Sunday, April 9, 2017

The gates of Death Shall not prevail

I am positing a theory here that other Christians have had. What if when Jesus says "And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."- Matt 16:18 he wasn't talking about an onslaught from Hell, we are part of the church militant, and gates don't attack, gates fortify. So, Jesus is saying not that despite on slaught and heresies from the devil the church will survive. That may be true, however; it seems the main point is that the Church will over come to the Devil (see Revelation), that death will not overcome them because, in fact, "The Gates of Hell" is a Hebrewism that means "death."

"The phrase pulai hadou (gates of hell) is a Jewish expression meaning “realm of the dead.” The same two words appear in the Septuagint Version of Job 38:17: “Have the gates of death been revealed to you, or have you seen the gates of deep darkness [ puloroi de hadou]?” They appear again in Isaiah 38:10: “I said in the middle of my days I must depart; I am consigned to the gates of Sheol [pulais hadou] for the rest of my years.” In both passages, pulai hadou is a euphemism for death. Notice the parallelism in both passages. The first half of each verse clarifies that the second half of the verse is not about hell but about death. The gates of hell represent the passageway from this life to the grave."- Kevin DeYoung

"From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord!e This shall never happen to you.” 23But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Matt 16:21-23

notably just after Jesus speaks of the gates of Hell not prevailing he reminds his disciples that he is about to die. Again this seems to point even more to Jesus meaning that death won't overcome the confession of Jesus as Lord in fact, just after this he says to follow him one must take up their cross! The message seems loud and clear persecution is coming, Jesus will be handed over and killed on the cross. "“(Jesus) speaks from this time lowly things, on His way to His passion, that He may show His humanity. For He that has built His church upon Peter’s confession, and has so fortified it, that ten thousand dangers and deaths are not to prevail over it…” (NPNF Vol. 10, p. 494)- John Chrysostom

But, when the time comes where the disciples are terrified and think "This must mean he isn't the Messiah" Jesus is, instead, conquering the gates of Hell.

Ephesians 4:8 provides an even more profound look at this, "This is why it[a] says: “When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people."

Here, we see Jesus has over came death, he marched into enemy territory and took captives to parade them and proclaim "I have trampled over death by death." And he appeared to his disciples to proclaim the same. The confession of Christ is at war and over coming death and hell for it will cast both into the lake of fire. In fact, we know that "The last enemy to be destroyed is death." - 1 Cor 15:26

May the peace of Christ be with you always and may you have a blessed Holy week as we march towards the feast of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

John 1 and John 6 Eucharistic and incarnational theology *rough draft

What if I told you John 6 is commentary on John 1. Because John 6 is application of Incarnational theology where Jesus explains that in coming from heaven he has come to nourish us and set us free. He is the bread from heaven as he is the word from heaven (John 1:14) so that when people read John 6:63-64 and think that Jesus is speaking metaphorically the whole time and that the flesh doesn't give life meaning he is just speaking spiritual are missing that the flesh giving life is not about denying the eucharist. It is about denying that we can give ourselves life to speak of John 6 as being purely metaphorical is to miss the incarnational theology because, if Jesus was speaking symbolically and physical matter is meaningless then what of him saying that he says "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world."- John 6:51. With the physical importance proven and showing that he could not have been speaking on a purely spiritual plain since this is detailing John 1 we must then ask "Is this Eucharistic?" I would argue yes because a.) The greek used in John 6 for "eat" literally means to Chew or to gnaw "τρωγων verb - present active participle - nominative singular masculine
trogo tro'-go: to gnaw or chew, i.e. (generally) to eat -- eat." b.) if Jesus is speaking about a literal reality then we must recognize that in the Old testament if you did not eat the sacrifice you did not find forgiveness. c.) Paul makes this same connection in 1 Corinthians 10:16-20 "1 Corinthians 10:16-20New International Version (NIV)
16 Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.
18 Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? 19 Do I mean then that food sacrificed to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons." So go ahead and deny the eucharist but in so doing you draw questions to the meaning of the cross and the incarnation

The case for Paul as the author ot Hebrews using biblical themes.

While it is uncertain who the author is, many in the early church believed it to have been written by Paul. Including Clement who said, "Paul, as sent to the Gentiles, on account of his modesty did not subscribe himself an apostle of the Hebrews, through respect for the Lord, and because being a herald and apostle of the Gentiles he wrote to the Hebrews out of his superabundance." The Epistle begins with the statement that Jesus is the radiance and imprint of God (similar to Colossians 1:15). After that the Epistle gives a large section of Old Testament passages to connect them to who Jesus is.

Chapter 2 addresses a warning about neglecting our salvation because we have such a great and powerful message from  God himself. Another notable verse is the reference to God putting all things under his [Jesus'] feet which is a reference from Psalms as well as being found in 1 Corinthians 15:27 ad Ephesians 1:22.

As a the author continues to set up his account of Jesus is in Chapter 3 he compares Jesus with Moses, whom Jews think of as being the greatest prophet, which is especially interesting when you consider that Moses said a prophet would be risen up who would be like him but greater. (See  Deuteronomy 18:15). Therefore, the author spends chapters 3-5 showing, using Old Testament themes, that Jesus is the new High Priest, and comparing the believers to the Jews who were under Moses (a theme also present in 1 Corinthians 10).

Hebrews 6 speaks about leaving behind the elementary doctrines of things like washings, laying on of hands, and the resurrection. After this and a warning about falling away, the Epistle focuses on the certainty of God's promises using the life of Abraham which he leads into the obscure character who, like Jesus, is the prince of peace, and king of righteousness. Further, this character provides Abraham with bread and wine which is a likely allusion to the Eucharist that would be instituted by Christ in the New Testament, and Abraham gives him an offering (tithe). The author then in Chapter 7-10 speaks of this new and better covenant on account of what Jesus has done using plethora of Old Testament language.

Again these themes are reminiscent of themes common through out the Old Testament which have a heavy emphasis on the New Covenant obtained through Jesus' blood. However, it is also true that Paul was the Apostle who seems to have focused the most on the New Covenant through the cross.

Interestingly, another use of Old Testament imagery to further Christology is found in Hebrews 10:22 there is a particularly interesting point which finds its parallel in Ezekiel 36:25 where it says "I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you." Again, as elsewhere, we see Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies, in this case, it seems it is through the cross and his institution of baptism both common themes in most of Paul's Epistles (See Titus 3:5-7, Romans 6, Ephesians 5:26 etc.). Further, in chapter 10 the author speaks of us of us entering the holiest place through the curtain, i.e., Christ. It is possible this is also more Old Testament imagery as the tent where the Ark was held during the Exodus had a curtain made from the skin and hair an animal, and it was stained red (Exodus 26). If this is a Christological connection, it would show that we can enter the holiest place through what Jesus has done upon the cross.

Next, the author speaks about faith in Chapter 11 specifically going into a long list of Old Testament examples of faith. Including a reference to people trusting in a better resurrection which seems to mirror a story from 2 Maccabees 7. The Epistle then speaks about throwing off the weight of our sin and running this race in 12:1 (see also 1 Corinthians 9:24-27) and about Jesus' willingness to endure the cross for us which is a common theme throughout the Old Testament and especially in Paul's epistles.

The letter concludes with encouragement to endure and train our bodies that we may present ourseleves as living sacrifices to God (see also Romans 12:1-2). And with a final greeting in which Timothy, one of Paul's closest co-workers in the gospel, being mentioned as being released.

Thus, while there is plenty to argue against Paul's authorship there seems to be a significant amount of common images and argumentation style compounded by the Ante-Niuean witness of Paul being the Author that if it was not, in fact, Paul it must clearly have been someone who knew him and his epistles very well.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Vain repetitions

"But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking." - Matthew 6:7 KJV
It has come to my attention that this is an all too common attack on the Liturgical churches of the Orthodox, Catholic, and high church Protestants by low church protestants. The liturgy, it is often argued, is a set of vain and empty phrases which do nothing to penetrate the heart. The idea being that this is not true worship, but rather, it falls into our Lords statement to the Pharisees:
     And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, 
      “‘This people honors me with their lips,but their heart is far from me;
        7in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’Mark 7:6-7(Esv)

An example of this might be the refrains of "Lord have mercy" or the Confession and Absolution in Lutheran Churches or the Jesus prayer in the Orthodox churches. Because, many have come to the conviction that prayer must be active, spontaneous, and emotion driven or else it is not sincere. There is, sadly, a cult of emotionalism in many, not all, evangelical circles. It is true that many can get swept up in the monotony of acting out traditions. It is also true that the emotional highs of many pop evangelical churches can elicit the same empty recitation of lines and phrases week in and week out. Daily or weekly Bible studies, going to church and worship all have the danger of becoming empty habits. However, this can not and must not stop us from doing those things. Rather, it should cause us to fall before the feet of Christ in humble repentance saying "Help my hardness of heart Oh dearest Lord.".

One of the first things I think is prudent to address is that realistically praise songs are prayers set to music. Which is what has left me baffled by the Pharisee like claims of vain repetition in liturgies because so many of today's contemporary worship songs lack depth and are replete with repetition resulting in repeated prayers that lack full worship for some. I am left perplexed as to why "Yes Lord, yes Lord, yes yes Lord Amen." or a set of "Our God will never leave us" ad infinitum is outside the scope of vain recitation.

At the moment I do not wish to insist that the liturgy is deeper and far more significant than contemporary worship. Rather, I desire that this article be a catalyst for thought and dialogue among people from various traditions. Especially since the context of the Matthew 6 verse is about saying the same thing over and over again thinking that one is more likely to be heard. So, it is the reasoning that says "IF I pray three times a day every day in long and elaborate words then God will care about my problem." Jesus is saying NO! God hears you every time you pray trust him do not think you need to heap up words for your prayer to be heard like it is a magic incantation. 
In fact, it is right after the statement from Matthew 6:7 that Our Lord teaches his disciples how to pray and provides them with the Lord's prayer. My point being that the liturgy is not inherently vain repetition I experience a liturgical service nearly everyday and each time I am amazed by the scripture, and depth of the hymns and praise Our Lord all the more. So, if there is one major take away, I desire you get from this it is be careful to avoid being the Pharisee who claims to read hearts and be better than others. Because in that parable, it is the repentant tax collector who walks away justified before God.
(see Luke 18:9-14)

And may the peace of Christ be with you always.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Assembly line evangelism

"How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" (Romans 10:14-15 NIV)

With these words in mind and mulling over them, I must reflect on what the above passage, practically speaking, means. After all, I am sure many have been through the youth camp or the Sunday service where the pastor or speaker as the case may be "challenged" the congregation to "go out and invite a person to church."The implication being something like, you invite your friend; your friend hears the band which excites your friend, then pastor so and so hits home a sermon which convicts your friend, and God seals the deal. This may be one experience or a series of experiences that ultimately end in your friend "Saying the sinner's prayer" and thus, being "saved."
While, I am not here to discourage anyone from inviting their friend to church I am, however, questioning if this is anything like what Scripture is addressing. Is evangelism simply "inviting your friend to church" and using emotion to get them to pray the magic incantation which, by the way, is nowhere in the bible minus a loose reading of Romans 10:9. Instead isn't Jesus' call something more than this. Can evangelism and discipleship ever be separated? I think our Lord clearly makes evangelism something far more profound and deep and which, properly speaking; is intimately tied with Discipleship which is defined in the great commission:

 "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt 28:19-20)
So, if we are going to be "Evangelical" we must go and make the good news known, sure we can and should be connected to the church in this. However, if we are going to do this properly, we must recognize it requires Baptism and teaching. We must not separate the two because in evangelism we must disciple them. We have only begun the process when we tell them about Christ and his finished work.

Our calling is not found in telling someone "Jesus died for you" and stopping there we have failed. It is in discipleship so that they may be able to fulfill Scriptures call for us: "but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,". When we disciple people well we produce Christians who can also go and make disciples of all nations.
If, however, we have caught them in shallow emotional zeal and keep them in simplistic church programs so that they can not grow and do not know the fullness of God's word and the "new obedience" we are called to we have made mass produced cheap products and have built our foundation on straw.

"13each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire." (1 Cor 3:13-15) 
Therefore, let our churches study the scripture, teach the fullness of scripture and go and make disciples not just "converts" of all nations. If we want people to come and stay, we must not fall for and preach a commercialized entertainment gospel. In fact, this is how the early church grew rapidly in spite of the persecution the faced. The church, at that time, was not softening the gospel. Rather, they taught people for months, if not years, about the faith under pastoral care with the help of the body of believers who bore witness to the new faith. If we want our faith to survive, I think we could stand to look to the Scriptures and the early church and how they took Jesus' call to make disciples.

May the peace of Christ be with you.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Immenent and transcendent

I gaze in rapt attention at the dome with Christ's Icon towering above me set within a circle of the Holy Apostles calling to mind the testimony of our faith as the Choir chants: 
"Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice." (Psalm 141:2)

This was one of my first Vespers in the Orthodox church and, though I am not Orthodox, the Icons and the hymn from the Psalm gave a profound sense of presence. It was, as if, the transcendent- God- has met the infinite- humanity- in a Divine symphony of which each of us has our own part. And though I write months after this first vesper I am struck by this concept. For so long, before coming to the Liturgical churches, I had been indoctrinated to view God as immanent and transcendent but primarily in a symbolic, or otherwise emotional, conceptual way; always there but never ready to be fully grasped, experienced.

That is to say; God is near in a bodiless manner that he is a loving father who, as stated in John 14 and 16, lives in and among us through the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity. It was in reaching the Liturgical churches- Orthodox, Catholic, Luther, and Anglican- that I saw that it need not be that God is either present in a vague cognitive or emotional sense or He is a two-dimensional image which would obviously be Idolatry. The distinction set up and against the Liturgical, and sacramental theology is one that either God is spiritually in our midst though not in a manner that can be fully grasped without emotional sensations or cognitive acknowledgment. Otherwise, we worship "the created." This is simply and demonstratively not the case rather, Sacred Scripture teaches:

"6But as it is, Christb has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. 7For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second."  (Hebrews)

These verses remind us that we have a new and better covenant. This new and better covenant connects the believer with God in unfathomable ways, as he quickens us to repent, love God and our neighbor. He gives us a new heart, and we commune with the Trinity in Christ, and with the Church in the Sacrament of the Altar (the Lord's supper). On top of all this God was pleased to use the waters of baptism  as the Sacred Scriptures say:   

"Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:
Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin." Romans 6:3-6
"As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17)

This passage shows us the Trinity's connection with the Baptismal waters which, by itself holds no power, but it is in the example of Jesus' own baptism that the waters of baptism were made significant (see 1 Peter 3:20-21). So, when we were, or are as the case may be, baptized we are reminded of the Trinity "In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." which should bring our mind first to the great commission and then to Jesus' own Baptism. 
And it is in this unfathomable imminence with God. Through the Liturgy, we are reminded that we are on family in Christ and we praise him with the Angel as stated in the Eucharistic prayer of the Book of Common Prayer (Anglican church):

"Therefore we praise you, joining our voices with Angels and  Archangels and with all the company of heaven, who forever  sing this hymn to proclaim the glory of your Name:"
In the Beauty of the Liturgy, we encounter God and are reminded that God is the God of the living not the dead and we encounter his all powerful imminence along with the church triumphant and the angels. Each part of the Liturgical worship is filled with Scriptures and balanced reminders of God and our relationship with him. 

Because our God is not the distant God of the Deists rather, we have a faith where the Physical and Heavenly meet as a divine Orchestra taking place within the worship of the Christians. The Christians "rites" exist in such a way that we encounter the Trinity profoundly as we read the word and live out the faith together.
In fact, Jesus told Nicodemus; "If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?" We are brought back to this passage because it is a reminder that the Physical points to the Spiritual and the incarnation; which reverberates through the new covenant. This truth manifests in our worship reminding us that because God loves us he does, in fact, work within and among the finite for he is "good and a lover of mankind."


May the peace of Christ be with you.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Consuming Christ

Growing up in low church Charismatic Evangelicalism I remember always thinking that when Jesus said:
“Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom,” (The Lord’s Supper in Matthew 26).
That he was, logically, speaking entirely symbolically. I mean, how could he as God possibly mean this literally? It was not until my exodus from the church and my subsequent dive out of the shallow waters of modern Christianity into the deep ocean of the historic faith when I saw that, historically speaking, Christians out side of heterodox/heretical splinter groups universally confessed that at the very least they were participating in Christ (see 1 Corinthians 10:16). I could not for the life of me sink my teeth into this doctrine at first. How could God inhabit the material? How could Jesus be consumed?
I spoke with many many patient people about this doctrine because, as much as it terrified me it intrigued me. After months of chewing the meat of this doctrine, so to speak, I had an epiphany as I sat on the couch at a friends house. The words of 1 Corinthians 10:16–18 screamed at me and I, unlike many others, never had a deep connection to the argument in the bread of life discourse (John 6), though great men - such as Scott Hahn - have found that to be their life passage. The words of the 1 Corinthians passage clicked that one night specifically; “Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar?” We truly participate in Christ just as the Jews truly participated in the sacrifice on the Altar. It is through this that we find God in a profound way. If Scripture said it, so I shall believe it. A further reading, though not Scripture, that proved to be the nail in the coffin for my Baptist mind set (I joined a Baptist church after leaving the charismatic one) was this quote from St. Ignatius of Antioch:
“Consider how contrary to the mind of God are the heterodox…They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not admit that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, the flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in His graciousness, raised from the dead. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes” (Letter to the Smyrnaeans. 6:2–7:1).
Note, the above is not the whole quote because much of the quote does not fit most Christians who hold to the Symbolic view in today’s age. In fact, as a general rule, most Christians who hold to the symbolic view of the Eucharist are considerably more orthodox than the people whom St. Ignatius was writing about. As to “abstaining from prayer” as I understand it is the prayer as it relates to the Eucharist.
Now, to address a common argument against Real Presence . People will often then say, generally in response to the bread of life discourse; “well, Jesus also said ‘I am the vine’ or ‘I am the door’”. On first appearance this argument is the death blow to Real Presence but, upon further examination, it really is hardly a well thought out refutation. Rather, one need only look at the structure of the sentence to dismantle the argument and “properly divide the word of truth” (para). One can quickly note that Jesus, in these examples, is not claiming that those things are him but that you can use these physical realities to better comprehend the Spiritual realities. As Jesus told Nicodemus; “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:12).
Jesus was explaining to him that the Physical can often demonstrate truths about the Spiritual and or clarify things that are hard to comprehend, though they still remain difficult to understand. While this passage is not connected, directly, to the passages above it is part of the hermeneutic-interpretive method that I am setting forth for you today. In the passages where Jesus is explaining that he is a door, vine, or what have you he is stating that even the material world points to himself, this point will come up in another article I plan to write in the near future, whereas when speaking of the bread he says “This is”. The language and grammar used on top of the fact of what the church has historically confessed should be enough to note errors in the symbolic view which, realistically, is a form of thought borrowed from Gnosticism which creates heavy distinctions between Physical and Spiritual and claims, more or less, that God would not and could not take on flesh. The doctrine of the Eucharist is, therefore, heavily incarnational.