Friday, March 23, 2018

The Vision: The creed of unbelief: "Thy record is not true."

Image: Daffodils, North Garden, Virginia, March 2018
Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on John 8:12-20.
Then spake Jesus again unto them saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life (John 8:12).
The Pharisees therefore said unto him, Thou bearest record of thyself; thy record is not true (John 8:13).
The Pharisees rejected Christ’s claim to be the light of the world by saying, “Thy record is not true.”
Every unbeliever says this in one way or another. We might call this the creed of unbelief, or the manifesto of unbelief: “Thy record is not true.”
The polar opposite of this would be Peter’s confession in John 6:69: “And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.”
It can be a pretty dauting things to make that confession. Maybe some of you remember the time when it dawned on you: Hey, you know, I really believe this. I really believe the gospel. I know this is not some fairy tale, but this is true. This is the truth. And I believe in Christ!
But have you ever thought about the obverse side of that? If you do not now identify yourself as a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, you are someone who says to Christ with the Pharisees: “Thy record is not true.”
Is your spirit going to rest easy with being in a state of unbelief or, as Christ called it, “walking in darkness”?
Calvin called Christ’s declaration to be the light of the world “a beautiful commendation of Christ,” for, he adds, “since we are all blind by nature, a remedy is offered, by which we may be freed and rescued from darkness and made partakers of the true light.”
So, we are left to ask: Which sphere are you in? Where are you walking? Are you in the darkness? Or do you have the light of life?
Has Christ done and is he continuing to do a work of spiritual transformation and translation in your life?
Do you respond to Christ’s claims in faith as Peter did in John 6:69?
Or, do you say to Christ as those Pharisees did, “Thy record is not true.”?
And are you willing to live with the consequences of such a stance?
It is costly to follow Christ. But it is costlier still to stay in the darkness and NOT to follow him.
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

David Bentley Hart's Survey of the Patristic Age

I’m enjoying reading through David Bentley Hart’s popular level work The Story of the Christianity (Quercus, 2009). It has short chapters, clear overviews, and is filled with interest-grabbing anecdotes.

In the chapter titled “Age of the Fathers” (95-101), Hart provides a succinct overview of the key leaders in the immediate post-apostolic age.

Hart calls this “the golden age of Christian thought” which was “frequently marked by a kind of speculative audacity, that the theologians of later years, under the restrictions of more precisely defined dogmas, found all but impossible” (95).

Here is my summary of his survey:

“Apostolic Fathers”: the earliest successors of the apostles

Clement of Rome
Ignatius of Antioch
Polycarp of Smyrna

Apologists: defenders of Christianity in the pagan world

Quadratus, during the time of the emperor Hadrian
Aristides, during the time of the emperor Antonius Pius
Melito of Sardis, during the time of the emperor Marcus Aurelius
Justin Martyr (c. 100-c. 165)
Irenaeus of Lyon (c. 130-c. 200)
Tertullian (c. 155-c. 230)

“High Patristic Age”

Clement of Alexandria
Athanasius, the scourge of Arianism
The Cappadocian Fathers: Basil, Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa
Augustine of Hippo (354-430)

Note: Hart says, “Western Christianity is Augustinian Christianity.” As an Orthodox theologian, however, Hart unsurprisingly believes that Augustine misunderstood Paul.

Later Masters

Cyril of Alexandria (c. 375-444)
Maximus the Confessor (c. 580-662)
“Pseudo-Dionysius” (c. 500)

The End of the Patristic Period

The last father in the West is usually said to be Isidore of Seville (c. 560-636);
The last father in the East, John of Damascus (c. 675-749).


Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Athanasius on how Christ turns men from fighting to farming

Image: Sunset, North Garden, Virginia, March 2018

Athanasius in On the Incarnation describes the power of Christ to change Barbarians:

The barbarians of the present day are naturally savages in their habits, and as long as they sacrifice to their idols they rage furiously against each other and cannot bear to be a single hour without weapons. But when they hear the teaching of Christ, forthwith they turn from fighting to farming, and instead of arming themselves with swords extend their hands in prayer…. These facts are proof of the Godhead of the Saviour, for He has taught men what they could never learn from idols (91).


Monday, March 19, 2018

Athanasius on Proof that Christ is Alive

Image: Cedar berries, North Garden, Virginia, March 2018

Athanasius in On the Incarnation on proof that Christ is alive:

The Saviour is working mightily among men, every day He is invisibly persuading numbers of people all over the world, both within and beyond the Greek-speaking world, to accept His faith and be obedient to His teaching. Can anyone, in the face of this, still doubt that He has risen and lives, or rather that He is Himself the Life? Does a dead man prick the consciences of men, so that they throw all the traditions of their fathers to the winds and bow down before the teachings of Christ? If He is no longer active in the world, as He must needs be if He is dead, how is it that He makes the living to cease from their activities, the adulterer from his adultery, the murder from his murdering, the unjust from avarice, while the profane and godless man becomes religious? If he did not rise, but is still dead, how is it that he routs and persecutes and overthrows the false gods whom unbelievers think to be alive, and the evil spirits whom they worship? For where Christ is named idolatry is destroyed and the fraud of evil spirits is exposed; indeed, no such spirit can endure that Name, but takes to flight at the sound of it. This is the work of the One Who lives, not of the dead; and more than that, it is the work of God (61).


Friday, March 16, 2018

The Woman Taken in Adultery Passage: Loved, Controverted, Misinterpreted

Image: Ivory pyxis from Egypt (c. 5-6 century), depicting the woman taken in adultery. National Museum, Paris.

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on John 8:1-11.

And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more (John 8:11b).

The woman taken in adultery passage (John 7:53—8:11) is perhaps the best loved, and the most controversial, and the most misinterpreted account in the Gospel of John.

It is perhaps the best loved, because it is in miniature the story of every believer. Perhaps we have committed outright adultery or we have committed mental or emotional adultery. We have broken God’s laws. We have committed spiritual adultery by having other gods above God. We have been caught in the act, and we have no excuse and can make no plausible defense for ourselves. We deserve everything we ought to get. We are exposed. And there is only one who can judge us, and it is a holy God himself. But then he sends forth his own dear Son to stand in our place and to take upon himself the wrath we deserve. So that, for us, there is now no condemnation. The “hanging” judge then takes us from the criminal court to family court, and he grants us spiritual adoption so that we become co-heirs with his own dear Son.

It is perhaps the most controversial, because some have tried to remove it from the text of Scripture. Witness the many modern Bibles that now place this text within brackets or even relegate it to the footnotes. Still, it has tenaciously held its place in God’s Word. Why has it been attacked? Because some have been offended by such an outlandish display of God’s grace in Christ toward this woman. Augustine of Hippo knew of attempts to suppress this account in his day (c. early fifth century), writing:

Certain persons of little faith, or rather enemies of the true faith, fearing, I suppose, lest their wives should be given impunity in sinning, removed from their manuscripts the Lord’s act of forgiveness toward the adulteress, as if he who said, “sin no more” had given permission to sin.

Christ couldn’t have done this, some think. But he did. And the saints of God will never let this precious account slip from God’s Word.

It is perhaps the most misinterpreted. How many have mis-used, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” to cover, ignore, justify, or obfuscate their own sin? They do the same with Matthew 7:1. Somehow, they conveniently miss consideration of Christ’s final words to this woman: “Go, and sin no more.” Christ not only saves men, but he also changes them. He calls them to live in ways above and beyond which, humanly speaking, they are capable. And this casts them again and again at the feet of Christ, confessing their sin, seeking his forgiveness, and being helped up again to walk in newness of life.

Calvin observes: Here we see “the design of the grace of Christ”: that a sinner reconciled to God “may honor the Author of his salvation by a good and holy life.”

Let us treasure this Word. Let us defend this Word. Let us rightly divide this Word.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Athanasius on the Incarnation as the restoration of a stained portrait

In On the Incarnation, Athanasius suggests the analogy of restored portrait painting to describe how the new Adam, Jesus, restored the stained image of the first Adam:

You know what happens when a portrait that has been painted on a panel becomes obliterated  through external stains. The artist does not throw away the panel, but the subject of the portrait has to come and sit for it again, and then the like-ness is re-drawn on the same material. Even so was it with the All-holy Son of God. He, the image of the Father, came and dwelt in our midst, in order that He might renew mankind made after Himself…. (42).

He later notes the necessity of the ministry of the perfect model, since:

You cannot put straight in others what is warped in yourself (42).


Thursday, March 15, 2018

Athanasius compares the incarnation to a king entering a city

I got started last Sunday preaching through chapter 8 of the confession “Of Christ the Mediator.” To prepare I’m reviewing Athanasius’s On the Incarnation (using the volume in the Popular Patristics Series from SVS Press).

Athanasius compares the incarnation to a king entering a city:

You know how it is when some great king enters a large city and dwells in one of its houses; because of his dwelling in that single house, the whole city is honoured, and enemies and robbers cease to molest it. Even so it is with the King of all; He has come into our country and dwelt in one body amidst the many, and in consequence the designs of the enemy against mankind have been foiled, and the corruption of death, which formerly held them in its power, has simply ceased to be. For the human race would have utterly perished had not the Lord and Saviour of all, the Son of God, come among us to put an end to death (35).


Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Wilken on Baptism in the Early Church

In Robert Louis Wilken’s The First Thousand Years: A Global History of Christianity (Yale, 2012), he offers an interesting description of the development of early Christian practices, like baptism. He draws upon the descriptions of baptism in the Apostolic Tradition, an early third century treatise. Wilkin notes:

After a long period of instruction and moral formation, those who had been accepted for baptism were to bathe, fast, and present themselves to the bishop…. Baptism took place at daybreak. A tank or pool would be filled with water, and the catechumens (those who had been instructed) would take off their clothes to prepare for immersion.

At this period of Christian history most people who were baptized were adults. But in the midst of the description of baptism the Apostolic Tradition inserts the surprising sentence: “You are to baptize the little ones first.” Apparently infant baptism was permissible—though not conventional—and parents or guardians would speak for the children. Then came the men, followed by the women, who were to let down their hair and take off any jewelry. Nothing could be taken down into the pool. First, the bishop would anoint each person with oil, “hand over” the trinitarian rule of faith, immerse the catechumen three times, and anoint him or her with oil a second time. Then the newly baptized were clothed, and the celebration of the Eucharist followed (176).

I was interested in the fact that Wilken affirms both that baptism was practiced by the mode of immersion and that the baptismal candidates were typically adults. We see the practice of infant baptism developing, but, according to Wilkin, it was not “conventional.” Paedobaptist Protestants not only have to explain the lack of warrant for infant baptism in the NT but also in the predominant practice of Christianity in the opening centuries of its existence.