Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 48

Posted: June 14th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 48

100. Time has three divisions. Faith is coextensive with all three, hope with one, and love with the remaining two. Moreover, faith and hope will last to a certain point; but love, united beyond union with Him who is more than infinite, will remain for all eternity, always increasing beyond all measure. That is why ‘the greatest of them is love’ (1 Cor. 13:13).

No, if you’re wondering, I don’t really understand this text. But I’m taken by the image of love for all eternity, increasing beyond all measure. I’m not sure what ‘united beyond union’ might be, but I sense in that the essence of theosis.


Why Do We Pray? 5 – Communion

Posted: March 14th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Prayer | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

What if we asked what prayer is rather than trying to focus on what prayer does?

That’s a different sort of question, isn’t it? And perhaps as we understand something more about the essence of Christian prayer, it’s activity will become a little clearer.

So what is prayer?

I would like to suggest that Christian prayer is a mystical connection with God. Now mystical is a word with all sorts of layered meanings in our culture. I use it in the sense of something that has a spiritual meaning that goes beyond our human understanding. In prayer, we step directly into the unmediated presence of God. We are communicating (a word with an intriguing etymology) with God and God with us.

Now, that’s not to imply any particular sort of feeling or experience — which is often what people think when they hear the word mystical. In truth, we may feel nothing. We may not recognize the connection. We may feel our prayers go no higher than the ceiling (which begs the question, of course, of why we feel our prayers need to go anywhere). But if God has an independent, transcendent reality and if prayer is in fact a direct means of interacting with God, then this happens in our prayer whether we feel anything or not.

And that, of course, makes sense of the often repeated instruction to Christians to pray without ceasing. If we were able to open our nous or receptive mind so it is always aware of God, then the mystical connection of prayer would never be broken. Of course, that is easier said than done and in order to move in that direction, we must practice a discipline of prayer — a rule of prayer.

We don’t primarily pray to change God (as if we could), to change ourselves, or to establish a religious community of faith marked by its common practice. No, we pray to grow in communion with God. Now, that process will undeniably change us. And as we grow in communion with God, we will grow in communion with other human beings — which is more than mere fellowship or community. But those are effects of growing in communion with God, of training our nous to be open and directed at God; they are not the purpose of prayer.

In some ways, it is like communication between spouses. Yes, there’s a level at which I talk to my wife and she talks to me just to share information and organize our lives. But on a deeper level, we speak and communicate with each other so that we might grow in communion with each other — so that we might become, in some sense, one. My wife sometimes complains in frustration that she hardly understands me at all, but in truth she knows me better than any other human being. Sometimes she knows me better than I know myself.

Though the metaphor may be strained, prayer is still something very much like that deeper communication between spouses. Of course, God already knows us through and through, but we often do not know God. We do not usually commune with God. Prayer gives us that direct connection to know God as much as we can bear. But to do that, we must pray, and we often do not want to pray at all.

Pray anyway.

As much as you can. As often as you can. To the extent that you can. An attempt to pray, to adhere to a rule of prayer, is better than not praying, even if it seems like God is a million miles away.

Somewhere along the journey, prayer must also involve learning to listen. For the connection of prayer is two-way. If you are connected to God, you have made yourself open to God. If our organ of prayer is our nous, or receptive mind, then we inevitably open our heart to that toward which we direct it.

How will God communicate with you? I can’t say, because I don’t believe there is any rule or constraint. Some hear an almost audible voice. I have at times heard a gentle, inner whisper. Often it may be an understanding.

How do you tell the difference between God’s communication and your own inner voice? That’s a good question and we see frequent examples of situations in which people have almost certainly confused the two. We lie to ourselves so facilely and thoroughly that it’s easy to believe we are communing and hearing from God, when in fact the “god” in question is ourselves.

I have no answer. The only thing I can say is pray and grow in communion with God. If you do, you will learn to know his voice.


Heterodox?

Posted: March 25th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Faith | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

The brouhaha over Rob Bell’s new book, Love Wins, has continued to percolate in the back of my mind. Last week I expressed my frustration over the more modern and truncated understanding of “hell” that many were calling the traditional or historical view and tried to share perspectives that are at least as traditional and historical, if not more so. But even underlying that, I’ve been bemused by those tossing around the idea of an orthodox or heterodox view.

By and large, the individuals using those words have been Protestants of one sort or another. For that part of my life in which I’ve been Christian, I’ve only ever been Protestant, but I’ve still never really understood the basis on which a Protestant calls their own belief orthodox or that of another heterodox. The traditional meaning of heresy flows from the idea that those who hold and promote a particular idea have chosen their own, different faith in practice or belief. Any particular heterodox teaching or understanding is always contrasted to the right worship or belief according to the common tradition of practice and interpretation in the church.

By that definition, it seems to me that to one degree or another, every Protestant is, of necessity, a heretic. One of the fundamental tenets of Protestantism, at least as I’ve understood and experienced it, is that every individual determines or chooses for himself or herself the truth of any given practice, belief, or interpretation. The fact that the thousands of groups of Protestants share some superficial similarities perhaps disguises that underlying reality and what are actually some pretty deep differences. Even when the same words are used, they are often defined and understood differently within different groups.

There is much in that particular Protestant perspective on faith that appeals to me. After all, my formation was more deeply pluralistic and even relativistic than that of most modern, conservative Protestants and that perspective is deeply relativistic. I’m not even sure how I could ever stop deconstructing propositions and choosing what I believe and practice. It happens that I’ve discovered that much of what I’ve come to believe about God (or in many cases had always believed about God) actually coincides with Orthodox teaching. But that doesn’t even vaguely make me Orthodox. I see the distinction even if it’s not as clear to others.

One of the largest groups of Bell’s critics seem to lie among the Neo-Calvinists or those with Calvinistic leanings. I try not to pick on Calvinists too much, but they have been very vocal in their evangel of Hell, and they do have a well-articulated theology that describes a very different God and a very different humanity from that described by most of Christianity. I’ve also noticed that group seems particularly quick to use the orthodox and heterodox labels.

But on what basis?

After all, Roman Catholics in the Council of Trent and in other places and the Orthodox, at least in the 17th century Council of Jerusalem, have both anathematized the core tenets of Calvinism. Taken together, that represents well over a billion Christians world-wide and two of the most ancient traditions in Christianity. Whether you agree or disagree with them, isn’t it strange for the comparatively small and relatively modern sect of Calvin to be acting like the standard-bearers for Christian orthodoxy?

Or is that just me?

As a Protestant, it seems to me we can each say that, as an individual, we either do or don’t believe something is true. And it also seems to me that’s really all we have the authority to say. Having asserted our right to define truth for ourselves, we have relinquished any credible authority to assert it over another. Oh, that obviously stops no-one from attempting to assert their will to power in various ways. And in the history of Protestantism, many of those ways have been violent. My stint as a Christian has been in the Baptist tribe and many of our martyrs were killed by Calvinists and other Protestant Christian groups.

Nevertheless, having asserted our own right to choose, we are hypocrites when we try to deny that same right to another.


Walking In My Shoes

Posted: November 22nd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Faith | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments »

I’m going to attempt to translate to words something that has long been coalescing in my heart and mind. As such I’ll probably express aspects of it poorly or in ways that are unintentionally difficult for anyone but me to grasp the intended meaning. My thoughts will probably also meander a bit, which I’m sure will be no surprise to those who know me.

Since I often find that my thoughts are spurred by music, I’m going to weave these thoughts around a fairly old Depeche Mode song, Walking In My Shoes, that at least to me relates to the thoughts revolving around and through my mind. Take a moment to watch the video. If you aren’t familiar with the song, I’ve also included the lyrics at the bottom of this post.

We all have a story and no two stories are the same.

That may seem obvious, but we often act as though it were not true. We recast those we meet into roles in our drama. We see them through the lens of our own narrative. We make them more like us than is often true. And when people fail to act according to the roles in which we have subconsciously place them, we tend to become angry and judge them accordingly. Less often do we recognize what we have actually done and the pain we have inflicted as a result.

That is one theme I hear resonating in this song. It’s the cry of one judged by others for failing to live out their assigned role. We all do that to people at times, even when we strive for something different. We are bound more tightly than we think by the lens of our experience. On the one hand, we can claim little right to judge unless we truly ‘walk in the shoes’ of the we are judging. And on the other, we are never able to truly do that. We are the product of our journey, not that of the other, and we can never escape that reality.

Would you have made better choices if you had lived my life?

Would you be a better person than me if you had experienced all that I have experienced?

Who are you to judge me?

These questions echo in the song and to one degree or another in the hearts of us all. These and the others like them are perfectly valid questions. And when raised, they must be answered. It seems to me that they are too often dismissed, instead.

I know that in many of my interactions with Christians over the course of my life, those questions formed at least a part of my reaction. I may not have expressed them verbally, but they were certainly in my heart. And there were times when those questions were twisted in knots of anger, especially when I would hear stories (whether real or not) of what seemed by my standards idyllic and peaceful lives from people who then condemned those who did not rise to their standards of (untried) “moral” excellence.

I’m hardly immune from our tendency to judge, though. For instance, to use just one prominent example, I hear John Piper’s public statements on things ranging from the I-35 bridge collapse to thoughts on divorce and abusive relationships and I am appalled. While I automatically reject such things and have no problem seeing the evil in them, there is always a part of me that thanks God that I was not shaped by my life and experience into someone like Piper.

It’s true that I don’t make the mistake of assuming I would have somehow turned out “better” if I had lived his life instead of mine. Nevertheless, when I do that, I know as I do it that in some way I am standing in the place of the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable, who thanked God that the circumstances of his birth and life were not those of people he judged to be in a worse state than his. As I am truly grateful that I did not experience whatever it was that made people like that who and what they are, I am left with no option but the prayer of the publican, “Lord have mercy!”

God, however, did offer a response to those cries of our soul. It’s one of the most beautiful facets of the gem of Christianity. In the Incarnation, the only begotten Son of God walked in our shoes. He kept the same appointments we keep, even the appointment with death. He experienced the pain we’ve been subjected to. He experienced the temptations of the apparent “feasts” laid before us. And through it all, he remained the faithful Man, the faithful Israel, the Man of Thanksgiving, the eucharistic Man.

Yet, from the vantage of his faithfulness where we are unfaithful, Jesus did not judge or condemn us. He ate with sinners. He offered love. He sought those who were discarded and lost. He made himself the least and the servant of all.

And Jesus commanded us to do that same.

That’s an uncomfortable place to be. We prefer to denounce and to distance ourselves from those we reject. We prefer to focus on things like the prophetic woes Jesus proclaimed on the scribes and pharisees. And yet, even here, if you dig below the surface things become a little harder to fit into a particular compartment. For instance, while it seems that Jesus used ‘hypocrite’ as an epithet, it did not commonly have that meaning at the time. Rather, a ‘hypocrite’ was one who spoke or acted in order to affect a crisis of decision in the audience. And neither actor nor speaker should be understood in modern terms. Both were connected to religious activities and rituals. The pharisees were attempting to live and speak in such a way that they provoked a crisis in Israel and bring the people to return to faithful adherence to the Law of Moses. In practice, they were doing something not dissimilar from what the pagan hypocrites of their era did. And that was not considered  a bad thing or an insult. It was noble. Dwell on that the next time you read the prophetic woes and see if you can find any modern parallels.

Having walked in our shoes, Jesus invites us to walk with him in his. He tells us that as we walk with him, love with him, consume him, we too can become faithful. We too can still participate in the life of God. He doesn’t try to make us good. He gives us life and offers us an opportunity to become truly human.

And that brings us to the last theme in the song I’ll explore. It’s something I think much of modern evangelicalism gets wrong. It’s the theme of repentance and absolution. The song says it well. “i’m not looking for absolution, forgiveness for the things I do.” Modern evangelicalism seems largely to assume that most people are looking for forgiveness or have some understanding of their need of repentance. Everything seems focused on the attempt to make people feel bad about themselves, provoke a crisis in their audience, and thus bring them forward toward proffered absolution.

I suppose that’s fine for those shaped in such a way that they do feel shame or guilt and a need for forgiveness. But that simply does not describe as many people today as it perhaps once did in a culture predominantly shaped by Christianity. But now? Even today, I echo the somewhat defiant words, “Before we talk of any repentance, try walking in my shoes.” Of course, Jesus did walk in our shoes. When he calls us to repentance, he is not trying to make us feel bad about who or what we are. He is trying to get us to release our burdens. “Come to me all you who are heavy laden.” I heard that call. I hear it still today.

Once I began to try to follow Jesus, once I was captured in his embrace, I began to understand repentance. I began slowly to see places I did not walk with him, places I was burdened and heavy laden, and I began (very, very slowly) to turn from one destination toward a destination of life in Christ. That’s repentance, not some passing feeling of sorrow or remorse. Of course, when we do cry out for mercy and forgiveness, God is overflowing with all the mercy and forgiveness and embracing love we could ever need. Unlike us, God has no forgiveness problem.

“i’m not looking for absolution…” And yet, absolution is all that so many churches seem prepared to offer. I would never say there’s no place for that. There is. But if someone’s not looking  for forgiveness, then such churches have nothing at all to offer. The questions today more often revolve around the nature of reality and what it means to be a human being. Christianity has the most wonderful answers to those questions, but you almost never hear them.

When you interpret repentance as remorse and expect it as some sort of precondition, you also begin to enter some twisted territory. For instance, when I became a teen parent, I remember there were people who thought I should be remorseful about my choices. And I never was nor ever expect to be. Why? The answer lies in the face of that infant girl I held in my arms for the first time one night in a hospital almost twenty-eight years ago. That memory has never faded. I believe to my core that the world is a richer and better place with my daughter in it than it could possibly be without her.

Do I recommend teen parenthood? Of course not. It’s a hard and often painful path to walk. But I have never and will never regret my daughter’s existence. I even got thrown out of a Christian worship service because I refused to hide her away. They correctly felt that I was in no way ashamed about my daughter and the circumstances of her birth. I’ve recently seen that the same sort of attitudes persist among some Christians today.

Like a moth to a flame, I’m drawn to life in Christ even if the fire consumes me. But I’m still not sure I’m looking for forgiveness for the things I’ve done. Some I regret, especially where I have hurt other people. And if God is truly who we see in Jesus of Nazareth, then I do believe I regret worshiping other gods. But I don’t regret my life. I don’t regret my children. And I can’t honestly say I regret the choices that helped make me who I am.

I do, however, want to be fully and truly human.

Depeche Mode
Songs Of Faith & Devotion
Walking In My Shoes

I would tell you about the things
They put me through
The pain i’ve been subjected to
But the lord himself would blush
The countless feasts laid at my feet
Forbidden fruits for me to eat
But i think your pulse would start to rush

Now i’m not looking for absolution
Forgiveness for the things i do
But before you come to any conclusions
Try walking in my shoes
Try walking in my shoes

You’ll stumble in my footsteps
Keep the same appointments i kept
If you try walking in my shoes
If you try walking in my shoes

Morality would frown upon
Decency look down upon
The scapegoat fate’s made of me
But i promise now, my judge and jurors
My intentions couldn’t have been purer
My case is easy to see

I’m not looking for a clearer conscience
Peace of mind after what i’ve been through
And before we talk of any repentance
Try walking in my shoes
Try walking in my shoes

You’ll stumble in my footsteps
Keep the same appointments i kept
If you try walking in my shoes
If you try walking in my shoes
Try walking in my shoes

Now i’m not looking for absolution
Forgiveness for the things i do
But before you come to any conclusions
Try walking in my shoes
Try walking in my shoes

You’ll stumble in my footsteps
Keep the same appointments i kept
If you try walking in my shoes

You’ll stumble in my footsteps
Keep the same appointments i kept
If you try walking in my shoes
Try walking in my shoes
If you try walking in my shoes
Try walking in my shoes


On the Incarnation of the Word 28 – Test the Claim of Victory Over Death

Posted: September 20th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Incarnation of the Word | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments »

In his next section, Athanasius exhorts those who do not believe the claims of Christ’s victory over death to become Christian and see for themselves. It strikes me that this perspective on what it means to be Christian stands somewhat at odds with the present Western view. See for yourself.

But just as he who has got the asbestos knows that fire has no burning power over it, and as he who would see the tyrant bound goes over to the empire of his conqueror, so too let him who is incredulous about the victory over death receive the faith of Christ, and pass over to His teaching, and he shall see the weakness of death, and the triumph over it. For many who were formerly incredulous and scoffers have afterwards believed and so despised death as even to become martyrs for Christ Himself.

Become Christian (rather than whatever else you presently might be) and then you will believe in the same way that someone will believe that asbestos protects you from fire after testing it. The experience proves the point and many of the martyrs experienced exactly that. There are many stories of those putting the martyrs to death converting themselves in the middle of the process. They went from persecutor to Christian to martyr in the space sometimes of moments.

Become Christian and then you will believe. I think I experienced some of that myself.


Baptists, Eucharist, and History 18 – St. Cyprian to the Church of Thibaris

Posted: August 2nd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Church History, Eucharist | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

This letter to the Church of Thibaris was also written to help prepare them for persecution, so it’s similar in context to the last one. And we see a similar theme and place for the Eucharist.

A severer and a fiercer fight is now threatening, for which the soldiers of Christ ought to prepare themselves with uncorrupted faith and robust courage, considering that they drink the cup of Christ’s blood daily, for the reason that they themselves also may be able to shed their blood for Christ.

Drink Christ’s blood daily so you will be able to shed your blood for Christ. It’s the same visceral connection. And it is interesting that a practice of daily Eucharist is mentioned.

Later in the letter, as St. Cyprian is writing about the full armor metaphor from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he certainly interprets the sword in a way I don’t think I’ve ever heard in a Protestant church.

that our mouth may be fortified, that the conquering tongue may confess Christ its Lord: let us also arm the right hand with the sword of the Spirit, that it may bravely reject the deadly sacrifices; that, mindful of the Eucharist, the hand which has received the Lord’s body may embrace the Lord Himself, hereafter to receive from the Lord the reward of heavenly crowns.

The right hand is armed with the Lord’s body in the Eucharist. It is consumed through our mouths and thus fortifies it and gives us a conquering tongue.

Normative baptist practice, at least in most SBC churches that I’ve heard about, is to hold the “Lord’s Supper” quarterly and every time stress that it is just a memorial remembrance and symbol and that nothing whatsoever is actually happening. The only reason we’re doing it at all is because for some obscure reason Jesus told us to engage in this ritual. So we’re going to do it even though we don’t believe it actually accomplishes anything whatsoever other than spur a moment of personal, private reflection and perhaps stir an internal emotional response.


Baptists, Eucharist, and History 16 – Tertullian

Posted: July 31st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Church History, Eucharist | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

I hesitate to include Tertullian in my series. He is not, strictly speaking, a Father of the Church since he is not recognized as a saint and actually ended his life as a schismatic. I tend to tread carefully and mostly stick to the recognized Fathers. That’s why you won’t see me referring to Origen very often except for those parts of his works that were used by actual later Fathers. However, I have read a great deal of Tertullian. He is the first notable Latin voice in the Church. And much of his preserved writings are, in fact, within the mainstream of the belief and practice of the ancient church. And he marks both the period of the transition from the second into the third century in the Church and the voice of the West. As such, I think it is helpful to see that in the matter of the Eucharist, there remains continuity with all that we have already examined.

I’ve selected an excerpt from Chapter 8 of On the Resurrection of the Flesh. Interestingly, Tertullian also seems to be defending the faith against those who deny the general bodily resurrection of the dead and the Eucharist comes into play again in that context.

Now such remarks have I wished to advance in defence of the flesh, from a general view of the condition of our human nature. Let us now consider its special relation to Christianity, and see how vast a privilege before God has been conferred on this poor and worthless substance. It would suffice to say, indeed, that there is not a soul that can at all procure salvation, except it believe whilst it is in the flesh, so true is it that the flesh is the very condition on which salvation hinges. And since the soul is, in consequence of its salvation, chosen to the service of God, it is the flesh which actually renders it capable of such service. The flesh, indeed, is washed, in order that the soul may be cleansed; the flesh is anointed, that the soul may be consecrated; the flesh is signed (with the cross), that the soul too may be fortified; the flesh is shadowed with the imposition of hands, that the soul also maybe illuminated by the Spirit; the flesh feeds on the body and blood of Christ, that the soul likewise may fatten on its God. They cannot then be separated in their recompense, when they are united in their service.

Our human nature, our bodies, our flesh are such that our salvation hinges on them. It is our bodies which embody the decision of our spirit to serve God. It is the flesh which is washed (in baptism) and it is the flesh of our bodies that feeds on the body and blood of Christ.  The other instances are interesting too. It sounds to me like he is speaking of the anointing oil of chrismation, which in the West came to be delayed and called confirmation. He notes that it is our bodies upon which the sign of the cross is made. I remember Bishop NT Wright commenting once that we know how to curse others with our hands, but many of us don’t know how to bless them with our hands. That remark stuck with me.

As you can tell, this sounds very similar to everything else we have read together to this point. How much does any of it sound like this?

The Lord’s Supper is a symbolic act of obedience whereby members of the church, through partaking of the bread and the fruit of the vine, memorialize the death of the Redeemer and anticipate His second coming.

I have a friend who says, “I’m not saying, I’m just saying.” It seems oddly appropriate at this juncture.


Baptists, Eucharist, and History 13 – Irenaeus of Lyons on Unity

Posted: July 28th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Church History, Eucharist | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

I’m now going to move forward a few more decades to a period around 170-180 AD as we focus on Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons. We know that when Irenaeus was young he knew Polycarp. Polycarp, as you may recall, was a disciple of John the Beloved. So there remains a close, direct connection between the one writing and the apostles. I mentioned the emphasis of Justin on the Trinity and gave one example. That same perspective permeates the writings we have of Irenaeus. I strongly recommend a recently recovered treasure by Irenaeus, The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching. Not only will you find much on the Father, Son, and Spirit, you will also find an in depth exploration of the many ways Jesus was prophesied and prefigured in what we commonly call the Old Testament. For the purposes of this series, I will be focusing on the books of his most famous work, Against Heresies. But I do commend the above for your own personal reflection.

In Against Heresies, Irenaeus is chiefly writing against various groups of gnostic heretics. In fact, his works are one of the sources from which we’ve gleaned much about them. They were many and diverse. Unlike a heresy like Arianism, there was no single teaching in ancient Christian gnosticism. But all the groups did share some common strands. Among those were an emphasis on secret knowledge, a dualism between the material as evil and the spirit as good, and typically many hierarchies or levels of celestial beings, often called Aeons.

I’m going to start our series today with what Irenaeus writes in Chapter X of Book I of Against Heresies, Unity of the Faith of the Church throughout the whole world. He is specifically making this point because the gnostic heresies are so varied and diverse by contrast. However, it does have particular bearing on this series as well. Recall Ignatius’ emphasis on “one eucharist”. Recognize that what Irenaeus will be writing is not merely his sole opinion. Rather, the faith is so coherent and unified that he can write the following words and expect them to be recognized as manifestly true.  Then compare what Irenaeus says to the modern Western landscape of extreme, individualistic Christian pluralism in which the various theologies and sects are even often named for the one who invented them. If you can find any commonality between the two visions of the Church, you have a more discerning mind than mine. Here are Irenaeus’ own words.

The Church, though dispersed through our the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and His [future] manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father “to gather all things in one, and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race, in order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Saviour, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father, “every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess” to Him, and that He should execute just judgment towards all; that He may send “spiritual wickednesses,” the angels who transgressed and became apostates, together with the ungodly, and unrighteous, and wicked, and profane among men, into everlasting fire; but may, in the exercise of His grace, confer immortality on the righteous, and holy, and those who have kept His commandments, and have persevered in His love, some from the beginning [of their Christian course], and others from [the date of] their repentance, and may surround them with everlasting glory.

As I have already observed, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points [of doctrine] just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth. For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the import of the tradition is one and the same. For the Churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world. But as the sun, that creature of God, is one and the same throughout the whole world, so also the preaching of the truth shineth everywhere, and enlightens all men that are willing to come to a knowledge of the truth. Nor will any one of the rulers in the Churches, however highly gifted he may be in point of eloquence, teach doctrines different from these (for no one is greater than the Master); nor, on the other hand, will he who is deficient in power of expression inflict injury on the tradition. For the faith being ever one and the same, neither does one who is able at great length to discourse regarding it, make any addition to it, nor does one, who can say but little diminish it.


Baptists, Eucharist, and History 12 – Justin Martyr on the Eucharist

Posted: July 27th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Church History, Eucharist | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

This post concludes my reflections on Justin Martyr’s First Apology. I saved for last Chapter LXVI which focuses explicitly on the Eucharist.

And this food is called among us Eukaristia [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, “This do ye in remembrance of Me, this is My body;” and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, “This is My blood;” and gave it to them alone. Which the wicked devils have imitated in the mysteries of Mithras, commanding the same thing to be done. For, that bread and a cup of water are placed with certain incantations in the mystic rites of one who is being initiated, you either know or can learn.

Justin begins by outlining three things that must be true of those who partake of the Eucharist among them. First, they must believe that the things taught are true. Since the person would actually be at the worship, this seems to be directed at those within the church who were adopting other beliefs. In other words, it’s not so much directed outward at the pagans, who would not have been present anyway, but inward at those like the gnostics.

Next they must have been washed — that is baptized.  (Washing was a common Jewish term for all their practices of ceremonial cleansings  that remained within the church for quite some time.) Although it’s not the topic of this series, I will note that Baptists also have a historical problem with our reduction of the mystery of Baptism to a mere symbol. Justin does actually speak more about it elsewhere in his apology, but it’s interesting to note that even here he describes it as for the remission of sins and unto regeneration. Both of those are, of course, what we would call biblical descriptions of baptism even though Justin did not yet have a New Testament Bible. Even absent the written texts, it is clearly part of what has been traditioned to him.

The requirement of baptism excluded those who were in the process of learning what it meant to be Christian. These came to be called the catechumens. The catechumenate developed as the church existed under persecution as an illegal religion under Roman law. The goal was to make sure that people understood what it meant to follow Christ and would be able to stand firm under torture and the threat of death. During this period it was still very much an unsettled question whether or not one who having turned to Christ, and then having denied Christ under persecution would ever be able to truly return to the faith.

And finally, those partaking must actually be living as Christ commanded us to live. In the words of the Holy Scriptures, they must obey his commands. And this, of course, is his command: That we love one another.

For the central purposes of this series, here is the key sentence.

For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.

There is quite a bit packed into this sentence, so I’m going to spend a little time unpacking it. First, Justin denies that we receive the elements as common bread and common drink. That certainly sets him at odds with the modern SBC Faith & Message. And perhaps sets him at odds with Zwingli. However, the next linkage is perhaps the most important. Justin connects the Eucharist to the Incarnation itself. Jesus took on flesh and blood for our salvation and as such we must consume his flesh and blood to receive it, to be nourished, and to be healed. This is the connection Jesus makes in John 6 fleshed out in practice. And then the very clear statement that the food which is blessed is the flesh and blood of Jesus.

I’ve been tempted at times to point out to my fellow Baptists that Bill Clinton was really just being a good Southern Baptist boy when he said, “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” But I’ve always refrained because I’m not sure they would take it in the spirit intended. And yet that is exactly what those who take the “mere symbol” route are doing. History so far has been consistent with the usage of ‘is’ in Holy Scriptures regarding the Eucharist. The blessed bread is our Lord’s flesh. The blessed wine is our Lord’s blood.

I am going to continue stepping forward through that which we have preserved from the historical practice and understanding of the Church in this series. But right now, the oft-repeated liturgical phrase from Battlestar Galactica comes to mind about all we have examined to date.

So say we all.


Baptists, Eucharist, and History 11 – Justin Martyr on the Trinity

Posted: July 26th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Church History, Eucharist | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Baptists, Eucharist, and History 11 – Justin Martyr on the Trinity

This post continues our reflections on Justin Martyr’s First Apology. I want to take a slight detour here for an examination of the Trinity. I’ve heard the assertion a number of times that the doctrine of the Trinity was a late-developing dogma of Christianity. While it is true that some of the first dogmatic and creedal expression of that doctrine are still a couple of centuries away as we read Justin, nevertheless, we find that the Trinity permeates his writing. But I want to specifically look at Chapter VI, one of the clearest short statements.

Hence are we called atheists. And we confess that we are atheists, so far as gods of this sort are concerned, but not with respect to the most true God, the Father of righteousness and temperance and the other virtues, who is free from all impurity. But both Him, and the Son (who came forth from Him and taught us these things, and the host of the other good angels who follow and are made like to Him), and the prophetic Spirit, we worship and adore, knowing them in reason and truth, and declaring without grudging to every one who wishes to learn, as we have been taught.

One of the common charges laid against ancient Christians was that they were atheists because they did not believe all the other gods were real. But the key thing to note here is that Justin writes that they worship the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. We see some of the roots of what Athanasius declared to Arius, “This is not what the Church has believed!” I gather that some don’t like the fact that it’s hard for us to wrap our head around a triune God. Nevertheless, this lies near the center of Christian belief and practice and has ramifications that permeate our faith. If we do not hold to this, then much of what we do is wasted.