August 2008


CHRIST ALONE  (1964-2016)

As I’ve meditated on the Christian life over some forty plus adult years, there has always been a grave concern in the back of my mind. I have an ever increasing desire to focus on CHRIST himself, on the beauty and sheer majesty of my beloved and the riches that are in His person and in His perfect work on behalf of the human race as the one Mediator between His Holy Father and rebellious humankind. In Him truly are hid all the treasures and fullness of the Godhead in human flesh.

But in order for all this beauty to be seen by the eye of faith, I’ve come to believe rather strongly, that it must be seen against the background of what one has described as “the fallen man focus”; or simply a fuller and fuller vision of what God has said about earthly, sinful Adamic flesh. This revelation begins very early in Genesis and continues right on through Scripture to the very end.

If I had but one message left to proclaim before I would go to meet this lovely friend, Savior, and Lord, and enter into His everlasting Kingdom, I would want it to be about His cross where He really did do something definitively about this “old wretched man” of ours. And I would want to speak especially into the midst of the American evangelical churches that at present are so enamored with the ways of modernity-of technique, of “how-to’s”, filled with their confident “can do” self help philosophy.

Passing the Torch

Passing the Torch

I would remind them of the foolishness of God, of the way of the cross of His Son. I would stand in the gap and call all of us to make certain that we have in fact understood God’s once for all judgement on the flesh of Adam and the indispensable repudiation of that which is dearest and nearest to the old stony and deceitful heart of the self life. I wonder if God is not hearing again a lot of the “bleeting of sheep” in our midst that he has told us as He did a man named SAUL, in no uncertain terms, to put to death! Please read the Scripture at this link: I Samuel 15.

For me, what is urgently at issue in our churches is no mere matter of difference in styles or methodologies, not even a question of how we do church, but a matter of a “breach of faith”- a failure to pay the price of covenant faithfulness. It is a matter of the one response to the love of God in the presence of His glorified and reigning King that He requires: true repentance toward Him and faith in the only flesh which He is well pleased with. The only flesh that will be allowed to glory in the presence of GOD.

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Pay Close Attention to FLESH in his writings

“The glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. . .all flesh is grass” -The Prophet Isaiah, chapter 40.

The subject of flesh and blood is one of those cords that is woven very distinctly throughout the fabric of Scripture: it is prominent in the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as well as in the understanding of His Apostle to the Gentiles. Consider just a few samples.

“Flesh and blood hath not revealed this to you…”( Jesus to Peter).

“That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (Jesus to Nicodemas, a ruler of the Jews)

“Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God” (Paul to the saints at Corinth)

“We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against…the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Paul to the saints and faithful in Christ Jesus at Ephesus)

The Apostle Paul gives us the “Resurrection” chapter of the Bible in the same letter which is begun with quite a lengthy discussion of the foolish ways of God and the wisdom of humankind. He makes a statement regarding the wisdom of God which goes to the heart of what is at stake: God’s way of redemption, of restoring His fallen creation, insures “that no flesh should glory in His presence”.

These and many other scriptures signal a basic truth: God’s ways are not our ways. When Messiah Jesus is sent into the world, it announced to all the earth (all human flesh) that God was doing an entirely new thing which would be the definitive thing in defeating our enemy for the glory of His Name. This new thing would involve the creation of a new human flesh; a flesh which was of heavenly origin, not earthly. It is through this heavenly flesh and it alone that the good and perfect will of the Father is at long last done on earth as it is in heaven.

The heavenly flesh was sent by way of the cross on its way to the resurrection and the glory that is to follow: “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit”(Jesus, speaking to his disciples just before his betrayal and death). The cross of the heavenly flesh is much more than the sinless sacrifice that “takes away the sin of the world”; it is the death of death itself that does away with the earthly flesh and all the corruption that goes with it. It is not this body that is raised with Christ. That flesh is to be relegated to the grave, and we are commanded to “reckon it to be dead”.

It was the “offense of the cross” that was at the center of all the resistance to Paul’s gospel preaching. Why? Because it meant that God had judged the earthly flesh once and for all and put it to death. The repentance that He now requires of all who would enter His everlasting Kingdom not only involves an agreement with His verdict concerning our sins of rebellion, but much more, what He has in fact already done with our flesh. What He now requires of us in true repentance is a drastic repudiation of our earthly flesh and a life of “no holds barred” mortification of it as long as we are in this body.

In Christ, He calls us to replace the flesh with the “grace and duty of minding the Spirit” (Romans 8:1-27), and of “walking or being led by means of the Spirit”. This is the way to read Romans 8 to obtain the greatest profit. This is the way to read Saint Paul and to learn from him what is the TRUE life of CHRIST (Galatians 5).

To be continued: If I had only one message to post before I die

Why Lovers of Middle-earth want to go there

It could be argued that all of us are dreamers at heart. But what dreams will we choose to return to in our imaginations over and over? Which are the dreams that have been so crafted as to merit the reputation of “epic” tales?

Personally I have a growing sense of both awe and respect for those master story tellers who have been gifted to provide the most intricate details to their story; they are the “Colonizers of dreams”.

I found this introduction to The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien in a paperback edition dated July, 1973 and written by Peter S. Beagle. It gives one man’s opinion about life in America as a possible reason why these great epic tales have become so popular once again in the beginning of the twenty-first century.

It’s been fifteen years at this writing since I first came across The Lord of The Rings  in the stacks at the Carnegie Library in Pittsburg. I’d been looking for the book for four years, ever since reading W.H. Auden’s review in the New York Times. I think of that time now- and the years after, when the trilogy continued to be hard to find and hard to explain to most friends- with an undeniable nostalgia. It was a barren era for fantasy, among other things, but a good time for cherishing slighted treaures and mysterious passwords. Long before Frodo Lives!  began to appear in the New York subways, J.R.R.Tolkien was the magus of my secret knowledge.

I’ve never thought it an accident that Tolkien’s words waited more than ten years to explode into popularity almost overnight. The sixties were no fouler a decade that the Fifties- they merely reaped the Fifties’ foul harvest- but they were the years when millions of people grew all too aware that the industrial society had become paradoxically unlivable, incalculaby immoral, and ultimately deadly. In terms of passwords, the Sixties were the time when the word progress lost its ancient holiness, and escape stopped being comically obscene. The impulse is being called reactionary now, but lovers of Middle-earth want to go there, I would myself, like a shot.

For in the end it is Middle-earth and its dwellers that we love, not Tolkien’s considerable gifts in showing it to us. I said once that the world he charts was there long before him, and I still believe it. He is a great enough magician to tap our most common nightmares, daydreams and twilight fancies, but he never invented them either; he found them a place to live, a green alternative to each day’s madness here in a poisoned world. We are raised to honor all the wrong explorers and discoverers- thieves planting flags, muderers carrying crosses. Let us all praise the colonizers of dreams.

WE DON”T KNOW WHO we are

One of the practical benefits of studying afresh the contribution of the Apostle Paul will be to reset our spiritual compass. Paul conceived himself to be the key figure in a “vital stretch of God’s purpose in history”.

The importance of understanding his sense of being called to a specific work forces us to place him first of all in his own Jewish context and training which was anchored in the Old Covenant tradition as well as in the Hellenistic reality of the dispersion within the Roman empire.

Over fifty years ago, writers in the field of Biblical Theology were telling us just how central the Jewish context was for the Church to understand her own calling in our modern world. Here are some remarks from G.Ernest Wright, one of those writers, speaking of “The Church’s Need of the Old Testament”. I think you will agree that they speak just as sharply to the twenty-first century Church as they did a half a century ago.

He says rightly that in order to understand the heart of the faith of the people of God we have to go back to its origin.” The focus of Biblical man’s attention, therefore, was not on the cycle of nature, but on what God had done, was doing, and was yet to do according to His declared intention”!                                

The faithful man’s attention was focused on the interpretation of his own life and of all history in this light. The chief sources of his light and power came…from his certainty of the reality of God’s working in every event…and from his glad acceptance of his divine election within the election of his people to do the work God called him to do. His life and work had meaning and importance therefore, because God fitted them into an over-arching historical plan. God’s purpose was that the whole earth shall become His kingdom and the Israelite was called to play his role in the universal cosmogeny of the age yet to be born…It is thus characteristic of Biblical faith that it creates this hope that is based on trust”.

Now to see how central knowing who we are is, to say, our worship, not to mention the rest of all we do as the Church, it simply needs to seen that the People of God were to respond to the INDICATIVE of God, what God did in His redemptive acts. And so, “at the centre of Biblical theology is a confession of faith of a particular type…recounting this history is the central religious act of the worshipping Community”.

Now lay this carefully beside the state of the churches in America today and the identity problem which has become legion across denominational and non-denominational congregations alike. Is this who we see ourselves as: the people of this same faith, the continuation of this same biblical heritage and vision? Or are these words about the Church in Wright’s day surprisingly prophetic of our own situation?

Thus, on the one hand, the Church today has tended to succumb to man’s hope for integration, happiness, and security in the world as it is. It has preached the Gospel as a new kind of paganism the value of which is strictly utilitarian. Religion is good for us; it gives us comfort and peace of mind; it is the only hope for democracy; it alone can support the status quo and make us happy within it.

The biblical hope is based solely upon God, upon His promises and upon His election. It is known only in the context of judgment and of the cross in the acceptance of a severe ethical demand of cross-bearing and cross-sharing and of a calling (vocation) which one works out with fear and trembling…

A more recent author dealing with the critical issue of INTERPRETING the OLD TESTAMENT Graeme Goldsworthy

 

What is “Scriptural” Church Growth ?

Years ago as I was just entering the gospel ministry, I was drawn to the principles of the Christian & Missionary Alliance in relation to the world mission task facing the churches. One of those principles insisted on by Dr. A.B. Simpson from the very begining, was that of “doing God’s work, in God’s way”. This seems to be a perennial lesson the churches must constantly strive to maintain as their priority if their work is to be found pleasing to God and of eternal value (see I Cor.3:8-14).

The New Temple, which Christ himself builds calling us to be co-workers with him, must be done God’s way just as the temporary temple of the Old Covenant was erected in all it’s details “according to the pattern shown in the Mount”. The two most obvious reasons why this is so, seems to be in order that God alone receives the glory, and, that the Gospel of Jesus Christ have it’s God ordained fruit in the lives of His redeemed ones.

J.I. Packer, writing an introductory essay almost fifty years ago, warned evangelicalism of the source of many of the perceived problems in the churches already manifesting themselves. “Without realising it”, he said, “we have during the past century bartered the true gospel for a substitute product which, though it looks similiar enough in points of detail, is as a whole a decidedly different thing”. This he insisted was the source of our troubles, “for the substitute product does not answer the ends for which the authentic gospel has in the past days proved itself so mighty” (Rom.1:17). “The new gospel conspicuously fails to produce deep reverence, deep repentance, deep humility, a spirit of worship, a concern for the church”. When asked why this was so, Dr. Packer with prophetic simplicity replied: “We would suggest that the reason lies in its own character and content. It fails to make men God-centered in their thoughts and God-fearing in their hearts because this is not primarily what it is trying to do”. (From John Owen’s Death of Death in The Death of Christ,1959)

For much of that same time-frame, a battle was being waged to persuade the churches that God did indeed desire for His Church to grow and that it was a serious sign of disobedience and unbelief when that was neglected. Thankfully, it seems that many local churches have finally embraced growth as a healthy and desirable purpose of being the Church. For those that have done so, there now enters the critical element Packer was addressing relating to how we grow and with what gospel we depend upon to produce that growth if it is to be “Scriptural”. Another prophetic voice recently speaking directly to the dangers from modernity already influencing much of the church-growth methodology issues this urgent directive :

“The Church of God. . .is the church only when she lives and thrives finally by God’s truths and resources. If the church makes anything else the decisive principle of her existence, christians risk living unauthorized lives of faith, exercising unauthorized ministries, and proclaiming an unauthorized gospel”.  (Os Guiness, Dining With The Devil, p.35)

The “unity of the Spirit” that we insist is foundational to the Church Christ builds and for the purpose of growing His Church, is not a unity based on our natural understanding but rather one that is revealed in Scripture; a unity which includes truth as well as love on God’s terms and not ours. This is what we believe is the very function of the voice of God speaking into His congregation and the reason for those gifts named in Ephesians chapter 4, and referred to as the “equiping” gifts. They are each one related to proclaiming God’s Word for the equiping of the saints of God for their work of ministering. The Word of God itself is sufficient for that which God sends it to accomplish on earth. Herein lies the critical calling of the evangelist, the pastor-teacher, and the prophet. And these, as you know, are spiritual gifts sent down from the exalted King himself to his flock here on earth.
8/11 UPDATE- To see how this is playing out right before our eyes in America, see this thoughtful essay recently in TOUCHSTONE Magazine and the tribute to Robert Webber prophetic ministry at SAINTS GALLERY
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

CIVIL RELIGION IN U.S.A. EXPLAINED WITHOUT EVEN MENTIONING THE NAME

I came across a post on a South African blog I highly respect and was excited to see that it fit very well into the subject I had introduced before : CIVIL RELIGION.

It involved an on-line discussion among world members of the Orthodox Faith and the subject of a christian’s allegiance to Christ. There seemed to be some objections from a few American members in regards to what was owed to “democracy” (Their own country). Now the blogger was taken back by the seemingly confused idea of how anyone in Orthodoxy could not understand where their ultimate loyalty resided. In one of the comments, this explanation was offered for the disconect. It refers to the well-known web site among Orthodox- Ancient Faith Radio, and a program by a well known author who has converted along with her husband-Priest to the Orthodox Faith and become a major voice to those outside Orthodoxy to learn of that Faith in America.

A little of the comment together with the program on Ancient Faith Radio that is supposed to have fueled the original confusion. I urge everyone who seeks to understand the factor of religion in America in relation to the Democracy that in fact does trump everything else, to listen to the entirety of this piece.

” I think the reason you got such a large volume of American Orthodox saying what they were saying is because of a recent podcast distributed by Ancient Faith Radio by Frederica Matthewes-Green, a prominent Orthodox writer in the U.S. The podcast is available here:
http://audio.ancientfaith.com/frederica/fhn_2008-07-02.mp3

She wrote the podcast on the great experiment of American democracy, and how it requires us to put our religious beliefs on the back burner, for good or ill, when we are in the public square. Also, she discusses why our kind of democracy may not be exportable.

To READ MORE in this area of Church and State, you may want to check this POST (Killing the phone company); but be forewarned, this is not for the novice, but for the serious seeker after answers.

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