iTunes University: Early Church History, The Greek and Western Leaders

June 16, 2015 5 comments

I continue to appreciate the iTunes U seminary lecture series, for greater depth of material than what is offered even from the best online sermon series. RTS’ (Reformed Theological Seminary) course on “The Church and The World” was quite helpful; now I am listening to an early church history series: Christian History I (RSS Feed Here) the legacy version from 1994, which has somewhat different topics than the more recent one). After this one I may listen to at least some of the more recent course, as it covers other topics.

The legacy course features the theology of the early church leaders, with some interesting observations about the different groups and their understanding of theology and influences.  One point is clear: the church in the 2nd and 3rd centuries was still in its infancy, and its theology was expressed in simple terms and often with erroneous ideas.  Soteriology was often expressed in terms of reward for good deeds, and Christ was seen as subordinate to the Father (and not in the Reformed sense of “economic subordination” but ontological, the essence, nature, and attributes of God).

Here it is observed that the Greek apologists (Justin Martyr plus a few others) relied heavily on the gospel accounts, but nothing of the apostle Paul’s letters, which they may not have had access to.   Another factor was their background as Greek philosophers, pagan Greeks who only converted to Christianity as adults, and who highly valued Greek philosophy as what helped to bring people to Christianity.  They all had interest in knowledge, the “gnosis,” and at least some of the Greeks were influenced by gnostic and platonic ideas.  Origen is the well-known Greek theologian who took such ideas even further, with focus on the “deeper meaning” and “deeper knowledge” beyond the plain truth of a text, and non-orthodox, gnostic-influenced ideas concerning the atonement, as well as his universalist view–unbelievers go through a time period of purifying fire with some pain, and yet all people end up saved.

Another group more familiar to our evangelical way of thinking: the Western theologians.  “Western Christianity” and Medieval thought–interest in the truth itself and our relationship with God, rather than the Greek interest in knowledge and “deeper meaning”–began with Tertullian, in the late 2nd and early 3rd century: not in full form, but at least some features.  I first learned of Tertullian several years ago, in reference to the interesting martyr story of Perpetua and her friends in Carthage, Africa in 202 A.D.  Tertullian also is frequently mentioned in reference to the Montanist error, which he apparently embraced at least at some point in his life.  This series provides more details about Tertullian, who was the first of the early church fathers to write in Latin (rather than exclusively in Greek).  Tertullian was very anti-gnostic, and a strong personality, a type of Martin Luther in his day, described as a rebel: one who rebelled against his pagan parents, and later rebelled against moral laxity in the church, taking a hard line against those who “lapsed” in times of persecution.  Having been greatly immoral in his pre-Christian life, Tertullian (who became a Christian sometime between ages 30 and 40) as a believer held to a life of high moral standards, similar to the Puritans.  Tertullian advanced the early church understanding of the Trinity, as the first one to use the Latin term for the word Trinity.  He came closer (than previous early church leaders) to the full idea of the Trinity, yet still did not quite arrive at the now orthodox view, instead holding to some notion of Christ being subordinate to the Father, that somehow both were God and yet Christ not at the same level as the Father.

Upcoming lectures in this series look further at the Western theologians: more regarding Tertullian, as well as Irenaeus and Cyprian, with later lectures about various theological controversies, plus Augustine and Anselm.  I look forward to the upcoming lessons in this interesting series.

 

 

Hymns and Poor Theology: Holy God “Became Perfect Man”? (Modalism)

June 8, 2015 3 comments

It’s time again for a topic I occasionally write about (see previous posts):  Hymns and wrong/bad theology.

At least some churches now frequently sings a simple, one paragraph song called “The Gospel Song,” with the following lyrics:

Holy God, in love became Perfect Man to bear my blame
On the cross He took my sin. By His Death I live again.

No doubt the people singing it understand the real doctrine of the trinity, and just don’t think about what song lyrics actually say – and might claim I am being too picky. If so, I am in good company, following the example of the late S. Lewis Johnson, who often pointed out the wrong theology in hymns, as for example with one of the phrases in the chorus of “One Day” (“living He loved me, dying He saved me, buried He carried my sins far away, Rising He Justified, Freely forever”):  I don’t sing that, “Rising, He justified,” because it seems to me that what the apostle teaches here is that the resurrection of Christ is the evidence that the justification has been completed.  We’re not justified by the resurrection.  We’re justified by His death.

The simple “gospel song” above has a much more obvious problem, in that by its simple lyric, leaving so much of Christian truth out, it actually teaches modalismHoly God … became Perfect Man(?)

The early church, responding to the many errors and heresies regarding the nature of God and Christ, would have found such a song quite unwelcome. Modalism — one God who becomes different members of the Trinity at different times — appeared by the early 3rd century and was strongly denounced by early leaders including Tertullian. The Church, in its creeds and confessions, carefully worked out its statements about the Triune nature of one God in three persons, and Christ having two natures in one person.

Of course local churches like to introduce new songs, especially ones that have a simple tune and simple words. But why not, instead, provide a song with lyrics of actual confessions or creeds from the historic church, such as the Apostles’ Creed (itself a fairly brief statement, yet far more correct and comprehensive than the above “gospel song”). Indeed, two of my favorite Christian rock groups from years past, Petra and Rich Mullins, have tunes with the lyrics from the Apostles’ Creed, as noted in this interesting article.  The Rich Mullins song stays close to the original wording of the Apostles’ creed; and put to song, this creed is easily learned — and a much better alternative to a four-line “gospel song” which omits too much, to the point that its statement about God denies the Trinity for the teaching of modalism.

Creed, by Rich Mullins

I believe in God the Father, Almighty Maker of Heaven and Maker of Earth,
And in Jesus Christ His only begotten Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, Born of the virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate, He was crucified and dead and buried.

CHORUS:
And I believe, what I believe is what makes me what I am.
I did not make it, no it is making me.
It is the very truth of God and not the invention of any man

I believe that He who suffered, was crucified, buried, and dead
He descended into hell and on the third day, rose again.
He ascended into Heaven, where He sits at God’s mighty right hand.
I believe that He’s returning to judge the quick and the dead of the sons of men.

CHORUS

I believe in God the Father almighty Maker of Heaven and Maker of Earth
and in Jesus Christ His only begotten Son, Our Lord.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, one Holy Church, the communion of Saints,
The forgiveness of sin, I believe in the resurrection.
I believe in a life that never ends.

Refuting Errors About the Incarnation

June 3, 2015 1 comment

Continuing in the 1689 Exposition series, a few messages on the incarnation address an error that I first heard about two years ago (as put forth by a local Sunday School teacher):  the idea that for Christ to be sinless, He could not have had any of Mary’s DNA; he was human but with no physical, genetic relation to Mary. As noted in this series (see these messages: “The Incarnation”  and “The Virgin Conception”), this view is called ‘seminal headship’, the idea that sin is transmitted through physical substance, and idea in contrast to ‘federal headship,’ in which the sin nature is a legal condition placed upon every person descended from Adam.

Even when I first heard this idea (though not knowing the specific background or terminology), I realized how wrong this is, for several reasons, rooted in the important fact that Jesus was fully God AND fully Man.  This is one of the basic doctrines of Christianity, the hypostatic union, addressed by the early church in response to so many heresies regarding Christ’s nature: errors that said He was only a man, or only God.  But it’s part of basic understanding of true science, how God has propagated the human race, that we all have DNA, the genes passed down from parent to child.  No one could really be human if he did not have the DNA of any human parents. Furthermore, if Jesus did not inherit any human genes from his human mother, He would not be descended from the line of David and would not even be a Jew – another serious theological error. Plus, if He was not really descended from Mary, without Mary’s genes, then He was not the seed of the woman prophesied in Genesis 3:15.  The Messiah was to come from the woman (Mary; Genesis 3:15), from the Jews and the line of Judah (Genesis 49:10), and descended from David, per the terms of the Davidic covenant.  As to Jesus’ physical appearance:  we know that the Jews slandered Jesus for his “illegitimate” birth and the question of who was His father (reference John 8:41).  But they never brought forth the charge that He was not really Mary’s son and did not belong to Mary’s family – which certainly would have been the case if He had not inherited any of Mary’s DNA and had no physical resemblance to Mary or His human brothers and sisters.

The series from Arden Hodgins notes that a few theologians have held to seminal headship, including William G.T. Shedd, Lorraine Boettner, plus Amish and Mennonites. Amish and Mennonite groups hold to an idea of “heavenly flesh.”

An excellent point to counter this idea: sin is not contained in physical substance such as the human seed. That is a gnostic idea, that something physical is bad or sinful. Also, our righteous nature — regeneration and indwelling of the Holy Spirit — does not come to us through any physical means; the new nature does not come to us through the genes.  So why should people think that the sin nature is transmitted through physical means? “Federal headship” makes sense concerning both our sinful nature inherited from the first Adam (a legal state put upon us), and our new righteous nature given to believers in the Last Adam.

Spurgeon: Reading, and Bible Reading Importance

May 29, 2015 3 comments

In my ongoing chronological reading through Spurgeon sermons, near the end of 1863 comes a sermon  which includes a great quote I recognized – from its inclusion in some free audio recordings of classic Christian books:

Give yourself unto reading. The man who never reads will never be read; he who never quotes will never be quoted; he who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains proves that he has no brains of his own! Brothers and Sisters, what is true of ministers is true of all our people. You need to read. Renounce as much as you will all light literature, but study as much as possible sound theological works, especially the Puritan writers, and expositions of the Bible.

The full sermon references Paul’s words to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:13, Bring the cloak that I left at Troas with Carpus, when you come—and the books, but especially the parchments.”  Spurgeon here notes some interesting points that I had not considered: we do not know what these books were (and books were few and rare in ancient times, unlike our world after the invention of the Printing Press), yet:

Even an apostle must read. He is Inspired, and yet he needs books! He has been preaching for at least 30 years, and yet he needs books! He had seen the Lord, and yet he needs books! He had had a wider experience than most men, and yet he needs books! He had been caught up into the Third Heaven, and had heard things which it was unlawful for a man to utter, yet he needs books! He had written the major part of the New Testament, and yet he needs books!

The apostle here is also not ashamed to confess that he reads books. He has no secrets to keep from young Timothy, and tells Timothy about his books. Paul needs books, and is not ashamed to tell Timothy that he does; and Timothy may go and tell Tychicus and Titus if he likes—Paul does not care.

Furthermore, Paul is in prison, yet here shows himself as industrious. He cannot work a trade, and he cannot preach – so he will read. He is in prison; he cannot preach—what will he do? As he can-not preach, he will read! As we read of the fishermen of old and their boats, the fishermen were out of them. What were they doing? Mending their nets! So if Providence has laid you upon a sick bed, and you cannot teach your class—if you cannot be working for God in public, mend your nets by reading! If one occupation is taken from you, take another, and let the books of the Apostle read you a lesson of industry.  

Especially the parchments: possibly these were scripture parchments, or even some of Paul’s own parchments, his epistles we know as part of the inspired canon of scripture. Here again, great words from Spurgeon affirming the importance of reading the Bible:

 Now, it must be, “Especially the parchments” with all our reading; let it be especially the Bible. Do you attach no weight to this advice? This advice is more needed in England now than almost at any other time, for the number of persons who read the Bible, I believe, is becoming smaller every day. … the Book, the good old Book, the Divine Fountainhead from which all Revelation wells up—this is too often left! You may go to human puddles until you forsake the clear crystal stream which flows from the Throne of God. Read the books, by all means, but especially the parchments! Search human literature, if you will, but especially stand fast by that Book which is Infallible, the Revelation of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

Preterist-Historicist Prophecy, and Another Variation of Imminence (Reading Andrew Bonar)

May 26, 2015 1 comment

Reading Andrew Bonar’s Redemption Drawing Nigh (see this previous post), brings out the interesting viewpoints of the early Reformed Historicist approach to prophecy.

In my series through the history of premillennialism, I noted the development of Protestant premillennialism and its historicist view, as a reaction to Roman Catholicism. The Bonar brothers are included within this time period of historicism; early futurist writers such as S.R. Maitland had appeared not long before this point (see this 1834 work from Maitland), but the futurist historic premillennial view would develop throughout the later 19th century. Still, reading Andrew Bonar is helpful for understanding that historicist position, while recognizing differences from my own generally futurist view.

While considering the Olivet discourse text, Bonar presents his understanding in a way that at least makes sense for overall general truth and application: the historicist view really combines a preterist approach to the first part of Matthew 24 – judgment upon Jerusalem in AD 70 as the fulfillment of the first part (up through verse 14), followed by a general historicist view for the rest of church history until Christ’s Return. According to this view, “The Tribulation of Those Days” began at 70 A.D. and continues up until Christ’s return. Bonar was not concerned with any specific dating scheme, apparently not interested in trying to come up with a time period of 1260 years (for the 1260 days spoken of in scripture), but was content to simply see the entire age, from shortly after Christ’s First Coming until the Second Advent, as the overall tribulation.

Certainly the application is there, and the truth in history, regarding this as a general truth, even if not the primary meaning of the actual text.  First, Bonar notes the history of the Jews since 70 A.D. as a continuing tribulation:

it is necessary to notice that the days of Israel’s tribulation began in Jerusalem’s destruction, but did not end there. Far from ending there, it was only then they commenced; and for eighteen centuries they have continued—the sea of their calamities at one time sinking into a comparative calm, and at other times lashed into furious storms. It will appear beyond doubt from Luke xxi. 25— 27, that our Lord’s view of the “ Tribulation of Those Days” stretched over all that space of many centuries, during which Israel’s land has been trodden down and meted out, and the people a by-word among the nations.

Bonar further saw both a “great outburst” at the beginning point, and a yet future equivalent greater storm outburst within this overall Tribulation era.  As elsewhere in this book, Bonar is especially interested in showing the characteristics of this age up to the time of Christ’s return, as disproving the then-dominant view of a post-millennial return.  The point is well-taken, regarding what scripture has to say concerning this era — as quite the opposite from what the postmillennial view expects to occur in our history.

even as the first burst of the storm was terrific, so shall the last hour of it be, ere its strength is spent. And we can quite understand two individuals describing the same storm, the one dwelling on its first outburst, the other on the appalling scene at its close; while both say with equal truth that never was there such a storm as that which they described. … Century on century of trouble; deep calling unto deep; the roar of a storm never lulled into calm: such is his view of the days that precede his Coming. He tells of no Millennial rest before He comes. Nay, he puts that out of the question by saying, “ Such shall be the season of trouble, and immediately after . . . the sign of the Son of man.”

Another interesting point here, regarding imminence.  Futurist historic premillennialism recognizes a future 3 1/2 year tribulation period just prior to Christ’s return, and as such, recognizes (in contrast with pre-tribulational dispensational premill) that certain events must occur first, prior to Christ’s return: especially the rule of antiChrist over at least a certain part of our world and the persecution of Jews as well as Christians (especially with reference to the Middle East and possibly the geographical region of the ancient Roman Empire), and the (future) antiChrist setting himself up as god in a temple that apostate Jews will yet construct in Jerusalem.  This view can be taught from the New Testament scriptures, the basic point that the apostles and early church did not really hold to an “any moment” coming of the Lord but recognized certain events that must occur before He returns.

Yet the Reformed historicist view sees a symbolic interpretation of the antiChrist and the abomination of desolation (reference 2 Thess. 2), as having already occurred in the first century. Thus Bonar wrote as one who believed in an “any moment” coming, in the sense that Christ’s return is the “next event” (since we are already in the Tribulation).  Consider this explanation of “near” in Matthew 24: This expression means it is near, in the sense of being at the threshold, without declaring that it shall immediately enter, or come in. No other event is to be looked for amid that tribulation but the Coming of the Lord to end it.  Also:  Though the Temple perish (“these things,” ver. 6), yet to you has dawned a better hope. The very ruin of that Temple is to you a pledge of the Coming of Him that is greater than the Temple. “ Your redemption draweth nigh,”—is in full prospect on the horizon.

The beginning of chapter 10 well sums up this perspective of imminence, something to note as quite different from the futurist HP view of the earliest church fathers plus the view of many of today’s historic premillenialists:

PROPHECY is now in such a state of fulfillment that there is no event whatever remaining to be accomplished of which we could positively say, “That event must yet occur before the Son of man appears.” We are living in an age of the world when every hill is passed up which the Church had to climb ere it came in full sight of the plain along which shall come the Son of man in his chariot of glory in an hour when we think not.

 

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1689 Confession Series Study: Christ as Prophet, Priest, and King

May 18, 2015 3 comments

Continuing in a sermon audio series through the 1689 London Baptist Confession, chapter 8 in the confession includes a good study of Christ as our Mediator: our Prophet, Priest and King. The following comes from the introductory message in this mini-series on Christology (number 74) in the full 1689 series, and the introductory message brings out many interesting points.

Christ is the Last Adam. Thus, the First Adam was also, at least in some sense, a prophet, priest, and king – and would have continued in that state if he had been confirmed. Though Adam may not have consciously realized his three roles, Adam’s three roles are implicitly taught.

  • Adam as a prophet, had true knowledge; he accurately reflected God in his thoughts, words and deeds, thought God’s thoughts after Him, and acted as a representative of God, reflecting God and His truth.
  • Adam as a priest offered sacrifices of praise and service, in complete communion with God, and represented a people. No mediator was then needed (before the fall), and Adam could approach God on behalf of himself and others.
  • Adam as a king: he had been given dominion over the lower-creation (the Garden of Eden), and ruled according to correct knowledge.

The Last Adam, Christ:

  • Our Prophet: we come to Him and learn from Him, we study His word, and hear it proclaimed in sermons.
  • Our Priest: daily we confess our sins to Him as we continue in fellowship with Him
  • Our King: the basic understanding of Lordship Salvation, that we obey Him

A right relationship to God includes observing all three of Christ’s offices.

  • Some people only want to have Christ as Prophet (liberal Christianity), saying that He was a good man and a great teacher—ignoring that the one who was a good and great teacher also claimed to be Priest and King.
  • Others will go further, affirming Christ as Prophet AND as priest—Christ our Savior—but claim He need not be our Lord–or, that third part can come later (“Free Grace” non-Lordship and easy-believism views here).
  • Others may claim Christ as their King, with emphasis on obedience, on following the law of God; yet are really taking a self-righteous approach of doing their own works, denying Him as their priest.

A good application: three things to consider whenever we read or study scripture or hear a sermon. We should always ask ourselves these three questions:

  1. What do I learn from this passage, and what am I learning about God? – role of Christ as prophet
  2. What sins do I need to confess and repent of right now? — Christ as priest
  3. What must I now do? What do I learn, in this passage or this sermon, about obedience: what things to stop doing or start doing? – Christ as King

The gospels present Christ as Prophet, Priest, and King, which has implications for evangelism.  A key text is Matthew 11:28-30, in which Christ offers Himself in all three offices:

  • All you who labor and are heavy-laden:   Christ as our Priest
  • Come and learn of Me: Christ as our Prophet
  • Take my yoke upon you… : Christ as our King

Classic Premillennialism: Andrew Bonar’s “Redemption Drawing Nigh”

April 29, 2015 10 comments
Andrew Bonar

Andrew Bonar

In my ongoing study of historic premillennialism, here is another classic premillennial work from one of the covenantal premillennialists, Andrew Bonar (1810-1892, youngest brother of Horatius Bonar) – perhaps best known today for his biography of his friend and fellow Scotsman, Robert Murray M’Cheyne.

Redemption Drawing Nigh, A Defense of the Premillennial Advent was published in 1847. Its availability today is limited: through Google Play, which also has a PDF downloadable file. However, the PDF file is not of the OCR/text type (only image). No kindle book files exist, nor any print used copies from Amazon or other sites. Thankfully, the reading through Google Play is of good quality, and brings out the now-forgotten treasures from Andrew Bonar.

Similar to other works from the 19th century on this topic (as for instance J.C. Ryle), Bonar begins with consideration of the overall question of the Second Coming: why we should be interested in it, and what benefits it brings to the growing Christian. He bolsters his case with quotes from a then-contemporary antimillenarian scholar who likewise agreed regarding the importance of considering Christ’s Second Advent. Bonar also shows his mastery of scripture, with a chapter citing many oft-ignored references to the Second Coming (general references not specific to the millennial era), with several interesting references from the Old Testament –the Psalms, Proverbs, the Prophets, and even from the Song of Solomon (seen typologically as about Christ, the traditional/historic view of that book).

Later chapters deal more in-depth with topics still relevant today, including great quotes about hermeneutics and affirming the literal hermeneutic—and what that hermeneutic actually means.  So far the book is interesting, with strong emphasis on the importance of this doctrine (premillennialism and the Second Coming generally), references to the future of Israel, and insights on the Christian life and holiness.

A few excerpts to share:

 Holiness is “living soberly,” or occupying the position which a calm consideration of our gifts shows us to be fitted for; “righteously,” regarding our neighbor’s rights, loving him as ourselves; “godly,” regarding God’s demands, living in fellowship with Him. But even this, done under the motive of “grace,” is not all. Along with all this, a truly holy man sits loose to the world and longs for glory. … Uneasy at every remaining imperfection, troubled by every unattained degree of grace, vexed at a low state of feeling, the man who walks on the highway of holiness is ever looking forward into the bosom of the future— beyond even death, which only brings partial deliverance—to “that blessed hope.” This unceasing regard to the Lord’s Coming is surely one scriptural ingredient in all real holiness.

 

It is not enough that the lesson itself is Divine, we must also have a Divine instructor; not only a sharp sword, but an Almighty hand to wield it. It is so with respect to this doctrine of the Lord’s Coming. It may be learnt by carnal men as any other piece of knowledge; and it may be received and assented to by spiritual men among the other articles of their creed. But there is a spiritual reception of it which is the effect of the Holy Ghost’s teaching. As in conversion we need resurrection-power—the same power that raised up Jesus—to remove the barriers in our soul that hid a full salvation from our view; so ever after, when any new truth of a spiritual nature is to be taught us, it seems declared to us (Phil. 3: 15) that we need the very same power to remove the scale that blinded us to it.

and, on the topic of hermeneutics, the primary meaning and its application to us:

Let the man not be lazy and easy-minded in the things of God. Let him not say, “O it will do well to let the Assyrian stand as an Algebraic sign for ‘our spiritual enemy.’” Let him rather take the words literally, as referring to some national Jewish event yet future; and then let him say, “But he who is able to be Israel’s peace in that day, may well be mine now!”

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