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Why You Should Long for Apocalypse!

“I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!”

–Luke 12:49

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What in the world is Jesus saying in our text this morning?

“I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled? 

But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed?”

What does this mean?

What Jesus is saying here is that He is longing for His work on earth to be completed… for the mystery of salvation that He will finally accomplish to happen! 

To be revealed!

Divine Revelation. 

We know that the last book of the Bible – speaking of the end of the world – goes by that name as it starts with that word. In the Greek, the word is “apokalypsis”, which means “revelation” or “unveiling”…

The Book of Revelation is known as an apocalyptic book, the only one of its type in the New Testament canon. 

That said, there are apocalyptic themes throughout the New Testament and we see one here as well.

Again, what Jesus is saying is that He desires that His purpose would be fulfilled and that that which has been hidden will be revealed, unveiled, “made manifest…”

This, simply, is what happens when Jesus is who He is. When He is present, He shows up… 

Yes, He brings peace with God! 

He brings internal peace – the peace that passes all understanding, we say – in the hearts of individual people the world over!

He brings the knowledge that one truly is God’s beloved child and destined for heaven above like one’s Lord…

At the same time, the result of this true joy, contentment, and peace in the hearts of His chosen people is the hatred, the contempt, of the world…

The world, rightly, senses at some level a fundamental incompatibility, and realizes that there is a division…

And we who believe then see that this incompatibility that may have previously been hidden to us is revealed…. 

As Jesus puts it, sharing painful words:

“Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

Why? Why?

Why because God’s purposes, God’s goals…. and the goals of others are at cross-purposes… 

No, the desires and designs of the men of this world will not stay hidden forever… 

The presence of Jesus and the holiness, the purity, the Light that is His alone… will flush them out into the open, scatter the cockroaches operating in the darkness… and they will be truly revealed for the wicked men they are…

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We see a similar phenomenon happening in the world itself don’t we?

In some sense, people, seemingly like Jesus here, have this real urge to unveil certain things, to know and make known certain things that are hidden…

In the early days of the internet in the mid-1990s, the days of Netscape, AOL, and Yahoo, there was a real sense of freedom and openness in this new frontier, this wild west…

A lot of companies then moved online, and started doing their business there. 

Soon, many of us were signing online forms saying that we agreed to these or those terms and conditions, seemingly trusting these companies and organizations enough so that we did not really need to actually read all of that stuff! 

Now, a lot of that early freedom and liberation some felt about the internet has evaporated, as the powers that be attempt to herd all the cats that participate on the internet. 

Tracking down all the nooks and crannies that are out there, cataloging and organizing and algorithmizing things with the intention of getting them under their control, in line with their purposes…

Since the pandemic, for example, many more people began working at home, seemingly getting more freedom and flexibility. Many say they would love to work at home.

At the same time, this has given more companies than ever an excuse to go into what their employees may consider their private space… .

I recently read up on some of the “bossware”, which some call “tattleware”, that is out there… software with names like StaffCop, Clever Control, Controlio, Activ Trak, and Sneek…

One article gives us the lowdown:

“Once the software is installed, an employer has deeper access and even live monitoring tools for everything you do on your computer, including which applications you open, what websites you visit, and how much time you spend doing different activities. Employers can use this data to track your attendance or periodically snap screenshots of your screen. Some software can even monitor the music you listen to, your facial expressions, your tone of voice, or your writing tone throughout the day…”

Indeed, some of these programs brag that their “comprehensive tracking functionality can capture any user activity”, and also, importantly, that they operate “entirely in stealth, invisible to the consumer.”

Hiding, I suppose, with the intent to reveal what was previously hidden and it is felt must be known… 

Perhaps showing not only that this or that employee is not really productive or efficient… but also that they are not really fully in line with the purposes, the mission, of the organization’s managers…

We see similar things happening not just in companies, but in national governments. People are watched regarding what they say, what they read on the internet, how they behave, where they go….

In China, for example, there is a social credit system where the government tracks the movements of its citizens and dishes out rights and privileges, rewards, and punishments, accordingly.

Don’t want to have difficulty finding work, being admitted to university, or getting a bank account? 

Don’t want to have a hard time renting here or there or buying this or selling that, perhaps in a land where there will one day only be a highly regulated digital currency and no paper money? 

Well, maybe stop hanging out with Christians, for example, and try supporting what the Party says!

Even Christians who are wary about being End Times Prophecy Fanatics regarding things like “Vaccine Passports” – providing an opening for them to be under full government surveillance – will not be able to help thinking about what the book of Revelation says: 

“And the second beast required all people small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their forehead, so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark—the name of the beast or the number of its name…”

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The world wants to be in full control. 

The masters of the world, convincing themselves that they are doing everyone else a favor, increasingly are exercising their dominion over every area of human life that they can.

And in the end, for them, the ends will justify the means. If half-truths, deception, and lies are necessary to govern the world, the New World Order, so be it.

Now, in truth, God, in the beginning, did indeed give man dominion. 

But when God gave Adam and Eve dominion in the Garden prior to the fall, this was, in fact, a trust from Him.

They were not to exercise mastery of the world as they pleased, but to exercise good and faithful stewardship in line with their Master’s purposes and possessions…

The reason that the church has traditionally been opposed to hidden societies, that is “secret societies” like the Freemasons, for example, is because they are essentially a religion with purposes opposed to God’s: they demand a loyalty that supersedes Christ and His people; even if they do give lip-service to a god of sorts, an “Architect of the Universe,” they nevertheless undermine the proclamation of the free grace of Jesus Christ.  

In Martin Short’s 1993 HarperCollins expose on the Freemasons, Inside the Brotherhood, he writes that contrary to ideas of ‘purity of conduct’, ‘compassion’ for the ‘errors of mankind’ or the ‘pleasing bond of fraternal love’; for the Masons “relief and truth are restricted to a very small circle, beyond which it is acceptable to tell co-ordinated lies to achieve the economic ruin of others” (Maria, summarizing Short, 57-58).

And that is not all. Short writes in detail about what kinds of rituals and oaths have been historically involved in becoming a Mason, the “1st degree of Entered Apprentice,” as well as entrance into the “2nd degree of Fellow Craft”. Of the latter, Short tells us: 

“…should the candidate betray his oath of secrecy he submits himself to “‘having my breast laid open, my heart torn therefrom, and given to the ravenous birds of the air, or devouring beasts of the field as a prey.’” (Short, 51).

Now, I understand if one is skeptical about these seemingly spectacular claims about the Masons. If that’s the case with you, check out Alvin Schmidt’s 1980 academic book on the topic, Fraternal Organizations.  

The wider point, however, is that there is a desire for many powerful people to operate “behind the scenes”, in secret, in loyal solidarity with one another, and in larger and larger networks, in order to increasingly unveil those people and plans and things that do not please them, and are at cross-purposes with their own goals, designs…

Again, hiding, I suppose, with the intent to reveal what was previously hidden and it is felt must be known… 

Perhaps showing that this or that person is not really fully in line with the purposes of those who would increasingly gain control, for our own good of course…

But, you see, all who ultimately work in this fashion, who ultimately seek to rule in this way, will fail, and fail miserably, because the world’s schemes will be unveiled….

For rejoice! 

Christ has come to bring fire to the earth, and how He wishes it was already kindled! 

An important Bible passage to chew on from Psalm 2:

Why do the nations conspire

    and the peoples plot in vain?

The kings of the earth rise up

    and the rulers band together

    against the Lord and against his anointed, saying,

“Let us break their chains

    and throw off their shackles.”

The One enthroned in heaven laughs;

    the Lord scoffs at them. 

He rebukes them in his anger

    and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,

“I have installed my king

    on Zion, my holy mountain.”

In truth, proclaiming this message about the coming King is what the church is to be all about. 

The world wants us to listen to it – “you have two ears and one mouth for a reason” it says – and of course, we know that listening is good, taking time to care for your neighbors by listening to them and their concerns is good…

And yet, many in the world have absolutely hardened their hearts against their Creator, the Lord Jesus Christ. 

As one man puts it, instead of “renouncing Satan and all his works” as our baptismal liturgy declares, they look to renounce Christ and all His works.

But, as he also points out: 

“The difficulty for them is that “His works” include every last molecule and atom. That work includes what He does in holding everything together. [For as the book of Colossians puts it:] “And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Wilson)

So the world is full of foolish evil. 

This evil must be unveiled and overturned. For the rejection of the creation as creation and this King the Bible speaks of as King is no laughing matter. 

You heard our Old Testament reading this morning in Jeremiah. The ante is upped further, not less, in the New Testament. 

There, Love in human flesh, Jesus Christ, the Creator and King of the Universe Himself, speaks firmly and decisively about Hell, a place of eternal torment, where the fire is everlasting (Matt. 18:8); utter isolation, where there is outer darkness (Matt. 8:12); and personal disintegration, or destruction (Matt 7:13) (Wilson). 

I read some words from a wise pastor this week, talking about how the church really does not so much need to listen but to proclaim. 

Pushing back against the current Pope’s admonition to be a listening church, he said: 

“God knows the hearts of men, the thoughts of men, and the works of men. He does not need His agents to listen and tell Him what they have heard. He needs His messengers to repeat what He has said and end the reign of darkness and the captivity of sin and the hopeless end of death. It might be too late for Pope Francis but it is not too late for us to learn anew this ancient wisdom.” 

Amen to that! 

The great 4th century theologian Basil the Great put it, spoke about the weak church of his own day that had rejected the glory of the cross for the wisdom of the world:

“Men in authority are afraid to speak, for those who have reached power by human interest are the slaves of those to whom they owe their advancement… (Letter 92)”

And while the church is weak, the world – increasingly drunk with pride and confidence! – wants its words to be able to create reality as it makes and re-makes itself. And in its most extreme forms, it looks, in futility of course, to destroy and rebuild that which God holds together with his powerful word… 

But this is an absurd tower of Babel clearly built on a foundation of sand. 

And yes, perhaps right now, they have pushed too far and too fast. And eyes are beginning to be opened… 

Regardless, we need to proclaim our Rock, the only Rock that can withstand the storm.  

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“I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!”

Here, again, Jesus is expressing that He longs for apocalyptic judgment! 

The fire which will reveal and purify!

-That which is concealed will be disclosed; the hidden made known; things spoken in the dark will be heard in the daylight; that whispered in inner rooms proclaimed from the housetops (Luke 12:1-3)!

-His baptism of fire will also bring not peace, but salutary adn necessary division: setting son against father and father against son!

-And truly, all the hypocrisies of man – which He goes on to speak of – will be laid bare and dealt with in His work! 

And how will it take place? 

Jesus in one sense is speaking about everything that is to come, but particularly about the centrality of His cross for everything!

In the book of I Peter, the Apostle says: 

“For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?”

In the context of I Peter what this means is that God always judges Christians first. 

Not in a way that ultimately condemns us, but, through suffering and persecution, in a way meant to discipline us and ultimately strengthen we who believe in Jesus.

And… our beloved King, Jesus Christ, as the head of the church, God’s house, indeed in a sense fulfills this passage about judgment beginning with the household of God to the greatest degree… because when Jesus paid for all of our sin on the cross, God really did mean not to just discipline Him, but to issue judgement on all of our sin in Him… to even condemn Him in our place.

Jesus did not come to judge the world. Strictly speaking, He came to save the world. 

But He could only do this through His Father’s intention to lay our sin on Him, afflicting, striking, piercing, crushing, and condemning our sin in His body on that tree.

The world kills Jesus, judges Him, and God, using evil men, judges Him as well…

“I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled?”

It.

Is.

Finished.

And then, resurrection. 

As we read in our long Epistle reading in Hebrews 11, God always brings His people through the suffering and the opposition they face from the world, the flesh, and the devil…

And we see this ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the Promised One who all those good Old Testament saints were looking forward to!

And as we heard: 

“For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart…” (Hebrew 12:2-3)

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And make no mistake about it, even if Christ does not come in order to judge, to condemn the world but rather to save it, He will, in the end, by its Judge.

You see, He doesn’t even need to do anything, really. His very presence, in fact, would be enough for this necessary action to take place… 

For if He is oil, the world is water….

The world is full of hypocrisy. 

Hypocrisy is not just doing the opposite of what you say you believe. 

Hypocrisy is about deception, play-acting and putting up fronts. 

Hypocrisy is valuing the approval of others more than God’s. 

It is being focused on externals, appearances – the world and its glory – at the expense of truly seeking to know God in the secret place of one’s heart (Rom. 2:29).

Therefore, hypocrisy is ultimately a deep inner corruption and hostility towards God’s word (Luke 19:44).

And hence, hypocrisy is always opposed to Jesus Christ. 

Hear Christ’s piercing words from John 16!:

“When [the Holy Spirit] comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.”

As Jesus is revealed, the reality of the prince of the world’s sin and the world’s sin stands revealed…

Even the world sometimes says, the truth will out! 

That is correct.

Hiding places will be flushed out…

…all the secrets and evil plans laid bare… 

…the whispered words and plans shouted from the rooftops… 

…the “righteous” of the world shown to be anything but…

…and “whoever lives by the truth will come into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God” (John 3:21)

When I was reading about “bossware” I came across this quote:

“…I would feel uncomfortable if someone was looking over my shoulder as I compose every email that I wrote,” [one expert] said. Imagine if your boss had access to your boring daily processes, where you may delete and rewrite an email, say, or correct a minor mistake before anyone else notices…”

Some people see God like that, but we know He isn’t like such a boss…

Even if we know that His word is indeed like fire and like a hammer that breaks a rock into pieces, we also know that, through His beloved Son Jesus – the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! – He longs to be tender and gentle and merciful to us poor sinners…

We might fear the revealing of our sin, but we shouldn’t! 

It is the devil who will always and only accuse us. But we – to the absolute delight of our Father in Heaven – have an Advocate and Defender in our Lord, His Son Jesus Christ! 

So let us look to Peter as our example!… 

Around the time Jesus was calling His disciples, our Lord ordered some of them, fishermen, to cast their net on the other side of the boat.

The net became full of fish… and Peter, astonished, just knew He was in the presence of God! 

Jesus did not need to say a word to Peter about His sin, his own hypocrisies, for Peter simply knew…

“Lord, go away from me, for I am a sinful man…” 

But you know how Jesus responded? 

With grace, acceptance, and reassurance:

“Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men…” 

You. 

Too.  

“I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled?”

Amen!

With footnotes: https://docs.google.com/document/d/13lB_K4LF9xkehSGqcw4b8pl9IiurtCXlv2Nvunp7jik/edit?usp=sharing

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

Do Your Possessions Possess You?

Greed? What does that mean?

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“I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry…’”

–Luke 12:19

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Physically demanding, difficult, and sometimes dangerous work. Long and odd hours – not 9-5, to say the least – but the rewards, the financial rewards I mean, are really good. 

Because of personal experience, I’ve recently become much more familiar with a number of men who are working very, very hard in order to, as they say, “make a living”…

The jobs these men do are in high demand. 

The company is always looking for good workers and even though not a whole lot of training is required — and the company will even pick up the tab for it! — not a lot of folks will do these jobs. 

…even many who realize they can never afford to be lazy… 

When the women’s movement got rolling in the 1960s and 1970s and more equal representation was sought in this or that profession, women were, strangely enough, not thinking about or looking at this kind of “blue collar” work… 

In fact, by doing this kind of work, no one is achieving high social status in the wider world by virtue of the job they hold…

And yet – that does not seem to be the main concern of any of these men. 

The men who do these jobs appreciate that the work that they do is finally understood to be valuable and will make them a decent income.  

Understandable. And yet, what is the deeper motivator for doing such a job? 

Well, some of these men will say that they have no choice: they need to do this, earn what they can, to survive in what amounts to a dog-eat-dog world. 

Others hope to work hard for 3-5 years and make a good chunk of money to get a good start in life: make some investments, save for college, maybe even buy a home…

Others will say that they do this kind of work because it is the only way they can support a family where mom is able to stay at home with the kids… Jobs that actually meet this need are definitely fewer and farther between these days, but some of these men have found an answer to this problem here…

That said, these are not the only reasons. Some of these men will admit that they subject themselves to the work they do because they like having their “toys”: the latest and greatest machines, technologies, and furnishings that can make their living space more comfortable and also allow them to participate in the leisure activities, hobbies, fun, or even thrill-seeking they enjoy. 

It seems then that some of these men at least are looking ahead – not only to the weekend or that next vacation when they can do the things they love doing – but to a time when they, having achieved a measure of security, can really enjoy their possessions and…

Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’”

And they, of course, are not alone.

Also those fixated on achieving elite social status in the world often love their “toys” – the “goods”, from nature or invented by us – that bring them comfort and pleasure….

And why not? Why should anyone be ashamed of any of this or even ever think twice about it?  

After all, didn’t Jesus once say to Judas, “the poor you will always have with you…”?   

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Of course, before Jesus tells us the parable we heard today about the rich fool, He first says this: 

“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.

Even if several people in America have argued that greed can be seen as a good thing – driving capitalism and finally, counter-intuitively, raising the “standard of living” for everyone as a “rising tide lifts all boats” – this is a relatively new opinion in world history. 

Most cultures throughout time have, of course, seen greed as something quite bad. 

And as regards possessions and wealth specifically, arguably the most well-known philosopher in the Western world, Plato, had a definite opinion, saying: 

“The beauty of proportionality that has led one on, because one loves it, would cause one to abhor a situation that would bring one into disproportion with everyone else… [This happens when] the impersonally sublime is internalized into personal virtue…” (Plato at the Googleplex, p. 392, 393, see Gorgias 507e-508a, Philebus 64e, and Timaeus 47b-c)

I mean, it is not just Plato. So many men and women see the basic inequality in the world – the lack of “proportionality” regarding possessions, let’s say for now – and they simply know something is wrong and want to fix it… 

How though? 

Well, there are some pretty creative ideas out there… Have you heard about “prospect research” and “wealth screening”? 

What’s that? 

Well, I’ll get to that in a minute, but for now we’ll say these are things many non-profit institutions in America, for example, do…

And what are non-profit institutions? 

There are a number of non-profit organizations in the world devoted to any number of causes – some are Christian, some are more secular, and some of them are decidedly post-Christian or against Christianity. Many of them seem good on the face of it. 

I am sure you can think about many of them, perhaps many that you have supported. The Red Cross, World Vision, Doctors Without Borders, Save the Children… 

Many of these organizations are interested in assisting those with little, who are “down and out”… lending people a hand, helping folks get a leg up, making opportunities or things more equitable, as we say today, as much as they can…

Some want certain kinds of people or groups in certain circumstances to have more opportunities to succeed, for example. 

Sometimes this means things like scholarships for hard-working individuals and sometimes this means long-term programs, “long marches through ”, that are really geared towards changing the way that society works – and that will work towards achieving more similar “outcomes” for this or that social group… 

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In any case, back to “prospect research” and “wealth screening”. What are these?

Well, let’s do “Wealth screening” first. As one site assisting non-profits puts it: 

“Wealth screening is a way that organizations assess their donors’ assets to learn how much they can give. This information informs how much your organization should request when making an ask.”

Of course, as another website puts it: 

“[j]ust because a donor has the capacity or wealth to donate to charity, it doesn’t mean they have the willingness or affinity for giving.”

This brings us to the importance of  “prospect research which: 

“…is a technique used by fundraisers, development teams, and nonprofit organizations to learn more about their donors’ personal backgrounds, past giving histories, wealth indicators, and philanthropic motivations to evaluate a prospect’s ability to give (capacity) and warmth (affinity) toward an organization.”

So, finally, what are the brass tacks of how you really can find out who to ask? 

  • Use publicly available data on “wealth markers”: a person’s demographic location (and with this their estimated household income), business affiliations, club or group memberships, real estate ownership, political donations (FEC.gov), their participation in auctions, whether they serve as a foundation trustee, their stock holdings (SEC.gov), their clients, their social media profile, and their full employment history. Analyze, analyze, analyze!
  • Also, as you seek to “track each stage of the major gift cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship process” be sure to try to take into consideration their past giving as well as its recency and frequency, their giving to other organizations, their patterns of support, and the potential appeal to them of “getting a match” for any of their donations.
  • And… be winsome, wise, strategic, about how you target encounters with major prospects at things like fundraising dinners or other networking opportunities. If you can get to know their peers and friends who’d be willing to do the ask on your behalf this possibility should certainly be considered! 

One company brags of a novel solution to do this important work of targeting and tailoring donation solicitations from constituents who are wealthier: 

“[we have] proprietary techniques to screen as many as 25 different data sources to identify donor assets which are combined into a simple donor giving-potential score that can be used to drive targeting and ask levels…”  

Is this a good way to try and make the world a better place? More fair? Just a good tool for the toolbox, so to speak?

What should we think about this? 

When the book of James talks about not showing favoritism to the rich who attend one’s congregation or Jesus speaks of the overriding value of the widow’s mite, how should this impact our own thinking about matters of wealth and possessions and our approach towards others who have them?  

Whatever you feel or think – or suspect we all should feel or think! – about “prospect research” and “wealth screening”, they certainly cause me to think a lot more about my late grandfather’s massive donations to a Christian University… which was facilitated through one of these fundraisers… 

Whether one is trying to earn money or secure donations, whether one is trying to purchase possessions or seeking to distribute them more equally…

…we are certainly challenged by mammon, that is, worldly wealth, and its tests and temptations.

With many sins, they are obvious. Often however, with things like possessions and greed, the answers do not come to us so easily… they seem less than obvious! 

I just want to point out that even Jesus didn’t seem to want to get involved with personal disputes over money: 

“Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 

So, what does it mean to trust God regarding all of this?

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Do you question yourself regarding issues of wealth and possessions often? 

If not, why not?

Jesus isn’t going to pry or force His way in here, it seems, but that doesn’t mean that He doesn’t want us to reflect on these matters…

And yes, as we do this we should guard against envy and greed, but we should also recognize that it was not only the philosopher Plato who had these ideas about the appropriateness of men being somewhat proportionate regarding one another…

Let’s look, for example, at what Paul says to the Corinthians about giving in 2 Cor. 8:

“….since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.

I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

And here is my judgment about what is best for you in this matter. Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.

Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little…”

Paul is doing some serious fundraising here, isn’t he? And his approach sounds a bit like Plato’s here doesn’t it? 

Nevertheless, let’s not turn the Apostle Paul into a contemporary, full-blown social justice warrior just yet. 

First note that he gives us some sense of what he means by equality, equity, fairness or proportionality (all potential translations for the Greek term): he references God’s gift of manna to the Israelites in the desert, and says that when they worked to gather “[t]he one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little…”

Also, note that even as Paul is asking for financial help for the Jerusalem church quite vigorously and appealing to them to “put the ball in the hoop” so to speak, he is still asking, not demanding, nor, of course, forcing anything…

In like fashion, we also note that this “ask” on Paul’s part is in fact not an ongoing thing… Basically, this special need arises at one time, in particular circumstances, where out-of-the-ordinary needs have presented themselves and need to be tackled…

In a venerable book from the mid-nineteenth century, Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers, we read:

“Christians should contribute liberally while they have the means. In the vicissitudes of life no one can tell how soon he may be unable to contribute, or may even be dependent on the charity of others himself. A change in the commercial world; losses by fire or at sea; lack of success in business; loss of health, and the failure of his plans, may soon render him unable to aid the cause of benevolence. While he is prospered he should embrace every opportunity to do good to all. Some of the most painful regrets which people ever have, arise from the reflection that when prospered they were indisposed to give to benefit others, and when their property is swept away they become unable. God often sweeps away the property which they were indisposed to contribute to aid others, and leaves them to penury and want. Too late they regret that they were not the liberal patrons of the objects of benevolence when they were able to be…

Every Christian brother should bear his due proportion….”

This is both convicting and helps us to be wary of those who would use Paul’s words to in effect demand some sort of absolute equality, and hence major “leveling” of society…

It is not so much that all those who long for some kind of “socialist” or “communist” solution are evil… their impulse is exactly right in a lot of ways…

As a co-worker attempting to explain things to me this past week said, “Everything is out of balance….”

“Some are successful…. higher than other men. Of course though, compared with another, they are relatively unsuccessful….”

And sometimes the “out of balance” is out of all proportion. Recently hearing about the insanity of NFL quarterback Tom Brady making $135.00 every 30 seconds comes to mind also…

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People succumb to greed and then there always appears to be a reaction….

Where history consistently teaches us that others — many who are perhaps genuinely troubled and rightly concerned about an extreme lack of proportionality — succumb to the envy that goes hand in hand with the coveting and greed that inevitably leads to thievery… perhaps even as “governments” more akin to mafias are formed and corporate robbery is the result…. 

So, in a sense, it all comes back to coveting and greed, which the Apostle Paul reminds us is idolatry…

Luther talked about how temptation was like the birds over our heads. 

We can not prevent them from flying over us but we are able to prevent them from making nests in our hair….

But we seem to not only enjoy bird-watching, but getting as close to them as we possibly can….

And even when human nature wants to correct things related to the problems of greed…. it is like we can’t escape the circle and circular motion we are trapped in….

No, in the end, Communism is no answer…. 

It is simply that Communists underestimate the evils of human nature… 

Nevertheless, might some socialistic-kinds-of-things be possible here or there? Where people by genuine mutual consent agree to share their possessions?

I don’t see why not. At the same time, it is one thing for a mature congregation or maybe even a group of such congregations, fueled by deep and thoughtful Christian love, to somewhat pull this off — and even then, perhaps just for a season or two when it is most needed…

It is another thing to think that this can be done by unregenerate men and women without force – without cracking a whole lot of eggs to make an omelet.

All attempts at and forms of socialism have thus far degraded into this or that form of tyranny…

The word “Utopia”, coined in the early 16th century, literally means “nowhere” for a reason. 

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Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes come to mind here as well: “This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind…”

This could also be translated as: “this also is vanity and vexation of spirit”.

What Solomon means to say is that those who operate according to the wisdom of the world – including those who think that they can solve all the problems of disproportionality – will inevitably be frustrated, annoyed, and worried in their spirit.

But things are worse. Damnably worse. The world does not see the real extent of the problem at all.

The bigger issue, of course – and one that the world fixated on wealth, possessions and inequality often does not see – is that this is a very deep spiritual issue.

One that ultimately affects not only our communities but each and every individual as he or she stands naked before God.  

Yes – this goes straight to the heart of our relationship with God…. 

Cue Proverbs: 

Keep falsehood and lies far from me;

    give me neither poverty nor riches,

    but give me only my daily bread.

Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you

    and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’

Or I may become poor and steal,

    and so dishonor the name of my God.” (Proverbs 30:8,9)

The Bible is not always easy to understand when it comes to the matter of rich and poor, the importance of possessions, or just what it would mean for us to pursue equality… as Paul admirably does on behalf of the Jerusalem church… Even Jesus, after all, talks about some having responsibility for more cities (mansions?) in heaven than others…

Looking at things more closely, the book of James, even if it is written to a particular congregation, really does seem intent to carve up the world into two primary categories, the rich and the poor… The book of Luke also gives the impression of this as well, further indicating this distinction is important…

And even though the Bible ultimately wants to talk about the importance of spiritual poverty – being “poor in spirit” which means being rich in God’s blessing – it also more often identifies these as being associated with the materially poor and not the materially rich.

In like fashion, it is very clear about how easily we can deceive ourselves, thinking that material blessings, temporal possessions, blessings in this world, inevitably come as a result of our own personal goodness, or perhaps simply all the good that we have done in the world with the help of God’s Holy Spirit!

The beginning of the book of Revelation, for example, contains this striking line for the church in Laodicia: 

“You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked….”

Let that sink in.

One commentator, Wilson, says: “There is only one thing worse than being wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked, and that is to be all five of those things and add to it the sixth misery of not [realizing it].”

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Speaking of Ecclesiastes’ “This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind…”, Martin Luther said this: 

“In short, the pious truly possess the whole world, because they enjoy it with happiness and tranquility. But the impious do not possess it even when they have it. This is the vanity which the impious possess…”  (comments at the end of chapter 2)[xii]

That is some wisdom. 

Luther is just echoing the Apostle Paul here: Christians… “even while having nothing, possess everything (cf. 2 Cor. 6:10)” (44)

“….sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything…”

Money, alternatively, hides God from a man… (What Luther Says, 975), Luther says…

The world will be stubborn, caught in life’s faith-destroying riches, cares, and pleasures. Feeding the lust of the flesh, the eyes, and the pride of life….

Never acknowledging the truth of God…

We are all so very poor…. And God wants us to know this…. 

To be poor in spirit….

This past week, not a few days ago, I was on the job and noticed someone had affixed a sticker to the back of a road sign we were driving past….

“You honor me with your lips, but your heart is far from me….” — Jesus

That was familiar, to be sure. But Jesus had said this to who? I couldn’t remember….

The Pharisees, after all, did not honor Him with their lips.

As such, the statement on the sticker seemed more relevant to those who did honor Him with their lips at least… Feeling particularly aware of my shortcomings at that moment, I certainly was feeling convicted!

But who else did he speak this to, actually, in the Scriptures? I was ashamed — convicted here also! — that I could not remember the context of this verse… the verse itself had, I guess has… been far from me….

Truly, how little I know God’s word! How little I know Him….

And then I remembered: I thought this was a quote from Isaiah, and that Jesus had indeed quoted it to the Pharisees to show them that just as their hearts were far from Him, so it was in Isaiah’s day with His Father, whose voice was in fact His also!

As I found out later on, I wasn’t exactly right — in Matthew 15, Jesus was in fact confronting the Pharisees about nullifying God’s commands in favor of their own traditions, interestingly, traditions that were to their financial advantage! — but the primary point is that when one is hid in Christ some of His word is hidden in our hearts as well and hence here God’s Holy Spirit had both convicted me and comforted me — by bringing His word to remembrance, within the span of about five minutes….

Speaking of which, our time on earth is short….

The man in our parable did not have anything like this full experience… 

His heart was set on worldly things. Rejecting God’s work, he did not attend to the matters of his soul, spiritual matters…. 

Other matters, he foolishly thought, were more urgent….

My brothers and sisters, do you hear? Can you see? The end draws near! The Lord approaches!

The time is now.

In James 4 we read: 

“Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil….”

Indeed. And to Whom can we go? 

Worry not, fear not, distrust not… For one’s life does not consist in the abundance of one’s possessions, but the One who possesses you, who is your very life!!!

For as we heard in Colossians 3:

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

Amen

 
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Posted by on July 31, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

Walk Worthy, Saints of Christ!

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“…that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way…”

–Colossians 1:10

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How does a person know they are living a life worthy of the Lord? 

Is this the same question as asking “How do I know that I am saved, that is, that I am at peace with God and will live with Him forever when I die?” 

Well, it could be the exact same question….

Which might appear to connect with the question that we hear from the lawyer in the Gospel reading, Gospel reading this morningright? “Teacher…what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus says the lawyer is right with his answer: love the Lord with all your heart, soul, strength and mind and love your neighbor as yourself…

The lawyer then asks, “Who is my neighbor?”

And here, frankly, he likely had part of our Old Testament reading in mind! In Leviticus 19:17 and 18, we read: 

“Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt.

“‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.

Jesus, however, doesn’t directly answer the man’s question about who his neighbor is. 

Instead, He tells this lawyer a parable that is perhaps more famous than any other Jesus shared!

You know it well, right?  

A man takes the dangerous path from Jerusalem to Jericho, and falls among robbers, who leave him naked and half-dead.  

A man of the upper classes, a priest, then sees his plight and yet passes him by… 

There has been much speculation regarding the reasons why the priest may have acted in this way, but it’s probably safe to say helping the man would have been terribly, terribly inconvenient for him to say the very least!

And then, in like fashion, a Levite passes the man by as well! Even if it would have almost certainly been less of an inconvenience for him, he nevertheless passes by too… 

Well, the man was half-dead and naked after all… And without being able to identify someone by accent or clothing, one would not have even been able to tell if this was a fellow Israelite who needed assistance!

Finally, as I am guessing the vast majority of us, growing up in the church, learned as children… that there actually is one who is sensible!

There is one who does the good thing, the right thing, the humane and even obvious thing that probably most all of us as children believed should have been done!: the Samaritan (the least likely person!) helps the man.  

Just like God in the Old Testament is said to bind up the wounds of His stricken people, this Samaritan cleans and softens the half-dead man’s wounds with oil, disinfects them with wine, and then binds them up! He puts the man on his own animal and brings him to an inn, where he continues to care for him at his own expense…

And then we hear Jesus speak: 

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.

Jesus tells him, “Go and do likewise.”

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So to the Jews who, generally speaking, hated the Samaritans – and to the Jews, many of whom did not believe that one should give to the ungodly or help sinners (see Sirach 12:1-7) – Jesus told this striking story of the Good Samaritan… 

Who is my neighbor? In one sense, the answer is indeed “Everyone!” 

Jesus has removed all limits as to who the neighbor could be, is….

And what about how Jesus transforms the Golden Rule here as well? 

While at this point in history Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism had all basically said, “Don’t do to others what you don’t want them to do to you….” 

Jesus, of course, says that the whole of the law and the prophets isdo unto others as you would have them do unto you…” 

So there you have it, right? 

If you want to be sure that you will inherit eternal life… 

If you want to be sure that you are at peace with God and will know His grace and kindness when you die…. 

If you want to know that you are living a life worthy of the Lord… then take this parable to heart!

“…be radical and proactive and energetic in doing good to others…” as one man puts it!

Don’t worry about who the neighbor is that you are required to take care of – be concerned about being a good neighbor, a merciful neighbor… and keep on doing that!

Don’t just thank God that you are at least enlightened here… you know, far more advanced than small-minded and racially-insensitive folks like that lawyer and the audience of the parable — but don’t be proud about this of course!

With an eye towards heaven, do good to your neighbor, do more good, and then do some more!

Perhaps you might want to consider giving something to anyone who looks like they might be in some kind of distress… 

I live in the Twin Cities area, and I confess that I, cynical to the core, have gotten quite used to ignoring beggars and panhandlers… maybe you could be different though! 

I mean, I know lots of reasons that that might actually be a really bad idea — after all, I really have rarely taken any action here and I have my reasons! — but some of the kids in the congregation today might be a bit confused about just why we shouldn’t double our efforts here… 

Or think of creative ways that really could be helpful to those who need us!

So, are you thinking you can’t pull this off? 

Then let me encourage you with the example of Mother Teresa…

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Do you know about Mother Teresa? 

Let me tell you a bit about this woman, and the man who introduced her to the world, Malcolm Muggeridge, by way of some quotes from a short article from a Roman Catholic source: 

“Mother Teresa of Calcutta is one of the best-known saints today. Even before she was canonized [by the Roman Catholic Church] in 2016, in life she was sometimes referred to as the “saint of the gutters,” because of her work among the poorest of the poor [ – the “untouchables”! – ] in the slums of Calcutta.

But relatively few people know the person who made Mother Teresa so well-known.

In 1971, British writer Malcolm Muggeridge published Something Beautiful for God, a book about Mother Teresa and the work of the Missionaries of Charity. Muggeridge had been an atheist earlier in life but eventually became Christian. He was so impressed by Mother Teresa’s witness that he became Catholic in 1982, at age 79.

…Muggeridge was educated at Cambridge and began his career as a teacher in Egypt in the late 1920s. Shifting into journalism, he worked for newspapers around the world. Marrying Katherine Dobbs in 1927, he had an idealistic view of communism, and when the couple moved to Moscow in 1932, they felt that they would live out the rest of their life there.

But Muggeridge became disillusioned with communism. He and Gareth Jones, the Welsh journalist, were the only two to report on Stalin’s forced famine in Ukraine in 1932. Muggeridge’s reports, however, were heavily censored by the Manchester Guardian, his employer.”

Now, skipping ahead in the piece, more on the woman he helped make famous….

“Something Beautiful for God was based on a film Muggeridge had made for the BBC about Mother Teresa’s work in India. He related how during filming, one scene was taken in a “dark, cavernous building where the Sisters bring the dying from the streets outside.” The scene was “expected to be unusable because of the poor light,” he wrote.

“Actually, to the astonishment of all concerned, it came out bathed in an exquisite luminosity,” Muggeridge said. “Some of Mother Teresa’s light had got into it.”

Toward the end of his life, Muggeridge reflected on meeting Mother Teresa. In his 1988 book Confessions of a Twentieth-Century Pilgrim, he wrote

When I first set eyes on her, … I at once realized that I was in the presence of someone of unique quality. This was not due to … her shrewdness and quick understanding, though these are very marked; nor even to her manifest piety and true humility and ready laughter. There is a phrase in one of the psalms that always, for me, evokes her presence: “the beauty of holiness” — that special beauty, amounting to a kind of pervasive luminosity generated by a life dedicated wholly to loving God and His creation. This, I imagine, is what the halos in medieval paintings of saints were intended to convey….”

One of the few things I agree with the recent Pope on is his contention that we live, in his words, in “the throwaway society”. 

As one put it, Mother Teresa certainly did pick up the throwaways and brought them within the folds of Christ’s love….

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I remember well the words one of my own spiritual mentors shared with me: 

When we learn how to die, we learn how to live. 

When I think of the sacrifices someone like Mother Teresa made – the little deaths she seemingly endured in this world – that phrase takes on increased weight for me. 

I remember one of her actions particularly well. In the 1990’s she was involved in some convention about the well-being of children in Washington D.C., also attended by President Bill Clinton. When the topic of abortion came up, Mother Teresa looked everyone earnestly in the eye, and said, “Give them all to me”.

She could have taken care of a bunch of them, given the support she had gained for her work of compassion…

When I think of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, it is difficult for me – in spite of the late famous atheist Christopher Hitchens’ attempts to destroy her reputation – to not think of Mother Teresa…

Since I mentioned Hitchens here, I’ll just say that I read his awful book on Mother Theresa, The Missionary Position and so perhaps I should say a bit more. 

To get a sense of Hitchens’ overall posture here, in a debate with Dinesh D’Souza where D’Souza suggested that Mother Theresa did what she did for others out of love for God, Hitchens was disgusted by this. 

As one commenter who enjoyed Hitchen’s arguments and antics put it: “My favorite part [of the debate] was Hitchens standing the[re] with his drink in his hand snorting dismissive[ly] into the microphone while D’Souza was talking about Mother Theresa’s “love of Christ” for the suffering.” 

Hitchen’s argument was similar to Satan’s in the book of Job, even if Satan, unlike Hitchens, would not technically be an atheist. 

Satan told God that Job only served Him because He blessed him on earth.

Hitchens said that Mother Theresa only did good because she believed God – who Hitchens did not believe in – would reward her in the life to come. 

No, contra such ultimately childish argumentation such as Hitchen’s, one might say that Mother Theresa walked worthy indeed! – perhaps, it seems, even getting close to fulfilling that which Christ commanded the young lawyer in our Gospel reading to do… 

Her life, in fact, is in part a salutary refutation of the Belgian humanist and euthanasia doctor Jan Berheim, who spoke of “a philosophy of taking control of one’s own existence and improving the objective conditions for happiness. There is an arrow of evolution”, he said, “that goes toward ever more reducing of suffering and maximizing of enjoyment….” 

For Jan, this is all about us avoiding suffering, inconveniences, and increasingly exercising control over our own life and death….

No, again, contra such ultimately childish argumentation, one is hard-pressed to look at the writings, pictures, and films of Mother Teresa interacting with the poor of India and to think that she didn’t know that doing good – particularly by helping others with their most basic of needs and even entering into suffering with them – was certainly in one sense its own reward… 

And I personally admire her for what she said about the unborn who she was told were unwanted — and hence were slated for elimination, abortion… —  in a major public forum.

This woman called Mother, with the multitudinous resources she had been given by those wanting to support her good work at her disposal, looked her challengers in the eye (which I  believe included the American President) and said to all “Give them all to me…”

So she radiated joy, compassion, and conviction….

On the other hand, we do also hear about her struggles….

In her diaries, this indeed saintly woman of Calcutta India cries out: 

“I want God with all the power of my soul — and yet between us there is terrible separation.”  

Elsewhere, Mother Teresa wrote: 

“I want to love him as he has not been loved, and yet there is that separation, that terrible emptiness, that feeling of absence of God.”

Or even: 

“I feel just that terrible pain of loss, of God not wanting me, of God not being God, of God not really existing.”

Evidently, this kind of thing is not unknown among certain heroes of the church.  

Another Catholic man named “St. John of the Cross described [this dark night of the soul that] many saints have experienced – [seemingly] a form of suffering exemplified by Christ himself, when he cried out on the cross…” 

As one writer puts it: “In the striking words of [G.K.] Chesterton, this was when God himself seemed for an instant to be an atheist: ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?’”

It certainly makes one wonder. 

About the book of Job and beyond….

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Why was Mother Teresa haunted by such thoughts? 

Why was someone who seemingly devoted the whole of her existence to the work of the Lord apparently so unsure of where she stood?

Even if many Lutherans would likely insist that this was because Mother Teresa was relying on her own works to be saved I do not know for sure – and indeed, knowing even the horrible suffering and angst our own Lord knew when He suffered on the cross for our own sins I would not venture to answer such a question rashly or definitively… – but I do know what a good Lutheran preacher would have said to her in her distress…

Riffing off of today’s Colossians reading, something like: 

“… [H]e has rescued you  from the dominion of darkness and brought you into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom you have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

This forgiveness is for you too. Christ forgives you all of your sins. Do not trust your feelings, but His word of peace to you…You are His… He will never abandon you. ” 

And these words would not just be for Mother Teresa…. 

Because she, for example – and not a lot of you other folks! – deserved it (while you do not)!

Of course not! None of us, not even Mother Teresa, deserve such a gift, even as He is eager to give it to us.

And to follow-up a bit more, maybe if we were given the chance to comfort Mother Teresa with the sweet suave of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we could have also talked about this question: 

How does a person know they are living a life worthy of the Lord? 

And, again, is this the same question as asking “How do I know that I am saved, that is, that I am at peace with God and will live with Him forever when I die?” 

The answer is that it could be the exact same question, but it doesn’t have to be. 

Because, of course, the Apostle Paul is in our Epistle reading encouraging we who are saved to walk worthy of the Lord… He is writing from the assumption that the Colossians already know forgiveness, life, and salvation in Jesus Christ! That they are secure in Him…

As an organization that two of my younger boys are involved with puts it the following way, explaining Colossians 1:10: 

“This struggle to walk worthy isn’t what saves us from God’s judgment – He’s already demonstrated His love toward us in providing a means of salvation through His grace – but we are called to live a life which demonstrates gratitude towards Him and shares His good news boldly with those who don’t have salvation (Ephesians 6:19; Mark 16:15; Rom 10:13-17).

So the ideals that we hold as our standard for “walking worthy” stem from learning all about God through His word. Walking worthy of those instructions comes from a proper sense of gratitude for His love, grace and mercy which has been demonstrated to us in the most precious of ways: the sacrifice of His only son on our behalf to save us from our sins…” (Trail life website)

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Back to the parable, which, on the face of it, might seem to suggest to us that our salvation is ultimately by our works, that it is our “walking worthy” that earns us eternal life and rescues us from God’s judgment!

Not at all! 

It does us well to remember that we are told that the lawyer both wanted to test Jesus and to justify himself

That is, of course, rather important. 

God does not want us to merit the Kingdom, after all, but to inherit it… because of His cross and resurrection…. by grace, through faith…  for good works. 

And so Jesus turns things around and tests this lawyer. 

We can’t miss two points about this Gospel reading. 

First of all, as Matt Perman puts it: 

“…the point of the [Bible] in teaching the Golden Rule was not simply, or even mainly, to point the way to right behavior [much less tell us how we could do good the right way or enough to be saved]. It was first of all to say: “Look, you don’t live this way. None of you. And that’s a big deal. Israel went into exile for this. So you need a savior. You need to be rescued from your sins, from your hypocrisy in treating others the way you precisely would not want to be treated if you were in their position.”

Second, we can’t miss the true point of the Good Samaritan parable – and I would like to think that even as there are many millions of Christians trapped in a Roman Catholic doctrinal system that would teach them otherwise – most any other Christian who has access to the Gospels would be able to see this too…

That is, Who, ultimately, is the Neighbor? 

Who is the Good Samaritan? 

Who is the One who comes to not snuff out the smoldering wickick and break the bruised reed? 

Who is the One who comes not to tie heavy burdens on our back but to remove them, and to invite us to work with Him in joy and not weariness or fear? 

Who is the one who right after this parable in the book of Luke extols not the one who is busy trying to serve Him, but the one who is sitting, resting, at His feet? 

Remember Mary and Martha? 

Yes, this grace is for you, for me, for all!

Whether we are Mother Theresa, Malcolm Muggeridge, Christopher Hitchens, Jan Berheim, or worse – we must see that our need, the need of us all save none, is for Jesus Christ, the Good Samaritan who binds up the wounds of those maimed and robbed by the devil, and who, as God’s True Lamb, takes away the sin of the world!

Be healed, breath easy, be blessed and rest!

And then, indeed….

Walk worthy in the salvation that is yours in Christ Jesus! 

Amen.

With footnotes: https://docs.google.com/document/d/15nCIf_S8cnxRuLF5TQzjPhLLK_XhRXu4-47hzoIkApk/edit?usp=sharing

 
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Posted by on July 10, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

Confessions of a Steven Paulson Fanboy

First of all, I know a lot of folks who know what I have written about Steven Paulson in the past probably just snorted out their coffee.

That said, it is all true. Read on if you doubt… 

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So, yesterday, I finally stopped re-tweeting this tweet every day: 

About time!

It is true that I have written many things criticizing Steven Paulson (do a search for Paulson on my blog). At the same time, it is also true, to say the least, that I am sympathetic with some of his emphases. 

For example, when 1517’s Caleb Keith tweeted this out a couple years ago: 

…we had a good exchange about it, publicly (check it out!) and privately. Even as I felt led to attack Steve Paulson two weeks later (info about this here), leading to Caleb blocking me, before that we had this private exchange about his tweet: 

Me: “Re: your tweet, that is the way I try to preach (I’m vicaring…now) — it comes out in my sermons more than my blogposts, because there I am always thinking more about the kind of thing you are saying in your tweet. If I get good material from commentaries to inspire me, I want it to be applied very personally right to each person, finally when it comes to announcing God’s forgiveness, absolution, peace.”

Caleb: “….I think this a rather important distinction in Lutheran preaching as Nestingen puts it you “hand over the goods” it’s not just about exhaling the text or pointing out there is law and Gospel but wielding them. It is in this way that we can say preaching delivers the promise of Christ like Baptism and Communion. Anyways glad to hear that the proclamation permeates your own thinking when it comes to delivering Christ and his promises to people. Though I know you have more reservations about Forde and Paulson than I do, this is at the heart of what they present.” 

Me: “Caleb — I have far more reservations about those men than you do, largely b/c of the concerns Montgomery expresses in the new [issue from] Lutheran Concerns [this]. Those views can’t not affect their views of law, which also will affect [their] view of gospel. As regards their powerful personal preaching, there are men who are vs. them who also do this very well as well (see Weedon, Petersen, others) That means, in my view, orthodox Lutheranism needs to up its game, with more sanctification, more existential and penetrating preaching, and the the richest gospel possible…. Pax.”

So this is one of the emphases of Steve Paulson that I agree with. I also believe, with him and Oswald Bayer, that Luther’s confrontation with Cardinal Cajetan was an absolutely critical moment in the Reformation. In addition to this, as I already mentioned, I have another bit to confess here: I have alluded to this before, but what is very hard about my opposition to Steve Paulson is that there is a bit of a love-hate thing going on here with me and his teaching. 

Now, I know Paulson’s teaching and style hold no appeal to many folks, even many highly intellectual folks. They find him confusing, even uninteresting, and ultimately not worth listening to. I, on the other hand, am drawn to it like a moth to the flames. Paulson is highly educated, knows his historical theology inside and out, is highly creative and sensitive to human nature, skewers contemporary philosophical outlooks (and ancient ones as needed), deftly alludes to and addresses our current cultural moment, and uses intense rhetoric which is clearly backed up with intense conviction and thought. In my mind, there is basically nothing not to like. 

I also think he sounds like a pretty decent human being – someone who realizes that actions speak louder than words, and that those who only speak of love sound like clanging gongs. 

And yet, at the same time, to my mind, all of this makes him all the more dangerous… not to the world, but to the word.

Why? Well, I’ve made my case quite fulsomely in the past, and even if I have had doubts about the vigor with which I made that case, I continue to believe that everything that I wrote is needed. 

If you are not familiar with what I have written, start here (probably the best thing I’ve written). 

All this said, I will confess that when Paulson is speaking about Christ and the forgiveness, life, and salvation that He brings, the man truly speaks to me. I can’t help wanting to be wrong about him. I can’t help wanting to be wrong about him about everything I have said. I have lost no number of online acquaintances and even friends because of my vigorous challenging of Paulson’s statements and the statements of others like him (like Gerhard Forde and other relatively “conservative” Lutheran scholars who fudge here and there on more classical views). Part of me wishes that I had no knowledge of the words he wrote in his 2011 book, Lutheran Theology, where he stated that Christ committed his own personal sin… (see here for more ; again, a follow-up, when doubt came…).

For if he had not written that book that said such things about Christ’s cry of dereliction, I would have had no concerns about the way he talks about things in the following talks:

 

And:

https://www.1517.org/podcasts/outlawgod/good-friday

Finally, after listening, re-listening, reflecting and praying, I don’t find anything objectionable in these talks, and must in the end say that they seem very edifying and encouraging and even helpful to me.

And yet, he also wrote the things he did in his 2011 book.

And he has never taken them back… nor tried to explain them in anything other than a superficial way (see his comments to Pastor Donofrio, prompted by my challenges, here). 

1517 doesn’t say anything definitive about this either. Not long ago, a man who follows me on Twitter gave me permission to share what 1517 told him. Here is what he said: 

“I submitted a question from [1517’s] contact form on their website…

1517’s response:

Note they can’t do a simple “we disagree with X-point”. I really am not a fan of a guy like Soren Kierkegaard, but one really appreciates his “Either/Or” here… a bit of clarity and simplicity please! Or Luther for that matter: he talks about asserting, and how Christians can’t not assert, but 1517 runs from that here, when I believe it’s needed the most.

We are left with the “he likes to challenge us” approach. And the “we didn’t publish this”…  

I have to ultimately agree with a fellow layperson, who put it this way: “For Paulson to claim that Jesus on the cross thought ‘I committed sin’ is not what Paul says in Corinthians. Jesus becoming sin is not the same as Jesus sinning. That isn’t difficult to differentiate.”

I guess he underestimates theological academics though. 

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Now, all of this said, I have nevertheless continued to think that Paulson is often untreated unfairly by some of his critics! 

For example, when David Scaer, in a recent CTQ book review article said that:

…I remembered hearing a couple prominent theologians saying that Paulson denied the atonement, and actually got upset!

Even if the atonement does not play the same exact role in Paulson’s theological approach as it might in some other Lutherans, why would that be bad? Someone like David Scaer, I thought, could appreciate this! After all, he appreciated Robert Preus recognizing the value of his own “from below” approach regarding Christology compared with his own “from above” approach! Why couldn’t other theologians put the best construction on Dr. Paulson’s theology here, simply saying that Paulson and Forde are not necessarily the same? Why could they not see that Paulson did not deny the atonement and that it actually played an important role in his theology – even if where it was located in his theology was different? Paulson, after all, is not wrong to want to highlight the critical nature of proclamation: how the spoken word is central to all of life, here and in the life to come! 

Yes, I knew that other prominent theologians I have heard have also said that Paulson, like Gerhard Forde before him, in the end actually denied the atonement. I, however, had read a lot of Paulson and listened to a lot of Paulson and had never detected this….

Then, however, a Paulson fan on Twitter put out a statement from his book The Outlaw God that I appeared to have missed, or at least not thought of sufficiently….

(https://twitter.com/PsBruceFlanagan/status/1526482798122455040)

To this I asked: 

“So did Jesus take our well-deserved punishment or not?

I think that offends even more… God does not disregard the law when He forgives sins. If He were disregarding the law, there would be nothing to forgive.”

The man replied “That’s why he discards it because all the sin is on Him and forgiven, no more accusation, sweet silence and freedom,” I said all of the following, in that last part finally remembering how I had ended probably my best article challenging Paulson: 

And so this tweet that I have been re-tweeting for the past year now takes on new significance for me… And I am thinking that I need to listen even more carefully, and that theologians like Dr. David Scaer can see better than I can what is really going on.

Finally, I need to confess that my continuing to listen to (and even enjoy listening to!) Dr. Paulson probably is not helping matters at all… So, after reading old commentators on Romans 16:17 this morning, I am realizing it is probably best if I avoid listening to or reading anything that Steven Paulson says.

I do think that heavier hitters need to tackle this though – that is, Paulson on the atonement… I am hoping that they will get in the fight, because I think its best if I now sit this one out.

FIN

*Interestingly, the first part of this tweet, regarding how people are not offended by the idea of God “expect[ing] us to fulfill the law with the help of grace” is something I happened to tweet about yesterday as well: 

 
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Posted by on July 4, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

Will You Plow Ahead by God’s Grace?

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Jesus replied, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.’

–Luke 9:62

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Lately, I have been working through a book written by a mid-nineteenth century Danish philosopher and Christian. 

The book is called Attack Upon Christendom by Soren Kierkegaard, and it, I believe, was his final work before he died at the young age of 42.

Maybe you have heard a bit about Mr. Kierkegaard. To be sure, he was quite the character. Engaged to his sweetheart earlier on in life, he cut off the relationship because he did not feel that by marrying he could be faithful to himself or his philosophy…

So the book. It is largely – so far at least as I’m still reading it – a collection of articles that he got published in a popular Danish political magazine, the Fatherland. 

In it, he attacks the state church in Denmark, claiming that this church knew nothing about the cross, agony, suffering, crucifying the flesh, suffering for doctrine, or the poverty that Christ required… 

There was no striving to really be Christian, Kierkegaard said! “Official Christianity” was not Christianity at all, he accused, but rather its opposite! 

The passion of God’s Kingdom, Kiekegaard insisted, is to NOT be of this world. 

The Danish church, with its “royal commission” showed the exact opposite. 

The clergy were unwilling to be salt in the world and to be sacrificed like their Lord. In fact, all 1,000 Christian officials were actually against Christianity!

Why? Because they were those who had presided over the death of the Christian church as everyone simply just assumed that they were Christian. These clergy were spiritually asleep even as they fully enjoyed the salaries and privileges associated with being state officials…

…content to “make a living” by in effect wearing the skin of what I can only assume Kierkegaard believed to have been the formerly faithful… or relatively faithful church…

Mockingly, he said that if one could convert Kings to Christianity, monetary advantage (“pecuniary advantage”), material power, and delicate refinement – silk, velvet, long robes – could be theirs!

So these men, he claimed, were hardly “witnesses to the truth,” but rather were a part of an institution that had basically had its heart and soul carved out of it…

Kierkegaard’s relentless accusations leave us with the impression that there were very few true Christians in Denmark…

He, of course… in spite of all of his own doubts… considered himself to be one of these… a “Knight of Faith”! 

Which, of course, made it all the more shocking and scandalous when he went so far to say that true Christians should no longer attend the worship services of this state church…

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Whatever you finally think of ideas from a man like Soren Kierkegaard he certainly gives us a lot to think about! 

I could not help but think, in fact, about some of his hard words when I read the last part of our Gospel reading for this morning, particularly as Jesus responds to two men who say they want to follow Him, and after He asks another to do the same….

I read a comment on the words “Lord, I will follow you” in a non-Lutheran book, The [Eastern] Orthodox Study Bible. 

It said, matter of factly, this: 

“There is a cost to discipleship. Jesus talks of three such costs:

  1. Provision for personal security does not mix with true discipleship. The disciple will be no more secure than the Teacher. If the Teacher has nowhere to lay His head (v. 58), neither will the disciple. 
  2. Discipleship demands singular commitment to the Kingdom of God. A disciple must be willing to let the spiritually dead bury the physically dead (v. 60).
  3. Discipleship does not look back to reconsider, or operate by delayed response. It means taking hold of the commission given by Christ and moving forward” (OSB, 163).”

Wow. 

Given Jesus’ responses, this sounds right, doesn’t it?

Where are we with all of this? Where are we with all of this? 

Well, before we get to that, let me say some things Soren Kierkegaard might not like, exploring a bit more each one of these points… trying to put all of Jesus’s jolting words into a wider frame and context…

First of all, we have to admit that in our text for today… because of our incomplete knowledge… there are likely some wider cultural nuances that we do not fully understand here. 

So for instance, while I am convinced that some of what Soren Kierkegaard said was unhelpful and even very wrong I need to admit that I know little about just what the Danish church of his day was really like (I mean, I can’t help but think it probably did have really good biblical words in its liturgy and hymns)…. 

And so, just like we probably don’t have a real handle on what things were like in Kierkegaard’s day, we don’t know as much as we could or even should about Jesus’s day as well. 

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Let’s look at point number 1 from this study Bible: “Provision for personal security does not mix with true discipleship… If the Teacher has nowhere to lay His head (v. 58), neither will the disciple.” 

This study Bible note could be taken to mean that a person should have absolutely no concern for personal security. 

Well, people like the commentator Ken Bailey, who has taught the Bible in the contemporary Middle East where he also lived for many years, talks about how in this text, “foxes” may refer to Herod’s family and “birds” to the Gentiles, particularly the Romans, whose symbol was the eagle. 

In this interpretation, Jesus is asking the first would-be follower if he really wants to join the ranks of those who are without worldly power (Wendt, Parables of Jesus). 

Whether this is the case or not, I think what the study Bible means to say, more specifically, is that concern for personal security should not be at the top of the disciple’s list – but rather “restless devotion” to the Kingdom of God (Fraanzman, CSSC. 23). 

In other words, personal security is not their primary concern nor a priority, even if it must be addressed.

Here, we might think about the Apostle Paul’s statement that “we brought nothing into the world, so we cannot carry anything out of it.” He goes on to talk not only about how if he and other preachers of the Gospel have food and covering they will be content with that (I Tim. 6:8), but also, in the book of Philippians, he goes so far to say: 

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

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Regarding the point about the dead burying their own dead meaning letting the spiritually dead bury the physically dead…this one is certainly a zinger!

Again, Ken Bailey offers his cultural commentary based on his knowledge of today’s Middle East. He says the man here Jesus asks to follow Him was most likely wanting to abide by Middle Eastern standards of filial piety – meaning that he was going to wait to follow Jesus until after his father died… 

An argument here is that if his father was dying or already dead after all, wouldn’t he be at home right now, taking care of family affairs? So, in other words, he was not dead yet, and the delay might be many, many years…

Once again, in any case the main point Jesus seems to be making is that those burying the dead need to understand that the Kingdom of God is even more important than honoring those who have fallen in the fallen world. 

With the coming of Christ, something new and better, something absolutely death-destroying is coming and all of us should want to be a part of this! 

Should we ultimately be concerned to bury the dead or, rather, raise the dead? (Jon McNeill, Hard Sayings of the Bible, 464). 

Or as the Lutheran theologian Martin Fraanzman put it “with Him is life, the only life in a world of the dead…” 

Finally, the point about delayed response not being an option is certainly true, even if we might wince or worse at Jesus’ insistence that a man saying he wants to follow him not say goodbye to his loved ones….

So what about this man? Bailey, again, says that it is possible that he might mean that he needs to first get permission from his family, particularly his father… 

Evidently, even today in the Middle East, an engineer of 40 years of age will travel from his large city to his village birthplace to get his father’s permission – basically as a formality but still as a sign of respect – before undertaking foreign travel, or before some other job change or business venture…. (Wendt, Parables of Jesus

Whatever the case may be, it is of course likely that in going back to say good-bye to one’s family one might find one’s self tempted to not follow Jesus after all…

And as the Lutheran Study Bible puts it, dealing with the plow imagery…

“It took one’s full attention to hold and press down on a plow with one hand as it cut though the earth. The plowman’s other hand held a goad for the animal pulling the plow”. 

So here, I suppose, the hope would be that every family member would see and understand that not only some of us but all of us must take Jesus’ mission seriously, realizing that nothing is more important than the Kingdom of God and His Gospel. 

That is, the good news of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension

…the only thing that brings everlasting hope to the world!

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Now, I think that kind of information is helpful….

Even as I imagine that someone like Soren Kierkegaard might say that, perhaps a bit like the 19th century Danish church, it seems to domesticate Jesus a bit…  

En route to creating a complacent church…

Well, and if he would be inclined to say this, I think I’d have to disagree overall… and double down. 

Saying a bit more about necessary context in light of the whole of the Scriptures…  

For example, even if Jesus does command His disciples to “count the cost” of downplaying personal security – and to embrace practices that downplay our worldly attachments – we must nevertheless be wise… 

The book of Proverbs, after all, has much to say about issues surrounding property and money. It even tells us that a good man leaves an inheritance not only for his children, but his children’s children – as Soren Kierkegaard’s father did for him and perhaps beyond!

And the Apostle Paul also does not contradict Jesus when he speaks about how ministers are worthy of their wages, how believers who do not take care of their own family are worse than pagans or, also, when he says to the Thessalonian congregation to be – gasp! – “respectable”…: 

“…we urge you, brothers and sisters, to [love one another] more and more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody….”

And the Apostle Paul also does not denigrate the Apostle Peter – who was married, appeared to have had a thriving fishing business, and owned his own home in Capernaum (see Matthew 8:14-16) – when he says in I Corinthians 7 that he wishes all men were like him… that is, 

not tied down to the affairs of this world[!]…

not needing to have their attention divided between family on the one hand and the Kingdom of God on the other[!]…

And let’s also keep in mind that even if, somehow, someway, Jesus Christ did not have anywhere to lay his head we learn from the book of Luke that His ministry was in part supported by wealthy women (see Luke 8:1-3) and also that His disciple John at least had a home that he could take Jesus’ mother into following his Lord’s death on the cross (also see Acts 12, where we see the early disciples retained property).

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So… have I domesticated Jesus here? 

Set up a situation where radical challenge can’t be heard and complacency must reign?

Should I be warned that I have tried to remove all the offense of the passages like from our Gospel reading? 

If so, I really think I’d appreciate the warning… the concern… but then would also offer my own warning that we can’t be like Martin Luther’s proverbial drunk man who falls off of one side of a horse only to get back on and fall off the other….

A man like Kierkegaard wanted to be a devout Lutheran, Christian, and he strove to lead a higher and better life – but I sometimes get the impression he forgot some fundamentals as well… 

I can’t help but wonder what he might have thought of the 16th c. reformer Martin Luther’s words in His Large Catechism regarding the:

“…cursed presumption of those desperate saints who dare to invent a higher and better life and estate than the Ten Commandments teach, pretending (as we have said) that this is an ordinary life for the common man, but that theirs is for saints and perfect ones. And the miserable blind people do not see that no man can get so far as to keep one of the Ten Commandments as it should be kept, but both the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer must come to our aid (as we shall hear), by which that [power and strength to keep the commandments] is sought and prayed for and received continually.”

Again, Jesus’ words in our Gospel reading are arresting. 

It is true that we must not attempt to shave off the edges of Jesus’ words…

At the same time we must also not overstate what He, in fact, finally wants us to conclude, to learn….

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So, with all of this said, do these not remain, do they not continue to be… very difficult passages?!

They do – and we might even feel offended…

Still, again, all of us must take Jesus’ mission seriously, realizing that nothing is more important than the Kingdom of God and His Gospel. 

For did He not come, after all, to reverse the curse? 

To bring the new heavens and earth? 

To destroy the devil’s work on the cross? 

Is this not why He sets His face like flint towards Jerusalem in our reading? 

And does He not now – by His Holy Spirit – involve all of us in His work?

What battle does not need fully committed soldiers?

And the call that Christ makes is certainly of even greater importance than Elijah’s calling of Elisha we heard about in the Old Testament reading this morning! 

Do we not see how the heightened need is emphasized in Jesus’ arresting words today?! 

And especially now – in these last days when God has poured out His Spirit on His church after Christ’s death and resurrection – the times are becoming increasingly perilous for we who believe! 

The Apostle Paul’s words in I Corinthians 7 about our living in the last days have always been timely and relevant – even if we haven’t perceived this – but it is now, for those with eyes to see, becoming increasingly obvious. 

I mentioned this earlier… Again, in this chapter, he talks about faithful servants who are not encumbered… weighed down… by the “affairs of this world” and who can give “undivided devotion to the Lord…” to His work. 

For this reason, he urges those who can do so – who are not consumed by a passionate “burning” or desire – to abstain from marriage to give time to this battle. 

Even if those with the gift of celibacy end up being relatively few, one can fully understand this need Paul speaks to!

Jesus does, in fact, call all to follow Him and to carry their cross. 

To not be those who give in to complacency! 

To not be those who would attempt to domesticate the Lion of Judah!

To realize that if the world hated the Teacher, and caused Him to suffer, it will do the same to His disciples! 

The thing is, He knew where each one of these people He responded to were at personally…  

He knew what they were thinking… 

What claimed their hearts and attention…  

He knows where each of us is at as well!… 

And He does not call each and every one of us the same way…

God’s word in each instant to Nicodemus, to the rich young ruler, to the Pharisees He ate with (Luke 14), to each of the disciples, and to the Philippian jailer through the Apostle Paul all take different forms. 

And so the way He gets us to where He wants us to be…

…the way He helps us to see what He wants us to see

 …and to help us strive for what He wants us to strive… 

…will vary.

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Again, these are, these remain, very difficult passages…

We, with Kierkegaard, know that the church has often become corrupted by worldliness… 

And I trust we see the problems in our own individual hearts as well!

How does this happen? 

How do we not only not grow, but diminish?

I think “What kind of disciple am I? What kind of disciple could I be, is He calling me to be?” are the questions Jesus means us to be asking in our text today…. 

How would the Lord get us to not only understand why He says what He does but also live as He desires? 

Two things come to mind:

First, before anything else, God chooses us by grace, through faith – inviting us to His wedding feast! He desires we believe His words of sheer grace to us like a simple child would….

Second, He means for us to grow in faith and mature, to increasingly become the kinds of persons for whom hard words like His do not frighten us or make us sad, but rather energize us and fill us with exhilaration, making our daily vocations not a hum-drum thing that we must get through… but helping us to imagine the possibilities about just how we, in our various stations, might help His Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven….

So, I think, finally, in the end, this is rather simple. 

It involves us meeting Jesus, His looking us in the eye, His speaking both hard and faith-creating words to us, and we saying “Amen”….

What do I mean? 

Well, again, let’s go back to Luther, as he explains the Christian catechism. By “catechism” I mean not so much what he wrote, but what things like the 10 commandments and Creed say – and what these clear words reveal and give us…

Luther begins by extolling the 10 commandments, pointing out how they, when taken seriously, will convince us of our need for God and His grace. 

The 10 commandments show us our disease! Deep down we are idolaters, blasphemers, rebels, thieves, adulterers, murderers, liars, and coveters!

We are not spared pain here! These commandments show us what we really look like in the mirror! 

Indeed, they always, to one extent or another, reveal our need for Jesus, who we then hear about in the Creed… (SOS! – shows our sins – so God can show us our Savior… SOS, again!)

Luther explains this in his Large Catechism

“Thus far we have heard the first part of Christian doctrine, [the Ten Commandments,] in which we have seen all that God wishes us to do or to leave undone. Now, there properly follows the Creed, which sets forth to us everything that we must expect and receive from God, and, to state it quite briefly, teaches us to know Him fully. And this is intended to help us do that which according to the Ten Commandments we ought to do. For… they are set so high that all human ability is far too feeble and weak to [attain to or] keep them. Therefore it is as necessary to learn [the Creed] as the [Ten Commandments] in order that we may know how to attain thereto, whence and whereby to obtain such power. For if we could by our own powers keep the Ten Commandments as they are to be kept, we would need nothing further, neither the Creed nor the Lord’s Prayer.”

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In the end, I think that a man like Soren Kierkegaard was very right and also that he was very wrong…

In advising Christians to stay away from the only church they knew, he was making a terrible mistake! – ultimately advising people to stay away from God’s gifts!

The Old Testament prophets certainly showed us that God’s servants in His institutions could become corrupt, but at the same time, it was in the worship services – the divine service – where God provided the sacrifices for His people…

And for us, it is where the fruits of the Lamb of God’s sacrifice for us are given – even if by imperfect or even corrupt ministers!

Even when things go very wrong with the church’s clergy, we still have God’s promises that He serves us in His Word and the gifts like confession and absolution, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper that He instituted for our encouragement and comfort. 

How does God’s Kingdom come among us? 

As Luther said, in his explanation of the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer in the Small Catechism

“Thy Kingdom Come.” 

“What does this mean? The kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may come to us also.

How does God’s kingdom come? God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.”

And this kingdom always comes anew in the gracious words of God we hear in this place, in the readings, in the prayers, in the hymns, in the sermon, in the benediction, in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper!

The Bible says that an earthly inheritance is important, but this is the ultimate, the eternal, inheritance! 

God forbid you neglect these things! 

Don’t let your children and grandchildren neglect these things!

There is a true spiritual war going on! A war that would utterly corrupt your soul and pull you away from the only Life in a Sea of Death. 

But corruption within the church itself will also never negate the real gifts God gives to His people!

And so, may the Holy Spirit give us all those gifts deep in our souls!

May these things be true of us, and for us and to us – each and every one of us! – more and more and more so, until our Lord returns.

Amen

With footnotes: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1BwWWUue1ISS2slDmnDtQFqg0fdgDfnmpTqOwBiq12fk/edit?usp=sharing

 
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Posted by on June 26, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

Meeting the Eternal Wisdom of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in Human Flesh

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“I honor my Father and you dishonor me. I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge…”

–John 8:49b-50

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What do you know about the Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses? Have you ever had one come to your door?

In the past, when I felt like I had a couple hours to burn, I’ve invited them into my house or gone outside to talk with them.  

Because, you see, someone needs to tell them the truth about who Jesus is!

Many people often believe that these folks pretty much believe what we Christians do. They do, after all, tend to be people who are quite devoted to “conservative principles”, to living well, to virtue! 

And yet, both of these groups, for example, do not believe that Jesus is God, but “a god”! A “demigod” of sorts….

And the Mormons also ultimately teach that he is a god like you can become a god too… 

When they talk about Jesus you might think they are talking about your Jesus but what they cannot abide – what they will not abide – is the fact that there is a distinction between the Creator of all things and His creatures and that the Son of God is in the former category, not the latter. 

He is not a creature, but He is the Creator. Like the Father is the Most High God, the Son is the Most High God as well, God the Son.

And all of this kind of thing is at the heart of our Old Testament reading this morning from the book of Proverbs! 

Starting in the 4th century, 1700 years ago, this reading from the book of Proverbs has been controversial over the years, but it shouldn’t have been. 

For it is about the Wisdom that existed with God from before the creation of the world, and that brings order out of chaos, and this should sound familiar to us (think, for example, of Genesis 1 and Jonn 1…) 

Even though chapter 8 of Proverbs uses the literary technique of personification – making wisdom into Lady Wisdom and contrasting her with Woman Folly, the seductive woman spoken of in Proverbs 7 – this creative way of presenting wisdom ultimately gives way to actual  fulfillment in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

In sum, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we are being encouraged by Solomon in Proverbs to flee the path that leads to death and to instead marry wisdom… to have a relationship with wisdom…. 

And now, in light of the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh in history, we know that the ultimate way this happens is by knowing the Holy One, the Son of God, who is also referred to as the Logos of God, or Word of God, or Reason of God – and the Wisdom of God as well (I Cor. 1, see also Colossians 2)!  

We should not lose sleep over this passage from Proverbs, wondering why the wisdom of God, ultimately revealed as Jesus Christ, is personified here as a woman. It is a literary allusion that probably also has to do with the fact that the Hebrew word for wisdom is a feminine noun…

What we should be concerned about are readings of the book of Proverbs that miss the fact that wisdom is ultimately about heeding the voice of God, believing in His Word, and trusting Him for forgiveness, life, and salvation. 

If you go to the website of the Mormons, “the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day saints”, you will read this about wisdom in Proverbs: 

“Like all Hebrew intellectual virtues, wisdom … is intensely practical, not theoretical. Basically, wisdom is the art of being successful, of forming the correct plan to gain the desired results. Its seat is the heart, the centre of moral and intellectual decision [see 1 Kings 3:9, 12].” (J. D. Douglas, ed., The New Bible Dictionary, s.v. “wisdom.”)

This is called missing the heart of the issue.  

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. And God, really, is to be believed for His own sake. His words about who He is believed for His own sake. His commands followed and promises trusted for His own sake. This is how we honor Him…

And, shockingly, passages like Luke 11 actually tell us that it was the wisdom of God that knew full well the Old Testament prophets would not to prosper in this life, but suffer instead!…

So, these Mormons, God bless them, need to hear a hard word. 

Like the Athanasian Creed, which many good Lutheran churches are confessing this Trinity Sunday, says: 

Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith [catholic here should be understood as “universal”]. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled; without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence. For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one; the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal…”

Yes, folks like the Mormons might strike us as pretty moral people… 

But in their words and deeds their highest “prophets” do not give evidence that they are in the truth, and, as the Athanasian creed goes on to say, they “shall give an account for their own works…” 

+++

What are some things that people like the Mormons need to begin to learn, and that we need to always learn better?

I think there are three key truths that we should focus on today, on this Trinity Sunday…: 

First of all, Jesus Christ is God in the flesh, 100% God and 100% man. 

Second, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit perfectly reveal to us what it means to faithfully follow God’s commands, even if it appears to the world that this ends in utter failure. 

Finally, all of this should drive us to reflect on the ultimate nature of the Triune God as love. 

As regards the first truth, Jesus Christ is God in human flesh, we see this today in our Gospel reading. One of the most important statements in the whole of the New Testament I believe is found at the end of the reading: 

“‘Very truly I tell you,’ Jesus answered, ‘before Abraham was born, I am!’ At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.”

The Jews in our reading picked up stones to throw at and kill Jesus because they knew exactly what He was saying here: He was saying that He is God!

How? Because God revealed to Abraham that His name was “Yahweh”, that is “I am”. “I am who I am,” he said (Exodus 3:14). When Jesus says “I am” of Himself, He is clearly meaning to share that He in fact did not come after Abraham and that He not only was before Abraham, but that He was and is Abraham’s God. 

Second, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit perfectly reveal to us what it means to faithfully follow God’s commands, even if it appears to the world that this ends in failure.

When the so-called “Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day saints” speaks of the divine wisdom contained in God’s commands, they focus on the aspect of success in this life. 

Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit however, reveal to us that what the world considers success and what God considers success are two very different things. 

For the Christian, we succeed not when we obtain material blessings and rewards – which yes, will generally happen as well when God’s commandments are respected – but when we grow in faithfulness to God, increasingly trusting our Lord’s promises and then going on to fulfil God’s commandments. 

These are summed up in loving God with our whole heart, soul, strength and mind and loving our neighbor as ourselves (see Romans 8:4).

We can do this because Jesus Christ fulfilled the law on our behalf, doing what sinners cannot do. And so we are free to follow Him not to be saved, by climbing a ladder to heaven or something like this… but because in Him we are saved and know true love…. 

Christ teaches us the commandments by His words and He shows us more deeply what He means by His deeds. He “embodies” things perfectly for us. 

In like fashion, the Holy Spirit reminds us of what we already know in embryonic form as followers of Jesus Christ – reminding us of what Jesus teaches us about who God is and what God commands and promises by His words and example. 

And I was reminded of all of this by my own pastor last week. In His sermon He used a couple illustrations about the Holy Spirit that will stick with me…

[story about how as a boy my pastor learned a little bit by watching his friend be coached in tennis, but his friend actually had a personal coach… the Holy Spirit is like our personal trainer]

And…

[story about how my pastor had a piano teacher who was really good at piano and knew her stuff, but he could not focus when, out of the corner of his eye, he saw her writing down things whenever he made a mistake… the Holy Spirit is not like this either, but intelligently and patiently guides us…]

+++

So Jesus and the Holy Spirit teach us to realize and see what it means to love.

And this then brings us to our third point that folks like the Mormons need to begin to realize and that we need to more deeply realize: 

All of this should drive us to reflect on the ultimate nature of the Triune God as love. 

Take some of the other things that Jesus says about Himself in our Gospel reading for today…

To the Jews in our Gospel text Jesus says 

“I honor my Father and you dishonor me. I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge…” 

Shortly after this Jesus says 

“If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me….”

In his Large Catechism, explaining the command to honor one’s father and mother, Martin Luther said this: 

“…it is a far higher thing to honor than to love one, inasmuch as it comprehends not only love, but also modesty, humility, and deference as to a majesty there hidden, and requires not only that they be addressed kindly and with reverence, but, most of all, that both in heart and with the body we so act as to show that we esteem them very highly, and that, next to God, we regard them as the very highest. For one whom we are to honor from the heart we must truly regard as high and great…”

Even if it is not the same as it is with us, can anyone doubt that Jesus Christ honors His Father in heaven?

And while the Son of God does this according to His human nature, we also know that the Son of God is eternally begotten of the Father – and He is eternally the Son who honors the Father! 

And before the foundation of the world – before Adam and Eve had sinned and thrown the world into chaos and disintegration and death and even before time began – the Father determined that the Son of God would be sent into the world to save the world. 

And this the Son, who is the very Word of the Father, gladly embraced! 

As the Father sent the Son, the Son gladly sent Himself as well, honoring the Father who begat Him, the Father who, mysteriously and wondrously, was the Source… the Origin… the Beginning… of all that is, in heaven and on earth, both created and uncreated…!

+++

Here, some of us might start wondering though: even if all three persons are God is there nevertheless a kind of “hierarchy” in the Trinity?

In truth, I do not know. I know that man needs hierarchy and that we see all kinds of indications that there is hierarchy in heaven. 

In seeming contrast to any thoughts about “hierarchy” though, we could also mention that Jesus teaches us that the disciples were all brothers, that the church’s rulers would not be like those of the world who lorded it over their subjects, and that “the first shall be last, and the last shall be first”….

I simply do not know if there is something we could call “hierarchy” in the Trinity… I believe in large part this is mysterious and difficult to understand…

What I do know is that there is neither any coercion or unwillingness in the Trinity, for Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are equally God, one in will, action, power, and glory!

As a friend put it to me “[t]he reality of [man’s] sin makes us much more familiar with compliance than obedience, [which is from the heart and not just a matter of external conformity,] but that’s not exactly an issue in the Godhead.”

So what can we say with certainty about this question – regarding hierarchy…?

We can say that as the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, exists in itself it is love, and that matters of honor always go hand in hand with love.

And we can also say that we creatures, even we who are Christians, are not this insofar as we are sinful men and women, and need His help…

+++

It is important that we human creatures confess what the Athanasian Creed says: “the deity[, or Godhood,] of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one, equal in glory, coeternal in majesty…”

Also that “in this Trinity none is before, or after another; none is greater, or less than another. But the whole three Persons are coeternal, and coequal….” 

And yet – again… we must nevertheless remember that there is an order in the Trinity, an “order of flow” in the Trinity perhaps with the Father listed as first, then the Son, and then the Spirit – and yet these three Persons do not have any sin problems like we who abuse authority, for instance, and are in no need of confessing those bits from the Athanasian Creed or exhorting One Another to do the same!

You see, it is we who are the problem here. 

So great is our wickedness, for example, that we need to be told not only that it is enough for earthly servants to become like their masters (Matt 10:25), but even admonished to not seek our own glory (John 8:50, 54) and to rather consider others better than ourselves (Philippians 2:3)! 

The Triune God, on the other hand, being love, simply is this way

For the Father, this can be seen as He delights in His Son.

For the Son, this can be seen as He embraces the fullness of love and harmony which originates from the Father.

And the Spirit can be seen to exult in and proclaim this blessed eternal relationality that always bears good fruit…

+++

This is the great Triune God… 

So what, ultimately, is wisdom?

Fearing and knowing God! Life is about knowing Wisdom, knowing God in the whole truth and nothing but the truth!

Ultimately, nothing can be more practical than that!

Again, let Jeremiah 9:23-24 fire up your imagination and strengthen your resolve!

“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom

    or the strong boast of their strength

    or the rich boast of their riches,

but let the one who boasts boast about this:

    that they have the understanding to know me,

that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,

    justice and righteousness on earth,

    for in these I delight,’

declares the Lord.”

So… how do we do that? How to reach this goal of knowing well the great Triune God?

First and foremost, by knowing the Lord Jesus Christ, the One who shows us the face of God in our own human flesh!

And by getting to know Him even better than we now do! 

For remember, He is the not the One who – as the NIV translation Proverbs suggested today – was “made” or “formed”… but rather was established, appointed, ordained…. (a better translation…)

For as the book of John tells us, in the beginning, the Word was with God and the Word was God!    

This man Jesus Christ is the God-Man. Fully God, He is not so much a creature but your Creator who, at a particular point in time, took on a human, or created nature! 

And what a good God He is!

In Proverbs 8, we heard the Holy Spirit sing that “Wisdom was constantly at his [Father’s] side… and… was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in [the Father’s] presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.”

Again, this is our God! Sit at His feet brothers and sisters! The Lord Jesus, in particular, invites you!

Then what about the Father and the Holy Spirit? 

Won’t they get jealous if we fixate on Jesus? 

Not at all, for, ever eager to honor the other, they are God and not man!

Lutherans in particular are often accused of not speaking enough about the Holy Spirit, but consider what happened on Pentecost!

Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, preached about Jesus…. 

The Holy Spirit is always pointing and leading people to Jesus!

This is why, in our Acts reading, Peter preaches like this:

“…let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”

+++

Saints who are baptized, set apart for God and His work –  set your hearts and minds on the things above; by that I mean our great and glorious Triune God, the lover of mankind!

The Son of God is truly God, for He says to us “I am”, just as God did in the Old Testament! 

And it is God the Son – this second person of the Trinity – who God the Father decided before the world began would become man, taking on our flesh… not only becoming one of us, but becoming the lowest among us…

As the book of Philippians tells us, He did not consider the equality He had with His Father something to be grasped, but took on the form of a servant or slave – dying a criminal’s death on the cross because of the evils we had done…  

The wages of our sin was our death, but our sin became His death…

And yet, death could not hold Him, and the man Jesus Christ, that is, the Son of God according to His human nature, was made Lord and Messiah over this fallen world!

And because of this divine plan executed in history – because, as we heard Peter say in our Acts reading, “[t]his man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge – we have salvation… eternal life in Him!

Foolishness? 

Well, yes. 

Remember our Psalm for today?: 

“Through the praise of children and infants

    you have established a stronghold against your enemies,

    to silence the foe and the avenger…”

Again – this crucified Christ, this man Jesus Christ, has been raised from the dead! 

Vindicated by the Father as the King of this world, before the eyes of the world – the God-Man indeed! – this means that you and I and all people have hope! 

I can’t sum up things up better than Martin Luther, speaking about the Triune God’s actions in light of our fallen, our sinful condition… He shares this encouraging message to all of us in his great hymn “Dear Christians, One and All Rejoice”: 

He spoke to his belovèd Son:

“It’s time to have compassion.

Then go, bright jewel of my crown,

and bring to all salvation.

From sin and sorrow set them free;

slay bitter death for them that they

may live with you forever.”

The Son obeyed his Father’s will,

was born of virgin mother,

and, God’s good pleasure to fulfill,

he came to be my brother.

No garb of pomp or pow’r he wore;

a servant’s form like mine he bore

to lead the devil captive.

Amen. 

With footnotes: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1T8XF96SI313ySVU0zOJJeq-RWP6dHmoVOCbr4wcvAVA/edit?usp=sharing

 
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Posted by on June 12, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

Considering Matthew Barrett’s Simply Trinity: Is All Subordination Out of the Question? (parts I-III in one post)

Part I

What does this mean?

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To cut to the chase, “No, I don’t think so.”

Some do though. I asked an online friend about why he thought this issue was so important and he said this: 

“The real concern is the person of Christ – namely who he is, and how He saves us, namely the reason we believe Christ to be equal to the father is because He is our savior. Who else can save us but God? But that is not the only thing we are told Christ does, we are also told we are united under Christ in a single body, and he presents us to the Father. Essentially, we achieve unity and reconciliation with God the Father through our savior, Jesus Christ… We can have no savior other than God, and no one can unite us to God but God…. It’s so important that Christ is equal to the father and not subordinated within the Trinity. Essentially, if there is subordination, we cannot be truly saved.” 

Or consider what the well-known theological blogger Bradly Mason has to say about all of this in this post. Three hard-hitting and thought-provoking quotes:

“Is it not that the GOD, Jehovah Himself, became man and thus in His full Godhead and full humanity, has reconciled fallen and corrupt man to the true, perfect, and eternal God; that full and complete God with all majesty and authority has met together with true humanity in the Person of Jesus Christ? Is not the Gospel itself sapped of its inaccessible majesty and glory if the death and resurrection of our Lord was really the death and resurrection of humanity united with an eternally subordinate God, an eternally submissive God, a lower ranking person within the Godhead; in short, a sort of Jehovah Jr.?”

And: 

“[W]ho is this God we meet with in Jesus Christ? The eternally subordinate and submissive One? Blasphemous! No, He is the true God indeed, that the saints of old had always known and worshipped, though the full revelation awaited His coming in the flesh. That is, in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ it is Jehovah Himself that is united in perfect personal union with the Human Nature of His fleshy creatures. This is the grandeur of the Gospel message.”

And:

“[O]ne equal with God, one with God, and Himself the true God, voluntarily condescended, taking on the form of a servant through corruptible flesh, and became obedient, though it was not and is not His natural estate. The Gospel message is not and cannot be that an eternally subordinate and submissive being became subordinate and submissive… We must, to uphold the truth and majesty of the Gospel itself, confess with clarity that the mission of Christ was to become submissive—a role contrary to and not a simple corollary of His eternal Nature. In a word, submission was the mission, not the cause of the mission.”

This all sounds pretty important, huh? Now, though, enter Martin Luther, and his great hymn “Dear Christians, One and All Rejoice”: 

“He spoke to his belovèd Son:

“It’s time to have compassion.

Then go, bright jewel of my crown,

and bring to all salvation.

From sin and sorrow set them free;

slay bitter death for them that they

may live with you forever.”

The Son obeyed his Father’s will,

was born of virgin mother,

and, God’s good pleasure to fulfill,

he came to be my brother.

No garb of pomp or pow’r he wore;

a servant’s form like mine he bore

to lead the devil captive.”

Now I have never, for one moment, considered anything in these lines to be questionable, or furthermore, as representing anything else than the unvarnished truth of the Gospel. Before the foundation of the world – before time itself was created! – the Lamb of God is slain for our salvation. It is determined that the eternally begotten Son is to be temporally sent, that is sent into the world to undo the curse that would be unleashed in Eden! 

I have been reading the book Simply Trinity by Matthew Barrett, which I would recommend that any contemplating this topic take time to read. On the one hand, I can say that I basically agree with a lot of the book’s arguments. For example, as Pastor Jordan Cooper has also pointed out in two videos on the topic (also referencing Barret; also see his most recent videos here and here) there are a number of ways modern EFS (Eternal Functional Subordination)/ESS (Eternal Subordination of the Son) advocates make errors the ancient church would never have tolerated! 

And here, for more conservative Lutheran readers of this post who are not regularly taking in Pastor Cooper’s content, I should give a little more background for those not familiar with these debates! In sum, evangelicalism is traditionally not strong when it comes to deeper doctrines like that of the Trinity. So as folks like both Barnett and Cooper are pointing out in their own ways, real care should be taken so that the doctrine of the Trinity as presented by Evangelicalism is actually the doctrine of the Trinity with all of its mystery left as mystery! And not – as happened repeatedly in the 20th century and still happens today – not simply what amounts to theological propaganda for some sort of favored social, cultural, or political position.

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With all of this said, as I consider both the arguments and the framing of those fighting against EFS and ESS, time and again I am left with the impression that Luther’s words would make them wince at best and become sick at worst, as Christology is thought to swallow up the Trinity. How so? Because, again, when it comes to the activities of the Triune God apart from His activities in the creation and history (known as His “ad intra” activity) the Son is equal to the Father in every way. And since, I think, we all know that obedience and submission go hand-in-hand – and that submission and subordination are basically seen by most everyone as being synonymous – surely the pre-incarnate Son of God cannot be seen as being subordinate! 

At the same time though we all must recognize that the Son is the Word of the Father, and there is no way that this can be turned around, right? And likewise, we all must recognize that the Son is eternally begotten, and hence is temporally sent by the Father, and there is no way this can be turned around, correct? Thomas Torrence in fact spoke of “Patrocentricity” giving an “unreserved place to the Spirit of the Father who is conveyed to us through the Son and on the ground of his saving and reconciling work” (Kleinig, 3). Does this not perhaps all have something to do with why we can say there is “harmony of will” (Greogory of Naziansus, in Barret, 138) when it comes to the persons of the Triune God? After all, one does need particular persons in order to do harmony!

And this, I think, gets to the main issue with this book and the main issue with this debate, as odd as this may sound: even as some cases might seem obvious enough to many of us in the day and age that we live, the church has nevertheless never really agreed on a good definition of “person” for created persons much less divine ones! 

Classically, Barrett notes, the Trinity is three distinct persons that are nevertheless not separate from each other, but “always coexist; wherever one is, there the other really is” (Francis Turretin, 136). Furthermore, the actions of the Trinity are co-inherent, identical, indistinguishable, and indivisible (see 151, 228, 291): it is not like any members of the Trinity exist, think, will or act apart from the others, acting as separate persons. Therefore, since the Son of God is one with the Father and Spirit in intellect, will, and even act, He is not, in any sense, His own “center of consciousness” (see Barret, 82)! For if we said this, it is thought that this would also necessarily mean that the Son had His own intellect and will as well, and He would therefore not be one with God’s essence, substance, being. Barrett expands on this elsewhere, insisting that thinking about the Trinity as three distinct agents, or three “centers of knowledge,” or three “centers of consciousness” is wrong. It may be correct, he says, to think about created persons this way, as individuals who are able to cooperate in a harmonious fashion, but this cannot be true of divine persons, otherwise the Godhead would be divided (see 57-59). Barret goes so far as to say “where there are three separate centers of consciousness there are three separate gods” (149, see 148-150). 

He then goes on to point out how the modern psychological category of “relationship” should not be confused with the “relations” of the Trinity, which are ultimately reducible to paternity (the Father), filiation (the eternally begotten Son), and spiration (the Holy Spirit). And yet, again, the persons are somehow distinct, as Barrett, for example, favorably mentions Augustine speaking of the three as Lover (the Father), Beloved (the Son), and Love (the Holy Spirit) (283, see 273 as well). Finally, even if a modern definition of person, perhaps something like a “center of autonomy gifted with consciousness and freedom” (Boff, on 82, 226) clearly would not apply here (should a Christian even say this is true of created persons!? – more on this below), it would definitely seem odd to feel the need to assert that distinct Persons of the Trinity would not be aware of, that is conscious of, their own love for one another or their own particular “everlasting provenances” (59). Indeed, as Barrett himself points out regarding modalism or Sabellianism, such a heresy does not have “a plurality of persons to love” (283).

Again, however, even though we are using all of these terms, evidently assuming a basic understanding, exactly what a person has never been agreed upon, much less a “center of consciousness” or “relationship”. I get every impression from the way that Barrett puts things that when we speak of the persons of the Trinity, this term, “person,” is much like the term “begotten”: it needs to be understood not in an earthly sense, but perhaps a rather strange or “otherworldly” eternal sense. I am actually sympathetic here, but I come back to the fact that, unlike “begotten”, the church (or even the world!) has not even really agreed on a good definition of what a created person is! Furthermore, I cannot stop thinking about this picture:     

I mean, perhaps some find this picture compelling and attractive and true, but all of these terms, particularly “true”, seems like a bit of a stretch to me. I not only prefer but think I should prefer the picture of Jesus’ baptism, with all three persons of the Trinity making an appearance, so to speak, individually, as a much more appropriate picture, don’t you? That is what faith like a child would say, right?

Part II

Andrei Rublev’s Troitsa, a Trinitarian interpretation of Gen 18:1-16. Showing “the Monarchy of the Father”?: “…it is the angel on the left that becomes the center of the relationships.”

+++

Overall, I am not sure Barrett and I are at odds but it appears to me that we are. I agree that the Son and the Spirit, by nature, always share in the will and actions of the Father. The Father’s desires, purposes, and goals – and actions! – are theirs’ as well. To do justice to Luther’s language about the Son obeying His Father’s will without making it wholly figurative, we could say that the even though we all equally honor the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, something important nevertheless happens within the Trinity itself.

Here the Son, being essentially begotten, always honors His Father, of course being one with His desires, purposes, and goals. If the Son is the Word of the Father, how could He not want only and ever what the Father wants? And of course, the Father, from whom the Son is begotten, is the beginning, the source, the [eternal] origin of the Son. This is highly significant because the Father is also the beginning of the coordination that occurs within the Trinity. Does the importance of this escape us today? Consider, for example, what Paul says to Timothy in the ever-controversial chapter 2 of the first book, “A woman must learn in quietness and full submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, and then Eve.” 

I know some heads might be exploding now! Isn’t talking about these things in the context of the doctrine of the Trinity exactly the kind of problem Mattew Barrett is trying to counter? Yes, true. At the same time, even though the Son is not formed or made but eternally begotten, Paul is nevertheless pointing out something important here that people have always understood: Order matters. The numbering matters. Primacy matters (see 172). For Barrett, “[P]rimacy [is] precluded by the very nature, will, power and glory of the three persons held in common.” (172). Nevertheless, the order is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and not otherwise!  And the one divine will, along with the one divine substance, is originally from the Father.

And therefore the Son – at least it seems to me – eternally honors His Father as Primary! 

And so it is only in this sense and not another that the eternal Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, is “subordinate” to His Father. When He, for example, says in the Gospel of John “[f]or God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that everyone who believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him…” (see also I John 4:9) we should not think of Him as saying that He is unequal or less than the Father, even as He eagerly obeys. Bradley Mason, mentioned above, addresses this passage by looking to Augustine, and notes that because of the Trinity’s inseparable operations “as true God [the Son]… sent Himself [as well]” and comments that “[t]ruly sending refers to unequal authority” (see comments here). Presumably, Mason would then have something similar to say about Luther’s “obey”. Why absolutely insist on this however? Because obedience is not really obedience and sending is not really sending unless the will of the sender is backed up with power and force? Where is the willingness to consider a submission based on love that I heard so much about in the 1980s and 1990s when “mutual submission” was being discussed regarding Ephesians 5:21?*

No, contrary to Mason’s take, I believe we should see the pre-incarnate Son of God as vigorously embracing His role in the order, being this “co-ordinate,” this point on the graph and not another point! In other words, we should see Him as glorying in His given position, His given and necessary role, His given “co-ordinate”. Hence, being “sub-ordinate”. Barrett, however, says that subordination means inferiority (114), and that “the minute someone projects authority and subordination into the inner life of God (imminent Trinity), the burden of proof is on them to explain how there is not now three wills in the Trinity (tritheism) rather than one will (simplicity)” (229). “Where there is one simple will,” he states, “ there can necessarily be no authority and submission” (229), also insisting that subordination “is appropriate in the economy of salvation” but not in the immanent Trinity.” In the passages from John 3:16 and 3:17 however, what do we see? We see actions pertaining to the economy of salvation, i.e. the Son’s taking on “the form of a servant” (which Barrett, following Augustine, takes to mean he lowers himself to become a man) that do in fact reach “back into eternity, even into the immanent Trinity” (239)! I think Luther, in spite of largely agreeing with critiques of EFS and ESS, might tell us here, “that will preach!” On the other hand, even as Basil says “[t]he Father is the initiating cause’; the Son ‘the operating cause’; the Spirit, ‘the perfecting cause’” (302), Barret is ever eager to avoid any hint of subordination and confidently asserts “the order… does not introduce time into the essence of God, as if there is a before and after for God. If it did then one person would be superior to another” (300). 

Barrett says that the word “order” “reflects who the triune God is in and of himself” (Calvin), and also “communicates how the persons are distinguished by their eternal relations of origin, all the while being coequal and coeternal” (300). Further, he says that when the word “subordination” is used by past theologians it “merely refers to the order within the Godhead (Father, Son, Spirit) due to the eternal relations of origin” and “suborder is not the same as subordination. Processions, not authority [or hierarchy] are in view”. “Past theologians,” he says, “never considered the Trinity in anything but Nicene categories” (256). I’m not saying I necessarily disagree here. At the same time, I think if we stop there regarding this point about order (and, I think, primacy), we are cutting off any hope of seeing where the ESS or EFS folks just might have a point! 

Part III

“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

+++

So do the ESS or EFS folks have a point? 

I have every impression that the respected Lutheran theologian John Kleinig would think so. In his paper “The Subordination of the Exalted Son to the Father” he also speaks to the matter of eternal relations: “The Son… is ‘subordinate’ to the Father as the eternal source of his sonship and his divinity as Son… to speak of mutual dependence [for example]… does not do full justice to the asymmetrical order and character of the relation of the persons to each other” (2). Even though Barrett says himself that the Son was “appointed to be our Redeemer from eternity,” “it was established in the crown of heaven as the Father commissioned his Son” and this was “just as the Father intended from the beginning” (307) he still doesn’t see anything suggesting primacy here. Furthermore, he quotes Richard Muller saying this is a “pretemporal, intratrinitarian agreement of the Father and Son” (306). Does this not sound like some kind of primacy, and hence some kind of eternal sub-ordination in the sense that I have been talking about it here? I do not understand how one can insist that it is not, even if this is not something the Son would ever choose differently, as this one will simply unfolds according to the Godhead’s very nature of love…

Barrett, however, does seem to give mixed messages here. For example, when critiquing EFS in footnote 92, he writes: 

“Submission is not merely an economic appropriation for [Eternal Functional Subordinationism]; it is intrinsic to the immanent identity of the Son. For the Reformed, the Son’s obedience in the covenant of redemption[, made between Him and the Father,] is optional, an economic deliberation that is not necessary for God to be triune. For EFS, the Son’s obedience in the covenant of redemption is necessary, an extension of the submission that defines him as a person within the immanent Trinity, necessary for the Son to be the Son and therefore necessary for the Trinity to be triune” (346).

If the Trinity has one will, should we really be saying the Son’s obedience is “optional”? Would it not be better if we said that since it is the one will of the Triune God to redeem man, that the Son desires and wills and does nothing else than what His Father desires? In other words, we certainly can say that the Son did not need to save man – but only because we first say that the Triune God, the Godhead – even the Father Himself! – did not need to save man. Also, I understand that Barrett believes that what Fesko said of Barth’s Trinitarian view – “Christ’s mission ends up defining the Trinity rather than revealing it” (345) – is equally true of the EFS or ESS view. While I think that is likely the case, I am left wondering about the assumptions of men like Barret as well. How would the Godhead have communicated a simultaneous equality and subordination had he wanted to do so (and, per above, I believe He has in John 3:16 and 17)? After all, Barrett himself wants to communicate that he simultaneously believes in earthly equality and subordination (affirming his belief in the book about male headship)!  

Nevertheless, we should also point out the following here: those who would argue against any notion of subordination seem to be insisting on defining subordination in a wholly temporal fashion instead of recognizing that this would need to be understood in a way consistent with the Eternal nature of the Godhead. That said, even in an earthly sense any definition of subordination should not necessarily need to involve the reconciliation of two opposing wills (with one accepting overrule by the other). This would be to insist on understanding everything only according to the law, where not only matters of fatherhood (from which wisdom flows and which begets honor and love), but matters of kingship and judgeship (which insists on jurisdiction, that the law be followed, and that power be used in the service of enforcement) play a role. While these terms ultimately all describe the One True God (in the Godhead’s entirety as well) the nuances in distinction are critical. Recognizing that there is action born primarily of love and action taken primarily in light of power (and corresponding threat) is critical to proper understanding.

In line with matters regarding what it means to honor a father, Barrett recognizes that “mere compliance is not enough” (283) – we must go deeper. Obedience in a biblical sense is ultimately about adopting the will of another for the sake of an internal unity while mere compliance involves a will bending and distorting to the other’s for the sake of some external unity. Surely we must be able to see that subordination, subordination understood in a truly biblical sense, could also conceivably go hand-in-hand with an innate desire for the primary person – who is indeed distinct in some fashion! – to be the one who initiates and determines… As a friend put it to me “[t]he reality of sin makes us much more familiar with compliance than obedience, but that’s not exactly an issue in the Godhead.”

This is exactly right. While it is important that we human creatures confess “the deity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one, equal in glory, coeternal in majesty” there are also three Persons who do not have any sin problems and are in no need of such confessions or exhortations. We, for example, need to be told not only that it is enough for earthly servants to become like their masters (Matt 10:25), but even admonished to not seek our own glory (John 8:50, 54) and to rather consider others better than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). The Triune God, on the other hand, simply is this way. For the Father, this can be seen as He delights in His Son. For the Son, this can be seen as He embraces the fullness of love and harmony which originates from the Father. And the Spirit can be seen to exult in and proclaim this blessed eternal relationality that always bears good fruit!

Perhaps it might also be helpful to consider the matter in the following way. Eastern Orthodox Christians, in discussing how they view the papacy, emphasize the difference between there being a primary of jurisdiction – which they do not believe the Pope has – and a primacy of honor, which they do attribute to the Roman See. As best I understand matters, they are saying that the Pope may well have the position he does through a kind of “divine right” (as opposed to a merely human right and arrangement), but that he is also to be understood as the “first among equals”. Both the “first” and “equals” are important here, along with the fact that they are saying that – ideally, at least – one would honor this primary one and his direction. All this speaks to how we could conceivably speak of there being authority and submission within one divine essence and will.  All of this should not be controversial, but simply can go along with how “specific acts of God, acts that are attributed to the entire Godhead, can also be appropriated to specific persons” (310), as “each person possesses… a distinct mode of action” (Giles Emery, 309) and all this, of course, is “consistent with each persons’ eternal relation of origin (311), that is paternity, filiation, and spiration. 

+++

As we conclude, I want to deal with one last thing that Barrett speaks about. Take this paragraph:

“Paul, Andrew, and James are three persons, and they all have the same human nature. We might say they all possess the nature we call humanity. But can we say they are one human? We cannot. Paul, Andrew, and James all participate in what they call humanity, but they are not a single human being. They are, rather, three separate individuals, three separate beings. They are not only distinct but independent. They may have much in common, but three they remain, not one. The illustration buckles: what we call human nature can be divided. Never can it be a single human essence and at the same time three humans. ‘The common humanity of the three human persons does not indicate as it must in God, a numerical unity of essence, only a generic unity.’ And a generic unity will not do when we are speaking of the triune God” (144).

He goes on to say that “Paul, Andrew, and James can exist without one another; they do not need one another, nor is their identity dependent on one another…” but I think this underlies how many points he is missing above. 

First of all, human beings actually do need one another, do depend on each other for both their creation and sustenance, and even if one particular human being does not help us directly, this point is not diluted. We can see this clearly in that if our three individuals were husband, wife, and child, that is, not only sharing the same nature but the same flesh and blood, then the interdependency of human creatures becomes just as obvious as any “individuality”. And as a friend puts it “since we’re all sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, those relationships are only where it’s most obvious, not the only place it’s real. The very fact that we can all fall in one man and rise in one Man also testifies to that deeper unity.” 

Second, even though I do not have the references before me, I am aware that at least one of the Cappadocian church fathers – men who Barrett seems to be very keen to follow in other respects, did analogize about the persons who are “humanity” to the Persons who are Divinity. In other words, in some sense they do share a human nature in a similar fashion to how the three persons of the Godhead share a divine nature. We can say they share one human nature or one humanity, just as the three persons of the Godhead share one divine nature or one divinity (and so I have, I confess, often pondered what might be wrong, if anything, with the phrase “Tri-Personal Being,” which I heard a friend once [helpfully?] use to describe the Trinity…). So what is significant here is that what it means to be divine and what it means to be man are two fundamentally different things, and this is because man is a creature while God is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, eternal and immutable. This means, for example, that it is possible for man to not share one will, even if God would indeed have this be the case!: the will of all men – as one body united in Christ! – should indeed always be in full accordance with God’s desires, purposes, and goals!

Finally, there are two more things that I think need to be brought up as well. While I think we can all see how the equality of the three persons of the Trinity could potentially be popular among those who are more culturally progressive, I do not see how the sub-ordination of the Son could ever be. In like fashion, again, if someone is absolutely against any kind of “subordination” (is “suborder” OK? Why?) in the Trinity because of concerns about equality and is also pro-male headship – as Barrett says he is – I don’t understand how such a person escapes the charge of implying women are of some sort of an inferior nature. That might seem like a brutal thing to say, and probably doesn’t seem very conciliatory either, but the logic of it all and the direction this discussion seems to be moving does weigh on me. That was confirmed for me further when the online friend I quoted to begin this article also said to me: “I think you are correct to be honest. I don’t know how a pro-male headship person who is against ESS can escape the charge a woman’s nature is inferior which is why I tend to support women’s ordination.” Even persons like Bradly Mason, who argue that male headship is only temporal due to the Fall, will need to face those deeply angered and irritated by their insistence on such a temporary arrangement. 

But order, a “numbering”, a primacy — if not a hierarchy — appears to be rather fundamental. Because of Love, and Love which honors, and Love which glories in and glorifies all of this. 

FIN

 

*Thomas Winger’s Ephesians commentary discusses “the oxymoron of ‘mutual submission’” (669, see also 639-646).

 
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Posted by on June 10, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

Considering Matthew Barrett’s Simply Trinity: Is All Subordination Out of the Question? (part III of III)

“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

+++

Part I

Part II

So do the ESS or EFS folks have a point? 

I have every impression that the respected Lutheran theologian John Kleinig would think so. In his paper “The Subordination of the Exalted Son to the Father” he also speaks to the matter of eternal relations: “The Son… is ‘subordinate’ to the Father as the eternal source of his sonship and his divinity as Son… to speak of mutual dependence [for example]… does not do full justice to the asymmetrical order and character of the relation of the persons to each other” (2). Even though Barrett says himself that the Son was “appointed to be our Redeemer from eternity,” “it was established in the crown of heaven as the Father commissioned his Son” and this was “just as the Father intended from the beginning” (307) he still doesn’t see anything suggesting primacy here. Furthermore, he quotes Richard Muller saying this is a “pretemporal, intratrinitarian agreement of the Father and Son” (306). Does this not sound like some kind of primacy, and hence some kind of eternal sub-ordination in the sense that I have been talking about it here? I do not understand how one can insist that it is not, even if this is not something the Son would ever choose differently, as this one will simply unfolds according to the Godhead’s very nature of love…

Barrett, however, does seem to give mixed messages here. For example, when critiquing EFS in footnote 92, he writes: 

“Submission is not merely an economic appropriation for [Eternal Functional Subordinationism]; it is intrinsic to the immanent identity of the Son. For the Reformed, the Son’s obedience in the covenant of redemption[, made between Him and the Father,] is optional, an economic deliberation that is not necessary for God to be triune. For EFS, the Son’s obedience in the covenant of redemption is necessary, an extension of the submission that defines him as a person within the immanent Trinity, necessary for the Son to be the Son and therefore necessary for the Trinity to be triune” (346).

If the Trinity has one will, should we really be saying the Son’s obedience is “optional”? Would it not be better if we said that since it is the one will of the Triune God to redeem man, that the Son desires and wills and does nothing else than what His Father desires? In other words, we certainly can say that the Son did not need to save man – but only because we first say that the Triune God, the Godhead – even the Father Himself! – did not need to save man. Also, I understand that Barrett believes that what Fesko said of Barth’s Trinitarian view – “Christ’s mission ends up defining the Trinity rather than revealing it” (345) – is equally true of the EFS or ESS view. While I think that is likely the case, I am left wondering about the assumptions of men like Barret as well. How would the Godhead have communicated a simultaneous equality and subordination had he wanted to do so (and, per above, I believe He has in John 3:16 and 17)? After all, Barrett himself wants to communicate that he simultaneously believes in earthly equality and subordination (affirming his belief in the book about male headship)!  

Nevertheless, we should also point out the following here: those who would argue against any notion of subordination seem to be insisting on defining subordination in a wholly temporal fashion instead of recognizing that this would need to be understood in a way consistent with the Eternal nature of the Godhead. That said, even in an earthly sense any definition of subordination should not necessarily need to involve the reconciliation of two opposing wills (with one accepting overrule by the other). This would be to insist on understanding everything only according to the law, where not only matters of fatherhood (from which wisdom flows and which begets honor and love), but matters of kingship and judgeship (which insists on jurisdiction, that the law be followed, and that power be used in the service of enforcement) play a role. While these terms ultimately all describe the One True God (in the Godhead’s entirety as well) the nuances in distinction are critical. Recognizing that there is action born primarily of love and action taken primarily in light of power (and corresponding threat) is critical to proper understanding.

In line with matters regarding what it means to honor a father, Barrett recognizes that “mere compliance is not enough” (283) – we must go deeper. Obedience in a biblical sense is ultimately about adopting the will of another for the sake of an internal unity while mere compliance involves a will bending and distorting to the other’s for the sake of some external unity. Surely we must be able to see that subordination, subordination understood in a truly biblical sense, could also conceivably go hand-in-hand with an innate desire for the primary person – who is indeed distinct in some fashion! – to be the one who initiates and determines… As a friend put it to me “[t]he reality of sin makes us much more familiar with compliance than obedience, but that’s not exactly an issue in the Godhead.”

This is exactly right. While it is important that we human creatures confess “the deity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one, equal in glory, coeternal in majesty” there are also three Persons who do not have any sin problems and are in no need of such confessions or exhortations. We, for example, need to be told not only that it is enough for earthly servants to become like their masters (Matt 10:25), but even admonished to not seek our own glory (John 8:50, 54) and to rather consider others better than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). The Triune God, on the other hand, simply is this way. For the Father, this can be seen as He delights in His Son. For the Son, this can be seen as He embraces the fullness of love and harmony which originates from the Father. And the Spirit can be seen to exult in and proclaim this blessed eternal relationality that always bears good fruit!

Perhaps it might also be helpful to consider the matter in the following way. Eastern Orthodox Christians, in discussing how they view the papacy, emphasize the difference between there being a primary of jurisdiction – which they do not believe the Pope has – and a primacy of honor, which they do attribute to the Roman See. As best I understand matters, they are saying that the Pope may well have the position he does through a kind of “divine right” (as opposed to a merely human right and arrangement), but that he is also to be understood as the “first among equals”. Both the “first” and “equals” are important here, along with the fact that they are saying that – ideally, at least – one would honor this primary one and his direction. All this speaks to how we could conceivably speak of there being authority and submission within one divine essence and will.  All of this should not be controversial, but simply can go along with how “specific acts of God, acts that are attributed to the entire Godhead, can also be appropriated to specific persons” (310), as “each person possesses… a distinct mode of action” (Giles Emery, 309) and all this, of course, is “consistent with each persons’ eternal relation of origin (311), that is paternity, filiation, and spiration. 

+++

As we conclude, I want to deal with one last thing that Barrett speaks about. Take this paragraph:

“Paul, Andrew, and James are three persons, and they all have the same human nature. We might say they all possess the nature we call humanity. But can we say they are one human? We cannot. Paul, Andrew, and James all participate in what they call humanity, but they are not a single human being. They are, rather, three separate individuals, three separate beings. They are not only distinct but independent. They may have much in common, but three they remain, not one. The illustration buckles: what we call human nature can be divided. Never can it be a single human essence and at the same time three humans. ‘The common humanity of the three human persons does not indicate as it must in God, a numerical unity of essence, only a generic unity.’ And a generic unity will not do when we are speaking of the triune God” (144).

He goes on to say that “Paul, Andrew, and James can exist without one another; they do not need one another, nor is their identity dependent on one another…” but I think this underlies how many points he is missing above. 

First of all, human beings actually do need one another, do depend on each other for both their creation and sustenance, and even if one particular human being does not help us directly, this point is not diluted. We can see this clearly in that if our three individuals were husband, wife, and child, that is, not only sharing the same nature but the same flesh and blood, then the interdependency of human creatures becomes just as obvious as any “individuality”. And as a friend puts it “since we’re all sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, those relationships are only where it’s most obvious, not the only place it’s real. The very fact that we can all fall in one man and rise in one Man also testifies to that deeper unity.” 

Second, even though I do not have the references before me, I am aware that at least one of the Cappadocian church fathers – men who Barrett seems to be very keen to follow in other respects, did analogize about the persons who are “humanity” to the Persons who are Divinity. In other words, in some sense they do share a human nature in a similar fashion to how the three persons of the Godhead share a divine nature. We can say they share one human nature or one humanity, just as the three persons of the Godhead share one divine nature or one divinity (and so I have, I confess, often pondered what might be wrong, if anything, with the phrase “Tri-Personal Being,” which I heard a friend once [helpfully?] use to describe the Trinity…). So what is significant here is that what it means to be divine and what it means to be man are two fundamentally different things, and this is because man is a creature while God is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, eternal and immutable. This means, for example, that it is possible for man to not share one will, even if God would indeed have this be the case!: the will of all men – as one body united in Christ! – should indeed always be in full accordance with God’s desires, purposes, and goals!

Finally, there are two more things that I think need to be brought up as well. While I think we can all see how the equality of the three persons of the Trinity could potentially be popular among those who are more culturally progressive, I do not see how the sub-ordination of the Son could ever be. In like fashion, again, if someone is absolutely against any kind of “subordination” (is “suborder” OK? Why?) in the Trinity because of concerns about equality and is also pro-male headship – as Barrett says he is – I don’t understand how such a person escapes the charge of implying women are of some sort of an inferior nature. That might seem like a brutal thing to say, and probably doesn’t seem very conciliatory either, but the logic of it all and the direction this discussion seems to be moving does weigh on me. That was confirmed for me further when the online friend I quoted to begin this article also said to me: “I think you are correct to be honest. I don’t know how a pro-male headship person who is against ESS can escape the charge a woman’s nature is inferior which is why I tend to support women’s ordination.” Even persons like Bradly Mason, who argue that male headship is only temporal due to the Fall, will need to face those deeply angered and irritated by their insistence on such a temporary arrangement. 

But order, a “numbering”, a primacy — if not a hierarchy — appears to be rather fundamental. Because of Love, and Love which honors, and Love which glories in and glorifies all of this. 

FIN

 
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Posted by on June 10, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

Considering Matthew Barrett’s Simply Trinity: Is All Subordination Out of the Question? (part II of III)

Andrei Rublev’s Troitsa, a Trinitarian interpretation of Gen 18:1-16. Showing “the Monarchy of the Father”?: “…it is the angel on the left that becomes the center of the relationships.”

+++

Part I

Overall, I am not sure Barrett and I are at odds but it appears to me that we are. I agree that the Son and the Spirit, by nature, always share in the will and actions of the Father. The Father’s desires, purposes, and goals – and actions! – are theirs’ as well. To do justice to Luther’s language about the Son obeying His Father’s will without making it wholly figurative, we could say that the even though we all equally honor the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, something important nevertheless happens within the Trinity itself.

Here the Son, being essentially begotten, always honors His Father, of course being one with His desires, purposes, and goals. If the Son is the Word of the Father, how could He not want only and ever what the Father wants? And of course, the Father, from whom the Son is begotten, is the beginning, the source, the [eternal] origin of the Son. This is highly significant because the Father is also the beginning of the coordination that occurs within the Trinity. Does the importance of this escape us today? Consider, for example, what Paul says to Timothy in the ever-controversial chapter 2 of the first book, “A woman must learn in quietness and full submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, and then Eve.” 

I know some heads might be exploding now! Isn’t talking about these things in the context of the doctrine of the Trinity exactly the kind of problem Mattew Barrett is trying to counter? Yes, true. At the same time, even though the Son is not formed or made but eternally begotten, Paul is nevertheless pointing out something important here that people have always understood: Order matters. The numbering matters. Primacy matters (see 172). For Barrett, “[P]rimacy [is] precluded by the very nature, will, power and glory of the three persons held in common.” (172). Nevertheless, the order is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and not otherwise!  And the one divine will, along with the one divine substance, is originally from the Father.

And therefore the Son – at least it seems to me – eternally honors His Father as Primary! 

And so it is only in this sense and not another that the eternal Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, is “subordinate” to His Father. When He, for example, says in the Gospel of John “[f]or God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that everyone who believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him…” (see also I John 4:9) we should not think of Him as saying that He is unequal or less than the Father, even as He eagerly obeys. Bradley Mason, mentioned above, addresses this passage by looking to Augustine, and notes that because of the Trinity’s inseparable operations “as true God [the Son]… sent Himself [as well]” and comments that “[t]ruly sending refers to unequal authority” (see comments here). Presumably, Mason would then have something similar to say about Luther’s “obey”. Why absolutely insist on this however? Because obedience is not really obedience and sending is not really sending unless the will of the sender is backed up with power and force? Where is the willingness to consider a submission based on love that I heard so much about in the 1980s and 1990s when “mutual submission” was being discussed regarding Ephesians 5:21?*

No, contrary to Mason’s take, I believe we should see the pre-incarnate Son of God as vigorously embracing His role in the order, being this “co-ordinate,” this point on the graph and not another point! In other words, we should see Him as glorying in His given position, His given and necessary role, His given “co-ordinate”. Hence, being “sub-ordinate”. Barrett, however, says that subordination means inferiority (114), and that “the minute someone projects authority and subordination into the inner life of God (imminent Trinity), the burden of proof is on them to explain how there is not now three wills in the Trinity (tritheism) rather than one will (simplicity)” (229). “Where there is one simple will,” he states, “ there can necessarily be no authority and submission” (229), also insisting that subordination “is appropriate in the economy of salvation” but not in the immanent Trinity.” In the passages from John 3:16 and 3:17 however, what do we see? We see actions pertaining to the economy of salvation, i.e. the Son’s taking on “the form of a servant” (which Barrett, following Augustine, takes to mean he lowers himself to become a man) that do in fact reach “back into eternity, even into the immanent Trinity” (239)! I think Luther, in spite of largely agreeing with critiques of EFS and ESS, might tell us here, “that will preach!” On the other hand, even as Basil says “[t]he Father is the initiating cause’; the Son ‘the operating cause’; the Spirit, ‘the perfecting cause’” (302), Barret is ever eager to avoid any hint of subordination and confidently asserts “the order… does not introduce time into the essence of God, as if there is a before and after for God. If it did then one person would be superior to another” (300). 

Barrett says that the word “order” “reflects who the triune God is in and of himself” (Calvin), and also “communicates how the persons are distinguished by their eternal relations of origin, all the while being coequal and coeternal” (300). Further, he says that when the word “subordination” is used by past theologians it “merely refers to the order within the Godhead (Father, Son, Spirit) due to the eternal relations of origin” and “suborder is not the same as subordination. Processions, not authority [or hierarchy] are in view”. “Past theologians,” he says, “never considered the Trinity in anything but Nicene categories” (256). I’m not saying I necessarily disagree here. At the same time, I think if we stop there regarding this point about order (and, I think, primacy), we are cutting off any hope of seeing where the ESS or EFS folks just might have a point! 

(to be continued…)

*Thomas Winger’s Ephesians commentary discusses “the oxymoron of ‘mutual submission’” (669, see also 639-646).

 
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Posted by on June 8, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

Considering Matthew Barrett’s Simply Trinity: Is All Subordination Out of the Question? (part I of III)

What does this mean?

+++

To cut to the chase, “No, I don’t think so.”

Some do though. I asked an online friend about why he thought this issue was so important and he said this: 

“The real concern is the person of Christ – namely who he is, and how He saves us, namely the reason we believe Christ to be equal to the father is because He is our savior. Who else can save us but God? But that is not the only thing we are told Christ does, we are also told we are united under Christ in a single body, and he presents us to the Father. Essentially, we achieve unity and reconciliation with God the Father through our savior, Jesus Christ… We can have no savior other than God, and no one can unite us to God but God…. It’s so important that Christ is equal to the father and not subordinated within the Trinity. Essentially, if there is subordination, we cannot be truly saved.” 

Or consider what the well-known theological blogger Bradly Mason has to say about all of this in this post. Three hard-hitting and thought-provoking quotes:

“Is it not that the GOD, Jehovah Himself, became man and thus in His full Godhead and full humanity, has reconciled fallen and corrupt man to the true, perfect, and eternal God; that full and complete God with all majesty and authority has met together with true humanity in the Person of Jesus Christ? Is not the Gospel itself sapped of its inaccessible majesty and glory if the death and resurrection of our Lord was really the death and resurrection of humanity united with an eternally subordinate God, an eternally submissive God, a lower ranking person within the Godhead; in short, a sort of Jehovah Jr.?”

And: 

“[W]ho is this God we meet with in Jesus Christ? The eternally subordinate and submissive One? Blasphemous! No, He is the true God indeed, that the saints of old had always known and worshipped, though the full revelation awaited His coming in the flesh. That is, in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ it is Jehovah Himself that is united in perfect personal union with the Human Nature of His fleshy creatures. This is the grandeur of the Gospel message.”

And:

“[O]ne equal with God, one with God, and Himself the true God, voluntarily condescended, taking on the form of a servant through corruptible flesh, and became obedient, though it was not and is not His natural estate. The Gospel message is not and cannot be that an eternally subordinate and submissive being became subordinate and submissive… We must, to uphold the truth and majesty of the Gospel itself, confess with clarity that the mission of Christ was to become submissive—a role contrary to and not a simple corollary of His eternal Nature. In a word, submission was the mission, not the cause of the mission.”

This all sounds pretty important, huh? Now, though, enter Martin Luther, and his great hymn “Dear Christians, One and All Rejoice”: 

“He spoke to his belovèd Son:

“It’s time to have compassion.

Then go, bright jewel of my crown,

and bring to all salvation.

From sin and sorrow set them free;

slay bitter death for them that they

may live with you forever.”

The Son obeyed his Father’s will,

was born of virgin mother,

and, God’s good pleasure to fulfill,

he came to be my brother.

No garb of pomp or pow’r he wore;

a servant’s form like mine he bore

to lead the devil captive.”

Now I have never, for one moment, considered anything in these lines to be questionable, or furthermore, as representing anything else than the unvarnished truth of the Gospel. Before the foundation of the world – before time itself was created! – the Lamb of God is slain for our salvation. It is determined that the eternally begotten Son is to be temporally sent, that is sent into the world to undo the curse that would be unleashed in Eden! 

I have been reading the book Simply Trinity by Matthew Barrett, which I would recommend that any contemplating this topic take time to read. On the one hand, I can say that I basically agree with a lot of the book’s arguments. For example, as Pastor Jordan Cooper has also pointed out in two videos on the topic (also referencing Barret; also see his most recent videos here and here) there are a number of ways modern EFS (Eternal Functional Subordination)/ESS (Eternal Subordination of the Son) advocates make errors the ancient church would never have tolerated! 

And here, for more conservative Lutheran readers of this post who are not regularly taking in Pastor Cooper’s content, I should give a little more background for those not familiar with these debates! In sum, evangelicalism is traditionally not strong when it comes to deeper doctrines like that of the Trinity. So as folks like both Barnett and Cooper are pointing out in their own ways, real care should be taken so that the doctrine of the Trinity as presented by Evangelicalism is actually the doctrine of the Trinity with all of its mystery left as mystery! And not – as happened repeatedly in the 20th century and still happens today – not simply what amounts to theological propaganda for some sort of favored social, cultural, or political position.

+++

With all of this said, as I consider both the arguments and the framing of those fighting against EFS and ESS, time and again I am left with the impression that Luther’s words would make them wince at best and become sick at worst, as Christology is thought to swallow up the Trinity. How so? Because, again, when it comes to the activities of the Triune God apart from His activities in the creation and history (known as His “ad intra” activity) the Son is equal to the Father in every way. And since, I think, we all know that obedience and submission go hand-in-hand – and that submission and subordination are basically seen by most everyone as being synonymous – surely the pre-incarnate Son of God cannot be seen as being subordinate! 

At the same time though we all must recognize that the Son is the Word of the Father, and there is no way that this can be turned around, right? And likewise, we all must recognize that the Son is eternally begotten, and hence is temporally sent by the Father, and there is no way this can be turned around, correct? Thomas Torrence in fact spoke of “Patrocentricity” giving an “unreserved place to the Spirit of the Father who is conveyed to us through the Son and on the ground of his saving and reconciling work” (Kleinig, 3). Does this not perhaps all have something to do with why we can say there is “harmony of will” (Greogory of Naziansus, in Barret, 138) when it comes to the persons of the Triune God? After all, one does need particular persons in order to do harmony!

And this, I think, gets to the main issue with this book and the main issue with this debate, as odd as this may sound: even as some cases might seem obvious enough to many of us in the day and age that we live, the church has nevertheless never really agreed on a good definition of “person” for created persons much less divine ones! 

Classically, Barrett notes, the Trinity is three distinct persons that are nevertheless not separate from each other, but “always coexist; wherever one is, there the other really is” (Francis Turretin, 136). Furthermore, the actions of the Trinity are co-inherent, identical, indistinguishable, and indivisible (see 151, 228, 291): it is not like any members of the Trinity exist, think, will or act apart from the others, acting as separate persons. Therefore, since the Son of God is one with the Father and Spirit in intellect, will, and even act, He is not, in any sense, His own “center of consciousness” (see Barret, 82)! For if we said this, it is thought that this would also necessarily mean that the Son had His own intellect and will as well, and He would therefore not be one with God’s essence, substance, being. Barrett expands on this elsewhere, insisting that thinking about the Trinity as three distinct agents, or three “centers of knowledge,” or three “centers of consciousness” is wrong. It may be correct, he says, to think about created persons this way, as individuals who are able to cooperate in a harmonious fashion, but this cannot be true of divine persons, otherwise the Godhead would be divided (see 57-59). Barret goes so far as to say “where there are three separate centers of consciousness there are three separate gods” (149, see 148-150). 

He then goes on to point out how the modern psychological category of “relationship” should not be confused with the “relations” of the Trinity, which are ultimately reducible to paternity (the Father), filiation (the eternally begotten Son), and spiration (the Holy Spirit). And yet, again, the persons are somehow distinct, as Barrett, for example, favorably mentions Augustine speaking of the three as Lover (the Father), Beloved (the Son), and Love (the Holy Spirit) (283, see 273 as well). Finally, even if a modern definition of person, perhaps something like a “center of autonomy gifted with consciousness and freedom” (Boff, on 82, 226) clearly would not apply here (should a Christian even say this is true of created persons!? – more on this below), it would definitely seem odd to feel the need to assert that distinct Persons of the Trinity would not be aware of, that is conscious of, their own love for one another or their own particular “everlasting provenances” (59). Indeed, as Barrett himself points out regarding modalism or Sabellianism, such a heresy does not have “a plurality of persons to love” (283).

Again, however, even though we are using all of these terms, evidently assuming a basic understanding, exactly what a person has never been agreed upon, much less a “center of consciousness” or “relationship”. I get every impression from the way that Barrett puts things that when we speak of the persons of the Trinity, this term, “person,” is much like the term “begotten”: it needs to be understood not in an earthly sense, but perhaps a rather strange or “otherworldly” eternal sense. I am actually sympathetic here, but I come back to the fact that, unlike “begotten”, the church (or even the world!) has not even really agreed on a good definition of what a created person is! Furthermore, I cannot stop thinking about this picture:     

I mean, perhaps some find this picture compelling and attractive and true, but all of these terms, particularly “true”, seems like a bit of a stretch to me. I not only prefer but think I should prefer the picture of Jesus’ baptism, with all three persons of the Trinity making an appearance, so to speak, individually, as a much more appropriate picture, don’t you? That is what faith like a child would say, right?

(to be continued….)

 
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Posted by on June 6, 2022 in Uncategorized