominations and faith communities, the center has not held – whether that center consisted in confessions of faith, standards of ministry, training and/or pastoral care, or the idea – yes, even the mere idea – that the Church holds a cosmic redemptive narrative separate from the contemporary post-modern secular construct. Yes, in many denominations and numerous independent faith communities there are those who are “the best”, that is, men and women of faith who cling tenaciously to that cosmic redemptive narrative, but often without “conviction” as they look to the practical realities of “paycheck and pension” or, perhaps even worse, cast a jealous eye at the full parking lot of the megachurch down the street that has embraced an entertainment/consumer approach replete with the latest audio-visual equipment, well rehearsed praise bands and development professionals on staff. Then, of course, there are the “worst”. Denominational leadership has, in many cases, been taken over by people far more doctrinaire on “issues of the moment” (for instance, LGBT marriage, ordination, etc.) than any Biblical fundamentalist discussing Genesis. On the other hand, megachurch pastors across the United States and in some parts of Western Europe enjoy what is considered “success” in local “church plants” or “worship centers”, or on television, YouTube and internet streaming, promoting a consumerist, individualistic, and, in this last year, a political approach to Christian faith wholly divorced from history, tradition, or community. Moreover, both of these sets of leadership do what they do with “passionate intensity”, and dare I say it, on occasion, with a degree of ruthlessness.
All of this is to say, the center has not held. Indeed, there is no longer a center to hold in much of what we see in church life today. With apologies to Robert Webber, it is not that the Church no longer provides the world with the revolutionary narrative of creation, fall and redemption with all that it entails; the sad fact is that this narrative is either no longer held, or has been lost, by many, if not most, Christian denominations and communities in 2017. The narrative is no longer, as Bob wrote in 2007, “held dear by every Christian body” (p. 117) apart from cultural or civic formulations.
To use a modern reference, it is as though we are Peter Jackson, the famed New Zealand director, and we have decided to film The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but we have decided that the idea of a gold ring as a main character is too abstract a concept for audiences to grasp, so we film the cycle without it. We have the actors, the costumes, the special effects, the script writers, the New Zealand locations, but the story – the narrative – is gone, so the film no longer makes sense. It no longer makes sense to the participants in the film; it no longer makes sense to the audience that comes to view the finished result. The film is beautifully shot, the actors are superb, the special effects are stunning, but the story – the compelling narrative at it’s heart is gone. It is a mere one time “event”, (similar to youth oriented “worship events” that are now in vogue) devoid of meaning and without any lasting significance.
Webber always asserted that the “path to the future runs through the past”. Let us, however, be clear – Our calling is not to be antiquarians, or curators of a museum.
Rather our calling, as I have said elsewhere, is to “authenticity”; to find the central tenants of the Christian narrative in Scripture, Church History, the Creeds, the Church Year, Worship, Social Justice, and Polity and to give them an authentic life in 2017. It is a daunting task of recovery. It is not for the faint of heart and, apart from the promise that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against” the Church, there is no promise of success. We may hope with Yeats, that “Surely some revelation is at hand; Surely the Second Coming is at hand.” Yet, perhaps that revelation may be our own renewed commitment to that ancient-future faith, which my friend held so dear, and the discovery of a new, but ancient way to “narrate the world”
Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
God of the seasons, God of the years, God of the eons, Alpha and Omega, before us and after us.
You promise and we wait: we wait with eager longing, we wait amid doubt and anxiety, we wait with patience thin and then doubt, and then we take life into our own hands.
We wait because you are the one and the only one.
We wait for your peace and your mercy, for your justice and your good rule.
Give us your spirit that we may wait obediently and with discernment, caringly and without passivity, trustingly and without cynicism, honestly and without utopianism.
Grant that our wait may he appropriate to your coming soon anal very soon, soon and not late, late but not too late.
We wait while the world groans in eager longing.
Walter Brueggemann. Prayers for a Privileged People (pp. 117-118). Kindle Edition.
What Defiles a Person? – (before God)
What defiles a man before men? Smoking – Eating saturated fats – Drinking 32oz Cokes – anything the food police deem bad.
10 And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand:
- When Jesus says this, you had better pay attention and not just blow it off.
11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.”
- This is in total contradiction to what the hearers think – They think it is following the dietary laws — eating only kosher.
- I can’t eat or drink certain things (being a vegetarian for religious purposes).
- This is the excuse that my sin, my problems come from the outside.
- Jesus blows the lid off that. You are your own problem.
12 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?”
- Does anyone think that Jesus didn’t know who his audience was?
13 He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up.
- Man-made doctrines can be ignored and the makers of man-made doctrines will one day get theirs.
14 Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”
- Jesus is saying don’t follow those who teach false doctrine.
- Today we think doctrine is too divisive so folks want to avoid it.
- We say “doctrine should not divide anyone – therefore we will overlook doctrinal differences. Then we make up categories like primary and secondary issues / doctrines. Who gets to make those 2 lists?
- Did Luther say “hey, the Pope’s a nice guy, give him a pass.”?
15 But Peter said to him, “Explain the parable to us.”
- Peter just comes up and says “Hey Jesus, quit beating around the bush – just explain this to us. We don’t get it.”
16 And he said, “Are you also still without understanding?
- Is Jesus playing with Peter? I think so.
17 Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled?
- Is this part clear enough?
18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.
- Have you ever hurt anyone by what you have eaten?
- Have you ever hurt anyone by what has come out of your mouth – words?
19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.
- A good list – and from my point of view, no one accidently does these things – we usually think long and hard, even planning these sins.
20 These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”
- But some folks are tied up in the rituals
- It was for sayings like this that made Jesus so dangerous to those in authority.
- We are all Pharisees at heart / by nature. I am.
- I just think if I can control my outward actions that I will be pure and righteous before God.
- No, the sewage comes from within – every time I open my mouth reveals more fruit of my sinful condition.
- To change takes the Holy Spirit.
The Faith of a Canaanite Woman – here we will have a shift of scene
21 And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon.
- Jesus leaves the offended Pharisees – Those who represent the old Israel – he is beginning to do the separations.
- He is now off to pagan land.
22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.”
- I will give away the punch line here – this woman will be the beginning of the description of the new Israel.
- Now to be one of belief.
- As we go along, compare her to the Jews who refuse to confess Jesus as Lord and this woman who does.
- This woman has 2 strikes against her – (1) she is a Canaanite – the Jews were to have driven them all out of the land and (2) she is a woman.
- But she knows exactly who Jesus is.
23 But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.”
- The disciples have a pretty good self opinion – she is crying out after “us”
- What would we think? I would be so done with him.
- He surely can’t be my God – what do we do when we don’t get from God what we want? We put God on trial
- Think about it – she does everything right – she calls him Lord – recognizes he is the Son of David and she petitions for others, not herself – and she blames the devil for the problems not God.
- And what does she get – silence – and the disciples are no help.
24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
- What is he saying to her since she is a Canaanite?
- “Hey, I’m not here for you honey.”
25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.”
- She pays no attention – she does not go away.
- She believes she is a dear child of the heavenly father in spite of what she hears.
26 And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”
- Jesus replies – “I do not share the good stuff with outsiders.”
27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
- Note that she always calls him Lord and admits to being a dog
- Yet we go on saying “O, my God would never say that / do that!”
- This woman is much smarter than the Pharisees and teachers
- She can yes lord, but I know from the OT that you have promises out there not just to Israel but to the whole world.
28 Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
- She trusts and Jesus delivers
- She lives by faith – an example to Israel to trust in the Messiah – and they failed.
- An example to us – it is not just the church. This is the same pattern we see at the end of Matthew where the disciples are sent out to convert the whole world – but they still went to the synagogues first
- To the Jew first until rejected.
“To be commanded to love God at all, let alone in the wilderness, is like being commanded to be well when we are sick, to sing for joy when we are dying of thirst, to run when our legs are broken. But this is the first and great commandment nonetheless. Even in the wilderness – especially in the wilderness – you shall love him.”
There are a multitude of reasons we can find ourselves in the wilderness.
Sometimes, it’s because of our sin, sometimes, it’s the result of the sins of others.
Sometimes, it’s by choice.
Sometimes, the wilderness is safer than being inside the camp.
Sometimes, if you want to see the stars you must leave the lights of the city and go into the darkness of the wilderness to see them shine.
Sometimes, in order to see Jesus and love Him, you must leave those who claim to love Him too.
For me, this is such a time.
The divisions among us are now so deep, so entrenched in temporal politics, that I can no longer see Jesus clearly among the saints.
The Jesus of social media is primarily interested in the defeat and humiliation of His political opponents.
Sin and sanctification are measured by political ideology, not necessarily biblical standards.
The Sermon on the Mount is for the weak or another dispensation when voting wasn’t an option.
We are not known for our love, but we’d better be known to uphold specific political principles.
I don’t have what it takes to participate in such anymore, nor to debate with those who do.
Add to that the corruption of too many leaders, the abuse of the sheep by the shepherds… and it easily becomes too much to bear.
You run to the wilderness.
The great challenge of the wilderness is not to love Jesus in your isolation…that’s the easy part.
Once you see Jesus clearly above all earthly powers, once you see Him in the reflection of the Cross again…your heart is instantly renewed.
No, the hard part is to love the ones who are glad that you’re no longer among them.
The hard part is to not prefer division and give up on the hope of reconciliation with the family.
The harder part is to follow Him back where you came from…because He loves the people you left and because He does, you do too.
The brokenness you take into the wilderness is the healing you bring back home.
When you’re ready…
I’m not yet…
I will be.
Make your own application…
“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’ When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: “And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.” ’
Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.’ After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.” (Matt 2:1-12)
Epiphany (which means manifestation) commemorates the visit of the magi to Jesus in Bethlehem. On the night Jesus was born, God gave the Jews a sign that their Savior was born through the appearance of an angel to nearby shepherds. However, Jesus came also for those who are far off – for the gentile nations. Therefore, God gave the gentiles a sign that their Savior too was born through the appearance of a special star to the magi who were from Arabia or Persia. The Epiphany of Christ to the magi is also known in Church tradition as Christmas of the Gentiles.
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” (Isa 9:2)
The light (of the star) may have shined for the magi in the east, but when they arrived at Jerusalem, they found no light, only darkness. Why were the residents in the capital (except for a few), including Herod, the chief priests and scribes, not aware of the birth of their King? Why were the Jews not celebrating the restoration of the monarchy to the House of David? Did no one else see the star rising over Israel? One can only imagine the astonishment of the magi when they encountered the utter state of ignorance and indifference among the residents of Jerusalem.
“Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” (Matt 2:2)
When the magi could no longer follow the rising star for directions to Jesus, they would next be led by Scripture. (God desires that we seek Him in His Word, which provides our faith with a sure foundation.) When word of the magi’s inquiry reached Herod, he gathered the chief priests and the scribes who easily located Micah’s prophesy: “They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ” (Matt 2:5-6, quoting Micah 5:2)
“If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” (Luke 16:31)
Micah’s prophesy functioned as a second guiding light for the magi searching for Jesus. As Peter, writing later, teaches: “we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (1 Pet 1:19). Jesus is the “bright morning star.” (Rev 22:16)
But what was guiding Herod and the priests and scribes? They also knew Micah’s prophesy. What was their guiding light?
The Priests and the Scribes. These men were experts and teachers of the Scriptures, but they did not come to Jesus. As educated men, likely of the Sanhedrin, they might have been the first to joyfully set out for Bethlehem to honor their King. But they feared Herod more than God. So they remained with Herod and hardened their hearts.
Later when Jesus did not appear with splendor and power, the priests and scribes apparently dismissed the visit of the magi as a hoax. Thus Jesus grew up among them in anonymity, just as John the Baptist later said to the priests and Levites: “among you stands one you do not know” (John 1:26). The priests and scribes knew the Scriptures inside and out and yet were blind in unbelief.
Herod. Herod was not an expert in the Scriptures, but he knew how to use them for his own purposes. He apparently believed the Scriptures were the Word of God, yet he foolishly set himself against the Word, thinking he could sabotage and foil God’s plan. Herod attempted to use Micah’s prophesy for evil, to preserve his kingdom, by destroying God’s Anointed One. Even the devil knows the Scriptures. However, Solomon teaches a greater truth: “No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel can avail against the Lord.” (Prov 21:30)
The Wise Men. These were men “who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” (Luke 8:15) The magi traveled far at personal risk and cost to find Christ. They did not despair at the ignorance and indifference of the leaders in Jerusalem, but held fast to the Word of God spoken through the Prophet Micah. Upon leaving Jerusalem, the star reappeared to the magi, leading them to the precise house where Jesus was staying. “And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him.” (Matt 2:11a)
The magi were neither wise like Herod, who amassed a kingdom and great wealth, nor like the chief priests and scribes, who achieved great status and positions among the people. The magi were wise like children, as Jesus would later teach by way of prayer: “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.” (Luke 10:21) The magi likely were held in contempt by the wise men of Jerusalem, but they were wise in the things of God. Only through the eyes of childlike faith could the magi behold their young King alone with His peasant mother in a small village outside Jerusalem. May our Father in Heaven protect us also from the ways of the world and grant us childlike faith which beholds our Lord and Savior who has reconciled us to God through the blood of His cross. Amen.
“Hail, Thou Source of every blessing, Sovereign Father of mankind!
Gentiles now, Thy grace possessing, In Thy courts admission find.
Grateful now we fall before Thee, In Thy Church obtain a place,
Now by faith behold Thy glory, Praise Thy truth, adore Thy grace.
Once far off, but now invited, We approach Thy sacred throne;
In Thy covenant united, Reconciled, redeemed, made one.
Now revealed to Eastern sages, See the Star of Mercy shine;
Mystery hid in former ages, Mystery great of love divine.
Hail, Thou all-inviting Savior! Gentiles now their offerings bring;
In Thy temples seek Thy favor, Jesus Christ, our Lord and King.
May we, body, soul, and spirit, Live devoted to Thy praise,
Glorious realms of bliss inherit, Grateful anthems ever raise!”
“Hail, Thou Source of Every Blessing”
by Basil Woodd
Last week we got into a discussion about the doctrine of the Trinity on one of the threads here. As the issue was parsed, we were able to see just how careful we sometimes need to be in our descriptions and definitions, as even just one unclear word can lead to significant doubt or confusion. Especially on something as sublime as the Trinity where it is very hard for our human minds to comprehend three distinct Persons in one eternal God. Truthfully, our minds can’t really comprehend it, but we do our best to try to faithfully describe and understand who God has revealed Himself to be. Dr. Arnold then gave us an articulate expression of the Trinity just a couple days ago, correlating it to how we show love, and sin when we don’t.
Unsaid in these discussions, but likely presumed by most, is that the doctrine of the Trinity is a pillar of the Christian faith. An essential or fundamental or primary or cardinal doctrine, if you will. That if a church is going to call itself a church, or a Christian to call themselves a Christian, then they should have a handle on this one. As difficult as it may be to fully comprehend, if they have a faulty understanding of the Trinity, and especially if they reject it, one wonders if they truly are of the faith. (The caveat here, of course, is that we wouldn’t be as concerned with young children or those new to the faith as they may not have yet had an opportunity to come to a sufficient understanding.)
All of this got me to thinking about the essentials of the faith. We often refer to those things that are essential or primary, and subsequently those that are non-essential or secondary. So what are they? Now, I’m sure each and every one of us would have a list that’s a bit different, at least in some respects. Some might have a list of a few core essentials, others might have a list of a hundred. And I certainly imagine we would see some differences from the Evangelical list to the Lutheran list to the Catholic list to the Orthodox list.
The way I think about it, those items or doctrines that are the core or the essentials of the Christian faith would pertain to salvation and who God is. Even these two categories can be very broad in what we could all include, but which items or beliefs within them do we see as primary importance for the faith?
The aforementioned doctrine of the Trinity would be included in the primary list for me. Belief in God the Father, God the Son – Jesus Christ, and God the Holy Spirit, all distinct Persons of the eternal God and Creator of heaven and earth and man. While already admitting that this is a difficult concept for us to wrap our minds around, nonetheless if we don’t know who the Christian God is, as revealed and described in the Bible, then really in whom is our faith?
Certainly the person and work of Jesus Christ would be or primary importance. A Christian would need to recognize the deity of Christ and His death on the cross for our sins and His subsequent bodily resurrection. Following from that, a Christian would need to recognize their own sin and have a belief or faith in Jesus Christ and what He did on the cross and in resurrection in order to be saved from those sins.
I also think a belief in the Second Coming of Christ where there will be final judgment and the resurrection of our bodies and when He will make all things new and set all things right is an essential of our faith.
These are the things I think of as being the most essential or fundamental to the Christian faith. Much of what I have mentioned here can be found in one manner or another in the historic Christian creeds, which are obviously quite good baselines to the historic faith.
Matters involving baptism and communion and the authority of Scripture and God’s sovereignty are also of great importance, but I wouldn’t include them quite in the same category as the previously mentioned core. Others may very well include them.
Beyond these things, there are also plenty of other doctrines which are certainly substantial but I would think as being more secondary or as a rung below the essentials. Issues like the particulars of soteriology and sovereignty, such as are classically debated in the Calvinist/Arminian divide. Issues like the particulars of eschatology or ecclesiology or the continuation of spiritual gifts or the existence and nature of Hell.
Then we have all kinds of manner of topics, that while not denying their significance, I would see almost as being tertiary in importance. Things like worship music and Bible translations and alcohol and how to spend money.
Now my listings here are far from complete and full. This article was not meant to be an exhaustive study and I’m certainly not making the claim of being the final judge of the exact classification of importance for every doctrine. These are just my introductory thoughts. With the diversity in the faith we have here, it would be interesting to see what others would add or where they would see things differently than I do as a layman Evangelical. So have at it, if you like. We’re bound to have some differences, but I would hope we can also find some unifying agreements in our Christian faith.
Huge thanks to EricL for the link help…support him at top right…