Thursday, September 15, 2022

The Aimless, Meandering Christian

Because of fallen human nature, the nature of the culture in which we live, and other factors involved, it's important to frequently remind people what work needs done in religious contexts: missions, evangelism, apologetics, theology, philosophy, the sciences, the paranormal, Bible translation, etc. I've often cited the example of patristics. There's a steady stream of patristic documents being published in English for the first time, and many that have already been published for a long time haven't been studied or discussed much. Evangelicals can repeatedly come across patristic issues in various contexts - claims about the canon of scripture, claims about the authorship of the gospels, etc. - yet have little or no concern about researching those subjects or disseminating whatever valuable information they come across. Similarly, I've often discussed the need for Christians to do more work on the paranormal. And many other examples could be cited, some of which I've discussed in the past. What parents, pastors, friends, and other people in positions of influence - all of us - should be doing is reminding people from time to time what work needs done. Mention parts of the world where missionaries need to go, languages into which the Bible still needs to be translated, philosophical issues that need studied further, Biblical passages whose historicity needs studied and discussed further, and so on. And model the sort of work that needs done by doing it yourself and talking to other people about the work you're doing.

I often hear people, including professing Christians, commenting on how "bored" they are or expect to be in retirement, how they "can't find anything to do". They'll even go back to working a job that doesn't have much significance or retire later than usual. And the people who are finding things to do are typically doing things that don't have much value. It's commonplace to hear people talk about how concerned they are about the state of the culture and the world, then, five minutes later, refer to how they're going to spend the rest of the day watching movies, gardening, etc. They rarely or never refer to anything they're doing in contexts like the ones I've referred to in the paragraph above, and what they do refer to doing in such contexts tends to be of a lower rather than higher nature.

You ought to have specific objectives in mind to advance the kingdom of God in substantial ways. Aim for accomplishments "worthy of the calling with which you have been called" (Ephesians 4:1) and run hard after them.

"Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim" (1 Corinthians 9:24-26)

"In a corruption of sound doctrine so extreme, in a pollution of the sacraments so nefarious, in a condition of the Church so deplorable, those who maintain that we ought not to have felt so strongly, would have been satisfied with nothing less than a perfidious tolerance, by which we should have betrayed the worship of God, the glory of Christ, the salvation of men, the entire administration of the sacraments, and the government of the Church. There is something specious in the name of moderation, and tolerance is a quality which has a fair appearance, and seems worthy of praise; but the rule which we must observe at all hazards is, never to endure patiently that the sacred name of God should be assailed with impious blasphemy — that his eternal truth should be suppressed by the devil’s lies — that Christ should be insulted, his holy mysteries polluted, unhappy souls cruelly murdered, and the Church left to writhe in extremity under the effect of a deadly wound. This would be not meekness, but indifference about things to which all others ought to be postponed." (John Calvin)

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Justification Through Faith Alone In The Second Century

In the excerpt from the Epistle To Diognetus below, notice the reference to "faith, to which alone", followed by the concluding references to "trust" and "faith", with no reference to baptism and other works. The first mention of faith is immediately followed by some comments on the kindness of God and the gracious benefits given to us in his Son, and the section of the document that follows (9) is highly soteriological, all of which indicate that justifying faith is being referred to. The author refers to having faith in God later in the Christian life as well and discusses good works and expects them to follow from faith, but the focus here is on faith, even including the qualifier "alone", and the substitutionary nature of Jesus' work. The reference to faith alone in such a soteriological context makes the most sense as a reference to justifying faith. At the opening of the document, the author refers to how Diognetus wants to know "what God they [Christians] trust in, and what form of religion they observe, so as all to look down upon the world itself, and despise death, while they neither esteem those to be gods that are reckoned such by the Greeks, nor hold to the superstition of the Jews; and what is the affection which they cherish among themselves; and why, in fine, this new kind or practice [of piety] has only now entered into the world" (1). So, it's evident that faith (trust) is being distinguished from the actions that result from faith, and other terms are being used to refer to works, such as "observe" and "practice". So, we shouldn't think that the references to faith in sections 8-10 of the document are including works within them. Even if we only had the usual meanings of words to go by, it would be unlikely that a reference to faith includes works. It's doubly unlikely when the document in question so clearly distinguishes between faith and works. Section 10 refers to love resulting in our imitation of God's kindness, saying, "if you love Him, you will be an imitator of His kindness". That which is in the heart leads to outward actions. The author seems to have in mind an inner response to God that's distinguished from the outer actions that follow, with the inner faith justifying. As Michael Bird and Kirsten Mackerras write, salvation in the Epistle To Diognetus is "by faith alone (8.6; 9.6; 10.1)" (in Michael Bird and Scott Harrower, edd., The Cambridge Companion To The Apostolic Fathers [New York, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2021], 323). In section 9, we're told that our works are excluded. The substitutionary nature of Christ's work is discussed, even with a reference to the "sweet exchange", the paralleling of Jesus' taking our sin with our taking his righteousness, and a reference to our sins' being covered by Jesus' righteousness, which is reminiscent of the dunghill analogy attributed to Martin Luther: