What Bonhoeffer knew

Disclaimer: The Christian Century is not a periodical I would normally quote.

Jul 17, 2015 by Samuel Wells in The Christian Century

After I’d given a talk to mark the 70th anniversary of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s execution, I got a letter complaining that Bonhoeffer had been drained dry of meaning and was of no more use to the church. Here’s what I replied.

Bonhoeffer was theological. We don’t all have to write two doctoral theses by the age of 24. But we do have to approach every challenge as fundamentally a question about God. The German Christians were seduced into treating the führer as God. Bonhoeffer and the Confessing Church saw that the problem with the Nazis was first a theological problem.

Bonhoeffer was about Jesus. The Bonhoeffer of popular theology is the one who talks from prison about the “world come of age” and “religionless Christianity.” But what put him in prison was Jesus. The church fears that when it says the word Jesus it’s assuming an imperialistic oppressive voice that dominates, excludes, or devalues other voices. The church has too often assumed such a voice. But Jesus doesn’t assume such a voice. Bonhoeffer knew that when the church stops talking about Jesus, it has nothing to say. And when it assumes dominance, it’s not talking about Jesus.

Bonhoeffer was ecumenical. The vital conversation that convinced Bonhoeffer to return to Germany in 1939 was with George Bell, Anglican bishop of Chichester. They became friends in the 1920s ecumenical movement, when denominations really mattered. They matter less now. The days when we could forget about the world and concentrate on our arguments with other Christians are passing. Ecumenical discord is a luxury of the complacent church. We need each other. If we feel the church is weak, it’s because we’ve limited what we’re looking at when we use the word church.

Bonhoeffer was international. He understood that Germany and the church weren’t the same thing. Western Christians are slowly realizing that they aren’t the majority of the church or the part that matters most. Christianity doesn’t fundamentally belong to them. Bonhoeffer may be a dead white Western male, but his legacy points us in global directions. When people say Christianity is in decline, you have to ask which map they’re looking at.

Bonhoeffer was politically engaged. There were Christians in 1930s Germany who thought salvation was about saving souls and it wasn’t their business to get involved in politics. That reasoning left 6 million Jews dead and ten times that number dead globally. Politics is the name we give to resolving differences short of violence. If you don’t do politics, you end up doing violence.

Bonhoeffer was rooted in an accountable community. He saw that for his Confessing Church to have any backbone, it needed to be led by pastors who took for granted the simple, straightforward practices of daily prayer, the confession of sin, the studying of scripture, and the sharing of communion. His book Life Together describes that uncompromising, uncluttered set of priorities. Community is easier to theorize about than to practice, but it’s still the center of the church’s renewal.

Bonhoeffer was prepared to face danger. One of the assumptions I find bewildering yet widespread in the church is that if one is a good Christian, one’s days will be long and one shall multiply and one’s valleys will grow rich with corn. Most of the people in the Bible face danger, hardship, crisis, tragedy, and fear. Those are the places God most often shows up. God is close to the poor, not because there’s anything holy about poverty, but because those in poverty face such things all the time, and that’s what brings them face to face with God. Bonhoeffer wrestled with this in 1939. He could do so much good from the safe distance of America, but he was called to be in the place of danger. We face the same choices.

Bonhoeffer did not expect his life to be a tidy edifice of perfection. The great quandary of his life was whether he was right to join the plot to kill Hitler. It’s a mistake, I believe, to assume that faithful Christians always make the right decisions, or that a person venerated after his death must have made only good decisions. Returning to Germany put Bonhoeffer in a position few of us could imagine or emulate, and none of us have the right to judge. He was both in an impossible situation and exactly where God wanted him to be. I once faced an impossible choice and shared my quandary with a friend. He said, “The point isn’t the conclusion you come to: the point is, you’re in there.” Bonhoeffer was in there, in that sense. Are we?

Bonhoeffer did not expect immediate results. He died probably assuming his life had been a failure. We don’t see it like that. The distinction between being faithful and being effective isn’t an absolute one; they’re actually the same thing in different time scales.

He assumed that the shape of renewal is death and resurrection. The future of the church is not simply a matter of using social media or singing attractive music or getting our message right. Bonhoeffer knew the way that Christ renewed Israel: through incarnation, sharing joys and sorrows, facing the passion, being crucified, and being raised. He allowed his life to follow the same trajectory. That’s the way God renewed creation 2,000 years ago. That’s the way God renews the church today.

The Challenge of Ecclesiology: Some Advice for Seminarians

It is almost a truism among thinking Christians today that the doctrine of the church, known among theologians as “ecclesiology,” has fallen on hard times.  When I was a student at a reasonably well-known conservative Reformed seminary it seemed that students would much rather argue about apologetics or eschatology or predestination than the doctrine of the church.  And though that situation has changed somewhat in the intervening years as many in our culture sense the loss of community, and some in the church have sought out theological responses to it, an ecclesiological crisis remains.

Interestingly, this eclipse of ecclesiology is common to both the liberal-leaning mainline churches and the more conservative evangelical churches.  We are going to explore both some of the reasons for this decline in various church circles, and some ways that we can recover and strengthen a vibrant doctrine of the church.  This should, I would think, be a matter of existential concern for seminary students such as yourselves.  After all, many of you are planning to become ministers or other church workers.  Some of you may sense a call to the mission field, and the job of the missionary is ultimately to plant and strengthen the church.  So, ecclesiology matters.

We are going to look first at the situation in mainline church circles, and then at the situation among Evangelicals.  Reasons for the decline of ecclesiology in many mainline churches are not difficult to discern.  Much of this can ultimately be traced to the fact that many in these churches bought wholesale into the optimistic Enlightenment notion of the autonomous individual human being.  People are basically pretty good, it is thought, and any tendency toward dysfunctional behavior (i.e., what used to be called “sin”) is attributed to the environment.  Moreover, these human beings are not answerable to any authority, such as Holy Scripture, higher than themselves.  Needless to say, this quickly resulted in the erosion of the Scriptural basis and confessional moorings for church life.

Since human beings are basically OK, the great need is not salvation in the life to come (whatever that may be), but the amelioration of social ills in this present life and the maximizing of individual freedom in every sphere of life, whether or not expressions of that freedom conflict with biblical morality.  Historically the church had sought to maintain biblical moral standards for its members, but now there is widespread disagreement as to what even constitutes moral or immoral behavior—hence the current front-page controversies among mainline Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists, and Episcopalians over homosexuality.

Further erosion of the traditional foundations for church life has resulted from the trendy religious pluralism so common even in church circles today.  If people are basically good and there is no such thing as divine wrath against sinners, then they don’t need Jesus to save them from the penalty of sin.  On this way of thinking, Jesus is certainly not the only way to God. Thus it makes little sense to view the church as the mystical “body of Christ” and the covenant community of those united by faith and baptism with Him.  Certainly Cyprian’s dictum, extra ecclesiam nulla salus (no salvation outside the church), as echoed in Westminster Confession of Faith 25:2 makes little sense either.

As we know, ideas have consequences, and the consequences of these ideas have been particularly deadly.  With the loss of biblical truth and the confessional explication of that truth, all that was left was power (i.e., church polity), and increasingly disputes had to be settled on the arid basis of technical rules of church law rather than the great and abiding principles of the faith.  Some other reason for the church’s existence had to be found, and many found it in social action.

The ecclesiological crisis in the mainline churches is illustrated by an incident at a major university divinity school some years back.  Near the end of the semester in a “Theology of the Church” course, a perplexed student asked a noted feminist theologian, “Given what you’ve said during this semester, why do we need the church?”  After pondering the question for a moment, the theologian replied, “Well, the church has resources that we need in the struggle against racism, sexism, and homophobia.”  But there is more to the story—apparently none of the theologians at the school really wanted to teach the ecclesiology course, and so it was passed along to each in turn as a sort of distraction from what were deemed the more important tasks of theology.  You can imagine the impact that such thinking has had on many students preparing for ministry!  And that has been the story across a wide range of denominations, as money, property, and resources originally given by sincere Christians for the support of their beloved Bible-believing churches have been diverted to very different purposes.   The late Presbyterian theologian John Leith made quite a few enemies a number of years back when he insistently pointed out this breach of faith in his 1997 book Crisis in the Church.

All of this has inspired neither confidence in nor a love for the church in mainline circles, and massive membership hemorrhaging has been the inevitable result.  Studies show that some of these departures have gone in the direction of more conservative churches, but many more have moved from mainline churches to a thoroughly secular “none of the above.”  This should not surprise us—if the major task of the church is deemed to be advancing the feminist agenda or environmental activism, it makes more sense to become active in the National Organization of Women or the Sierra Club than to waste one’s time in church.

So, we might summarize the problem thus:  The loss of the Scriptural basis and confessional moorings for the church has left some denominations and congregations rudderless in the face of the winds of prevailing culture, and that religious pluralism has undercut classic notions of the church as the sphere of salvation.  The result of all this has been cynicism and massive loss of membership.   Now, I’m not saying this to gloat in some unseemly display of conservative triumphalism; in fact, I grieve over this situation, for I myself have deep roots in the mainline.  But we need to be realistic in our assessment of the situation.  And lest we conservatives become too smug, there are problems closer to home as well.

While the broader situation is somewhat better in evangelical churches, there is an ecclesiological crisis there as well.  To be sure, many American Evangelicals have retained a high view of the Bible’s authority, and of the saving uniqueness of Jesus Christ.  For that we must give thanks!  But the news is not all good, for various factors have conspired to undercut a vibrant doctrine of the church.  A major problem here is that many American Evangelicals have bought into aspects of the broader culture that corrode a biblical doctrine of the church.

Much of this has to do with the reflexive individualism and voluntarism of North American culture generally.  Our national consciousness was historically shaped by the frontier experience and by the keen desire to be free from the external constraint of king and Pope.  Individual rights are of paramount importance.  We begin our thinking with individual rights rather than our responsibilities to the community, an impulse given a great boost by the Enlightenment.  All this is no great secret, and was extensively explored by sociologist Robert Bellah and his colleagues in their book Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life (1985).

If the individual is paramount, then the church will inevitably be viewed as a “voluntary society,” as the sum total of individuals who have chosen to identify with it.  For many, the “church” is simply the aggregate of those who have voluntarily decided to accept Jesus as their personal Savior.  All this stands in some tension with the prevailing New Testament images of the church as the “body of Christ,” the “family of God,” the “new Israel,” and the “people of God”—themes that emphasize the corporate body and the way that people becomes Christians by being united with a glorious corporate reality greater than themselves.

This individualism also informs the way many Evangelicals view the grace of God and process of salvation.  It is thought that we come to God directly as individuals, and that the ministry of the church with its means of grace is perhaps helpful for some but not really necessary.  Of paramount importance is the individual’s conversion experience, and for many the ongoing life of faith and the Christian nurture through Word and sacrament that take place in the church fade into insignificance.

It is not difficult to see how these ways of thinking have undermined the rich ecclesiology affirmed by earlier generations.  Although many more examples could be cited, let’s briefly examine the impact on the church’s worship and organization.  If the individual is supreme, then the worship of the church will almost inevitably be judged in terms of what the individual gets out of it.  Rather than a profound corporate act of doxology to the triune God and Lord of all creation, worship now becomes a pragmatic and contextual exercise designed to evoke certain responses from us.

Likewise, if the church is but a voluntary society of those who share similar experiences or concerns, then there is nothing particularly sacrosanct about the structure and work of the church.  And so the trend has been to offload many of the traditional functions of the church onto so-called “parachurch” organizations.  In the evangelical world, the tasks of evangelism, missions, relief, and Christian education on the primary, secondary, collegiate, and seminary levels have been largely outsourced to these other organizations.  Thus, American Evangelicalism has been better known for its “para-ecclesiology” (views of parachurch ministry) than for its ecclesiology.  Little wonder, then, that many are uncertain about the nature, purpose and mission of the church!

While it is true that not all churches calling themselves “evangelical” have fallen headlong into these patterns, and some Reformed groups have been rather resistant to them, I would like to suggest four areas where we can draw on the best of our Reformed and Evangelical heritage in order to strengthen our understanding of the church.

First, we must work to recover a healthy Reformational sense of the church as “catholic” or universal.  The church of Jesus Christ is not just the local congregation or a particular denomination.  It is a glorious “body of Christ” that unites believers from all places on earth and throughout all time.  This view of the church comes to pointed expression in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, where the Apostle tells us that Christ has been “made the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:22-23, RSV).  Such a recognition of the true catholicity of the church serves as an antidote to clannishness and to the natural tendency to identify the “church” with a particular culture or group’s way of doing things.  This insight is exceedingly helpful in churches that tend toward the traditional in worship and organization.  In some Reformed churches, the inertia of traditionalism is strong indeed.  We often do things a certain way because that’s the way they’ve always been done . . . since dirt was young.  Perhaps that is why we like to sing those lines in the “Gloria Patri”: “As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end, Amen.”  But the catholicity of the church reminds us that there are other options, and that is tremendously liberating.

Second, we must recognize anew the importance of the means of grace.  In Scripture we see that God works among his people through appointed means—the preaching of the Word of God, the administration of the sacraments, the ministry of prayer and praise, and so forth.  This truth helps us to keep both our congregational lives and our personal spiritual walks on track.   Here we recognize that the primary task of the church is to minister in God’s appointed ways to His people.  Here we also recognize that we as individual Christians are to find our spiritual food at the banquet table of the church rather than at the spiritual fast-food vendors of religious television or worse.

Third, we must strengthen our appreciation of the church’s act of corporate worship in service to God.  What a solemn and yet splendid and joyous privilege it is to come into the presence of a holy and righteous God in worship!  As we come to realize that the character of our worship must be shaped by the object of that worship (namely God Himself), we have the antidote to all those persistent temptations to trivialize worship by making worship about us instead.   The purpose and goal of worship is not to provide us with a positive experience (although that often happens).  The purpose of worship is not to evangelize (though we rejoice when sinners come to faith in the context of a worship service).  Rather, the purpose of worship is to “glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”

Finally, we must enhance our understanding of the mission to which the church is called.  Particularly in times like today when the church is rightly concerned about its own integrity, there is the temptation to turn inward and to lose sight of the church’s mission.  When Jesus prepared to leave his disciples, he gave them a task to accomplish: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20, RSV).

How can you as seminary student take the doctrine of the church seriously?  Well, here are some suggestions:

First, be seriously involved in a local congregation.  Remember to be charitable and keep in mind that no congregation is perfect.  Our ecclesiology, no matter how well considered, is only an abstraction without ongoing involvement in the church.

Second, take your studies seriously, especially your church history and systematics courses.  If you love the church, you will want to learn her history and her system of belief.  The current lack of interest in church history and systematics that so many display is evidence of an ecclesiological problem.

Third, take the catholicity and connectionalism of the church seriously.  If you are under care or licensed to preach, attend your presbytery’s meetings.  Become familiar with the work of the agencies of the church.  Be aware of what is going on in sister denominations.

And finally, strive for balance.  A friend in ministry likes to say that if the devil can’t make us heretics, he tries to make us weird, and such quirkiness generally manifests itself as a lack of balance.  When Presbyterian ministers are ordained, they vow to uphold the peace, the purity, and the prosperity of the church.  Without balance these three can stand in tension with each other.  For example, for those who value the peace of the church above all, any effort to preserve purity is divisive.  Some are so focused on purity that they forget about peace.  The church today desperately needs as leaders balanced and centered individuals who have a clear sense of what is important and vital, and who passionately love the church.

William B. Evans is a minister in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church and serves as the Younts Prof. of Bible and Religion at Erskine College in Due West, South Carolina, where he teaches courses in theology, American religion, and religion and culture. This article first appeared on his blog, The Ecclesial Calvinist.

Discipleship, the Grace and Peace Budget and your First Things

Discipleship, the Grace and Peace Budget and your First Things

At Grace and Peace we do not write, speak or preach often about money or giving. And yet what we do in this matter of giving is an important part of our Christian discipleship, i.e. our walk with God. The following teaching is helpful:

What you do first with whatever is entrusted to you indicates where you are in your relationship with God.  

That’s why the Israelites were instructed in Deuteronomy 26 to take some of the first-fruits of all that they produced from the territory God gave them, put it in a basket and bring it to the tabernacle where God dwells. Then they were to affirm their devotion to God by giving it to Him as an offering. In this act of giving their first-fruits they were to declare their appreciation for all God had done in bringing them to their present state and express their devotion to Him. 

 

When we give God our leftovers we will always find it hard to come up with sufficient to adequately express our appreciation. We also will find that whatever is given is likely given grudgingly. When first-fruits are given we find it easier to rejoice in the giving, confident that God will be pleased and will enable us to live adequately on what is left. It thus sets a tone for all of life. 

 

That might also be why there are many encouragements in the Bible to seek God when you first get up in the morning. When He is the focus of our attention first, He will put everything else we encounter the rest of the day in its proper place and enable us to handle it joyfully and responsibly. This no doubt is why Jesus said in Matthew 6:33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” 

 

Someone has rightfully challenged us with the words: Always keep first things first.

Rev. L. Goltz

My soul complete, in Jesus stands- 1865 Grace W. Hinsdale

My soul complete, in Jesus stands!

It fears no more the law’s demands;

The smile of God is sweet within,

Where all before was guilt and sin.

 

My soul at rest, in Jesus lives;

Accepts the peace his pardon gives;

Receives the grace His death secured,

And pleads the anguish He endured.

 

My soul its every foe defies,

And cries—‘Tis God that justifies!

Who charges God’s elect with sin?

Shall Christ who died their peace to win?

 

A song of praise my soul shall sing,

To our eternal, glorious King!

Shall worship humbly at His feet,

In whom alone it stands complete.

Please Come!

Grace and Peace is a family of people in Southern Maryland. We are all about worshipping God as we study the Bible, and caring for each other. We welcome new persons, families, young or older, all races. We are all learning together led by our pastor and other leaders. PLEASE COME!

God redeems creation: against Gnosticism

Not A Ladder But A Cross

R. Scott Clark | August 31, 2013

“17. Why must he also be true God?
That by the power of His Godhead He might bear in His manhood the burden of God’s wrath, and so obtain for and restore to us righteousness and life.”

Almost from the beginning of the history of the apostolic church there arose movements that, like the Evil One, sought to suggest that God had made a mistake in creation, that we were not created in righteousness and true holiness. Ever since that terrible conversation with the Evil One we have either been suggesting that God erred in creation or that the fall was really his fault or both.

It isn’t true. We were created in righteousness and true holiness. Scripture says that creation was “good.” The first two humans were good. That’s an important word, especially in the context of the creation narrative and in light of all that transpired. Good is a loaded term there. It carries a number of ideas within it. It means that there was no defect, that it was pleasing to God the way a beautiful piece of art is pleasing to its creator. Chief among the ideas embedded in “good,” however, are “righteous” and “holy.” By righteousness we mean to say that we were legally upright. We were in conformity to the law of God. We had not transgressed. We were liable to no punishment because we had committed no crime. By holiness we mean to say that we were created morally pure and good. We were without stain or pollution of any kind. On reflection it might seem surprising that we speak of holiness before the fall, since we tend to speak of holiness as a consequence of God’s work in us, by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ, by the Spirit, after the fall. There was, however, holiness before the fall. Remember the creation narrative in Genesis 1. God set aside one day out of seven and called that day holy even before the fall. Even in a morally pure setting, before we had sinned, it was possible to set aside a day as distinct, as special, in order to point to a state of existence beyond our present state. More about that later.

We know from the creation narrative that the Sabbath day, the climax of the creation narrative, was holy. It was different. It was set apart. We know from the creation narrative that Adam and Even were holy. They were set apart. They were pure. They were not, however, glorified or in the consummate or final state. They were in a probationary state. They, and particularly Adam as the representative of all humanity (Rom 5; 1 Cor 15:45), had a test to pass. Should they pass that test, they would enter into the state of blessedness represented by the Sabbath and signified and sealed by the Tree of Life.

Within the apostolic period, however, there arose a dualist movement that taught that the created world was not inherently good. They taught that creation (the material world) as created was inherently corrupt and evil. They did what pagans and many misguided Christians have often done. In effect, without always admitting it, they blamed the Creator rather than the creature for the corruption of the original state. Implicit in the claim that the material, physical world is inherently corrupt is the idea either that God erred or that it is impossible for the material world to be good. Behind those notions is the assumption that humans live on a continuum with the spiritual world and that what we need is not salvation from sin and judgment but more being. In other words, what is really being said is that God held out on us, as it were. That, of course, is exactly what the Evil One said: “God knows that the moment you eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, you will be like him and he’s scared.” He was implying that God is a con artist and a liar.

We know, however, who is the con artist and the liar don’t we? This idea that the material world is inherently broken and evil was so pervasive some Christians, perhaps many, incorporated it into their thinking and began to say that Jesus’ humanity wasn’t real. It couldn’t have been.

  • Human nature is inherently evil.
  • Jesus was good
  • Ergo Jesus’ humanity couldn’t have been real.

The first premise is false and therefore the conclusion is wrong. Jesus’ humanity was and is true humanity. Our problem was not that were created badly. Our problem is far more mysterious and difficult to explain! We freely chose to sin. We voluntarily plunged ourselves into death and judgment.

The idea that the material world is evil was so pervasive that the Apostle John wrote 1 John against it. The error grew and by the middle of the Second Century (150 AD) it had developed into a full-blown heretical movement—the greatest of the ancient church—called Gnosticism. They developed a competing version of Christianity wherein salvation was not from sin but from creation and not by trusting in Jesus as our Mediator (substitute) but as one of many bringers of secret knowledge (Gnosticism) through which we could, for a fee, climb up a sort of cosmic ladder into a state of blessedness.

This very sort of teaching is widespread today. Peter Jones has been pointing it for a couple of decades. We have a Gnostic teachers in our town. They’re called “New Age” teachers but they teach almost exactly what the old Gnostics taught in the 2nd century. The Christian Science movement has been teaching Gnosticism for more than a century. More than a few evangelical Christians have incorporated Gnostic ideas into their theology. They’ve turned the faith from a public confession about public, historical truths and realities int o Gnostic secrets that divide the church into sects. They offer secret knowledge about how to climb the ladder into another state of being.

What was offered to us in the beginning was not that we would become competitors to God but that we would enter to a state of blessed communion with him, that we would be transformed by him and that, having passed the test, we would be utterly contented in him.

That future still exists. The way to such blessedness is not by overcoming our humanity but by embracing the truest human, Jesus, the Second Adam, the Mediator, the representative for all those who believe. When we disobeyed, we incurred a just death sentence. He paid that penalty for all who believe. When we trust him as our Substitute, we enter into communion with him through faith, worked by the Spirit. We begin to experience now, intermittently, in the church, in communion with other Christians, some of what will be. When we hear the gospel preached, when we see the sacraments administered, when we receive communion, we get a sense of what was intended and of what will be at the consummation.

God didn’t create this mess. We did. Grace means, however, that he entered into our sin and corruption, not by becoming a sinner, but by remaining righteous and holy, so that by the power of his resurrection, through union with Christ, we might be delivered from the fall and all its consequences. Don’t believe the lie. Creation is not inherently evil, even though sin has grotesquely deformed it. Heaven is not at the end of a ladder. It is on the other side of a cross.

You and your Avatar

Second Life or New Life?

One of the earliest challenges to the New Testament portrait of Jesus was docetism, the idea that Jesus only appeared to be human.  As with all heresies, there was a legitimate concern that lay behind it: a desire to preserve the transcendent otherness of God from the mess and change of the physical world.  But, legitimate concern notwithstanding, the Jesus of the gospels and the Jesus of history was a most real, physical, human being.  Some centuries later, Gregory of Nazianzus made the famous point, in a different context, that that which is not assumed by the deity is not redeemed.  His point is pertinent to the issue of docetism, however: a Christ who only seems to be human cannot save what is really human; the humanity of Christian is essential to his mission.
Now, at the start of the twenty-first century, docetism is back, but with a new twist.  It is not Christ who has only the appearance of humanity; rather it is human beings themselves.  Newsweek ran a fascinating article on the web sensation, Second Life  where people create avatars, or virtual characters, and live out their lives in virtual reality.  The phenomenon is fascinating for a variety of reasons.  It surely speaks of a degree of loneliness, perhaps of unrequited ambitions in the real world, and of a desire to break free of the mundane drudgery that is the real world for most of us.
But it also points to the new docetism: the whole idea of human nature has been under heavy fire for some time now, particularly from radical postmodernists, many of whom see it as a Western construct designed to establish certain norms as natural and absolute (whiteness, maleness, etc.) and to oppress and marginalize those who do not match up to this true notion of humanity.    Now the virtual world has taken that idea and made it a reality – or at least a virtual reality.  In this strange world of avatars, I can apparently be the ultimate in self-creations, constructed both in terms of looks, history, and personality, to my own specifications.  I can be god.
Or rather, I can hide from God.  Sad to say, for all of the baloney talked about human nature as a construct, human nature remains stubbornly un-malleable.  I can still only really be in one place at one time; even while the ‘self-created me’ roams around Second Life, the real me can only look at one computer screen and type on one keyboard at a time. I still need to eat, visit the restroom, sleep.  And ultimately, of course, I still need to answer to God.  I can hide on Facebook, or in some collection of pixels on a screen for only so long.  Sooner or later, I have to switch off the computer and go back to real life.
Christ took human nature for a reason: our human nature, the human nature that fell, is real; and salvation by illusion is no salvation at all.  Try as we might, we cannot escape from that fact.  Second Life is perhaps the most impressive attempt ever made at such an escape; but the fact is: we are bodies; and our bodies impose limits on us.  They also impose responsibility towards God upon us, as made in his image.  Just as a docetic Christ cannot deal with the real problem of fallen human nature, neither can the docetic avatars of Second Life.

“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'”  – John 14:6, NIV

Dr. Carl R. Trueman , vice president for academic affairs and professor of church history and historical theology

Sermon at Lessons and Carols

Christmas Eve 2012

Angels are very prominent in the Readings of this Service. These are very high ranking Angels too! Whether The Angel of the LORD or Gabriel, these are Cherubim which guard God’s very throne. These High ranking Angels appear in six of the Lessons read this evening.

Years ago I took a course about angels. We learned that angels are always active in God’s work in the world, but that they are particularly active and the highest ranking ones are active, when God is doing a BIG NEW thing in his plan to save the world.

*Think back with me.

The first reading tonight was the account of the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden. Then and there, God promised to save them by sending a Son, His Son, through the woman! Right after that, the Lord drove Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden and He placed cherubim in the garden to guard the way to the tree of life. By guarding the way to the tree of life, these angels function as messengers of God’s punishment, but also of His grace. They barricade the way to the tree of life because eternal life is no longer found in an earthly paradise. Adam and Eve must look to the promised seed of the woman, the Messiah, who will open the way to the paradise of God. The angels turn the attention of man to the need for a Savior. They kept Adam and Eve away from the tree and out of the immediate presence of God. If they had not done so, Adam and Eve would have been consumed by the wrath of the LORD.

Years later, in the second Lesson, when God renewed his promises to save, he made a covenant with Abraham promising salvation. This was announced by The Angel of the Lord, and it was the Angel of The Lord who commanded the sacrifice of Abraham’s only Son and then rescued Isaac from the knife saying: “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”

The Third and Fourth lessons tell what God’s salvation through his Son, will mean for the world and where he will be born.

The Fifth lesson tells about the Arch-angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she is the woman who will give Birth to the Savior. Mary then rejoices greatly and accepts the mission of God.

This was going to be a big problem for Mary’s betrothed husband Joseph, so in our Sixth Lesson the same Arch-angel eased removed his doubt and concern by announcing that this is God’s doing for the Salvation of the world.

Finally, in the Seventh Lesson, the angel of the Lord together with a whole army of angels announced the birth of Jesus to shepherds near Bethlehem and they sang: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

These are intensely frequent appearances and messages of God’s angels because God’s long ago promised salvation has come!

And that is what Saint John tells us in the Ninth Lesson. The Creator of the universe has come down from heaven, has become a human, born of a woman, to make a way for us all to come into God’s presence in Paradise. He has come to destroy our darkness by dying in our place in sacrifice to pay the penalty for our sins, the darkness of sin and hell and to make a way for us to be saved, a way back to God’s fellowship in Paradise.

This salvation, this Christmas message of the angels is for you.  You are included in the word “all.”

Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God–children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.  The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

This is the message of the Angels…and it is for you!

Blessed, merry Christmas!

Visitor Praise for Grace and Peace June 2012

I have visited and worshiped at G&P several times over the last two months or so.  I must offer praise and thanks to be able to participate in a worship service with a Body that understands completely that corporate worship is His service, not ours.

Your classic liturgical order of worship that honor’s holy scripture across the board, would not be unique in an earlier day.  What you practice is now precious indeed.  Gratitude to the Lord for His redemptive work came across with clarity in every Service.

I have been with you occasionally due to transitioning from Maryland to Arizona where my wife (who’s been out there several months) & I are worshiping at Prescott Presbyterian OPC.

While my time of worshipping in Maryland is now past, I pray that the Body at G&P continues to thrive confessing our faith and worshiping our Triune God.

In Christ Holy name

Geoffrey Parker, Col, USAF (Ret)

Reformation Day Sermon 10/28/12

Of Sinners and Saints

How did you become a sinner?

 

Original Sin: A Study in Evangelical TheologyDavid Parker

 

The doctrine of original sin which refers to the ‘morally vitiated condition in which we find ourselves at birth as members of a sinful race’ is commonly regarded as one of the most difficult parts of Christian theology. With talk of such matters as imputing Adam’s sin to the race and our real incorporation in Adam, the doctrine seems to many to be a good example of some of the worst features of medieval scholastic speculation.

Some theologians would go further and regard it as ‘offensive’ and quite ‘untenable in its traditional forms.’

 

In an essay in The Fundamentals Thomas Whitelaw lists a number of key Scriptural passages in support of the doctrine, and then concludes:

[p.52]

If these passages do not show that the Bible teaches the doctrine of original, or transmitted and inherited, sin, it is difficult to see in what clearer or more emphatic language the doctrine could have been taught. The truth of the doctrine may be challenged by those who repudiate the authority of Scripture; that it is a doctrine of Scripture can hardly be denied.

 

How did you become a sinner? By imputation of Adam’s first sin: Which yields a life of increasing ungodliness, independent of the influences of the Holy Spirit.

Does not seem fair! Not democratic! How do we know it is true? The Bible!

[12] Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—[13] for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. [14] Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

[19] For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners

Every child conceived in the womb is a sinner by constitution! That’s why they commit sins as soon as they become cognizant and have the motor skills to do so. Similar to venomous snakes…cute, but they will bite you and inject venom as soon as they gain the maturity—-by nature!

How do you become a saint? By imputation of Second Adam’s righteousness: Which yields a new life of increasing holiness in dependence upon the Holy Spirit.

A leading evangelical in the Church of England- Bp. Tom Wright, has called this imputation “legal fiction”

He says it is not possible for a judge to pass his personal righteousness across the courtroom to a criminal. The mistake he makes is a category mistake. A human judge may be compared to God but important differences remain.

1. God is not a mere human!

2. God is able to declare things creatively by his Word!

(Genesis 1:3-26 ESV)

  • And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
  • And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so.
  • And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so.
  • And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so.
  • And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.”
  • And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind.
  • And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so.
  • Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” And man became a living soul.

(Hebrews 1:1-3 ESV)

  • Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son (the Word), whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

BUT, God could not declare us righteous without a legal basis. It would be pure fiction (a lie) to call me a saint “holy one, righteous” without a legal ground.>> Perfect life, sacrificial cursed  judgment of death “cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”

This declaration of you and me as righteous also does not seem fair!

Do you want fair? Or do you want to be saved?

THANK GOD this RIGHTEOUSNESS is not “legal fiction” but Legal imputation of a real alien righteousness-

-the record of Christ’s perfect obedience and sacrificial atoning death is imputed in place of my disobedience. Without the legal ground of the righteousness of a legal representative to absorb my sin and clothe me with his perfect record, I am hopeless!~

Rom 5 [15] But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. [16] And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. [17] For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

          [18] Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. [19] For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. [20] Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, [21] so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Summary: this could not work in a human courtroom because human judges are mere creatures- limited, but God is able to legally declare by creative fiat what is impossible for humans.

Practical!!!!

(2 Corinthians 5:16-21 ESV)

 [16] From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh.

We don’t look at people the same way they are viewed in the world: children as ornaments, neighbors and colleagues as assets. We don’t view each other in the church as mere human SINNERS>>but as Saints, Elect, brothers and sisters, co-heirs of all that Christ gives!

We who are Simul Iustus et Peccator – require special treatment. Guidance, government, support, reproof, correction, training in practical righteousness

??Wait a minute, why do we need to be trained in righteousness if we have already be declared righteous? Because we are>> “Simul iustus et peccator”

Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer.

He sees Christ, not as a mere human, prophet, etc. but as the creator and redeemer of this world! NOW WE ARE IN Christ

[17] Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. [18] All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; [19] that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. [20] Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. [21] For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

That’s justification: He made Him sin…we have become the righteousness of God!

How do we get this Righteousness?  FAITH!!!!! Described here->>             (Romans 4:13-25 to 5:1 ESV)

The original example of a justified sinner.

For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.

That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief  (unfaith) made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Faith is trusting God’s provision! Clinging to Christ!

Faith does not exist in isolation.

(1 Timothy 3:15 ESV)

Elders……Deacons….   I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.

The church as founded and ordered by Christ her head is not besides this faith, not an extra-curricular option to this faith!

The sacraments are not incidental or unessential to this faith but comport with this faith and nourish it.

Confession of Faith 25

2. The visible church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.

3. Unto this catholic visible church Christ hath given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world: and doth, by his own presence and Spirit, according to his promise, make them effectual thereunto.

 

The core remains by faith only in Christ only who has ordered and constituted the church and sacraments empowered by the Spirit for the life of faith while we are “Simul iustus et peccator.”

How did you become a sinner?  By imputation of the sin of another.

How do you become a saint? By imputation of Second Adam’s righteousness received by faith. Which yields a life of increasing holiness in dependence upon the Holy Spirit, a new life………. in the church the household of faith…the pillar and buttress of truth.                        Amen.