Sunday, October 7, 2018

"Noah Webster and the Gospel"

Noah Webster, (1758-1843) has made a profound impact on American education. Among his most remarkable achievements, is his 1828 American Dictionary of the American language. This work compelled him to spend ten years making a Synopsis of twenty languages, namely, Chaldaic, Syriac, Hebrew, Samaritan, Arabic, Ethiopic, Persian, Hiberno Celtic or native Irish, Anglo Saxon, German, Dutch, Swedish, Danish, Greek, Latin, Italian, Spanish, French, Russian, and English, to which may be added the Armoric and Welsh. This he did to trace the roots of our American language.

He served in the Revolutionary War and was later a member of the Massachusetts State Legislature. He was known as the "School Master of our Republic".

 In 1828 in the preface of his dictionary Mr. Webster stated: "In my view, the Christian religion is the most important and one of the first things in which all children, under a free government, ought to be instructed. . . . No truth is more evident to my mind than that the Christian religion must be the basis of any government intended to secure the rights and privileges of a free people." ~ Noah Webster. 

It is obvious we are missing something today. Such thinking today is so far from our political realm and educational values, it would not even be conceivable for one to make such a statement and be taken seriously. The irony is, we make that judgment while pointing to our Founders and what they intended for us. Is it not strange we claim to live by their principles, all the while rejecting their reasonings for those principles? We love the freedoms they gave us, but we reject the source they themselves attribute to them. We love the freedom they gave us, but reject the principles by which they themselves suggest are necessary for the maintenance of those freedoms.

I know this drives many people nuts, in their minds, it's completely irrational to even consider instructing children in the Christian religion and that be associated with their education and understanding of government.

This demonstrates we have lost the understanding of freedom and its maintenance; and the brilliance at which our Founding generation had arrived. We reject the statement by Mr. Webster because we simply do not understand what he is saying. It is something foreign to us.

This blog is not an attempt to force religion on a nation, neither was that the intent of our Founding generation as they institution government for their new nation. However, it is an attempt to look at their words and their faith, that we might understand them and the government they gave us. You read and hear much about their Deist beliefs and anti-religious thoughts. Yet, when you actually look at what they said and wrote, you discover something entirely different. That is what we want to do here, examine what they wrote and understand how they thought. I believe this will be very beneficial in preserving what they gave us.

After doing so we may determine we have a better and much more reasonable understanding of government and freedom. We may as one recent Presidential candidate proclaimed in his campaign, want to fundamentally change America. If so, we have that prerogative, but we owe our Founding generation the honor of accurately reflecting their thoughts and being honest with them.

It is clear in their writings they did not want government interfering in religious matters. They did not want the government telling them who or how to worship or to force them to worship at all.

However, they did not want the government restricting their religious matters either. They saw their religion as a support to their government and way of life. Naturally, being well educated and instructed in the Christian faith, that would directly influence their thinking when forming laws and institutions of government.

Are we are now to separate our religious faith from our public and political life? This is a farce, for that is an impossibility. If you can separate your faith from your public life, you had no faith to start with. So we may fool ourselves by saying this is what they did, but we deceive ourselves. The only way we can make such observations is to completely ignore what they directly told us in their writings. Here, we do not intend to do that, we intend to look at their writings, take them at their own words, all the while looking at American History as a whole and make our own judgments.

May the Grace of God be with each of you,

David                     

Monday, October 1, 2018

"America and Christianity"

"As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen and as the said States have never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries." ~ Article XI, Treaty of Peace and Friendship Between the United States of America and the Bey and Subjects of Tripoli, November 4, 1796.


"Whatever we once were, we are no longer a Christian nation – at least, not just. We are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, and a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers." ~ President Barack Obama, speech Cairo University. 

The study of theology, as it stands in the Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on no principles; it proceeds by no authority; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing, and it admits of no conclusion. ~ The Writings of Thomas Paine, Volume 4.

"Of all the systems of religion that ever were invented, there is no more derogatory to the Almighty, more unedifying to man, more repugnant to reason, and more contradictory to itself than this thing called Christianity. Too absurd for belief, too impossible to convince, and too inconsistent for practice, it renders the heart torpid or produces only atheists or fanatics. As an engine of power, it serves the purpose of despotism, and as a means of wealth, the avarice of priests, but so far as respects the good of man in general it leads to nothing here or hereafter." ~ Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason.

Thomas Paine was no lightweight when it comes to American Independence, his writing, "Common Sense" prepared in 1776 was crystallizing. The wording in the Treaty of Tripoli was coined under the watchful eye of Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison. The statement President Obama made in Cairo demonstrates the conflict of Christianity that has flowed throughout our history. Many were shocked when he made that statement, but in reality, the statement is factual. Factual in the sense there are American citizens who are Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, etc, who are no less Americans than anyone who would hold the Christian faith.

Yet, there are over 300 court decisions throughout our history that affirm we are a Christian Nation. One cannot visit our Nation's Captial and avoid the religious notations etched in stone to preserve our Christian influence. Who is right? It appears to be the best of times, and the worst of times.

I would suggest the difficulty comes from the uniqueness of the American system. From this uniqueness, one can certainly say in a factual sense this is not a Christian nation. Also, from this uniqueness, one can certainly say in a factual sense this is certainly a Christian nation. No, that was not a misprint.

This nation is a system of government like nothing that has ever existed before in history. There are elements of it that can be found in previous systems, systems that over time failed. But there is a unique combination brought together in this system that was lacking in all the others. It is a unique blending of religious and civil freedoms depending upon personal responsibility and moral restraints. To the dismay of many, it is a Biblical system implementing Biblical principles of government and morality. To the dismay of others, that system does implement a separation of the Church and the State. When we try and stand upon only one leg of this system, it is then we find ourselves on opposite sides throwing conflicting quotes from our own history at each other to prove our point. Our human nature makes a perfect balance impossible, however, the closer we are to these principles the more freedom reigns.

The reason there are so many statements made by those considered our founding fathers that express their Christian faith is because they were Christians. Yet those same men could make statements like the one in the Treaty of Tripoli because of this unique system of government. It was not and is not a Christian nation in the sense of what that was understood to mean during the founding era. The issue with Tripoli was their unprovoked attacks upon the American merchant ships and taking Americans as slaves. The Muslims of Tripoli and the other nations involved understood Christian nations like those of Christian Europe of which came the crusades. The American experience was no such system. In those previous systems, the civil and religious aspects overlapped. The King was seen as the defender of the faith, and the church ruled in the government.

There is a principle in the American system found in Joshua 24:15 that adds to its uniqueness. "Jos 24:15  "But maybe you don't want to serve the LORD. You must choose for yourselves today. Today you must decide who you will serve. Will you serve the gods that your ancestors worshiped when they lived on the other side of the Euphrates River? Or will you serve the gods of the Amorites who lived in this land? You must choose for yourselves. But as for me and my family, we will serve the LORD."  (ERV)

In their deliberations, though they were Christians, they did not want a theocracy. However, they wanted to assure their Christian faith was not infringed upon. They wanted to make sure the Gospel had free course and could function unhindered by government rule, thus we have the First Amendment. America is unequivocally a Christian nation in the sense of its population and moral culture, however, it is unequivocally not a Christian nation in the sense that one must adhere to, believe in, or support in any way the Christian faith. One does not gain any greater citizenship by professing Christianity but is on equal grounds in law and office.

"Truth can stand by itself. . . . If there be but one right [religion], and [Christianity] that one, we should wish to see the nine hundred and ninety-nine wandering sects gathered into the fold of truth. But against such a majority we cannot effect this by force. Reason and persuasion are the only practicable instruments. To make way for these, free inquiry must be indulged; and how can we wish others to indulge it while we refuse it ourselves." ~ Thomas Jefferson

"Reason and free inquiry are the only effectual agents against error. Given a loose to them, they will support the true religion, by bringing every false one to their tribunal, to the test of their investigation. They are the natural enemies of error, and of error only. Had not the Roman government permitted free inquiry, Christianity could never have been introduced. had not free inquiry been indulged, at the era of the reformation, the corruptions of Christianity could not have been purged away. If it be restrained now, the present corruptions will be protected, and new ones encouraged. Were the government to prescribe to us our medicine and diet, our bodies would be in such keeping as our souls are now." ~ Thomas Jefferson.

Noah Webster stated likewise: "Let us reject the spirit of making proselytes to particular creeds by any other means than persuasion." ~ Noah Webster, oration to the citizens of New Haven, 1798. 

James Madison agreed saying: "If the public homage of a people can ever be worthy of the favorable regard of the Holy and Omniscient Being to Whom it is addressed, it must be that in which those who join in it are guided only by their free choice, by the impulse of their hearts and the dictates of their consciences; and such a spectacle must be to all Christian nations." ~ James Madison

The Crafting of our system gives freedom from government coercion in our lives. We are free to practice our faith and diffuse it by the means of persuasion alone. The American conscience is to be free. The Christian coach is free to lead his team in prayer with all who would join him. The atheist coach is free to lead his team without prayer of any kind, while not forbidding any individual from praying themselves. The government does not demand of you, leave your faith at the door of your political office. However, the only tool you may possess is persuasion. America is a wonderful place for the Christian to abide as well as the atheist, as long as America remembers who and what she is.

May the Grace of God be upon each of you,

David
   

Saturday, September 22, 2018

"Foundation of American thought"

There is much unrest in America as well as the "Church in America" these days. People taking the Knee to protest their idea of injustice. Social concerns permitting much thought within the American Church. I understand people want to do whatever they can to draw attention to their particular cause. I also understand they just want to make things right as they understand it. However, I would suggest we may have lost our way from the original American manner of thinking.

The original intent of the American experience was not about fixing every wrong and making every injustice go away. There was an overarching idea that pervaded human thinking that produced an American society and experience of freedom that had never been known before in History. That experience did not fix every problem the world had. The human condition continued to be in it's fallen state. However, it did open the door to a way of thinking that gave us a remarkable manner of government and personal freedom linked to personal responsibility. This did not come from the minds of men, nor can the people of American claim right to its brilliance.

 "In the formative days of the Republic, the directing influence the Bible exercised upon the Fathers of the Nation is conspicuously evident. . . . This book continues to hold its unchallenged place as the most loved, the most quoted, and the most universally read and pondered of all the volumes which our libraries contain. . . . We cannot read the history of our rise and development as a Nation without reckoning with the place the Bible has occupied in shaping the advances of the Republic. I suggest a nationwide reading of the Holy Scriptures. . . . For a renewed and strengthening contact with those eternal truths and majestic principles which have inspired such measure of true greatness as this Nation has achieved." ~ President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945) 

These words come not from the lips of the clergy or some religious institution. They come from the highest civil office in this land in recognition of the fountain source of our great principles of life and liberty. It is suggested that our people not only read but ponder the principles within the Holy Writ.

This thinking is not isolated to one President, one political party, or some movement as we have today. It was the fountain source of our society and understanding of freedom and justice. Another of our Presidents stated, "America was born to exemplify that devotion to the elements of  righteousness which are derived from the revelations of Holy Scripture." ~ President Woodrow Wilson. (1856-1924) If we were to hear such words today coming from our government officials the cry would be foul. They would be accused of trying to form a theocracy and force everyone to be Christian. That is how far we have departed from our original understanding. This kind of speech and reasoning is not only conducive to a Republic but is the only way it can be maintained for any great length of time.

"The teachings of the Bible are so interwoven and entwined with our whole civic and social life that it would be literally, I do not mean figuratively, I mean literally impossible for us to figure ourselves what that life would be if these teachings were removed. We would lose almost all the standards by which we now judge both public and private morals, all the standards toward which we, with more or less resolution, strive to raise ourselves. Almost every man who has by his life-work added to the sum of human achievement of which the race is proud, of which our people are proud, almost every such man has based his life-work largely upon the teachings of the Bible." ~ President Teddy Roosevelt. (1858-1919)

President Roosevelt suggested that if we abandoned the principles we discover in the Holy Writ, we would lose our ability to judge our morality in both public and private life. Our present state of movements demonstrates that very standard has been lost. And what have we done? We have tried to remove these teachings from social and civil life, making it as President Roosevelt suggested, impossible to figure out how life should be.

"It was for the love of the truths of this great book that our Fathers abandoned their native shores for the wilderness. Animated by its lofty principles, they toiled and suffered till the desert blossomed as the rose. . . . The Bible is the Best of books and I wish it were in the hands of everyone. It is indispensable to the safety and permanence of our institutions; a free government cannot exist without religion, nor religion without the Bible. Especially should the Bible be placed in the hands of the young. It is the best school book in the world. . . . I would that all of our people were brought up under the influence of that Holy Book." ~ President Zachary Taylor. (1784-1850)

President Taylor suggested that a government such as that of the United States cannot exist without the influence of the Holy Writ. However, we have not headed President Taylors advise, we have gone directly in the opposite direction. Even so far as to attempt to keep this book out of the hands of our youth and bar it from our schools. America has not been perfect, it was never intended to be. Justice in America has been flawed as it was approached by a flawed human heart. American has not even been a Christian nation in the sense of a Theocracy. Yet the principles embedded in its foundation from the Holy Writ and its influence upon the heart of man produced what never before in history existed, an experience of freedom never before known to man.

The injustices that arose in this American experience were exposed by those principles ever before us until our consciences demanded their demise. They pierced our fallen hearts, made demands upon our character, forced us to rise to that greatness we see in the American experience. The Gospel preached changes men's lives, the principles of Holy Writ restrain social injustices. Yet we despise the Gospel preached and reject any reference to Holy Writ upon our laws of justice. So in place of this, we bow the knee and cry aloud of all our injustices within our land. Will we not see? Will we not hear? The words of our American foundation cries out to us! We are lost in ourselves, we have forgotten our past, we are as men born of yesterday. May the Grace of God shine once more upon our land!

May the Grace of God be upon each of you,

David

Saturday, September 15, 2018

"The Tale of Two Nations"

"The Bible contains more knowledge necessary to man in his present state than any other book in the world. By renouncing the Bible, philosophers swing from their mooring upon all moral subjects. . . . It is the only correct map of the human heart that ever has been published." ~ Benjamin Rush, Singer Of The Declaration

"The Bible is the best of all books, for it is the Word of God and teaches us the way to be happy in this world and in the next. Continue therefore to read it and to regulate your life by its precepts." ~ John Jay, President of the Continental Congress, author of the Federalist Papers. 

"No book in the world deserves to be so unceasingly studied and so profoundly meditated upon as the Bible. The first and almost the only book deserving such universal recommendation is the Bible." ~ John Quincy Adams, President of the United States.

"I believe the Bible to be the written Word of God and to contain in it the whole rule of faith and manners." ~ Robert Treat Paine, Signer of the Declaration

"Remember . . . that you are the redeemed of the Lord, that you are bought with a price, even the inestimable price of the precious blood of the Son of God. . . . Acquaint yourselves with Him in His word and holy ordinances." ~ William Samuel Johnson, Signer of the Constitution

"Our all gracious Creator, Preserver, and Ruler has been pleased to discover and enforce His laws by a revelation given to us immediately and directly from Himself. This revelation is contained in the Holy Scriptures." ~ James Wilson, Signer of the Constitution; Signer of the Declaration

"All of the miseries and evils which men suffer from vice, crime, ambition, injustice, oppression, slavery and war, proceed from them despising or neglecting the precepts contained in the Bible." ~ Noah Webster, Schoolmaster to America

"The Holy Scriptures . . . can alone secure to society order and peace, and to our courts of justice and constitutions of government, purity, stability, and usefulness. . . . Bibles are strong entrenchments. Where they abound, men cannot pursue wicked courses and at the same time enjoy quiet conscience." ~ James McHenry, Signer of the Constitution

United States Supreme Court 1844, Vidal vs. Girard's Executors, 43 U.S. 126, 132: "The plan of education proposed is anti-christian, and therefore repugnant to the law. . . . The purest principles of morality are to be taught. Where are they found? Whoever searches for them must go to the source from which a Christian man derives his faith, the Bible. . . . There is an obligation to teach what the Bible alone can teach, viz. a pure system of morality. . . . Both in the Old and New Testaments importance is recognized. In the Old it is said, 'Thou shalt diligently teach them to thy children,' and the New, 'Suffer the little children to come to me and forbid them not. . . .' No fault can be found with Girard for wishing a marble college to bear his name forever, but it is not valuable unless it has a fragrance of Christianity about it."

______________________________________________________________________________

1963, Abington School District v. Schempp


The court found that "state-sponsored devotional Bible readings in public schools constitute an impermissible religious exercise by the government.

1985, Wallace v. Jaffree

This case addressed whether schools can set aside a time for meditation or personal reflection. In Alabama, schools had “a period of silence for meditation.” It did not endorse a specific religion or even specify that the silent time should be used for religious reasons, but instead set it as a time of reflection. But later, state legislators changed the statute to read a “period of silence for meditation or silent prayer.”

With that addition, the Supreme Court ruled that the amendment to the law violated the Establishment Clause.


1992, Lee v. Weisman


This case challenged a middle school practice of inviting a clergyman to offer an opening invocation and a closing benediction at a graduation ceremony. With a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court said such practices violate the First Amendment. 

_______________________

What you have read above reflects two different nations, two different governments, and two different peoples. The people who lived in the first nation, and governed in the first government, are at odds with the people who live in the second nation and governed by the second government. These two people groups will never agree upon government and society. They will of necessity form two different nations with two different worldviews. Their understanding of life and purpose as a people and a nation will take two different paths. Those paths are going in opposite directions and will arrive at destinations of which have nothing in common.

We hear the phase today, "Make America Great Again!" but to which America are we referring? Are we really wanting to become the Nation we once were, or just become more of what we are? The first nation you read about would not be considered great today, they were too closed minded and religious. Yet we claim we are living by the principles they established for us, but they would perceive our principles as not so great. 

These two nations really have nothing in common, we lie to ourselves when we look to the Constitutions of governments that were established in the beginning and apply them as support for our society today. We would be most honest with ourselves if we simply stated we despise what this nation stood for in its beginnings. That what we really want is to cast those bonds off and form a new government with better freedoms and greater purposes.

You might be inclined to disagree, to say I exaggerate. Consider, would any politician have a chance of being elected to office running on the platform which agrees with the statements of the men above who crafted and formed the original government of the United States of America? Anyone of those statements would be extremely damaging to their campaign. So, when you hear the statement, "Let's Make America Great Again" ask to which America are they referring. 

May the Grace of God be upon each of you,

David     





Thursday, September 6, 2018

"Heresis" (Conclusion)

So far I have managed to read 209 pages of 800 years of condensed church history. There are near 300 pages and near 1,200 years more to go. To be honest, I am fatigued, worn out, caputtered! This is the second trip through this book and it is more difficult this time than the first time. So, I'm writing the conclusion, do you blame me?

As I studied this, I realized, each and every chapter deserved a 500-page book itself to discover all the details that are connected with its history. Church history is complicated, interwoven with cultures, kingdoms, politics, economics, wars, kings, peasants, affluent, and poor. It is an intriguing study, but a subject too big and exhaustive for a blog series. It is an amazing history, one that every Christian should know at least something about. Ligonier has a video teaching series by Robert Godfrey that is an excellent overview I would recommend for everyone, especially those who don't have to time to read Harold O. J. Brown or some other 500-page book on church history.  https://www.ligonier.org/

To maintain Orthodoxy in our faith is not an easy task, history has proven it never has been. However, history has also proven its maintenance is worth every effort taken, we cannot overestimate its value. There have been major heresies that threatened the very existence of the church. There have been lesser errors introduced that weakened the church's effectiveness. Those heresies and errors have been defeated throughout history by Orthodox teaching only to see those same heresies and errors arise again later. They would arise under new names with some variations, but their essences were the same.

Even today many of the old heretical teachings of the past abide with us still, just under a new name and new management. These old teachings today simply blend into Christiandom and thrive with relatively little resistance. The word heresy carries with it very little meaning today, so in some aspects, error is even more dangerous to Orthodoxy today than in the previous history.

In the church today one is faced with a smorgasbord of distractions. For the most part, it is simply a mixture of these distractions with enough Orthodox teaching to still be considered Christian. These things exist for a number of reasons. In the past, many times error arose from some radical thinking simply taking a truth to the extreme. Other times saw error arise when Orthodox teaching seemed to be ineffective in producing a pious life, therefore, extreme measures were taken in religion to try and achieve a more holy life.

In our Christian walk today, we must be very cautious. With little theological teaching and expositional preaching, this smorgasbord of doctrines is ready to turn our minds into mush. It would be helpful to study your churches doctrine, that is if they have more than just a few statements. Many churches today do not give you enough statements of faith for you to know what they believe. A few Orthodox statements in a what we believe column does not give you an assurance of an Orthodox faith.

So pay attention to what you are being taught, study it out in the Bible for yourself. Don't just look to see if the scripture they used is in the text, but look at the context, consider to whom it was written. Do a little historical study, look at some of the creeds and confessions of the early church and see if you can find their teaching explained. The first six hundred years of church history will give you a good foundation of Orthodox understanding. If you are hearing teaching in your church that has not been addressed by the church in the previous history, that could be a red flag for you to consider.

There have been two thousand years of church history before us. All Christian doctrine has been debated and re-debated. Most of the errors you will encounter have already been addressed sometime in history. There has been no new revelation given since the Prophets and the Apostles, so you should not find any new teaching arising from the text. The confessions of the church coming out of the reformation to some extent address all the major doctrines of the Christian faith. If you are being taught something you cannot find in any of the confessions, that should be another red flag.

This will take a little effort, but it's really not that hard these days with all the access we have to information. It will give you assurance from your own study, it will cause you to be more confident in expressing your faith. And most of all it will safeguard you from falling into hurtful error.

 
In doing this you will find plenty of folks who will confront you and feel their calling is to correct you. We in the Christian community and I include myself, have a tendency to not be teachable. With great tenacity, we are determined to hold on to our pet doctrines and presuppositions of our faith. Understand, many well-meaning Christians will never be persuaded beyond what they have always been taught or come to believe. We must faithfully follow the plain teachings of the Scripture concerning the Gospel and lovingly demonstrate our understanding from those Scriptures.

2Pe 1:3  According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: 

Jas 1:21  Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. 

2Ti 3:15  And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
2Ti 3:16  All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
2Ti 3:17  That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.  


May the Grace of God be with each of you,

David
       

Sunday, August 26, 2018

"Heresis" Part VI

Matthew 1:20 tells us,  (But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.
Mat 1:21  And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.
Mat 1:22  Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,
Mat 1:23  Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.)  


Those are astounding words, the scriptures both Old and New are filled with many such divine revelations concerning our fall and redemption. It is the revealing of the Divine purpose of God from all eternity, (1Pe 1:18  Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers;
1Pe 1:19  But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:
1Pe 1:20  Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you,
1Pe 1:21  Who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God.)


Orthodoxy is the right understanding of these doctrines, heresy is the wrong understanding of them. Once the human mind receives understanding and faith is born, it begins to ponder about how these things could be. Was it not a popular publication not many years ago which coined the phrase, "Inquisitive minds want to know"? It is our attempt to explain and understand how these things were done and how they came to pass that is our difficulty. It is good to ponder things, for they bring us into a state of awe at the Glory of our Father and the wonder of our redemption. However, it is in these areas we must be extremely careful. A look at history, as well as the present day, reveals the damaging effect of prying into the things we know not.  (Jud 1:10  But these speak evil of those things which they know not: but what they know naturally, as brute beasts, in those things they corrupt themselves.)  

The Orthodox teachings of the Trinity speak of the Godhead in terms that help us understand in limited ways the being of God. However, it is careful not to reach too deeply into the mystery as to lead us astray. The Orthodox teaching of the Nicene and Chalcedonian Creeds define for us the nature of Christ in terms that help us in our understanding. They present the elements that are necessary for His being to bring about our salvation in a way that gives us assurance. Yet again they are careful not to probe too deeply into the mystery of the incarnation.  



The church confessions of the reformation are also very helpful in maintaining Orthodoxy. They safeguard us from being lead astray by a personality or persuasive speech of an individual. They define our explanations of the major doctrines held by the church concerning our faith.  They are not the product of any private interpretations, but of a gathering of minds deemed qualified for such a task. However, we must be constantly aware they are not infallible, for they are the works of men and should always be understood as such. 

Many of these Creeds and Confessions were a product of Orthodoxy responding to some error that was induced into the church. Their response was to set the right doctrine in place of the error. It is extremely important for us to consider all these things. If this all seems to be of a great effort, it is because it is of great importance. We have only one divine revelation delivered to us, great care must be taken that we understand it correctly, for a hope and faith in anything else is a false hope and fruitless faith.

Therefore, we should be encouraged to study to show ourselves approved (2Ti 2:15  Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.) taking advantage of every tool made available to us. 

May the Grace of God be upon each of you,

David

For a much more in-depth study please see the book by Harold O. J. Brown "Heresies"  

Sunday, August 19, 2018

"Heresis' Part V

Why are the things we are discussing important? Why are they necessary? It has to do with the Christians desire to know God and be able to understand who He is. The Scripture is truly our only rule of faith and practice, the creeds, and confessions that formulate our doctrine are but tools to aid us. They help us articulate the conceptions of our mind as we study and understand the Scriptures.

The Apostles' Creed is a great aid in doing that, yet it proved insufficient to demonstrate the relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Thus for two centuries, men struggled to understand how God could be one God, and how we could worship the Son and not be said to worship another God.

Monarchianism and Arianism were but two great heresies that developed in an attempt to answer these questions. It was two full centuries before the church was able to articulate this understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity. It was implicit in our worship from the beginning, but we were unable to articulate the understand in human language. The Monarchians affirmed the oneness of God but denied that the Son and the Holy Spirit are real Persons, distinct from the Father which is clearly seen in the Scripture.

The Arians acknowledged the distinctness of the Son (and to an extent the Holy Spirit) from the Father, but they did not acknowledge Him to be fully or equally God. Yet Scripture declares, "Php 2:6  Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
Php 2:7  But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
Php 2:8  And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
Php 2:9  Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:
Php 2:10  That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;"


Since the 4th century, trinitarian theology has been an essential part of the Gospel in articulating this understanding.

Our Orthodox Trinitarian doctrine expresses our understanding as "One essence in three Persons" There is truly but one God as the Shema affirms (Deut 6:4), for there is only one divine essence. This essence subsists in three distinct subjects or Persons. This divine essence is identical with God, and subsists in and only in the three Persons. These divine Persons are distinct, yet they cannot be separated from one another or the essence (Godhead)

This language and understanding still fall far short of a complete understanding of Gods otherness. However, it is a very helpful tool for expressing our faith. It is also helpful in keeping us from falling into the errors of the past.

It aids us in the understanding that God did not create out of need, for He has never been alone.  He has always existed in this perfection of One in Trinity and Trinity in Unity.

This is important because any other understanding steps outside of Orthodox truth in our attempts of worship. And in our worship, it is our desire to be right. To think rightly and worship rightly.

In our attempts to comprehend God, it is generally easier for us to understand what He is not rather than what He is. His otherness leaves us reaching for that which we cannot comprehend in its fullness. It is safest for us simply to state what we believe concerning the Trinitarian nature of God rather than attempt to explain it.

"Thus the connection of the Father in the Son, and of the Son in the Paraclete, produces three coherent Persons, who are yet distinct One from Another. These Three are one essence, not one Person, as it is said, 'I and the Father are One,' in respect of unity of substance, not singularity of number." ~ Tertullian (155-240 AD)

For a much more in-depth study please see the book by Harold O. J. Brown "Heresies" 

May the Grace of God be with each of you,

David     

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

"Heresis" Part IV

Joh 13:35  By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

Rom 12:16  Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits.

The scriptures are so pure, their commands so straightforward, they flow so wonderfully together. If we did not know, we could not imagine they were written by 40 different authors who lived hundreds of years apart. They walk with the same message and carry the same theme. Each book lends support and strength to the other.

It is equally difficult to imagine that we are so divided over a book of such unity. It seems we must be determined to disagree upon something and separate ourselves from one another. This has become so distasteful to some they disdain doctrine and label it divisive. They refuse to define what they believe other than Jesus is their savior and God is their Father. They will make superficial references to the Holy Spirit and stress the love factor professing that is all we need. The sermons consist of moral ethics laced with more love your neighbor feelings. However, this is not a faith that will stand the test of time.

For one to truly be committed to a person, one must know who that person is. The Christian by faith is called to a commitment of such magnitude in Christianity that death itself will not break it. Therein lies the importance of doctrine and maintaining Orthodoxy. As we are seeing, that is not and has not been an easy task for the Church. Men are weak in their passions, pride and emotion rules much to often in the Christian heart. The tendency of the Christian to follow a personality and be influenced by people with Charisma or popularity weaken our position.

History demonstrates this is not unique to today, the errors and division of the first few centuries of the church were not unlike ours. They were perhaps even worse, which demonstrates the divine origin of the scriptures. For it is evident that men of themselves could not produce such a work of perfection.

That brings us to one of the greatest struggles the church has faced concerning Christ. Who was He? Why does it matter? It matters because we are called to trust in Him for our redemption, our very eternal existence depends on His ability to perform His claims.

Arius was an influential teacher that rose up from within the church which brought division for over half a century. Some of these movements lasted hundreds of years before losing influence, and even then to resurface time and time again throughout history.

Arianism is as big as history itself, it almost consumed the church and even exist today in various movements. Arianism defined the nature of Christ as a new created being. God created Him in order to mediate between Himself and the world which had fallen. Christ was independent of God and distinct from Him. Like fallen man Christ could have exercised his free will to disobey God. In certain forms of Arianism Christ was not worthy of divine worship as the Father. However, being a perfect creature through which all creation was made He could be our mediator. If you are familiar with other sects claiming the name Christianity today many of these element will sound familiar.

This belief became very popular among Christians as it seemed to maintain the oneness of God demonstrated in Scripture and maintained the uniqueness of Christ that is found in Scripture. This theology matters immensely because it denied the divinity of Christ. In this controversy as in all controversies the weakness of men becomes evident. Men of influence within the Church began to us the political powers that be to gain advantage over those that opposed them. Over those years Orthodoxy was determined by the view of the Emperor who happened to be in power at time. Advantage was gained by whatever means possible to promote the view each party thought was correct.

After years of struggle, Orthodoxy finally came to the forefront. The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed of 325 AD and 381 AD established Orthodoxy for us for over a thousand years. Only in the last century has that understanding of Scripture come under attack again.  

 What are we to take away from this? First the positive, these difficulties only magnify the majesty of the Scriptures, (2Pe 1:19  We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts:
2Pe 1:20  Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.
2Pe 1:21  For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.)


Second, the weakness of our understanding and the nature of our passions leave us at a disadvantage. Approaching our study in a humble state recognizing these elements of our nature is necessary. Awareness of the same weaknesses in others should cause caution in us in following any new movement. Scripture must be weighed against Scripture while taking into considering the Orthodox beliefs of those before us. We must remember, the Scriptures have been scrutinized for thousands of years by men of great minds and much understanding. The excitement of finding some new revelation that has not been explored is an unsafe approach. Such has been the downfall of many and the cause of much confusion within the body.  

Finally, the two considerations above brings us within reach of the assurance of our faith. We are assured of the ever-present help of the Holy Spirit to teach us as we study. Our cautions only aid us in that understanding and helps bring clarity as we learn. We can find Orthodoxy as it is understood in the scriptures. We can understand by Nicene Creed that Jesus Christ is "the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds;
God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God;
begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father,
by Whom all things were made:
Who for us men and for our salvation came down from Heaven,
and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man:
And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; he suffered and was buried:
And the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures:
And ascended into Heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father:
And he shall come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead:
Whose Kingdom will have no end:" 


We can take that Orthodox understanding and find that it does not conflict with the flow of the Scriptures. In this, we can find unity and assurance of faith. 

For a much more in depth study please see the book by Harold O. J. Brown "Heresies" 

May the Grace of God be with each of you,

David