Sunday, June 29, 2014

"Jesus our living serpent"

"...for as Moses lifted up the brazen serpent in the wilderness, and all who had been stung by the serpents were healed on looking up to that serpent, as is said, so Jesus our living serpent, having the likeness of sin upon him, though he could not possibly sin, was suspended on the cross, that those who are stung by the poison of the old serpent, sin, may become spiritually whole."1

1.  John Wyclif, Tracts and Treatises of John de Wycliffe (R. Vaughan, Ed.) [London: Blackburn and Pardon, 1845], p. 158

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Jesus & Jeremiah

Matthew 21:12-22 narrates Jesus cleansing the Jerusalem temple that had become a "den of robbers." Immediately following that event is Jesus' curse upon the fig tree, pronouncing that it would no longer bear fruit. 

Jeremiah 7 & 8 is an oracle about Judah's exile into Babylon & the soon-coming destruction of Judah's precious city & temple. 

The "den of robbers" and the withering of the fig tree are both clearly alluded to in Jeremiah 7 & 8 (particularly 7:8-14 & 8:4-13). 

Isn't it reasonable, therefore, to associate the message of Jesus in Matthew 21:12-22 with the message of Yahweh in Jeremiah 7 & 8? 

If Yahweh cleansed his temple in the days of Jeremiah, that same message of cleansing was being repeated in the days of Jesus. Since the covenant-breaking of Judah's leaders was being repeated, the message of Yahweh's covenant-faithfulness was being repeated. The major difference between these two visitations was that Yahweh would send his own Son to die in the place of Judah, to be faithful to Yahweh's covenant, even unto death, so that the old Israel would finally die and a new Israel raised up to newness of life in union with Him. 

Salvation would come upon Israel through judgment in 70 A.D, but the old Israel and it's "den of robbers" in union with the first Adam would die in the judgment upon Jerusalem. Those who would not give up everything to follow Jesus, the second Adam, would wither and die like the fruitless fig tree of the old Israel. Only those who took up their cross and followed Jesus would be constituted as members of a new Israel, a new and living body--the body of the faithful Son of Yahweh (Ex. 4:22; Hos. 11:1; Matt. 2:15)

Jesus came to his own and his own received him not. He came as the faithful firstborn "Son" that Judah repeatedly failed to be after receiving his inheritance. The scepter departed from Judah once Jesus came, to whom it belonged (Gen. 49:10 MT); and unto him is the gathering of all nations in him as promised.

Lesslie Newbigin: Contrasted Attitudes of Christendom

Within Christendom one is familiar with two contrasted attitudes: on the one hand there is the attitude, typical of a national Church, which accepts a certain responsibility for the whole life of the community, but fails to make it clear that the Church is a separate community marked off from the world in order to save the world; on the other hand, and in opposition to this, there is the attitude of the gathered community -- the body which is very conscious of being called out from the world, and from a merely nominal Christianity, but which yet can wash its hands completely of any responsibility for those of its members who fail to fulfill its conditions for membership.1 

1.  Lesslie Newbigin, The Household of God: Lectures on the Nature of the Church [Carlisle, Cumbria, UK: Paternoster Press, 1998], p. 9 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Imitators (from Opus imperfectum)

"Even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
We were made in the image of Christ for the purpose of being made imitators of his will and manner of living. We were not created to be like his majesty, were we? For he indeed was able to imitate our flesh, but we cannot imitate his divinity. But in this we are his image: whatever seems good to him also may be good among us, and whatever seems bad to him may also appear bad among us. But whoever is eager to boast, while the Lord is eager for humility, is not the image of Christ. And whoever is a lover of wealth in this world while the Lord loves poverty drives away the image of Christ from himself. For he is not a true disciple who does not imitate his teacher, nor is it a true image which is not like the original.1

1.  Ancient Christian Texts: Opus imperfectum (Vol. 2) [Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2010], p. 290

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Church is one and universal

Ephesians 4:4-6
There is one body and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one Baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.  
This is the image of the Church, as delineated by the hand of the inspired Apostle. In the whole world, we find nothing so resplendently beautiful and glorious, under any other form. The picture is intended to enforce the great duty of charity and peace, among those who bear the Christian name. In the preceding part of the epistle, Christ is exhibited as the end of all separation and strife to them that believe, and the author of a new spiritual creation, in which all former distinctions were to be regarded as swallowed up and abolished forever. Reference is had in this true spirit and sense, it is plainly as comprehensive as humanity itself, and looks therefore directly to every other distinction of the same sort, that ever has been or ever shall be known in the world. Christianity is the universal solvent, in which all opposites are required to give up their previous affinities, no matter how old and stubborn, and flow together in a new combination, pervaded with harmony only and light at every point. "In Christ Jesus, neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature." "Those who were afar off, are made nigh by his blood." "He is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; making in himself of twain one new man." In him, all spiritual antagonism among men is subverted. The human world is reconciled first with God, and then with itself, by entering with living consciousness into the ground of its own life as revealed in his person. Such is the idea of the Church, which is "the body of Christ, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all." And now at length, passing from doctrine to practice, the Apostle calls upon those to whom he wrote to surrender themselves fully to the claims of this exalted constitution. "I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord beseech you, that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called. With all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." Such a temper, and such life, are necessarily included in the very conception of the Church, as here described. 
"There is one body and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one Baptism; one God and Father of all who is above all, and through all, and in you all." He does not say, "Let there be one body and one Spirit," as simply urging Christians to seek such agreement among themselves as might justify this view of their state; but the fact is assumed as already in existence, and is made the ground accordingly of the exhortation that goes before. There is one body and Spirit, and therefore are ye bound to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. The unity of the Church is not something which results first from the thought and purpose of the vast membership, of which it is composed; but on the contrary, it is the ground out of which this membership itself springs, and in which perpetually it stands, and from which it must derive evermore all its harmony, and stability, and activity, and strength.  
From the beginning, this great truth has dwelt deep in the consciousness of the Christian world. Through all ages, and in all lands, that consciousness has been uttering itself as with one mouth, in the article of the creed, I believe in the Holy Catholic Church. The Church is one and universal. Her unity is essential to her existence. Particular Christians, and particular congregations, and particular religious denominations, can be true to themselves, only as they stand in the full, free sense of this thought, and make it the object of their calling to fulfill its requisitions. The manifold is required to feel itself one. All particularism here must be false, that seeks to maintain itself as such, in proportion exactly as it is found in conflict with the general and universal, as embraced in the true idea of the body of Christ.1 

1.  John Williamson Nevin, A Sermon on Catholic Unity [Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1845 reprint], pp. 1-2

Sunday, June 8, 2014

There Are Gay Christians

In the opening headline of a recent blog titled "Some Things To Consider If You Think Being Gay Is A Sin," the author says that “there are gay Christians.”

A few friends have asked me to comment on this (on Facebook), but my response was too long for the comment box, so I decided to blog about it publicly. My comments below will assume one's familiarity with the blog post linked above, so if you have not read that, I suggest you do before reading and commenting below. 

First of all, I found it interesting how the author's opening statement declares something categorically in a way that might be factually true, but still remains undefined. What does he mean by "gay"? He also never defines what being “gay” means to him as he explains it so categorically. Instead he seems to let the reader define his or her own terms. Does he mean “same sex attraction” or one who actively practices sexual intercourse with a person of the same sex. Or both? How should Christians define it? He doesn’t make his distinctions clear enough to make a wise decision regarding the inclusion of “gays” within the Christian church. (He seems to be treating all "gays" as excluded, which is not true. See this book as one great example.) He seems to be accepting all definitions, and I certainly cannot endorse that perspective with a clean Christian conscience. I am definitely willing to admit that Christians can have same-sex attraction (as seen by the admissions of Sam Alberry in this lecture and in his book, "Is God Anti-Gay?"), but I have a problem with those who practice it or treat it as though it’s “natural” and therefore an acceptable lifestyle.

As a headline, I think it’s true enough that “there are gay Christians,” but again, I’m not sure the author would make the distinction that I do, between Christians (inwardly & outwardly) who have (and struggle with) same-sex attraction and Christians (outwardly) who practice same-sex intercourse. The author insists that we remember that "gays" are real people. I think that is important to keep in mind. It is precisely because they are real people we are dealing with that I think this distinction of mine is helpful. 

When someone “realizes” they are attracted to the same sex, but is also a practicing Christian, it is easier to minister to them as Christians who have an inappropriate and sinful disposition than it is to minister to them after accepting the propaganda that they have some innate “gayness” which they suddenly realized. That argument of suddenly realizing one's inborn "gayness" is, to me, like someone suddenly realizing they are gluttons or drunkards, and then arguing that they suddenly “realized” they were born that way. And what do you know?, suddenly it becomes convenient to believe that there are thousands of others who are born that way too!! Therefore it must be acceptable to be a glutton or a drunkard and a practicing Christian. That, to me, is absurd reasoning. This does not mean that the people who believe such absurdities are somehow intellectual bafoons. Absurdity from a Christian worldview, after all, is a consequence of sinful reasoning, not unintelligent reasoning. 

However, if a Christian realized he or she is attracted to the same sex, I would argue that such is an attraction which can be genuine and controlled by one's own self in a godly way despite whatever “natural” or hormonal or psychological tendencies there may be to desire the same sex. That can be counseled. That can be helped. That person can be loved and worshiped alongside as a Christian who struggles with something that God does not desire for their choice of lifestyle, and that is a principle which all Christians struggle with to some degree. Sexual sin is very common among all Christians, and does not make someone a non-Christian per se. It may make them a backsliding Christian. It may make them a covenant-breaking Christian, which may eventually lead them into becoming apostate, but that does not necessarily make them a non-Christian from the outset of their epiphany to (or acceptance of) same-sex attraction.

The author also claims that Matthew Vines’ new book on gay people provides a “conservative evangelical” approach to this subject, and that conservative Christians should be willing to reexamine what the Bible teaches about homosexuality. Well, in my mind, some of what Vines has to say about kindness and respect toward kind and respectful homosexuals might be helpful. But I don’t know his exact views because I haven’t read his book. I have only read conservative evangelical reviews of his book, and as far I can tell, his views appear to be pretty typical sloppy exegesis of Scripture. To his credit, it is sloppy biblical exegesis which appears to have the best of intentions.

I want to address this portion of his blog a bit further. Even if, as the author claims, “many people affirm monogamous same sex marriage without discarding the Bible,” that does not mean their meticulous faithfulness to a monogamous relationship is pleasing to God (which is what the author assumes). The typical “alternative biblical understanding” is that all the Old Testament passages “against” homosexual practices are either “against” pagan homosexual practices (cultic prostitution, pagan sexual rites, etc…) or abusive or adulterous homosexual relationships. From these typical claims, the author of this blog wants conservative Christians to consider this as a possibility and file it under “secondary theology,” allowing Christian charity to “leave room for disagreement.” Well, I think there is something extremely valuable about learning to leave room for disagreement, but I’m not willing to file this issue under “secondary theology” precisely because the Law of God and the Apostle Paul are explicitly opposed to the practice of same-sex relationships (both cultic, abusive, adulterous, and “Christian”; see ESV translation of Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Romans 1:26-7; I Cor. 6:9-11; I Tim. 1:8-10).1 According to Scripture, the practice of same-sex intercourse is not a "secondary" theological issue in the eyes of God or his apostles, and therefore we should be cautious about accepting this blogger's opinion about it being that way. (And don't just take my word--as a blogger--for granted. Look at the Scriptures yourself!)

The author then says something just as ambiguous as his opening statement. He says, “Please consider that we treat our gay brothers and sisters differently than everyone else, and even if you’re right – this behavior is wrong.”

I think this opinion of his is important to consider because Christians don’t often think that their own behavior, and especially their own private thoughts, are wrong. After all, they have thought them through, and they have grown up with others who have thought them through and reached the same conclusions. Therefore it must be right!

I would agree with this author’s statement had he been a little more clear about  what he means by “this behavior.” I don’t think it’s reasonable to think that treating gay “brothers and sisters” (i.e. Christians) “differently than everyone else” is clear enough. What does he mean by “differently”? If what he means by “differently” is that they cannot be treated as a Christian who struggles with same-sex attraction, then I agree; Christians should examine themselves and consider treating them as brothers and sisters caught up in the sinful spirit of our age, but who still might very well be immature Christians. I am very serious about this, so I am going to repeat myself to be extra clear. Same-sex attraction is a real temptation among Christians, and Christians would be wise to treat those who struggle with same-sex attraction as Christians. I'm not saying this is limitless. I'm not saying this is the one answer to solving all possible uncomfortable circumstances between "gay" and "anti-gay" Christians. What I'm saying is that (1) they are "gay" in the sense that they struggle with same-sex attraction, and still consider themselves to be Bible-believing, Christ-honoring Christians, and (2) a mature Christian would be wise to treat them as Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction. That way, homosexual practice doesn’t ever need to be condoned as a lifestyle or propped up on some glorious pedestal of respectability. At the same time a healthy self-examination of one’s self can restrain unnecessary hatred and foolishness toward a “weaker brother,” and as long as a Bible-believing, Christ-honoring Christian is struggling with same-sex attraction, I would consider them the "weaker brother" (as St. Paul uses that description). According to Scripture, the immature Christian is the “weaker” brother; and according to Paul (and Jesus), causing a weaker brother to stumble and fall short of entering the kingdom of heaven is wrong. There is no black or white “law” to deal with every particular temptation and sin of particular people, which is why a “stronger,” more mature Christian should be willing to examine himself, hold firmly to God’s Law which does not favor same-sex attraction, and still love and counsel individuals according to their particular temptations and sins. In that way they can still treat "gays" as Christians who need greater strength in their walk with Christ.

The author then makes this claim: “We’d rarely—if ever—treat these people the way LGBTQ people get treated, and that should be a deeply concerning realization. The fact that one group, and only one group, has been effectively marginalized from the church (you know, that thing that’s supposed to represent Jesus here on earth) should cause us tremendous sorrow.” 

It's not uncommon for me to get slightly irritated by emotional arguments like this. Everyone pack your bags! We're going on a guilt trip! Again, first things first. 

It is not true that "one group, and only one group, has been effectively marginalized from the church." Isn't this blogger aware that pedophiles, zoophiles, rapists, kidnappers, murderers, and baal-worshipers have also been marginalized from the church? This guy can't be serious about gays being the "only" ones marginalized. If he really believes that, he's naive. 

Secondarily, although it is very true that LGBTQ people are treated sinfully by others in a way which accompanies “marginalization” by the Christian Church, that most certainly does not mean that I, as Christian, should be “deeply concerned” or "tremendously sorrowful" about the sinful choices of the LGBTQ community any more than the sinful choices of the Christian community. I am deeply concerned about them both. If God’s Word teaches all men what sin looks like throughout history, and God's Law defines what sin is (I John 3:4), then I don’t have to favor one community over another if they’re both treating each other sinfully in light of Scripture (i.e. in light of God's Word and His Law). And let’s not joke around about this either. Within the LGBTQ community there are plenty of professing Christians and other "religious" people who hate—and I mean hate—other Christians who disagree with their choice of lifestyle; and that hatred is just as categorically wicked as the non-peaceful Christians who hate their Christian brothers that struggle with same sex attraction. All sinful treatment of "gays" and "anti-gays" needs to stop, not just by those within the visible Church.

Last, but not least of importance, is this author’s claim that “Jesus was a traitor to the culture wars of his day.”

In context, that is said in a way which is supposed to make Christians consider what the “real” culture wars of our day are not (not what they actually are). Immediately we are supposed to associate “anti-gay” with the Pharisees who were against Jesus’ gospel of peace. We are supposed to think of Jesus crucified wrongly for his acceptance of all people, including gays. We are supposed to believe that because Jesus was a traitor to the culture wars of his day, that we also must have that same missional disposition toward whatever ways our culture is at war. This means Christians should not war over being gay and Christian. They should, instead, be “deeply concerned” about those who are anti-gay. 

My response to this is pretty simple. Culture wars vary from culture to culture, but the Law of God abides forever. Jesus' gospel was a gospel of peace, but Jesus was also God, and God's Law is Jesus' Law. In that Law, God calls the practice of homosexual behavior an “abomination” worthy of the death penalty in a criminal court (which is only applicable, for obvious reason, if persons were tried in a civil court that acknowledges God’s Law as morally binding). That, of course, is another touchy subject altogether! However, both Jesus and his apostles clearly endorsed it--thousands of years after the law was given--as having contemporary moral application: Matt. 15:3-6; Luke 23:39-43; Acts 25:11; Rev. 13:10. Moreover, within Scripture itself, God never rescinds his own view about the immorality of that behavior. The "Law" as a ministration of death for Israel, through which mankind could receive new life and draw near to God with a particular altar in a particular temple with a particular priesthood and particular sacrifices has indeed expired, but certainly not the moral character of God, which permeated all those Scriptures and gives us the very standard by which the sacrificing of Jesus himself is considered satisfactory for God's justice. 

This leads me to believe that when Jesus began his earthly ministry of peace, crying out “Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” that he was serious about repenting from those things which could keep fellow believers out of the kingdom of heaven. As I have already mentioned in passing, in I Cor. 6:9-10 St. Paul says “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” Do not be deceived, Paul says. Do you not know, Paul asks. These statements imply that Christians can deceive themselves about homosexuality, even though they ought to know better. Christians are susceptible to believing the foolish lies of the world, just as much as non-Christians are. 

But Paul doesn’t just end with that clear denunciation of such homosexual behavior. He then addresses that Christian congregation with these words of comfort: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

Paul recognized that there were some among the saints in Corinth who once were practicing homosexuals, but no longer practiced that lifestyle because they were baptized. Also, by implication, his warning to them assumes that some of them might still be tempted to endorse such sins again. But Paul says that they shouldn’t be tempted to if they want to inherit the kingdom of God. 

Do you (the reader) want to inherit the kingdom of God? If you are a Christian who struggles with same-sex attraction, I suggest that you heed Paul's admonition to the saints in Corinth, and ask Jesus for stronger faith to obey His Word. Ultimately, your own relationship with Jesus, or lack thereof, will determine your inheritance, so don't pretend that Jesus would have brushed this issue off to the side as some sort of "secondary theology." Paul was an apostle of Jesus Christ, and if you are a Christian, his words should be as good as the word of Jesus. You should seek strength from your Savior to trust, even as Paul said, that "such were some of you."

1.  Of course, I would readily encourage studying the Greek and Hebrew texts instead of an english translation of them, but I consider the ESV to be a considerate and generally accurate translation of the Greek and Hebrew texts. That is why I recommend reading these passages in the ESV.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Offending our prejudices (Ezekiel 5:5-17)

Commenting on Ezekiel 5:5-17, Robert Jenson challenges a dominant Christian prejudice pertaining to the limitations of God’s sovereignty over the affairs of men. He writes:
Is an immanent connection between Jerusalem’s sin and her coming disaster compatible with the proclamation that the Lord himself takes the field to punish her?
Jerusalem is punished by inevitable consequences of sin and is punished by God in person. These are compatible on one condition: if the statutes and ordinances that make the moral order do not obtain independently of God (as often in other religions) or do not function merely as a mediation of divine order from afar (as in yet other systems) but simply are the Lord’s own willing and acting among his creatures.
The supposition that God can be wrathful when rebelled against, and even jealous of his people’s love, further offends our prejudices. We may try to escape by the popular supposition that God in the Old Testament could be wrathful and that the New Testament changes all that. But this notion cannot survive the slightest acquaintance with the texts. Paul is not outdone by Ezekiel: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness” (Rom. 1:18), which he latter catalogues in truly wrathful detail. And for depictions of divinely ordained destruction of the wicked, the New Testament book of Revelation tops all competition.
Modernity expected God to be disinterested; and if a judge, then a disinterested judge, on the model of one behind the bench of a British or American courtroom. But the biblical God is precisely not disinterested; his boundless personal investment in his creatures is his most determining characteristic. His law is not something he devises and administers, it is his active personal will, which thus defines also who and what he himself is. And therefore when it is flouted he must be personally offended. He is a lover and therefore jealous, for there cannot be an actual lover who is not jealous—the great climax of the Song of Songs, “love is strong as death, jealously fierce as the grave,” strictly and knowingly parallels love and jealousy. Christian theology dare not retreat a step from these claims, for as the gospel construes our situation, our only hope is God’s personal stake in the good he wills for us.
How we are to work out the metaphysics is another matter. In the dominant inherited tradition, deity is defined by a set of characteristics—many beginning with “omni”—that add up to an immunity to temporal created events. But if God can in history be moved to wrath by our deeds, and if his wrath can then be “satisfied” by his acts in time, he cannot be timeless or changeless in any naïve sense of these notions. …We must indeed think that God remains himself, come what may in his history with us, but this cannot be because he is unaffected by us or because time is meaningless for him.1

1.  Robert W. Jenson, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible:Ezekiel [Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2009], pp. 62-3