Tuesday, December 21, 2010

"O sweet exchange..."

Good news for sinners from the Epistle to Diognetus, 9, 2nd century:

‘[God] himself took on him the burden of our iniquities, he gave his own Son as a ransom for us, the Holy One for transgressors, the blameless one for the wicked, the righteous one for the unrighteous, the incorruptible one for the corruptible, the immortal one for them that are mortal. For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than his righteousness? By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified, than by the only Son of God? O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation! — that the wickedness of many should be hid in a single Righteous One, and that the righteousness of one should justify many transgressors!’

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A definition of the local church?

This seems to be a decent working definition of the local church that would be helpful to call to mind every now and then as we 'forebear' and 'long-suffer' one with another:

The assembly is not the abode of Christian perfection; it is the abode of the family of God, those who through regeneration have been made partakers of His life and are developing in that life, sometimes in much weakness and limitation.  (Torch of the Testimony by John Kennedy, pg. 186-187)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Prayer of Contrition

The words of my mouth ring hollow.
With them do I vainly seek my own glory.
Deceptive thoughts too willingly I invite into my heart;
As if without understanding,
Entertaining them as a subterfuge for sin.
Indeed what I conceive in my heart and do is against Thee.

Yet where shall I now turn, but to Thee?
And who will deliver me from this mire, but the One I offend?
My only hope is in God's mercy.
Dear Lord, save me from my errant ways according to Thy Word.
Cleanse me and deliver me from my iniquity,
That I may know Thy lovingkindness and walk in Thy truth.

The Apostle Paul writes,
"Faithful is the saying and worthy of all acceptance,
That Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners;
Of whom I am chief:  howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy..."

Therefore, my trust is in Thee alone O Lord
Who has borne my transgressions on the bloody cross,
Who has purchased and delivered me from sin and death unto holiness and life eternal.

Grant then unto me, an unworthy servant, this Thy great salvation.
That what Thou has graciously begun, Thou will complete,
By the merits and mediation of Thy dear Son Jesus Christ my Lord.
-Jack Miller

[ASV 1 Timothy 1:15-16a]

From the Litany BCP 1662:
From all blindness of heart; from pride, vainglory, 
and hypocrisy; from envy, hatred, and malice, 
and all uncharitableness,
                     Good Lord, deliver us.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Worship Acceptable to God through Christ Jesus...

     R.S. Clark has a new post at Heidelblog titled The Scandal of Pagans Leading Worship commenting on the rising trend of pastors and clergy allowing "those who make no Christian profession, who regard themselves as non-Christians, non-believers, those we used to call “heathen” or “pagans” to lead worship through leading or playing musical instruments."  
     This is a timely essay by Scott on a wayward drift that touches too many churches today.  It seems that the before-unheard-of  idea of "inclusiveness of unbelievers" for the purpose of music in Christian worship is a growing phenomenon; unfortunately one that moves the church in the direction of the muting of the Gospel to the ears of the very unbelievers brought in to aid worship.  The rationale, apart from the increased aesthetic of music and singing, is that the talented unbeliever will be exposed to the Gospel.  Really?  The bright line between lost sinners under God's wrath and the merciful salvation offered in Christ is blurred as churches elevate the vehicle of music aesthetic in worship to a place of importance at or above that of the Word.  I was in a church that had unbelieving "cantors" (and, more or less, promoted the idea).  Beautiful singing... inspiring!  And after two years they moved on to another gig.  How can the Gospel be a clear call of repentance and faith to the lost who have already been brought into the worship of the Most High?  

Dr. Clark writes:
"Nowhere does the spiritual and epistemic antithesis come to a clearer expression in Holy Scripture than when it considers public, corporate worship. We live in the world, under God’s common providence, with unbeliever’s sharing (Matt 5:48) in God’s common gifts to humanity but when we gather, on the Sabbath, for Christian worship, we withdraw from the common into a special, sacred space and time. It is not a time to celebrate our common humanity with non-believers, it is not a time for cultural, artistic expression and achievement. It is a time to bow before the face of our Holy Triune God and worship him as he as commanded (WCF 21.1). In this sense, holiness is about distinction (antithesis) between belief and unbelief. To make something sacred is to set it aside. That’s what we are, in corporate worship, God’s holy people, his holy priesthood (1 Pet 2:5), a holy temple. It is then that we express our status as a “holy nation” (1 Pet 2:9)."


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Further thoughts on Justification and Sanctification...

Over the past year I've had the opportunity to lead two studies in our church - one on the Epistle to the Romans 1-8 and the other on the Epistle to the Galatians. Personally, it has been a rich and rewarding time. My understanding of God's act of "mere mercy" has grown due to, not only to the words of Scripture, but the excellent commentaries of John Stott, Martin Luther, and John Calvin, as well as several articles from Modern Reformation Magazine.  Here is what I'll simply call some further thoughts on justification and sanctification...
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is such that upon hearing and trusting in its message sinners are completely set free from all penalties and demands of the Law pertaining to sin and righteousness.  For on the cross Jesus Christ took upon himself our sin, our guilt, and the penalty of God’s just wrath.  He suffered and died willingly in our place for our sins.  This is the love of God. Thus through repentant faith we have been drawn by God to look away from our wretched selves unto Christ only, having received as a free gift of God’s grace the complete forgiveness of all our sins and the imputation of Christ’s perfect obedience to the Law, our righteousness before God.
This is our justification. 

    But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness (Rom. 4:5)
… that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Rom. 3:26b)
    For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law (Rom. 3:28)
    … nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified (Gal. 2:16)
    He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21)
    Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.(Rom.8:1).

And by this faith which looks to Christ alone, the Gospel not only frees us from any and all demands of the law required of us (which we could never perform) - no longer, through works, needing to attain or earn merit of righteousness before God - but also in this Gospel we have been delivered from the dominion of sin and death to that of righteousness and life. We are no longer under law but under grace. And this is the transforming ground upon which we stand and walk as believers.  Having become recipients of such immense mercy,  we are freed to look away from self's concerns to that of others, embracing the righteous direction of the law.  And this most especially occurs as we bear the burdens of one another, fulfilling the law of Christ - to love thy neighbor as thyself. Though we never love without imperfection (still beset by the remnant of sinful flesh) yet this spiritual service of grateful obedience, led by the Spirit, is acceptable to God by grace through faith. - The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God. (Rom. 8: 16)
This is our sanctification.

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love. (Gal. 5: 6)     
    For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. (Gal. 5: 13)
    For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, "YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF." (Gal. 5: 14)
    But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. (Gal. 5: 18)
    If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. (Gal. 5: 25)
For all who are being led by by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God. (Rom. 8: 14)
    Bear one another's burdens, and thus fulfil the law of the Christ. (Gal. 6: 2)
    And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. (Gal. 6: 16)

The Vertical and the Horizontal: Faith without works looks heavenward away from self unto Christ alone and passively receives undeserved justification.  This same faith also looks away from self to one’s neighbor to serve him by bearing his burdens, actively working through love born of the Holy Spirit.  This latter sanctifying faith flows from the former justifying faith and yet they are inseparable.  The justified sinner, who for freedom was set free by Christ, is led of the Spirit into the sanctifying path of loving his neighbor as himself.  Through the power of the Spirit he takes up his cross in grateful obedience as a servant of both God and others;  to the end that the one who believes might be conformed to the image of His dear Son. (Rom. 8: 29)

    But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. (Rom. 6:22)
[all Scripture verses from the NASV]

Friday, November 19, 2010

Concluding thoughts on Cranmer...

I find that I keep coming back to Ashley Null's excellent book on Cranmer's theology. Unlike his Reformed Continental contemporaries, Cranmer left little by way of published theological writings due to the demanding and difficult responsibility and role of guiding the reformation of the English Church as its Archbishop. Null's research into the voluminous notes and annotations of Cranmer have resulted in a book that helps flesh out Cranmer's mature thoughts on justification, election, repentance, baptism, predestination, and the perseverance of the saints; and thus the direction of reform he was navigating before his arrest under Queen Mary.

... by Ashley Null from the last chapter of his book Thomas Cranmer's Doctrine of Repentance:

    "Crucial to Cranmer’s argument was the renovation of the will and its affections which justification by imputation effected.  In the moment of justification God granted both faith and love.  The believer’s faith laid hold of the extrinsic righteousness of Christ on which basis his sins were pardoned.  At the same time the Holy Spirit indwelt the believer, stirring in him a love for God out of gratitude for the assurance of salvation.  Before love had been shed in a Christian’s heart, no work which he did could be considered good.  Once love had been shed in his heart, before he did any good works he was already a child of God.  Hence works could play no role in justification itself.  Rather, striving to please God out of love was the natural response to free pardon and the good works which arose accordingly certified the believer’s conscience that he was justified.  God’s gracious love inspired grateful human love.  Thus, justification was being made ‘right-willed’ by faith, not being made inherently righteous through a preparation of good works.  To protect the utter gratuity of the saving faith Cranmer appealed to Augustine’s teaching on the unconditional predestination of the elect to eternal life, although like his fellow Reformed theologians, he rejected Augustine’s views that not all those who were justified would persevere to final glory.
    "Developed and defended in the unique situation of the Henrician church, Cranmer’s Reformed theology emphasized the ‘right-will’ concomitant with justification.  As a result, he was able to continue the medieval focus on poenitentia, albeit significantly redefined by being placed within a solidly Protestant theological context.  Repentance was now turning to God (by confessing one's sins) to be turned by God (through his gift of lively faith), an act which both humbled humankind and glorified God as their only hope.  When God granted repentance as an on-going fruit of a life of godly love, the believer knew he was elected to eternal salvation.  This doctrine of repentance Cranmer sought to make the focal point of his formularies for the Edwardian church.  Nevertheless, since Cranmer’s larger theological context of predestination was hidden from view in the prayer book, just as Scotus’s similar doctrine was not apparent in the penitentials, Cranmer’s liturgy remained vulnerable to being understood as stressing salvation contingent on human response.  Consequently, much of the subsequent history of Anglican theology can be understood as a struggle to reach agreement on the proper understanding of repentance.
  "No doubt Cranmer would be disappointed by the disputes of his theological descendants, but he would have understood.  As an academic, he knew that different presuppositions often predetermined  conflicting conclusions, despite rigorous logic  being employed by both sides.  As a pastor, he realized that human frailty fought against admitting error, the necessary prelude to anyone switching perspectives.  As a sinner, he too struggled with the ever-present human tendency to put his own interest ahead of God’s glory and the advancement of the gospel.  His final answer was to put his hand in the fire and commit his life and legacy to God’s love:  its unconditional pardon, its inspiration of reciprocal love, its often invisible purposes, and its ultimately invincible plan to order all things right.  Anglicans may not find Cranmer and his prayer book so easy to love today, but his faith still offers much from which they can learn."
[pages 252-253]

Thursday, November 11, 2010

More from Machen...

More from J. Gresham Machen’s book Christianity and Liberalism... dive in, it's worth it;
Excerpts from Chapter 5 on Salvation:  

  The atoning death of Christ, and that alone, has presented sinners as righteous in God's sight; the Lord Jesus has paid the full penalty of their sins, and clothed them with His perfect righteousness before the judgment seat of God. But Christ has done for Christians even far more than that. He has given to them not only a new and right relation to God, but a new life in God's presence for evermore. He has saved them from the power as well as from the guilt of sin. The New Testament does not end with the death of Christ; it does not end with the triumphant words of Jesus on the Cross, "It is finished." The death was followed by the resurrection, and the resurrection like the death was for our sakes. Jesus rose from the dead into a new life of glory and power, and into that life He brings those for whom He died. The Christian, on the basis of Christ's redeeming work, not only has died unto sin, but also lives unto God.
    Thus was completed the redeeming work of Christ--the work for which He entered into the world. The account of that work is the "gospel," the "good news." It never could have been predicted, for sin deserves naught but eternal death. But God triumphed over sin through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
    But how is the redeeming work of Christ applied to the individual Christian man? The answer of the New Testament is plain. According to the New Testament the work of Christ is applied to the individual Christian man by the Holy Spirit. And this work of the Holy Spirit is part of the creative work of God. It is not accomplished by the ordinary use of means; it is not accomplished merely by using the good that is already in man. On the contrary, it is something new. It is not an influence upon the life, but the beginning of a new life; it is not development of what we had already, but a new birth. At the very center of Christianity are the words, "Ye must be born again."
    ... Many are the passages and many are the ways in which the central doctrine of the new birth is taught in the Word of God. One of the most stupendous passages is Gal. ii. 20: "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I that live but Christ liveth in me." That passage was called by Bengel the marrow of Christianity. And it was rightly so called. It refers to the objective basis of Christianity in the redeeming work of Christ, and it contains also the supernaturalism of Christian experience. "It is no longer I that live, but Christ liveth in me"--these are extraordinary words. "If you look upon Christians," Paul says in effect, "you see so many manifestations of the life of Christ." Undoubtedly if the words of Gal. ii. 20 stood alone they might be taken in a mystical or pantheistic sense; they might be taken to involve the merging of the personality of the Christian in the personality of Christ. But Paul had no reason to fear such a misinterpretation, for he had fortified himself against it by the whole of his teaching. The new relation of the Christian to Christ, according to Paul, involves no loss of the separate personality of the Christian; on the contrary, it is everywhere intensely personal; it is not a merely mystical relationship to the All or the Absolute, but a relationship of love existing between one person and another. Just because Paul had fortified himself against misunderstanding, he was not afraid of an extreme boldness of language. "It is no longer I that live, but Christ liveth in me"--these words involve a tremendous conception of the break that comes in a man's life when he becomes a Christian. It is almost as though he became a new person--so stupendous is the change. These words were not written by a man who believed that Christianity means merely the entrance of a new motive into the life; Paul believed with all his mind and heart in the doctrine of the new creation or the new birth.
    ... That doctrine represents one aspect of the salvation which was wrought by Christ and is applied by His Spirit. But there is another aspect of the same salvation. Regeneration means a new life; but there is also a new relation in which the believer stands toward God. That new relation is instituted by "justification"--the act of God by which a sinner is pronounced righteous in His sight because of the atoning death of Christ. It is not necessary to ask whether justification comes before regeneration or vice versa; in reality they are two aspects of one salvation. And they both stand at the very beginning of the Christian life. The Christian has not merely the promise of a new life, but he has already a new life. And he has not merely the promise of being pronounced righteous in God's sight (though the blessed pronouncement will be confirmed on the judgment day), but he is already pronounced righteous here and now. At the beginning of every Christian life there stands, not a process, but a definite act of God.
    ... That does not mean, however, that in the beginning of the Christian life God deals with us as with sticks or stones, unable to understand what is being done. On the contrary He deals with us as with persons; salvation has a place in the conscious life of man; God uses in our salvation a conscious act of the human soul--an act which though it is itself the work of God's Spirit, is at the same time an act of man. That act of man which God produces and employs in salvation is faith. At the center of Christianity is the doctrine of "justification by faith."
    ... But if Christian faith is based upon truth, then it is not the faith which saves the Christian but the object of the faith. And the object of the faith is Christ. Faith, then, according to the Christian view means simply receiving a gift. To have faith in Christ means to cease trying to win God's favor by one's own character; the man who believes in Christ simply accepts the sacrifice which Christ offered on Calvary. The result of such faith is a new life and all good works; but the salvation itself is an absolutely free gift of God.
    ... The liberty of the gospel depends upon the gift of God by which the Christian life is begun--a gift which involves justification, or the removal of the guilt of sin and the establishment of a right relation between the believer and God, and regeneration or the new birth, which makes of the Christian man a new creature.
    ... But there is one obvious objection to this high doctrine, and the objection leads on to a fuller account of the Christian way of salvation. The obvious objection to the doctrine of the new creation is that it does not seem to be in accord with the observed fact. Are Christians really new creatures? It certainly does not seem so. They are subject to the same old conditions of life to which they were subject before; if you look upon them you cannot notice any very obvious change. They have the same weaknesses, and, unfortunately, they have sometimes the same sins. The new creation, if it be really new, does not seem to be very perfect; God can hardly look upon it and say, as of the first creation, that it is all very good.
    This is a very real objection. But Paul meets it gloriously in the very same verse, already considered, in which the doctrine of the new creation is so boldly proclaimed. "It is no longer I that live, but Christ liveth in me"--that is the doctrine of the new creation. But immediately the objection is taken up; "The life which I now live in the flesh," Paul continues, "I live by the faith which is in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me." "The life which I now live in the flesh"--there is the admission. Paul admits that the Christian does live a life in the flesh, subject to the same old earthly conditions and with a continued battle against sin. "But," says Paul (and here the objection is answered), "the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith which is in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me." The Christian life is lived by faith and not by sight; the great change has not yet come to full fruition; sin has not yet been fully conquered; the beginning of the Christian life is a new birth, not an immediate creation of the full grown man. But although the new life has not yet come to full fruition, the Christian knows that the fruition will not fail; he is confident that the God who has begun a good work in him will complete it unto the day of Christ; he knows that the Christ who has loved him and given Himself for him will not fail him now, but through the Holy Spirit will build him up unto the perfect man. That is what Paul means by living the Christian life by faith.
    Thus the Christian life, though it begins by a momentary act of God, is continued by a process. In other words--to use theological language--justification and regeneration are followed by sanctification. In principle the Christian is already free from the present evil world, but in practice freedom must still be attained. Thus the Christian life is not a life of idleness, but a battle.
    That is what Paul means when he speaks of faith working through love (Gal. v. 6). The faith that he makes the means of salvation is not an idle faith, like the faith which is condemned in the Epistle of James, but a faith that works. The work that it performs is love, and what love is Paul explains in the last section of the Epistle to the Galatians. Love, in the Christian sense, is not a mere emotion, but a very practical and a very comprehensive thing. It involves nothing less than the keeping of the whole law of God. "The whole law is fulfilled in one word, I even in this: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." Yet the practical results of faith do not mean that faith itself is a work. It is a significant thing that in that last "practical" section of Galatians Paul does not say that faith produces the life of love; he says that the Spirit of God produces it. The Spirit, then, in that section is represented as doing exactly what in the pregnant words, "faith working through love," is attributed to faith. The apparent contradiction simply leads to the true conception of faith. True faith does not do anything. When it is said to do something (for example, when we say that it can remove mountains), that is only by a very natural shortness of expression. Faith is the exact opposite of works; faith does not give, it receives. So when Paul says that we do something by faith, that is just another way of saying that of ourselves we do nothing; when it is said that faith works through love that means that through faith the necessary basis of all Christian work has been obtained in the removal of guilt and the birth of the new man, and that the Spirit of God has been received--the Spirit who works with and through the Christian man for holy living. The force which enters the Christian life through faith and works itself out through love is the power of the Spirit of God. [bold added]
    But the Christian life is lived not only by faith; it is also lived in hope. The Christian is in the midst of a sore battle. And as for the condition of the world at large--nothing but the coldest heartlessness could be satisfied with that. It is certainly true that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. Even in the Christian life there are things that we should like to see removed; there are fears within as well as fightings without; even within the Christian life there are sad evidences of sin. But according to the hope which Christ has given us, there will be final victory, and the struggle of this world will be followed by the glories of heaven. That hope runs all through the Christian life; Christianity is not engrossed by this transitory world, but measures all things by the thought of eternity.
    But at this point an objection is frequently raised. The "other-worldliness" of Christianity is objected to as a form of selfishness. The Christian, it is said, does what is right because of the hope of heaven, but how much nobler is the man who because of duty walks boldly into the darkness of annihilation!
    The objection would have some weight if heaven according to Christian belief were mere enjoyment. But as a matter of fact heaven is communion with God and with His Christ. It can be said reverently that the Christian longs for heaven not only for his own sake, but also for the sake of God. Our present love is so cold, our present service so weak; and we would one day love and serve Him as His love deserves. It is perfectly true that the Christian is dissatisfied with the present world, but it is a holy dissatisfaction; it is that hunger and thirst after righteousness which our Savior blessed. We are separated from the Savior now by the veil of sense and by the effects of sin, and it is not selfish to long to see Him face to face. To relinquish such longing is not unselfishness, but is like the cold heartlessness of a man who could part from father or mother or wife or child without a pang. It is not selfish to long for the One whom not having seen we love.
  Such is the Christian life--it is a life of conflict but it is also a life of hope. It views this world under the aspect of eternity; the fashion of this world passeth away, and all must stand before the judgment seat of Christ.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Machen: "Christ will do everything or nothing..."

It seems to me that the central contention facing today's church is the same one that the saints have striven to clarify throughout church history. It was the issue of Luther's day. It was that for which Cranmer was burned at the stake by the Roman Church at Queen Mary's hand. It is what dogged the Apostle Paul's ministry in the form of "another gospel", the reason for his epistle to the Galatians. It centers on the critical answer to the two questions, "by what means is man saved" and "by what means does he remain saved and walk as a Christian?"

Here is an extended excerpt from the book Christianity and Liberalism, in which J. Gresham Machen highlights what was and is at the heart of this doctrinal struggle:

But what was the difference between the teaching of Paul and the teaching of the Judaizers ? What was it that gave rise to the stupendous polemic of the Epistle to the Galatians? To the modern Church the difference would have seemed to be a mere theological subtlety. About many things the Judaizers were in perfect agreement with Paul. The Judaizers believed that Jesus was the Messiah; there is not a shadow of evidence that they objected to Paul's lofty view of the person of Christ. Without the slightest doubt, they believed that Jesus had really risen from the dead. They believed, moreover, that faith in Christ was necessary to salvation. But the trouble was, they believed that something else was also necessary; they believed that what Christ had done needed to be pieced out by the believer's own effort to keep the Law. From the modern point of view the difference would have seemed to be very slight. Paul as well as the Judaizers believed that the keeping of the law of God, in its deepest import, is inseparably connected with faith. The difference concerned only the logical--not even, perhaps, the temporal--order of three steps. Paul said that a man (1) first believes on Christ, (2) then is justified before God, (3) then immediately proceeds to keep God's law. The Judaizers said that a man (1) believes on Christ and (2) keeps the law of God the best he can, and then (3) is justified. The difference would seem to modern "practical" Christians to be a highly subtle and intangible matter, hardly worthy of consideration at all in view of the large measure of agreement in the practical realm. What a splendid cleaning up of the Gentile cities it would have been if the Judaizers had succeeded in extending to those cities the observance of the Mosaic law, even including the unfortunate ceremonial observances! Surely Paul ought to have made common cause with teachers who were so nearly in agreement with him; surely he ought to have applied to them the great principle of Christian unity. 
As a matter of fact, however, Paul did nothing of the kind; and only because he (and others) did nothing of the kind does the Christian Church exist today. Paul saw very clearly that the differences between the Judaizers and himself was the differences between two entirely distinct types of religion; it was the differences between a religion of merit and a religion of grace. If Christ provides only a part of our salvation, leaving us to provide the rest, then we are still hopeless under the load of sin. For no matter how small the gap which must be bridged before salvation can be attained, the awakened conscience sees clearly that our wretched attempt at goodness is insufficient even to bridge that gap. The guilty soul enters again into the hopeless reckoning with God, to determine whether we have really done our part. And thus we groan again under the old bondage of the law. Such an attempt to piece out the work of Christ by our own merit, Paul saw clearly, is the very essence of unbelief; Christ will do everything or nothing, and the only hope is to throw ourselves unreservedly on His mercy and trust Him for all.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Restoration and the Word...

The question, “what is necessary for reforming or restoring the Anglican faith and practice?”, has take up a number of posts here, as well as my commenting on other blogs discussing the same issue.  It is very much on the minds of Christians who have an affinity or identification with the church of Cranmer.  There are a number of blogs/organizations that are dedicated to getting back to first principles as taught and understood by the English reformers of the 1500’ and 1600’s.  Yet that task runs into the problem of how to agree on “divining” the positives and negatives of the various English Divines' teachings.  The result of that difficulty is a seemingly endless ‘back and forth’ between various camps, be they Anglo-Catholic, Reformed/Puritan, Evangelical, high church, low church, etc... I have no idea how to navigate these discussions with others except to continue to put out my own thoughts and listen and learn where I can.  As I have written earlier, I'm pessimistic about any meaningful restoration of Anglicanism that (in my understanding of things) reflects the theological intent of the early reformers (English and non-English) and some of those who followed.  

The list I would draw up of those to be consulted in order for us to lay hold of the theological development of the English reformation would include some who would be accepted by most... and some not.  But here are several:  Cranmer, Luther, Hooper, Bucer, Knox, Calvin, Jewell, Grindal, Bullinger, Whitgift, Hooker, Ussher, Davenant.  I include some non-English, as their theology had a more or less significant impact on that of the English church.  I leave out those following the 1500’s because the above reformers were more diligent and equipped than most today in understanding and weighing the teachings of those that went before.  This list comprises men who would by and large support a Protestant/Reformed position, as I think that is a fair reading of the direction of the English Reformation.  Some might ask, why not include Queen Elizabeth?  She was protestant, and as monarch played a significant role in the reintroduction of the Book of Common Prayer and the establishing the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion.  Yet I see her impact as mixed, given the differing priorities that flowed from her position as both head of the civil realm and the “Supreme Governor” of the Church.  

A final thought... on what I see as maybe the greatest lack in today’s Anglican churches.  That is an under-valuing of Scripture, God’s Word, as our ultimate guide in doctrine.  Everything in faith and practice ultimately flows from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as God’s sovereign and gracious redemption of sinful man.  All doctrine has to do with this glorious Word whose story is revealed in Scripture through the Holy Spirit.  Jesus himself drew the attention of his disciples to this very thing after his resurrection.  And that is why various churches have instituted confessions - to clearly put forth the essential doctrines of this great salvation.  And to the degree they agree with Scripture they are dependable guides for the ministry of the Word and the life of the church.  

Some words of Martin Luther from his “Treatise Concerning Christian Liberty”:

“Christ was sent for no other office than that of the word; and the order of the Apostles, that of bishops, and that of the whole body of the clergy, have been called and instituted for no object but the ministry of the word...
“But you will ask, What is this word, and by what means is it to be used, since there are so many words of God? I answer, The Apostle Paul (Rom. i.) explains what it is, namely the Gospel of God, concerning His Son, incarnate, suffering, risen, and glorified, through the Spirit, the Sanctifier. To preach Christ is to feed the soul, to justify it, to set it free, and to save it, if it believes the preaching. For faith alone and the efficacious use of the word of God, bring salvation.”

This Word is the message, the doctrine, the gospel... the teaching of Christ’s church.  And as Luther wrote, it is the food of the soul unto justification and sanctification.  The food of this Word is ministered through preaching and received as eternal life by hearing with faith.  The food of this Word is ministered through the sacraments and received as grace unto salvation by faith.  The food of this Word is ministered through the shepherding of the flock and received as guidance for the soul through faith.  Everything in the church flows from this Word, Christ crucified and risen, given to his people. And for this spiritual food to benefit the Lord's people it must be faithfully and regularly communicated and fed to them by those called and ordained by the church as ministers of the Word.

XIX. Of the Church.
THE visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure word of God is preached and the sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ's ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Martin Luther - The Christian, Law, and Gospel

Verse 16, chapter 2 of Galatians: yet knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we believed on Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the law: because by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. (ASV)

The following are excerpts on chapter 2:16 from Martin Luther's Commentary on Galatians.  His "commentary" was actually a series of lectures given at the University of Wittenburg:
The true way of salvation is this. First, a person must realize that he is a sinner, the kind of a sinner who is congenitally unable to do any good thing. "Whatsoever is not of faith, is sin." Those who seek to earn the grace of God by their own efforts are trying to please God with sins. They mock God, and provoke His anger. The first step on the way to salvation is to repent.
The second part is this. God sent His only-begotten Son into the world that we may live through His merit. He was crucified and killed for us. By sacrificing His Son for us God revealed Himself to us as a merciful Father who donates remission of sins, righteousness, and life everlasting for Christ's sake. God hands out His gifts freely unto all men. That is the praise and glory of His mercy.
False way of salvation - The scholastics explain the way of salvation in this manner. When a person happens to perform a good deed, God accepts it and as a reward for the good deed God pours charity into that person. They call it "charity infused." This charity is supposed to remain in the heart. They get wild when they are told that this quality of the heart cannot justify a person.
They also claim that we are able to love God by our own natural strength, to love God above all things, at least to the extent that we deserve grace. And, say the scholastics, because God is not satisfied with a literal performance of the Law, but expects us to fulfill the Law according to the mind of the Lawgiver, therefore we must obtain from above a quality above nature, a quality which they call "formal righteousness."

We say, faith apprehends Jesus Christ. Christian faith is not an inactive quality in the heart. If it is true faith it will surely take Christ for its object. Christ, apprehended by faith and dwelling in the heart, constitutes Christian righteousness, for which God gives eternal life.  Christ, apprehended by faith and dwelling in the heart, constitutes Christian righteousness, for which God gives eternal life.

We teach this: First a person must learn to know himself from the Law. With the prophet he will then confess: "All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." And, "there is none that doeth good, no, not one." And, "against thee, thee only, have I sinned."
Having been humbled by the Law, and having been brought to a right estimate of himself, a man will repent. He finds out that he is so depraved, that no strength, no works, no merits of his own will ever deliver him from his guilt. He will then understand the meaning of Paul's words: "I am sold under sin"; and "they are all under sin."
At this state a person begins to lament: "Who is going to help me?" In due time comes the Word of the Gospel, and says: "Son, thy sins are forgiven thee. Believe in Jesus Christ who was crucified for your sins. Remember, your sins have been imposed upon Christ."
In this way are we delivered from sin. In this way are we justified and made heirs of everlasting life.

In order to have faith you must paint a true portrait of Christ... Christ is no law giver. He is the Lifegiver. He is the Forgiver of sins. You must believe that Christ might have atoned for the sins of the world with one single drop of His blood. Instead, He shed His blood abundantly in order that He might give abundant satisfaction for our sins.

This imputation of righteousness we need very much, because we are far from perfect. As long as we have this body, sin will dwell in our flesh. Then, too, we sometimes drive away the Holy Spirit; we fall into sin, like Peter, David, and other holy men. Nevertheless we may always take recourse to this fact, "that our sins are covered," and that "God will not lay them to our charge." Sin is not held against us for Christ's sake. Where Christ and faith are lacking, there is no remission or covering of sins, but only condemnation.  After we have taught faith in Christ, we teach good works. "Since you have found Christ by faith," we say, "begin now to work and do well. Love God and your neighbor. Call upon God, give thanks unto Him, praise Him, confess Him. These are good works. Let them flow from a cheerful heart, because you have remission of sin in Christ."

To give a short definition of a Christian: A Christian is not somebody who has no sin, but somebody against whom God no longer chalks [marks] sin, because of his faith in Christ. This doctrine brings comfort to consciences in serious trouble. When a person is a Christian he is above law and sin. When the Law accuses him, and sin wants to drive the wits out of him, a Christian looks to Christ. A Christian is free. He has no master except Christ. A Christian is greater than the whole world.

The true way of becoming a Christian is to be justified by faith in Jesus Christ, and not by the works of the Law...
We know that we must also teach good works, but they must be taught in their proper turn, when the discussion is concerning works and not the article of justification.
Here the question arises by what means are we justified? We answer with Paul, "By faith only in Christ are we pronounced righteous, and not by works." Not that we reject good works. Far from it. But we will not allow ourselves to be removed from the anchorage of our salvation.

The Law is a good thing. But when the discussion is about justification, then is no time to drag in the Law. When we discuss justification we ought to speak of Christ and the benefits He has brought us.
Christ is no sheriff. He is "the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." (John 1:29.)
We do not mean to say that the Law is bad. Only it is not able to justify us. To be at peace with God, we have need of a far better mediator than Moses or the Law. We must know that we are nothing. We must understand that we are merely beneficiaries and recipients of the treasures of Christ.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Anglican Reformation Dissonance...

Yes, at present, I consider myself a reformed Christian of the Anglican persuasion, although I find little evidence of any reformed identification and understanding in any but the smallest outposts of Anglicanism.

It is a rather dismal reality for one who, later in life, came to the modern incarnation of the church of Thomas Cranmer only to find what one might label as a "truth-in-advertising" problem.  The clear teaching and nature of the Book of Common Prayer (especially 1662) and The Thirty-Nine Articles are (and the position of the 16th century English reformers was) reformed and small 'c' catholic.  Yet all too many Anglicans today recoil uncomfortably at the words reformed, Evangelical, and Protestant while embracing a more or less pre-Reformation understanding of catholicity.  A bit of historical dissonance?

For these Anglicans it’s as if the Reformation never really happened in England except for the throwing off some of the outward trappings of Rome, the papacy, and many of its medieval innovations.  It’s a view of the 16th century religious upheaval as one of purely negative renovations that fails to embrace the positive and necessary historical recovery of justification through faith alone in Christ alone by God’s grace alone and the ultimate authority of Scripture.  It’s a position that blanches at the idea that there was any substantial commonality between the Church of England reformation doctrines and that of the Continental reformers.  And it is for these reasons that there’s little to be heard of the proclamation of the glorious good news of God’s gracious salvation of man - the justification of the ungodly by faith alone in Christ - in the homilies and teachings from Anglican pulpits in the United States.  Michael Horton is right on the money when he says that today’s Christian church needs a modern reformation.  It is certainly the case for the Anglican tradition. And I have to think that Thomas Cranmer would agree.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Miserable Offenders...

I remember the first time praying the General Confession of the 1928 BCP during an Anglican Communion service.  Needless to say, as everyone read together aloud, inwardly I recoiled at what struck my modern sensibilities as an archaic, over-wrought description of confessing sinners who “bewail our manifold sins and wickedness.”  “Wickedness?”  The confession went on to describe the weight of our sins in such a way that, “The remembrance of them is grievous unto us; The burden of them is intolerable.”  “Isn’t that simply over-done?”, I thought.  As a general rule “intolerable burden” wasn’t my choice of words when it came to describing sin in my life.  And the phrase, “Provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us”, describing God’s position on the matter seemed, well, downright medieval, as if God were some mean exacting Potentate!  Within I objected... “Sure we’re sinners, but we’re not that awful.  And God isn’t really that upset at us because of our sin, is He?  After all, Christ has died for our sins!  He loves us!”

Well, over the past several years my thoughts have changed.  In fact I have become more and more comfortable with the term “miserable offender” (as found in the BCP Morning Prayer confession) as an apt description of who I am in and of myself.  And on the heels of my last post where I quote Paul writing to Timothy, “Faithful is the saying, and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief”, I want to suggest that not only are we sinners saved by grace but, now having believed, it is still as sinners we come to God and know him.  To state it more pointedly I could say that in a real way we only come to God through, and not apart from, our sinfulness.  Now, before I am accused of some new heresy let me unpack that assertion.  

We are created beings, owing all we are and have to God.  Not a breath we take nor a day we live is outside of our dependency upon his creative and sustaining power.  Now let that sink in.  Nothing begins with us.  And when it comes to changing anything as touches our essential nature we are the clay, not the potter.  But there is something else about us.  Not only are we created beings, we are fallen beings.  As Scripture teaches, nothing good dwells in our flesh... the thoughts of our hearts are continually wicked... our so-called righteous and good deeds are but filthy rags before our holy Creator. [Gen. 6:5; Jer. 17:9; Isa. 6:5, 59:12-15, 64:6; Rom. 3:10-18,7:18]  As Christians, we generally believe that, but only really believe that when thinking of everyone else.  When it comes to our own individual sinful natures we have a more generous take.  The bottom line for each of us is that we don’t think we are really that bad!  “Sure I sin every now and then (goes the modern thinking)... but I’m a fairly decent guy.”  Looking horizontally and compared with the vast sea of humanity, as Stuart Smalley of SNL says, “I’m good enough...”  Or as my brother sometimes says, I’m “not so bad.”  We don’t really see our sinfulness vertically, i.e. compared to God’s holiness. In fact we avoid doing so save for the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. [John 16:8]

So it is not surprising that it is nearly impossible, when left to myself, to take sin as seriously as the Scripture does (unless of course someone has wronged me!).  Why is that?  I think it has to do with the fact that I am a sinner!  Sinners sin, and sinners hide from their sin.  Jesus taught in the gospels this very thing when he said,

And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their works were evil.  For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, and cometh not to the light, lest his works should be reproved.
[John 3:19-20]  

That is us.  The fallen reality of our humanity doesn’t disappear having believed on Christ.  Upon repentance and trust in Christ our sins are indeed forgiven through his blood.  Justified on the basis of his merit, we are declared righteous by God as if we indeed had and are living holy lives.  Yet paradoxically we remain sinners though having been born anew of the Spirit - saints.  And this means that “in thought, word, and deed” we sin, while all too often minimizing the pervasive presence of the fount of those sins - our very sinful natures.  Why is that?  Because sinners not only sin, they also rationalize and self-justify themselves. We are invariably prone to put a better gloss on what we are by nature.  This is what the Morning Prayer in the BCP is referring to when the Minister exhorts concerning repentance, “that we should not dissemble nor cloak them [i.e. our sins] before the face of Almighty God our heavenly Father .”  We are by nature “dissemblers”, i.e. we hide and cloak our sin from ourselves and God under the guise of false appearances.  “For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, and cometh not to the light, lest his works should be reproved.”  This is the one for whom Christ came.  This is who we are.    

So back to my assertion that it is through our sin that we come to God and know him.  We are sinners.  Yet no one (saved or unsaved) having sin, can on his own come into God’s presence, let alone on his own be spared from God's “wrath and indignation.”  The children of Israel pleaded with Moses, “Speak thou with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die” [Exodus 20:19].  The Old Testament Israelites were given the mediation of the Temple sacrificial system for sin in order that through the priest they could approach God.  Everything in that priestly sacrificial worship system existed in order to remind the Israelites of the severity of their sin and of God’s unapproachable holiness. Death was deserved and so approach could only be made through through an acceptable blood sacrifice.  And concerning that priesthood it is written, “who serve that which is a copy and shadow of the heavenly things.” [Heb. 8:5]  They foreshadowed the true priestly mediation of the One, Jesus Christ, who as Priest offered Himself:

“But Christ having appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation, nor yet through the blood of goats and calves, but through his own blood, entered in once for all into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption.  For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling them that have been defiled, sanctify unto the cleanness of the flesh:  how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish unto God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?  And for this cause he is the mediator of a new covenant, that a death having taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first covenant, they that have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance... For Christ entered not into a holy place made with hands, like in pattern to the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear before the face of God for us.”
[Hebrews 9:12-16, 24]

The only man who can and has approached God in the holy place is the sinless man Jesus.  The only means of approach to God for sinful man is by the one Man Jesus Christ and the sacrifice of himself on our behalf.  The only place of meeting between sinful man and God is in the one Mediator Christ Jesus.  It is only there in Him where the painful dilemma of our fallen nature has been completely and forever resolved.  In this life we never graduate from coming to God through Christ as miserable sinners ("Oh wretched man that I am").  The spiritual blessings poured out on the forgiven are only known there, in and through him.   We are believers because we’ve trust Christ as the divine cure (his death and resurrection) for our infirmities.  And the Cure is efficacious only for those who are infirmed (Matt. 9:11-13).  Only sinners need apply.  Only sinners need come... daily.  This is the seeming paradox of our faith.  We’re not able in and of ourselves to escape or change “the body of this death” [Rom. 7:24] of which the Law disqualifies us.  Yet by owning the very disqualification of our present sinful nature are we qualified for cleansing of our sinful natures and full acceptance before God in Christ.  

“And their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.  Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin.  Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by the way which he dedicated for us, a new and living way, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having a great priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in fullness of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience: and having our body washed with pure water, let us hold fast the confession of our hope that it waver not; for he is faithful that promised.”  [Hebrews 10:17-23]

And this new and living way of coming to God, inaugurated for us by Christ, never changes nor ceases for the saint yet sinner.  And in fact it becomes our boast in the Lord.

For behold your calling, brethren, that not many wise after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:  but God chose the foolish things of the world, that he might put to shame them that are wise; and God chose the weak things of the world, that he might put to shame the things that are strong; and the base things of the world, and the things that are despised, did God choose, yea and the things that are not, that he might bring to nought the things that are:  that no flesh should glory before God.  But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who was made unto us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption:  that, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. [1 Cor. 1:26-31]

General Confession - Holy Communion:
ALMIGHTY God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, judge of all men; We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed, By thought, word, and deed, Against thy Divine Majesty, Provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us. We do earnestly repent, And are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; The remembrance of them is grievous unto us; The burden of them is intolerable. Have mercy upon us, Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father; For thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ's sake, Forgive us all that is past; And grant that we may ever hereafter Serve and please thee In newness of life, To the honour and glory of thy Name; Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Declared by the Minister:
ALMIGHTY God, our heavenly Father, who of his great mercy hath promised forgiveness of sins to all those who with hearty repentance and true faith turn unto him; Have mercy upon you; pardon and deliver you from all your sins; confirm and strengthen you in all goodness; and bring you to everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

A General Confession - Morning Prayer:
ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou those who are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.

Declared by the Minister:
ALMIGHTY God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who desireth not the death of a sinner, but rather that he may turn from his wickedness and live, hath given power, and commandment, to his Ministers, to declare and pronounce to his people, being penitent, the Absolution and Remission of their sins. He pardoneth and absolveth all those who truly repent, and unfeignedly believe his holy Gospel.
Wherefore let us beseech him to grant us true repentance, and his Holy Spirit, that those things may please him which we do at this present; and that the rest of our life hereafter may be pure and holy; so that at the last we may come to his eternal joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.