JOHN BUNYAN’S “Pilgrim’s Progress”.

An early classic in the English language that reflects the Biblical narrative of ruin and redemption is still relevent to today’s “city of destruction”! Watch first 7 minute segment.

Related Post- Discovering the Mystery

Great read 4 Thanksgiving: http://bit.ly/vgwIpq               “Pilgrims giving thanks”!

Thoughts from Jean Corbon for Eastertide.

I was introduced to Jean Carbon only recently by my good friend John Armstrong of ACT3(Avancing the Christian Tradition in the third millennium). His comments about  God’s plan revealed in Scripture as mystery is the theme for my personal study & devotions during this year’s Eastertide observance.

As I began the 50 day adventure, I read an excellent post by an Orthodox Priest, Father Stephen, “Beyond Pascha“. In order for you to have a place to begin in considering Jean Corbon’s thoughts about liturgy, I think it will be helpful to start with something Father Stephen said in his post:

Just as the modern world has little understanding of the meaning of fasting, so, too, does it fail to understand the meaning of liturgy. Liturgy is not a means of marking time on a calendar –  liturgy is a means (and mode) of existence.

The Liturgy of the Christian mystery

After John’s introduction, I decided I needed to read Jean Corbon for myself and so I ordered “The Wellspring of Worship”  (2005, Ignatius Press). This is one of the books I’m now reading and from which the following comments are taken.

Everything that can be identified as a peculiarly Christian truth is, in one way or another, a derivative of the one central truth that man was created in order to live forever in personal communion with the Holy Trinity.

The explicit revelation of the transcendent goal of man’s existence was given in and through the history of Jesus of Nazareth and the history of the special mission of the Holy Spirit that followed upon his death, Ressurection, and glorification.

That is one reason for celebrating Eastertide as a continuation of Easter. This is the special time to contemplate all that has happened in the Incarnation event that we have celebrated from Christmas through Easter, pausing as it were before we come to Ascension and Pentecost and beyond.

With the sending of the Spirit from the Father through the risen Lord to bind believers to the beloved Son, and so bring them into personal communion with the Father of all, the ecclesial body of Christ was born.

The Church of Jesus Christ is the concrete place in history where this trinitarian mystery is explicitly proclaimed and accepted, where the Father’s offer of self-communication through his only Son and his Holy Spirit finds a free response of praise and thanksgiving.

This mystery is represented and shared in a festive way in the liturgy of the Church; it is continually offered and accepted in all the dimensions of the daily life of faith.

Read an excerpt from “The Wellspring of Worship” by Jean Corbon.

A related review of James Torrance’s book, “Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace”  (IVP 1996).

More resources at my “Open Secret” page.

Restoring Unity is what the Christian Message is all about!

Christ's Message to the churches (Revelation)

In the first century churches, the first generation, there was already considerable misunderstanding about the essence of the Church which Christ was building & nurturing- His Kingdom community. Much of the Apostle Paul’s ministry as the Apostle to the Gentiles, had to deal with opposition from the Palestinian churches and their leaders. It should come as no surprise to those who read their Bible that much of his writings include elements of this division and his attempts to heal them. In his letter to the Ephesians it is the major theme- the purpose of God’s pleasure to “unite in Christ all things”; but it is also an integral part of his letter to the house churches of Rome.

In the last century, missional leaders from many diverse church traditions saw that our divisions were directly affecting our task in the world and that the time had come to move the theme of unity to the front burner of our efforts. This effort came to be known as the ecumenical movement and many gains were made by those that participated. But many churches, because of convictions, did not participate. Some condemned the efforts outright, some observed at a distance.

In the new century, much has changed for the churches; or has it? We find ourselves still in the midst of the same world with the same assignment from our King: preach the Gospel of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, make disciples of all nations, and above all, live out the new life Christ has inaugurated. Some refer to a “new” ecumenism because it seems that many of those that were not officially a part of the “older” effort want to be distinguished from them. I personally feel this is wrong-headed and counter-productive to the very thing we’re focused on -unity. I love, respect, and esteem some of those who were leaders in bringing into being the World Council of Churches.

I just happen to be reading another book written by W.A.Visser’t Hooft, the first General Secretary, who served the churches with love and dedication for many years. Like another of his books, The Pressure of Our Common Calling, which I posted about earlier, this is a sound theological basis for the Church’s mission, edification, and unity. It is about the perennial importance of renewal grounded in the very character of the Church of God as the new creation in Christ.

I want to quote him at the place where he emphasizes that the whole Church-all the churches, must heed the imperatives addressed to the new creation. To me that means we can never settle for anything less than Biblical unity and diligently work towards that as a goal, knowing that it will come at the consumation of our redemption in Christ.

The need of the whole Church for repentance and renewal is most clearly shown in the second and third chapters of the Book of Revelation. It has often been pointed out that the seven churches to whom the letters are addressed represented the most flourishing part of the Church at that time. But more important is that according to the symbolic language of the author the seven churches clearly represent the Church as a whole. For seven is the figure of totality.

In these letters the whole Church is addressed. This is underlined by the fact that each letter is concluded by the solemn warning: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches”. The warning and promise received by each church is meant to be overheard and passed on by other churches and so to reach the whole Church.

Now it is significant that five of the seven letters are in the nature of calls to repentance. For that means that the Church as such is called to live the life of metanoia, of constant readiness to turn away from the path of this world and to let herself be renewed. And once again it is clear that renewal means living by the power of the new age. In the letter to the Church in Sardis repentance is identified with awakening (3:2,3). To be awake is to be ready for the Day of the Lord. ‘ Lo, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is he who is awake’ (16:15).

The churches are called to remember from what they have fallen (2:5) or what they have received and heard (3:3). That is to say they are to realize again that they represent the new creation. If they do, if they turn resolutely away from the old age, then they will receive the new name (2:17 and 3:12) and be counted as belonging to the new Jerusalem (3:12). Such a metanoia is in this world never a completed process; it is to be actualized and implemented every day anew. – The Renewal of The Church, p.47 (1956)

Restoring or renewing the unity of the Church of Christ is never easy work. Church history for almost 2000 years will tell us that. But progress in recent decades has been made- perhaps more than at any other time. This is what our Lord intends and if we are serious about following Him, we have no other path. Unity is not optional for the Church nor for any indivdual Christian. All of us must make it a part of our prayers and efforts by the grace of God and for His fame on earth. This season of Eastertide is a great time to make this a priority in our spiritual journey of faith.

see “Reasons for Neglecting God’s priority

May 11, 2008 – THE FEAST OF PENTECOST

I read this week that the first generation Church probably continued to celebrate the two feasts with Judaism, Passover and Pentecost. As I have previously blogged, I came to the same conclusion on studying the Apostle Paul. I have to be honest and admit that in 2008, for some reason, I was not aware of this incredible celebration at The Washington National Cathedral. But it is a perfect example of what I believe that the Christian churches should strive to do with other Christians, celebrate their faith, especially on these two occasions.

Of course when the Christian celebrates Passover, the Resurrection must be included as the event which demonstrates God’s approval of the Atonement accomplished by the offering of Christ and the inauguration of the Messianic age. I have been celebrating for weeks now as I have been reading many different posts and tweets from the universal Church. Just this week I got into a discussion on a Newsvine post doing a survey on the resurrection. I think at last viewing 35% believed in a literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus in history-that it really happened; and 65% did not believe for various reasons. The comments that followed got a little heated and it was obvious that the Newsvive community at times can be hostile toward Christianity. I’m used to being in the minority opinion, so even there I was able to celebrate what this means in the life of all Christians and the feast days connected with the Old Order.

In this necessary work of emphasizing unity, there are many discouragements. Perhaps the greatest is from well meaning fellow Christians who say something like, “its a great idea/goal, but definitely not possible”. But the greatest personal satisfaction comes from finding new friends from all the diverse faith traditions which post their celebrations on-line during this season. My rejoicing and delight has been like the light show I missed. Thank you fellow bloggers for renewing my faith and my committment to promoting peace and unity.

See my related post, The Abolition of Death

My favorite interpretation of Mary’s Magnificat.

Gospel of Saint Luke, Chapter 1

44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be [1] a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

Mary’s Song of Praise: The Magnificat

46 And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

Related post: Read the First Encyclical Letter of Pope Benedict XVI, 25 Dec. 2005

The Jewish Festival of Lights begins tonight at sundown and as I wish my Jewish friends a very Happy Hanukkah, I can’t help from thinking that here too is a perfect remembrance of the first Christmas.

Similar to my last post, in appreciating another faith tradition, I have little trouble in having my own Christian faith strengthened. For what was the Messianic Hope looked for when the darkness of sin and the Roman occupation seemed so hopeless? Was it not the faith that what God Himself had promised His people, He would one day give?

And then it happened-The Light of The World became human flesh and was announced by a brilliant light in the East. As I listened to a wonderful explanation of the Festival of Lights this a.m. on NPR, I was transported back in the Biblical narrative to that moment.

The word ‘anamnesis‘ perfectly describes for me now, not only the “Sacraments” of the Church that are so important to the Christian faith, but also the Advent season with all it’s expectation and joy. In fact, I happen to have a book out on my desk called, “Ecumenical Perspectives on Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry” (1983 edition) and what I find in the description of the Sacrament of the Eucharist, pretty well sums up what I am remembering (recollecting, reminiscing) as I celebrate Advent.

” Christ instituted the Eucharist, sacrament of His body and blood with its focus on the cross and resurrection, as the anamnesis of the whole of God’s reconciling action in Him. Christ Himself with all He has accomplished for us and for all creation…is present in this anamnesis as is  also the foretaste of His Parousia and the consumation of the Kingdom.

The anamnesis in which Christ acts through the joyful celebration of His Church thus includes this representation and anticipation. It is not only a calling to mind of what is past, or its significance. It is the Church’s effective proclamation of God’s mighty acts. By this communion with Christ the Church participates in that reality.” (page 205)

 

2012 UPDATE the Festival of Lights began on December, 8, 2012.

Introductory Essay to John Owen’s Death of Death in the Death of Christ –J. I. Packer
It is hoped that this reprint will find itself readers of a different spirit. There are signs today of a new upsurge of interest in the theology of the Bible: a new readiness to test traditions, to search the Scriptures and to think through the faith. It is to those who share this readiness that Owen’s treatise is offered, in the belief that it will help us in one of the most urgent tasks facing Evangelical Christendom today—the recovery of the gospel.

There is no doubt that Christianity today is in a state of perplexity and unsettlement. In such matters as the practice of evangelism, the teaching of holiness, the building up of local church life, the pastor’s dealing with souls and the exercise of discipline, there is evidence of widespread dissatisfaction with things as they are and of equally widespread uncertainty as to the road ahead. This is a complex phenomenon, to which many factors have contributed; but, if we go to the root of the matter, we shall find that these perplexities are all ultimately due to our having lost our grip on the biblical Gospel.
Without realizing it, we have during the past century bartered that gospel for a substitute product which, though it looks similar enough in points of detail, is as a whole a decidedly different thing. Hence our troubles; for the substitute product does not answer the ends for which the authentic gospel has in past days proved itself so mighty.

 

The new gospel conspicuously fails to produce deep reverence, deep repentance, deep humility, a spirit of worship, a concern for the church. Why? 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. One way of stating the difference between it and the old gospel is to say that it is too exclusively concerned to be “helpful” to man—to bring peace, comfort, happiness, satisfaction—and too little concerned to glorify God.

The old gospel was “helpful,” too—more so, indeed, than is the new—but (so to speak) incidentally, for its first concern was always to give glory to God. It was always and essentially a proclamation of Divine sovereignty in mercy and judgment, a summons to bow down and worship the mighty Lord on whom man depends for all good, both in nature and in grace. Its center of reference was unambiguously God. But in the new gospel the center of reference is man. This is just to say that the old gospel was religious in a way that the new gospel is not. Whereas the chief aim of the old was to teach men to worship God, the concern of the new seems limited to making them feel better. The subject of the old gospel was God and His ways with men; the subject of the new is man and the help God gives him. There is a world of difference. The whole perspective and emphasis of gospel preaching has changed.

From this change of interest has sprung a change of content, for the new gospel has in effect reformulated the biblical message in the supposed interests of “helpfulness.” Accordingly, the themes of man’s natural inability to believe, of God’s free election being the ultimate cause of salvation, and of Christ dying specifically for His sheep, are not preached. These doctrines, it would be said, are not “helpful”; they would drive sinners to despair, by suggesting to them that it is not in their own power to be saved through Christ. (The possibility that such despair might be salutary is not considered; it is taken for granted that it cannot be, because it is so shattering to our self-esteem.)

 

However this may be (and we shall say more about it later), the result of these omissions is that part of the biblical gospel is now preached as if it were the whole of that gospel; and a half-truth masquerading as the whole truth becomes a complete untruth. Thus, we appeal to men as if they all had the ability to receive Christ at any time; we speak of His redeeming work as if He had done no more by dying than make it possible for us to save ourselves by believing; we speak of God’s love as if it were no more than a general willingness to receive any who will turn and trust; and we depict the Father and the Son, not as sovereignly active in drawing sinners to themselves, but as waiting in quiet impotence “at the door of our hearts” for us to let them in. It is undeniable that this is how we preach; perhaps this is what we really believe.

But it needs to be said with emphasis that this set of twisted half-truths is something other than the biblical gospel. The Bible is against us when we preach in this way; and the fact that such preaching has become almost standard practice among us only shows how urgent it is that we should review this matter. To recover the old, authentic, biblical gospel, and to bring our preaching and practice back into line with it, is perhaps our most pressing present need. And it is at this point that John Owen’s treatise on redemption can give us help.

( from J.I.Packer’s Introductory Essay to The Death of Death, 1959)

( continue reading the essay here )

Related Essay: The Old Cross and the New Cross – A.W.Tozer (print version)

 

 

A review of “The Radical Disciple“.  

For some forty years now, I”ve had a growing respect for the faith-tradition known as Anglican, or The Church of England. I often wonder just how many American Christians understand the debt we owe to this tradition whether we are Baptists, Methodists, Nazarenes, Episcopalians, Salvation Army (Sallies) and many other independents that came from the bosom of the English Church.

I don’t mind recording my own debt publically for men like J.I.Packer, J.C.Ryle, Charles and John Wesley, and a host of others from the Anglican Church. One such man who has blessed American churches for those forty years and especially the cause of international evangelism and missions is John Stott. It appears that his final book will be his farewell as far as his written contributions to the churches. Recently I found this great review which I will consider my own tribute to John Stott and his faithfulness to the Biblical gospel of Jesus Christ.

“This is a book you will want to read if you have had any contact with John Stott’s teaching ministry before. Though he is far too humble to say it about himself, it comes from a man who has fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith (2 Tim 4:7). He has not asked us to do anything that he has not modelled first in his own life. It is a fitting farewell from a remarkable servant of God and I pray that his vision of radical discipleship will be fully embraced by the next generation.”

– Mark Heath

Read Mark’s excellent  review of “The Radical Disciple” by John Stott (here).

A ministry-tool available: The Radical Question

Paul’s concentrated vision of the Church in the eternal purpose of God: what every Christian should know about the Church.

 

St. Paul's Ephesian Vision of the Church

I recently had an opportunity to present the E4Unity vision to a local assembly of Christians. It gave me a chance to do a personal review here in 2010 of where we have been with this blog and where I want to focus on going forward.

My thoughts as well as my main speaking points came from the first three chapters of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. I was reminded once again at just how concentrated the Apostle’s thoughts are in this particular letter regarding the over-riding vision that gave direction to his own sense of purpose and responsibility.

In those first three chapters, the major subjects seem to me to be- 1) The eternal purpose of God that He has designed for His own pleasure and including all things, both in heaven and on earth (Ephesians 1-3).       2) This purpose centers in His Son Jesus Christ whom He has made Lord above all authority, and in whom God has determined to sum up in Him all things (Ephesians 1:10).      3) Finally, there is in this plan a unique place and function for a People that God has determined to have for His own dwelling place and this People is created and sustained in dynamic union with God’s beloved Son. Christ alone is given the responsibility for accomplishing everything to build this living Temple from His own works of redemption(Ephesians 3:10,11).

Now I realize that what seems relative simple about these three major themes are not so easily grasped by everyone who reads and studies the Bible. It’s one thing to state as Curtis Vaughn did in his introduction to a Bible Study guide for Southern Baptist churches in 1963 on Ephesians,

The most comprehensive statement of the theme of Ephesians is this: the eternal purpose of God and the place of Christ and His People in that purpose”.

It is entirely another thing to then proceed to study that letter keeping  these three themes always in view. The one thing we need to know about the Church all too easily gets lost in the details and discussions because by default, we are always trying to fit it into “our” own church tradition.

To catch the vision Paul was passing on to his readers of the first generation of Christians as it concerns the Church is the only place I am convinced we have any hope of living out the unity of the One Church. I made the observation in my address that seeing this vision includes both the individual Christian life as well as the pattern for every local church. But the critical thing is to grasp what God says about this People and that seems to be where all our difficulty continues to come from. Grasp what Paul says in this Ephesian letter about this People whether he refers to them as God’s household or the Church and you will then be able to relate your calling to live out the new life in Christ and your place in a local church. By focusing either on yourself or the life of the Christian or what a local assembly is supposed to look and act like, and you’ll have endless confusion.

The vision of E4Unity is the larger Church inseparable from the Christ; God’s new humanity, His new creation, His eternal Temple and dwelling place. Everything else is secondary, part of this fleeting life that is passing away. Only what God has done in Christ has eternal meaning and value.

Scripture reading: Ephesians 3:1-13

Read James Fowler’s excellent comments about the inseparable union of Christ, His Church, and the Christian.

Listen to “The Occupation of All Things” from The Jesus Manifesto.

Lesslie Newbigin, The Household of God 

” IN the present world situation it is natural that mankind should long for some sort of real community, for humanity cannot be human without it. It is especially natural that Christians should reach out after that part of Christian doctrine which speaks of the true, God-given community, the Church of Jesus Christ… It is natural that men should ask with a greater eagerness than ever before such questions as these:
  • Is there in truth a family of God on earth to which I can belong, a place where all humankind can truly be at home?
  • If so, where is it to be found, what are its marks, and how is it related to, and distinguished from, the known communities of family, nation, and culture?
  • What are its boundaries, its structure, its terms of membership?
  • And how comes it that those who claim to be the spokesmen of that one holy fellowship are themselves at war with one another as to the fundamentals of its nature, and unable to agree to live together in unity and concord?

I think there is no more urgent theological task than to try to give them plain and credible answers.” (Household of God, 1953)

Household of God (1953)