Archive for category Theology

The Historical Development of Lent

Will you practice Lent in 2018? I have practiced in the past; however, it’s admittedly been a few years.

To be honest, Lent (and a strict Christian calendar in general) is something that I struggle to reconcile with apostolic teaching from Paul, who wrote,

Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Colossians 2:16-3:4).

Paul seems to be instructing that asceticism and calendars are overrated compared to Christ and underwhelming in the battle against the sinful nature. Then, he compels readers to set their minds on their union with Christ in the experience of the gospel; that is, think on heavenly accomplishments rather than earthly shadows for power in the spiritual life.

Before my theological education, I found this liberating. During my education, knowledge of church history, extra-biblical Christian texts, and exposure to a variety of Christians in various traditions caused me to wonder if I was missing out on my historical heritage – I didn’t want to act as if my Christianity was the only Christianity that there ever has been. Having been removed from the academic environment for about 7 years now, I’ve felt pulled in two directions – one existing in my knowledge of the historical expression of the Christian, spiritual life and one existing in my simple, post-conversion liberty found only in Christ and his gospel.

I imagine that some may respond in saying the historical liturgy aims to image the gospel and to orient all of life around it. I can see that, but I can also see how it possibly focuses the mind on shadows of the gospel rather than on the reality itself.

When I turn to the Scriptures for clarity, the only “icons” we’re given are the Eucharist and Baptism. We weren’t given any specific fasts or specific festivals or holy days. In fact, this 2013 article by Nicholas V. Russo casts all kinds of doubt on any solid proto-Nicene Lent tradition. At the most, one can say that the early church employed fasts and certain days as tools to prepare catechumens for Baptism. These lesser things served the people and the true apostolic ordinances.

Today marks the beginning of Lent for many of my brothers and sisters. My hope for them is that they aren’t only living in the shadow but also in the reality of the union we share in the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have died. Our life is hidden in Christ with God. I want to know more of this death and life with which I have been united. I’m just not certain that Lent is the way. I’ll remember my Baptism; I’ll sit at the Lord’s table, I’ll hear the word of redemption in Christ; I’ll gaze upon the Head of the church, and try to yield to his Spirit, whose aim it is to conform me to Christ.

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Response to Marc5Solas on Top Ten Reasons Our Kids Leave Church – 3. They Got Tired of Pretending

Marc ends his previous post on “finding better feelings in other communities” with these words:

When they leave home, they realize that they can be “spiritually fulfilled” and get the same subjective self-improvement principles (and warm-fuzzies) from the latest life-coach or from spending time with friends or volunteering at a shelter. And they can be truly authentic, and they jump at the chance because…

3. They got tired of pretending:

Then he explains what he means by the weariness of pretending:

In the “best life now”, “Every day a Friday” world of evangelicals, there’s little room for depression, or struggle, or doubt. Turn that frown upside down, or move along. Kids who are fed a stead[y] diet of sermons aimed at removing anything (or anyone) who doesn’t pragmatically serve “God’s great plan for your life” has forced them to smile and, as the old song encouraged them be “hap-hap-happy all the time”. Our kids are smart, often much smarter than we give them credit for. So they trumpet the message I hear a lot from these kids. “The church is full of hypocrites” [brackets mine].

The idea that the Christian life is somehow a pathway to successful and prosperous living and a life in which you will be finally and fully comfortable and happy could not be further from the truth. This is a lie. A person only needs to read the Gospels and consider the life of our Lord Jesus to find that the way of Christianity is the humble path of the cross-shaped life. Resurrection only follows death. The Christian life is one that will cost you everything. It is only in this life in which we spend our lives for God that we find that he has indeed given us all things. On the other hand, the world is always searching for and never finding. And so some so-called evangelicals in an attempt to woo the world toward Christ, have forsaken the true gospel for a luxurious, false gospel. Young people who have an ounce of discernment take a glance at the Scripture and immediately pick up on the contrast that they see in the life of the Lord Jesus and his apostles as compared to some of the evangelical churches of our day. At some point, they either search for something deeper within the Christian faith, concluding that there must be more to it than this, or they “stop pretending” as Marc concludes.

Again, there is a sense in which I agree with Marc here; however, I feel like he again is missing a deeper issue. I feel that his worry is misplaced, or at least that he doesn’t say enough about what we should do. The local evangelical church’s response to this has to be twofold I think: (1) Teach and understand the doctrine of salvation that begins with the new birth, and (2) teach your church about proper ecclesiology between the young and the old, especially in the context of being a covenant member of a local church. At the heart of what real evangelicalism is, we find the doctrine of the new birth or regeneration. The thought that I as a pastor have to somehow manufacture a congregation in which there is no hypocrisy so that none of our teens get upset and “stop pretending” to be Christians is far-fetched and beyond my human ability. The answer to hypocrisy in the church as well as the answer to what happens when I see hypocrisy in the church is the Holy Spirit’s work in salvation. If a teenager has truly experienced the new birth, then he or she WILL persevere in the faith. The new birth is from the Holy Spirit (John 3) and the New Testament presentation of salvation is that the Spirit’s aim is to complete it (Romans 8:26–30). In the teen that witnesses hypocrisy in the local church, the Holy Spirit is present teaching that teen about things like we find in Paul’s prayer in Philippians 1:9–11. Not only this, but also the Spirit humbles the born again teen to consider his or her own hypocrisy. To go further, there is a test here for the young person, especially if they sense that they observed hypocrisy in an older saint. I recall teachings in the Pastoral Epistles that should cause pause to the young person who is quick to judge an older saint. I am not saying that what the young person observes as hypocrisy is not hypocrisy, but rather I am rather suggesting caution and humility to be practiced. Certainly, the apostle Paul calls the local churches to judge those who are within their assembly (1 Corinthians 5–6); yet the spirit with which we proceed in such a case should be one of humility, not arrogance or some threat of separation because “I’m tired of pretending.” The body of Christ is a family of sinners redeemed by grace. We eat the Lord’s Supper at a table of grace. Let’s seek to redeem and restore with humility through proper discipline and grace. For the young person to threaten and then actually walk away because he or she is “tired of pretending” reveals more about their own faith and ecclesiology than perhaps it does about their local church.

Just imagine for a moment the “I stopped pretending” young person’s response to God should he ask him or her about his or her reasoning for leaving the local community . . . “they were hypocrites, and I was tired of pretending.” I don’t think that is going to hold up well. IMO, that response will burn like wood, hay, and the like. Our young people (and all of us mind you) need a developed understanding of church membership and commitment to a local body. I’m speaking from what I see written in the Scriptures, especially as I begin a study on 1 Corinthians. Imagine being a member there! Plenty of hypocrisy-accusations to go around. Yet, the idea that leaving the local community is a valid option for any real Christian is absurd. No, the apostle along with the Corinthians sought to grow in grace and in this thing called the Church. I’m also speaking from experience. It was not long ago that there was an “exodus” of people from my very own local church, many of them probably claiming some level of discontent and some making accusations of hypocrisy as they headed off to other local churches that will surely be void of such hypocrisy (cue laughter). What I am discovering is that those who left revealed more about their poor ecclesiology and understanding of local church membership than they did about some kind of impenetrable hypocrisy that they supposed was present and that God was too weak to do anything about. Let be said and done in the local church this way, “rejoice in hope, endure suffering, persist in prayer.”  Let it be said to the young person who is “tired of pretending”: Stop pretending. Be a real Christian. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and glorify God in your local assembly. Keep going. Endure. Persevere. If you do, you’ll see God work, and you’ll witness hope spring up in your midst.

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How Gospel Conversations with 7th Day Adventists Led to Research about Michael, the Archangel, as the Pre-Incarnate Christ and to . . . John Calvin? What?!

Three months ago, over a third of our church participated in Unlock 2013: Asking God to Open Hearts in DFW. I had the privilege and opportunity to lead this ministry and all of our Unlock Workers that consisted of an evening VBS, a free meal, prayer groups, sports camps, lots of organizing, administrating, and publishing, evangelism teams and prayer stations in the streets and parks of Dallas, and now – follow up for discipleship. We had over 620 gospel conversations with folks in Dallas, and we’re excited to evangelize more and become better equipped at discipleship. This whole thing launched out of a renewal that is taking place at our church to grow by worship, prayer, conversion/the new birth, and discipleship as opposed to the ever popular mantra of “Hey, come to our church because we now have the latest, biggest, and best programs.” We want to worship, pray, and proclaim the gospel and watch the Holy Spirit work in power.

As our teams were out in the streets and parks, some encountered 7th Day Adventists. Honestly, I did not know much about the Adventists. After having done some research, I will suggest that their openness to prophecy and the authority that they give to the writings of Ellen White are troubling. Also troubling is their inability to see that the Law was entirely fulfilled in Christ, including the Sabbath. Their position on the Sabbath leads them down strange roads as expressed in this recent article from Ted N. C. Wilson, the President of the Seventh Day Adventist Church: http://www.adventistworld.org/issue.php?issue=2013-1009&page=8.

Is Michael, the Archangel, Jesus Christ?

During my research on the 7th Day Adventists, I came across a very interesting view on Michael, the Archangel, that I had never heard before. They believe that Michael, the Archangel is another title for Jesus Christ. Michael means “who is like God.” Archangel could mean, “highest ranked angel,” or “ruler of the angels,” or “chief of the messengers.” Context must help with the interpretation. Let me be entirely fair, they DO NOT believe that Jesus Christ is or ever has been an angel. They believe that Michael when mentioned in Scripture is NOT an angel, but it is Jesus Christ, the ruler of the angels. Now, whether or not such an interpretation is plausible will take more thought and work on my end. My initial judgment is that such a view is confusing rather than clear, and we do not ever have the New Testament writers clarifying this for us. In fact, Michael appears in the New Testament, and in my opinion, it becomes more clear in those passages, that Jesus Christ and Michael are two separate beings.

It is also very interesting that this study led me to a place, or a person rather, whom I did not at all expect to meet on this journey . . . John Calvin. One Adventist author referenced John Calvin’s commentary on Daniel in support of his view. I couldn’t believe it! I surely thought he was mistaken. So, I looked up the reference myself, and here is what I found:

Commenting on Daniel 10:13, Calvin writes, “He adds next, ‘Behold! Michael, one of the chief leaders or princes, came to strengthen me.’ Some think the word Michael represents Christ, and I do not object to this opinion. Clearly enough, if all angels keep watch over the faithful and elect, still Christ holds the first rank among them, because he is their head, and uses their ministry and assistance to defend all his people. But as this is not generally admitted, I leave it in doubt for the present, and shall say more on the subject in the twelfth chapter” (Calvin Commentaries: Daniel 7-12 & Hosea, XIII, page 253).

Commenting on Daniel 12:1, Calvin writes, “By Michael many agree in understanding Christ as the head of the Church. But if it seems better to understand Michael as the archangel, this sense will prove suitable, for under Christ as the head, angels are the guardians of the Church. Whichever be the true meaning, God was the preserver of his Church by the hand of his only-begotten Son, and because the angels are under the government of Christ, he might entrust this duty to Michael” (Calvin Commentaries: Daniel 7-12 & Hosea, XIII, page 368-69).

He seems uncertain about the whole thing really. Calvin also writes in his 65th lecture, which followed the above quotation, “As we stated yesterday, Michael may mean an angel; but I embrace the opinion of those who refer this to the person of Christ, because it suits the subject best to represent him as standing forward for the defence of his elect people” (Calvin Commentaries: Daniel 7012 & Hosea, XIII, page 369-70).

I could . . . not . . . believe it. It’s not that I sense orthodoxy is at stake if someone holds to such a view, especially as expressed here by Calvin. It’s just a thought that I had never heard of until recently, let alone a thought that I have entertained. Yet, many of us would identify the angel of the LORD in the Old Testament as the pre-incarnate Christ. I am not so sure about that now, but I once held to that with no problem at all, and I still don’t think such a belief is too big a deal.

My curiosity continued. I wanted to see if Calvin maintained this belief all the way through the New Testament. So, I picked up his commentary on Jude, where Michael is mentioned again. Here, Calvin’s tone was different on the matter,

However, when you read Calvin’s commentary on the epistle of Jude, he mentions no connection between Michael and Jesus Christ, and in fact, I would say that there is no way that Calvin sees Michael as another title for Jesus in Jude 9, “That Michael is introduced alone as disputing against Satan is not new. We know that myriads of angels are ever ready to render service to God; but he chooses this or that to do his business as he pleases. What Jude relates as having been said by Michael, is found also in the book of Zechariah, ‘Let God chide (or check) thee, Satan.’ (Zech. iii. 2.) And it is a comparison, as they say, between the greater and the less. Michael dared not to speak more severely against Satan (though a reprobate and condemned) than to deliver him to God to be restrained . . .” (Me commenting on Calvin Commentaries: Hebrews, I Peter, I John, James, II Peter, Jude, XXII, page 439).

So, it seems that something happened in Calvin’s understanding of Michael, the Archangel, between his writing on Daniel and his writing on Jude. I looked at Hebrews to see if he said anything about it on Hebrews 1, where Christ is taught to be superior to the angels, but I did not find anything. I have not yet checked his comments on Revelation 12, where Michael is mentioned once again. I am not sure what exactly catalyzed the turn around. An interesting ride though. Thanks Mr. Calvin.

*Update* I recently discovered – and I think that this was news to me – that John Calvin did not write a commentary on the Revelation of Jesus Christ to the Apostle John. Most with whom I have spoken or whom I have read state that he simply ran out of time in his life to write said commentary. This news then caused me to inquire as to what was the final word of John Calvin on the issue raised in this article; that is, which was written later—his commentary on Daniel or his commentary on Jude? One may assume that Calvin wrote his commentaries in order, working his way from the Old Testament into and through the New Testament. However, this is not what we find when we search the dates as recorded in Calvin’s commentaries. According to page lxxv in his introductory material to his lectures and commentary on the book of Daniel, Calvin signed a letter that included his provenance and the date, which were Geneva, August 19, 1561. He did the same for his commentary on the Catholic Epistles, which included the book of Jude. His provenance and the date for this writing were Geneva, Jan. 24, 1551. This means that what John Calvin wrote about Michael, the Archangel in Daniel CAME AFTER what he did or did not write about Michael, the Archangel in Jude. Therefore, the conclusion I think we must draw from the matter at hand is that John Calvin did indeed believe that “Michael, the Archangel” was another title for the second person of the Trinity. Calvin believed that the Son of God, Jesus Christ, was also the “One like God” who is also the “Captain of the Angelic Messengers and Host.” Although, let it be clearly stated here that John Calvin DID NOT believe that Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, was a created, angelic being, but rather the commander of the angels. In holding his position here, he does not succumb to the Arian heresy that “there was a time when the Son was not.” Calvin believed in the eternality of the Son, that he has no beginning and he shall have no end.

In my opinion, I think that Jude should be most informative to our understanding on this matter. First, it seems odd that after the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity such a title would continue to be employed. Second and more troubling, the Michael of Jude seems sheepish in his confrontation with Satan. If this is indeed an angel, I can completely understand his deflection to have the Lord rebuke Satan. However, it is difficult for me to comprehend a post-resurrection and ascension Christian writer reflecting on an event in the Old Testament in such a way that paints Jesus Christ in such a way. Now, I said difficult, not impossible. I can see how some may point out that (1) this is an event in the Old Testament and historically preceded the incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension, and (2) we observe Jesus Christ, even in his incarnate state, in his encounters with Satan and with spiritual warfare appealing to the word of God and to the Father through prayer and fasting. This reveals the inner fellowship and relationship of the Triune God with a common mission and a common glory as well as the faithfulness of the Lord Jesus as the second Adam, as the faithful Man. So, it is not impossible for us to understand Michael in Jude the same way that Calvin understands Michael in Daniel. Thus, I conclude that — hey — I don’t like it. I don’t like the idea. Yet, I can understand how someone may arrive at such a position. I am not ready to embrace it, nor do I think that there is any benefit in embracing it. I still think that it breeds more confusion than help for whether “Michael, the Archangel” is another title for the second person of the Trinity or not, whether it is a title given to him to emphasize his leadership over the angelic host or not, it remains true regardless that all creation is under his authority. He has been given this by the Father, and a special title is not necessary for this truth to be true.

He is the image of the invisible God,

the firstborn over all creation,

for all things in heaven and on earth were created by him —

all things, whether visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions, whether principalities or powers —

all things were created through him and for him.

He himself is before all things

and all things are held together in him (Colossians 1:15–17).

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