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Bible oldThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 5:25-26

25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.[a]

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This passage comes from the Sermon on the Mount, which includes not only the Beatitudes from Matthew 5:3-11 but also the rest of Matthew 5 as well as Matthew 6 and Matthew 7!

Jesus delivers a lot of hard-hitting messages in this lengthy sermon comprising three chapters.

The preceding verses to today’s are as follows:

Anger

21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother[c] will be liable to judgment; whoever insults[d] his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell[e] of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

Therefore, if we are angry at someone — even if we have a nonviolent grudge against them — we are to mend our fences with them before worshipping.

If we make these overtures and the other person does not accept them, then we have done our best and cannot change their minds. We can still pray that divine grace brings them a change of heart in time.

There is something insidious and destructive about anger and grudges. Our Lord says:

whoever insults[d] his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell[e] of fire.

When we destroy — and continue to destroy — a person’s reputation unjustly and unreasonably, we are in danger of being condemned ourselves when we reach the Final Judgement. Let’s make up now!

On the other hand, some of us have business associates, neighbours or, worse, family members who conduct character assassinations against us. Note the word ‘assassinations’ in that commonly used turn of phrase. Christ says that such harsh words and thoughts in chronic anger are tantamount to murder. Food for thought.

John MacArthur has an interesting take on this with regard to church worship. Even when he gave this sermon on Matthew in 1978, he was already getting requests for the contemporary folderol (trifling thing) so in vogue these days: better aesthetics, modern music and so on to bring in more people.

His response was as follows (emphases mine):

The way to increase the meaningful worship is to get the people out who don’t have any business being here, because there’s something wrong.  You know, I believe that every Sunday there are people who come here, husbands and wives who have bitterness between the two of them and they try to worship God, and God doesn’t want anything to do with it.  I believe there are families that come where there’s animosity from the kids toward the parents or the parents toward the kids and God isn’t interested in their worship

I believe that there are times when we come to church and there is a feeling against somebody else in the fellowship, or a neighbor in the street or somewhere, and we know there’s a bitterness.  We do absolutely nothing about it.  There’s a fellow Christian that we don’t particularly care for and something has happened, and we let that thing settle in a bitterness.  And the Bible says, “Go away.  You offer nothing to God.  He is not interested in your worship.  It’s a sham.” 

Psalm 66:18 says, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.”  First Samuel 15:22 says, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offering and sacrifice, as in obeying the voice of the Lord?  Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken is better than the fat of rams.” 

This brings us to Matthew 5:25 in which Jesus exhorts us to arrive at an agreement with our accuser on the way to court, lest the judge impose a greater penalty than we had anticipated.

Worse, should we find ourselves imprisoned, we will not be released until we have paid our last penny in recompense (verse 26).

Although those verses have practical application, the more pertinent message is about our spiritual state. If we are angry — including bitter — or have not attempted to reconcile ourselves with those who feel similarly towards us, then, we are vulnerable to judgement on that fateful Last Day.

Longtime readers of Forbidden Bible Verses might find this passage sounds familiar. I covered it in an exposition of Luke 12:57-59 in July 2014:

Settle with Your Accuser

 57“And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? 58 As you go with your accuser before the magistrate, make an effort to settle with him on the way, lest he drag you to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer put you in prison. 59I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny.”[a]

The verses about never getting out until we have paid the last penny implies ‘never’.

Matthew Henry warns:

It is a fearful thing to be thus turned over to the Lord Jesus, when the Lamb shall become the Lion. Angels are the officers to whom Christ will deliver them (Matthew 13:41,42) devils are so too, having the power of death as executioners to all unbelievers, Hebrews 2:14. Hell is the prison, into which those will be cast that continue in a state of enmity to God, 2 Peter 2:4. [5.] Damned sinners must remain in it to eternity[;] they shall not depart till they have paid the uttermost farthing, and that will not be to the utmost ages of eternity: divine justice will be for ever in the satisfying, but never satisfied.

What sort of hell are we talking about? I am still researching the nature of this place. Whether it is literal fire or an existential emptiness devoid of God’s presence which the condemned constantly seek, it will be eternally unpleasant.

MacArthur offers this insight:

Now you notice the word “hell fire” at the end of verse 22?  It’s a very serious word, the word “hell.”  The Greek word translated “hell” here is the word gehenna, and I want to tell you about it.  It’s fascinating.  Gehenna is a word with a history.  Gehenna is used and translated “hell” very commonly.  It’s Matthew 5:22, 29, 30, Matthew 10:28, Matthew 18:9, 23:15, and 23:33, Mark 9, Luke 12.  It’s used in James.  It’s a very common word.  It means “hell.”  But gehenna – now listen – is a reference to Hinnom, gehenna is a form of Hinnom.  It means the valley of Hinnom

When we were in Jerusalem, it was pointed out to us where the valley of Hinnom was.  It is southwest from Jerusalem.  It’s very easy to see.  It’s there today.  It is a notorious place.  I’m going to read you a little of its history.  It was the place where Ahaz had introduced into Israel the fire worship of the heathen god Molech to whom little children were burned in the fire.  “He burned incense in the valley of the son of Hinnom, and he burned his children in the fire.”  Says 2 Chronicles 28:3.  Further, Josiah the reforming king had stamped out the evil worship of Molech in the place of Hinnom, and ordered that the valley should be forever after an accursed place.  Because of what had gone on, because it had been defiled, because in the valley, there had been the fire of Molech. 

Now in consequence of this, the valley of Hinnom bore that curse throughout all of Israel’s history.  It became a place where the Jewish people dumped their garbage.  The valley of Hinnom was the garbage dump of Jerusalem.  And what they had there was a public incinerator that burned all the time, all the time, all the time, never went out, never went out.  And when Jesus referred to gehenna or hell and described the eternal state of the wicked as gehenna, what He was saying is it is an eternal, never ending fire, in an accursed place, where the rubbish of humanity will burn and be consumed.  Vivid language. 

Always, says the historian, the fire smoldered in Hinnom, and a pall of thick smoke lay over Hinnom at all times, and it bred a loathsome kind of worm which was very hard to kill.  That is what our Lord refers to in Mark … “where the worm dies not.”

So gehenna, the valley of Hinnom, became identified in peoples’ minds as a filthy, vile, accursed place where useless and evil things were destroyed, and Jesus used it as a vivid illustration of hell.  And He says if you’re even angry and if you ever say a malicious word to sort of put down some person, or worse than that if you ever cursed them as it were to hell, you are as guilty and as liable for eternal hell as a murderer is.  And so Jesus attacks the sin of anger, the sin of slander, and the sin of cursing, and with it He destroys their self-righteousness. 

I know people who have held grudges against a family member — sometimes members — for decades. The grudges extend through their offspring and grandchildren. The latter say, ‘I don’t even know what it’s about, only that we’re not supposed to talk to them.’

In other cases, the person who refuses to put the grudge aside makes sure that every other family member knows what the grudge is about, sometimes exaggerating and embellishing the circumstances. The notional villain of the piece tries to make up with the family member guilty of character assassination. The angry family member refuses to put bitterness aside. Even worse, this person deprives the family of unity and the isolated person of familial love and affection, which sometimes leads to intense loneliness.

Worse, is that the person leading the hate campaign perceives himself or herself as being saintly and righteous. It happens all the time. To them, this post is dedicated. May they seek reconciliation and, if this is impossible, may they ask for divine forgiveness — then worship God in full peace.

Next time: Matthew 5:31-32

My sincere thanks to reader John J Flanagan, who has kindly taken the time to discuss his experiences in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) and the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS).

His guest post follows. Please feel free to comment or ask him questions to which he can respond directly.

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What are the differences between the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) and the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS)?

I freely admit I am not an expert and certainly not a theologian, but I would refer interested parties to read for themselves the websites and Q&A sections on this topic posted at both the OPC and the LCMS websites.

I was a member of an OPC church for a few years, and eventually returned to the LCMS. Prior to that I was on a spiritual journey after 40 years as a Catholic, looking for the truth of God and His word first in the Bible, than checking out various denominations, like Baptists, non-denominational, Reformed, and OPC and PCA. I had been a member of an LCMS congregation as well, but I felt so confused by the varying interpretations each denomination had that I could not be sure in which church I belonged.

The OPC is a solid and faithful church, in my view, but I do not agree with all of the doctrines taught. First, the positives: Sola Scriptura, noting as the Bible declares that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, and by Christ alone, apart from any works. The OPC believes in infant Baptism, as do Lutherans. End times: Lutherans are amillennial, however, while most OPC ministers are amillennial, some are Post Millennial. The OPC tends to regard communion as a memorial or symbol but Christ is present by His spirit, while Lutherans believe Christ is bodily present at the sacrament. The OPC and LCMS also views Baptism differently, in the sense that Lutherans believe one is regenerated or born again, while God does not necessarily regenerate a person being Baptized, although it is within His sovereignty to do so.
The OPC views Law and Grace differently than Lutherans. The Reformed view is that the Law is designed to suppress wickedness and promote righteousness, whereas, the Lutheran view is that the Law leads us to Christ and repentance.

This is a thumbnail sketch. I have often been struggling with varying interpretations that sincere and God loving Christians apply to the same scriptural verses. It can be confusing, but I have found that Lutheranism explains scripture better, in my view, and the OPC and Reformed lean heavily on the Westminster Confessions. In any case, I suppose Our Lord will determine which church reflects the most accurate interpretation of these things.

Those of you interested in understanding the various denominational teachings should read further materials, but the first and primary way to do that is to keep your hand on the Bible as you read, and pray for wisdom.

I must add that the OPC is, of course, Calvinistic. It follows the five points of Calvinism, also believing in double predestination, which Luther rejected. Other differences, like the Presbyterian form of government, the simplicity of the worship service, rejection of icons, set it apart from Lutheran traditions. The OPC has about 300 churches and about 30,000 members. On the plus side, they rejected post modernism long ago, and split from the very liberal Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA), as later did the group which formed the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). But having looked at this as closely as I am able, in my humble opinion, the LCMS is where I shall remain, and I pray that we remain faithful in the years to come.

St George Paolo Uccello Musee Andre Jacquemart ParisIt’s April 23, the feast day of St George, patron saint of England and several other countries.

George was a soldier and martyr. Several legends about his valour soon circulated after his death.

We continue to connect him with slaying the dragon, as depicted in Paolo Uccello’s painting above. This is said to have taken place in a town in Libya called Silene where a dragon terrorised the townspeople. They tried to placate the beast by feeding it animals. When they ran out, they began giving him human beings. The princess Cleolinda, daughter of their king, was about to be sacrificed in desperation. At that point, George rode up on his white charger, dismounted and fought the dragon on foot. When he had subdued the beast, he dragged it through Silene and slayed it in front of the townspeople. Cleolinda’s father offered George a bag of gold for his efforts, but the valiant soldier asked that the money be given to the poor instead.

The Royal Society of St George explains (emphases mine):

The story is a powerful allegory, emblematic of the triumph of good over evil; but it also teaches of enduring Christian faith in the extreme and the trust that at all times should be placed in the Almighty by the invocation of the name of St. George, Soldier, Saint and Martyr.

George was born around 280 AD in Cappadocia, in present day Turkey. He became a cavalryman in the Roman army at the age of 17 during the reign of the Emperor Diocletian. He quickly earned a reputation for his remarkable virtue, military bearing, physical strength and good looks.

He was promoted to the rank of Millenary or Tribunus Militum, the equivalent rank of a colonel today. He commanded 1,000 soldiers and was a favourite of Diocletian.

Although we do not know at what point George became a Christian, he practised his faith at a time when most Christians in the Roman Empire hid in fear. Persecution was rife. Diocletian’s second-in-command Galerius decreed that Persia, which he had recently conquered, would be subject to the pagan religion and all Christian places of worship destroyed. Any scripture would also be burnt. Furthermore, Christians would lose their rights as citizens and perhaps their lives.

When George saw an edict to this effect as he entered the city of Nicodemia, he immediately tore it down. The local Christians were relieved to have such a staunch defender of the faith on their side. He, in turn, was compassionate towards them.

As both Diocletian and Galerius were in the city at the time, George knew that he would soon be tried. In preparation, he sold his worldly possessions and freed his personal slaves. The Royal Society of St George tells us:

When he appeared before Diocletian, it is said that St. George bravely denounced him for his unnecessary cruelty and injustice and that he made an eloquent and courageous speech. He stirred the populace with his powerful and convincing rhetoric against the Imperial Decree to persecute Christians. Diocletian refused to acknowledge or accede to St. George’s reasoned, reproachful condemnation of his actions. The Emperor consigned St George to prison with instructions that he be tortured until he denied his faith in Christ. 

St George, having defended his faith was beheaded at Nicomedia near Lyddia in Palestine on the 23rd of April in the year 303 AD.

George’s head was taken to Rome where it rests in a church which was named after him.

It is no wonder that the exploits and faith of George circulated around Europe.

Today, community celebrations are taking place around England. Lytham St Annes has four days of events, Southampton has scheduled a St George’s celebration, Nottingham has a parade, and the West Somerset Railway a special fish and chips lunch. In London, the Coldstream Guards are giving a St George’s Day concert, Trafalgar Square has live music with food stalls and St George’s Hanover Square will feature a concert with the Royal British Legion’s Central Band.

May St George serve as an example to us all. As the Britannia site explains:

Saint George is a leading character in one of the greatest poems in the English language, Spencer’s Faerie Queene (1590 and 1596). St George appears in Book 1 as the Redcrosse (sic) Knight of Holiness, protector of the Virgin. In this guise he may also be seen as the Anglican church upholding the monarchy of Elizabeth I:

But on his breast a bloody Cross he bore
The dear remembrance of his dying Lord,
For whose sweet sake that glorious badge we wore
And dead (as living) ever he adored.

Bible read me 2Incredibly, this gem came from an atheist commenting on a Telegraph article about Good Friday:

I would encourage all Christians to not just read their Bibles (and so few of you do) but also to learn more about the historicity of your God and the scriptures written on his behalf. This comment is not meant to challenge your faith by the way – simply that I, regardless of my atheism, have found it to be a fascinating exploration and I suspect that many Christians would be similarly interested.

Yes, Christians do owe it to themselves — and their offspring — to read Holy Scripture regularly in order to find out more about our religious heritage and God our Father’s plan for humanity’s redemption.

Yes, the Bible is a fascinating history.

Yes, Christians would be ‘similarly interested’ if they read it.

So, why don’t we?

Bible boy_reading_bibleThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 4:24-25

24 So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them. 25 And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.

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Matthew 4 begins with Satan tempting Jesus at the end of His 40 days and 40 nights in the desert.

Afterward, Matthew shows us that our Lord fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy by settling in Capernaum — the land of Zebulun and Napthali.

There, Jesus called on people to

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. (Matthew 4:17)

Of His move from Nazareth to Capernaum, recall that Jesus began his ministry in Nazareth and had to leave when his fellow townsmen tried to throw him off a cliff (Luke 4:16:30). He had read part of the scroll to the congregation in the synagogue (Luke 4:18-19):

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
    He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
    and recovering of sight to the blind,
    to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Incensed, the people asked among themselves who Joseph the carpenter’s son thought He was. Anger escalated when Jesus reminded them of Nazareth’s parlous state during Elijah’s time: a preponderance of widows, a terrible famine and a leprosy epidemic. Our Lord’s teaching session ended as follows (Luke 4:29-30):

29 And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. 30 But passing through their midst, he went away.

He had foreseen this (Luke 4:24):

And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown.

Matthew has the story of His rejection in Nazareth later (Matthew 13:53-58), although it omits the attempt to throw Him off the cliff.

Back to Matthew 4. Having made His base in Capernaum, Jesus then called four fishermen to follow Him: Simon (Peter), his brother Andrew, James son of Zebedee and his brother John (verses 19 and 20):

19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”[a] 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him.

All of this is in the three-year Lectionary readings used in public worship. Oddly, these readings stop with verse 23:

And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.

It is incomprehensible that today’s verses are not part of the Lectionary verses. Why? They are every bit as marvellous.

John MacArthur preached a whole sermon on Matthew 4:23-25.

Word of Jesus’s teaching and healing spread to faraway Syria!

Also in this is the reality of Gentiles coming from far and wide to see and hear Jesus.

The other marvellous aspect of this is that He healed so many diseases instantly and permanently.

Medicine was very primitive in those days, in fact, until the 19th century. The reason people in the Bible considered illness a curse was that many were in chronic pain or physical isolation from disease or ailments. The most physicians, such as they were, could do was to give patients herbs or potions.

Furthermore, there was no developed study of illness. Epilepsy was considered an aspect of lunacy at the time. John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

… the old English says lunatic. It’s translated epileptic. That’s very interesting. Lunatic is a word with a Latin root and the first part luna comes from the moon because the people in those days thought that people were nuts because they got affected by the moon. Lunar sickness, they were sort of, they used to call them moonstruck. That’s where you get the idea of a lunatic; he’s moonstruck. But the best etymological connection for this word for us today is epileptic. The reason we say that is because in Matthew 17:15, that word is used to refer to a seizure that appears to be some kind of epileptic seizure. So our Lord could deal with disease that is caused by demons, all of it, and our Lord could deal with disease that is come kind of disorder in the brain or the nervous system or whatever malfunction creates seizures.

Another constant preoccupation of the time was leprosy, which is contagious. No one went near lepers, who had to be isolated from the rest of the community.

A phenomenon of our Lord’s ministry was the preponderance of demons. MacArthur says that nowhere in the Bible do we read of so many as during His time spent preaching and healing.

This was the most magnificent time the ancient world had ever known.

Matthew Henry explains:

They who came for cures, met with instruction concerning the things that belonged to their peace. It is well if any thing will bring people to Christ and they who come to him will find more in him than they expected. These Syrians, like Naaman the Syrian, coming to be healed of their diseases, many of them being converts, 2 Kings 5:15,17.

John MacArthur explains how word of Jesus travelled. Galilee was a trading centre with much Gentile interaction. As a result, the Galileans were used to new people and new ideas:

And, of course, to a Jew that’s a very despicable thing to do so there was much frowning upon Galilee because of the mixture of people that lived there. But you see Galilee was surrounded by foreign people. Along the coast, the very coastline itself was that great people who sailed the Mediterranean Sea known as the Phoenicians. Along the northern part were Syrians. Along the southern part were Samaritans. You remember the southern part of Israel and the northern part was separated by Samaria where the half-breeds lived. So they had the half-breed Samaritans on the bottom of them and they had on the north and east the Syrians, and on the west they had the Phoenicians.

And so there was a tremendous non-Jewish influence. And it tended to sort of water down the traditionalism and they were open to something fresh and they were open to something new and Jesus knew that. He selected that area. Additionally the roads of the world, the great roads of the world running from the east to the west and the north to the south passed immediately through Galilee. And we know about this, in fact, there was a very famous road in those days known as the Way of the Sea. And the Way of the Sea led from Damascus through Galilee and then made a left turn and went right down to Africa. Things coming from the eastern part of the world would come to Damascus; they’d be taken west to Galilee and then straight down into Africa. The road to the east went through Galilee and then right on out to the furtherest frontiers of the east, so it was a trade route. Because of that there was a tremendous mingling. Jerusalem never had that. Because of Jerusalem’s location it was isolated. It was on a high high plateau. People didn’t bother to go up there. It was in a desolate desert area to the east and a coastline to the west, desert to the south and so Jerusalem never had that trade element, as did Galilee. Traffic of the world passed through there.

In fact, one writer said Judea, that is the south, is on the way to nowhere and Galilee is on the way to everywhere. And so because of the mentality of the people, they were open to change, because of the constant influx of non-Jewish influence, and because of the tremendous population of people in a highly productive agricultural area Jesus was planned by God to begin His ministry there.

Matthew Henry’s analysis of Jesus’s cures examines them by miracle, mystery and mercy:

(1.) The miracle of them. They were wrought in such a manner, as plainly spake them to be the immediate products of a divine and supernatural power, and they were God’s seal to his commission. Nature could not do these things, it was the God of nature the cures were many, of diseases incurable by the art of the physician, of persons that were strangers, of all ages and conditions the cures were wrought openly, before many witnesses, in mixed companies of persons that would have denied the matter of fact, if they could have had any colour for so doing no cure ever failed, or was afterwards called in question they were wrought speedily, and not (as cures by natural causes) gradually they were perfect cures, and wrought with a word’s speaking all which proves him a Teacher come from God, for, otherwise, none could have done the works that he did, John 3:2. He appeals to these as credentials, Matthew 11:4,5; John 5:36. It was expected that the Messiah should work miracles (John 7:31) miracles of this nature (Isaiah 35:5,6) and we have this indisputable proof of his being the Messiah never was there any man that did thus and therefore his healing and his preaching generally went together, for the former confirmed the latter thus here he began to do and to teach, Acts 1:1.

(2.) The mercy of them. The miracles that Moses wrought, to prove his mission, were most of them plagues and judgments, to intimate the terror of that dispensation, though from God but the miracles that Christ wrought, were most of them cures, and all of them (except the cursing of the barren fig tree) blessings and favours for the gospel dispensation is founded, and built up in love, and grace, and sweetness and the management is such as tends not to affright but to allure us to obedience. Christ designed by his cures to win upon people, and to ingratiate himself and his doctrine into their minds, and so to draw them with the bands of love, Hosea 11:4. The miracle of them proved his doctrine a faithful saying, and convinced men’s judgments the mercy of them proved it worthy of all acceptation, and wrought upon their affections. They were not only great works, but good works, that he showed them from his Father (John 10:32) and this goodness was intended to lead men to repentance (Romans 2:4), as also to show that kindness, and beneficence, and doing good to all, to the utmost of our power and opportunity, are essential branches of that holy religion which Christ came into the world to establish.

(3.) The mystery of them. Christ, by curing bodily diseases, intended to show, that his great errand into the world was to cure spiritual maladies. He is the Sun of righteousness, that arises with this healing under his wings. As the Converter of sinners, he is the Physician of souls, and has taught us to call him so, Matthew 9:12,13. Sin is the sickness, disease, and torment of the soul Christ came to take away sin, and so to heal these. And the particular stories of the cures Christ wrought, may not only be applied spiritually, by way of allusion and illustration, but, I believe, are very much intended to reveal to us spiritual things, and to set before us the way and method of Christ’s dealing with souls, in their conversion and sanctification and those cures are recorded, that were most significant and instructive this way and they are therefore so to be explained and improved, to the honour and praise of that glorious Redeemer, who forgiveth all our iniquities, and so healeth all our diseases.

The prophet Malachi spoke of the ‘sun of righteousness’ (Malachi 4:1-3):

The Great Day of the Lord

4 [a] “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts.

These two verses of Matthew’s — rejected by the Lectionary compilers — add so much to our appreciation of Jesus’s healing miracles, revealing His inexhaustible mercy and love for all, including Gentiles.

Such an editorial decision beggars belief. Congregations can’t bear to hear two additional — and informative — Scripture verses? I do wonder about the Lectionary people.

In closing, John’s Gospel tells us that there were countless additional miracles which do not appear in his account (or the other Gospels) — John 20:30-31:

The Purpose of This Book

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Next time: Matthew 5:25-26

BBC viewers will recognise Diarmaid MacCulloch’s name even if, like me, they have trouble spelling it.

The Oxford University Professor of Church History has a new three-part series on BBC2 on Friday nights called Sex and the Church.

In the latest issue of Radio Times (18-24 April 2015, p. 7), he opines on the Church and sexuality. His editorial, ‘Body and soul’ urges clerics to catch up with the rest of the world in this regard.

He states that Jesus had ‘surprisingly few words’ about sex. True. But, then, Jesus did not say much about many specifics of Christian life. Sex is not the only matter on which He remained somewhat silent.

MacCulloch, a Church of England deacon, has been openly gay since the mid-1970s. The son of an Anglican clergyman, he says:

“I was brought up in the presence of the Bible, and I remember with affection what it was like to hold a dogmatic position on the statements of Christian belief. I would now describe myself as a candid friend of Christianity.”[4]

However, why is he so mystified that our most senior clergy continue with cautious statements about sexuality? The New Testament letters, particularly those of St Paul, warn against certain sexual practices — heterosexual and homosexual — equating them with lying, theft and murder. Even if we excuse them, God condemns them all.

Of Scripture, MacCulloch told The Spectator in April 2013:

‘The essence of the authority of God is its thereness,’ he says. ‘It’s a bit like our relationship with our parents. There is nothing you can do about it. You can’t declare someone else to be your dad. That seems to me to be a statement about religion. I have a relationship with the Bible because it’s just there. I may not like what it says, I may not approve of it or obey it, but it’s there and I’ve got to cope with it.’

Oh, okay, then (not).

He closes his Radio Times piece with this:

Cheer up, bishops: in the wise words of Mae West, those who are easily shocked, should be shocked more often.

Wow. He might be upset about the quandary that the Anglican hierarchy are in regarding conducting same-sex unions in church, however, the Church is meant to be in the world, not of it.

The programme concerns ancient scandals:

Having looked last week at how the influential writings of St Augustine set in stone the idea that all sex, even within marriage, was sinful, he turns his attention this week to the revolution that turned that idea on its head for the first time in almost a thousand years: the Reformation.

First MacCulloch tracks back to the 11th century to examine how the Church deliberately set about increasing its power in society by taking control of the formerly civil institution of marriage, while at the same time increasing the pressure on its own clergy to embrace celibacy. A ban on clerical marriage resulted in appalling medieval hypocrisy – thousands of church-run brothels, and a sharp rise in incidents of clerical child abuse (“a pattern of behaviour repeated in recent years”) – which much of the Reformation’s religious revolution was in direct reaction to. The manner in which sexuality subsequently became one of the prime battlegrounds between Catholicism and Protestantism provides rich material for MacCulloch.

What is the purpose of MacCulloch’s telling us that there have been scandals in the Church from time immemorial? Most of us know this. The same licentiousness has taken place in every other social, religious and secular setting throughout history. This includes other world belief systems.

Even if we didn’t know about these ecclesiastical transgressions, true Christians realise that humanity lives in a fallen world. Furthermore, Satan will do whatever he can to destroy godliness. It’s what he does.

May we pray for the grace to improve and enhance Christ’s holy Bride and bring comfort to His followers. May the licentiousness, scandals and worldliness stop.

Temptation is always with us. Most Church historians could have explained this easily whilst revealing historical events.

What sort of ‘friend of Christianity’ is Diarmaid MacCulloch, anyway?

This is too good not to share.

A reader on Darryl Hart’s Old Life gives us the essence of Presbyterianism:

A Pentecostal, a Baptist, and a Presbyterian are in a diner kind of tensely discussing some joint charitable venture in their town.

While doing so smoke begins pouring through the window from the kitchen into the dining room.

The Pentecostal jumps and yells “FIRE!”

The Baptist jumps up and yells “WATER!”

The Presbyterian remains seated and motions them both to sit back down and says… “order”.

So true!

This order, with divine grace, has inspired many extraordinary theologians since the Scottish Reformation. Excellent Presbyterian references, which I often consult, are the Westminster Confession of Faith as well as the Shorter and Larger Catechisms.

The Orthodox Presbyterian Church has a helpful page with links to all of these documents. I have added this to my Resources section as ‘Westminster Confession and Catechisms’.

jesus-christ-the-king-blogsigncomMy past few posts have explored what the Revd James A Fowler of Christ In You Ministries calls Resurrection theology. I first borrowed his sermons in 2012. Past posts in the 2015 series — summaries — can be found here, here, here, here and here.

Fowler’s essay, ‘The Extension of the Resurrection’, neatly ties together God’s purpose for creation, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, the Ascension, Pentecost, the growth of the Church and the Christian life — with a word or two on the afterlife. It is well worth reading in full.

Emphases mine in the excerpts below. Note Fowler’s distinction between ‘remedial’ and ‘restorative’, as they relate to the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, respectively.

How, then, is God’s ultimate objective for mankind achieved and accomplished in the resurrection of Jesus Christ? The death consequences of man’s sin were dealt with in the crucifixion when Jesus vicariously and substitutionally took mankind’s sin upon Himself on our behalf. In the redemptive act of His death Jesus accomplished the remedial work necessary to remedy the consequences of man’s sin before God. In that it was “impossible for Him to be held in death’s power” (Acts 2:24) for He was personally “without sin” (Heb. 4:15), He was raised from the dead in resurrection. In the resurrection expression of life out of death Jesus accomplished the restorative work of God, allowing the life of God to be restored to man. He took our death in crucifixion that we might have His life by resurrection …

Jesus repetitively promised His disciples in the upper room that He would send “another Helper, the Holy Spirit, who would be in them” (cf. Jn. 14:16,17,26,28; 15:26; 16:7,13-17). The word He used for “another” was not heteros, meaning “another of a different kind”, but He used the word allos, meaning “another of the same kind”, because He was promising a Helper who would be just like Him since the Helper would be Him in Spirit-form. Crucified, buried and raised from the dead, Jesus then ascended to the Father (Acts 1:8-11) saying, “you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you;…” Soon thereafter, on Pentecost (Acts 2:14), the Holy Spirit was poured out upon mankind allowing the Spirit of Christ to invest mankind with His life (cf. Acts 2:31-33) … Jesus told Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life” (Jn. 11:25) and told His disciples, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (Jn. 14:6). The divine life of God is available to man in Jesus Christ. “He that has the Son has life; he that does not have the Son of God does not have life” (I Jn. 5:11,12) …

We must see beyond the historicity of the empty tomb on that first Easter day, and understand the extension of the resurrection-life and resurrection-power of Jesus Christ in every Christian. Christianity is not just the remembrance of an historical resurrection, but is comprised of the vital dynamic of the risen Lord Jesus functioning in the activity of the Holy Spirit of God by enlivening Christians with the “saving life of Christ” (Rom. 5:10). Christianity is Christ ­ the resurrected Lord Jesus living out His life in Christians every day, to the glory of God.

I hope that you have found this brief series as enlightening and profitable as I have. I also hope that it informs the remainder of our Eastertide 2015 and beyond.

JesusChristMy past few posts have explored what the Revd James A Fowler of Christ In You Ministries calls Resurrection theology. I first borrowed his sermons in 2012. Past posts in the 2015 series — summaries — can be found here, here, here and here.

Fowler’s essay excerpted below is entitled ‘Resurrection: the Key to Understanding the Gospel’. I highly recommend reading it in full. It addresses how people, Christians included, perceive the Bible, God and the life of Christ.

Because we fail to properly understand and appreciate the Resurrection, our evangelisation is weak. Fowler tells us how to overcome these weaknesses and become fuller Christians. We must come to realise that the Risen Christ is working through us.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine:

It is time that we find the Resurrection stone, and discover the “key” to unlock these religious mysteries, to interpret the gospel as it was intended. The resurrection is a far more important discovery for mankind than the Rosetta Stone was to Egyptologists. The resurrection is the “key” to understanding the gospel and its import for all peoples …

The concept of resurrection must first be decoded. The resurrection is not just an historical event, not just a theological truth. The resurrection is a living, personal reality in the Person of Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “I AM the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:25)

Jesus was indeed raised from the dead historically on that “first day of the week.” The theological significance of “life out of death” and eventual bodily resurrection is truly important. The present significance of the resurrection is recognized when Christians understand that the risen Lord Jesus ascended to heaven and the very resurrection-life of Jesus was poured out on Pentecost to dwell in the spirits of Christian people. That spiritual reality, the indwelling of the living Lord Jesus, the dynamic function of His resurrection-life in and through our lives, is the essence of the gospel. Jesus, the “resurrection and the life,” is living out His resurrection-life in us, the Christ-life expressed in the Christian.

Many of the “things of God” remain hieroglyphics to many Christian people because the reality of the resurrection-life of Jesus is not applied to Biblical truth.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ defines the “church of God” as those who are “called out” to be all God intends them to be by His activity of resurrection-life in and through them. Jesus Christ is the “head of the Body, the church” (Eph. 5:23; Col. 1:18,24). The church is the “Body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12), the collective expression of the life of the risen Lord Jesus, the resurrection community, the “church of the living God” (I Tim. 3:15). The world is supposed to see the out-working of the life of Jesus Christ on earth today as the resurrection-life of Jesus functions in the interpersonal relationships of Christian peoples.

I sometimes wonder if our postmodern interpretation of Christianity — from both sides of the socio-political spectrum — characterised by niceness, the social gospel, good works, legalism, liberation theology and theonomy, is marring that one-on-one relationship we have with Christ.

If we focussed more on the Resurrection, as Fowler says, we would move away from the ‘me, me’ aspects of Christianity and really devote our lives to the living, risen Christ.

Tomorrow: From remediation to restoration

Jesus Light of the World 616Without Christ’s resurrection, our religion is but a commemoration of history.

To many people, Christ died and that’s the end of the story. However, at Easter we remember His fulfilment of Scripture by rising from the dead, defeating the tomb and, by extension, bringing us the promise of life eternal in Him.

I have been writing about what the Revd James A Fowler of Christ In You Ministries calls Resurrection theology. I first borrowed his sermons in 2012. Past posts in the 2015 series — summaries — can be found here, here and here.

Fowler warns us that we risk making our faith a historical one, especially if we neglect the Resurrection. His article, ‘A Call for Resurrection Theology’, explains much more and I would recommend reading it in full.

For now, here are the principal excerpts, emphases mine:

The church throughout the centuries has often failed to recognize the significance of the resurrection of Jesus. Despite the fact that the Easter celebration has been regarded as the culmination of the Christian year of worship, the full meaning of the resurrection has often been undeveloped or diluted in Christian teaching and preaching. Christian theology has emphasized numerous legitimate Biblical themes, but has seldom made the resurrection the focal point or fulcrum on which all other Christian subjects depend

Because of this neglect and the common misemphases of Christian theology, I am compelled to write this article and to make “a call for resurrection theology” …

If the incarnation and crucifixion were the only historical acts of God on man’s behalf, then the gospel would cease to be “good news”. If the gospel narrative was only that “Jesus was born. Jesus died. God said to man: ‘There is the remedy! I came. I fixed the problem. Now you are fixed. The slate is wiped clean. Now, go and do a better job next time.’” That is not good news! That is damnable doctrine. That is tragic teaching!

The incarnation and crucifixion alone serve only to condemn man all the more. The story would go like this: “A man came who was God-man. He did not share the spiritual depravity of the rest of mankind. He did not develop the “flesh” patterning of selfish desires like other men. He lived life as God intended, allowing God in him to manifest His desire and character at every moment in time for thirty-three years. He was the perfect man! He did not deserve to die, but He was put to death unjustly. In dying undeservedly, He died in our place, as our substitute, and paid the price of death to satisfy God’s justice, and forgive mankind of their sins.” Is that the whole of the story? If so, He lived and died perfectly which we cannot do. If the incarnation and crucifixion were the whole of the story, then we would have been better off without Him! Why? Because He could live and die as He did; we cannot. And the fact that He did only condemns us all the more by His matchless example, for we do not have what it takes to live like that.

Only in the resurrection do we have the message that God has given us the provision of His life in order that we might be man as God intended man to be; in order that the resurrection life of the risen Lord Jesus might become the essence of spiritual life in the Christian; in order that we might live by His life and the expression of His character. The resurrection is the positive provision of life in Christ Jesus, around which all other theological topics must be oriented

If Christian theology does not get beyond the cradle and the cross, the birth and the death of Jesus, then all we have to offer is a static history lesson with no contemporary consequence. If Christian theology does not get beyond apologetic defense for what “was”, and longing expectation for what “will be,” then it becomes an irrelevancy of temporalized “bookends” that fails to address what “is” and “should be” presently …

What a tragedy that the Christian religion has itself blockaded people from life in Christ by projecting the implications of the resurrection to an historical event of the past or to an anticipated expectation of the future.

If we do not properly understand or appreciate the relevance of the Resurrection, can we be proper Christians? Fowler does not believe so.

May we contemplate Resurrection theology in the approach to Ascension Day and Pentecost Sunday.

Tomorrow: Understanding the Resurrection is understanding the Gospels

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