The Death of Beauty (9)

quote-gentle-jesus-meek-and-mild-look-upon-a-little-child-pity-my-simplicity-suffer-me-to-charles-wesley-110-22-04

Yes, indeed…and so much more.

Celebrating Past Beauty (7)

Arthur John Gossip’s Interpreter’s Bible Exposition on John 2:13-17 (2)

If you seek to draw your readers into a new discovery about the nature of Jesus Christ, one that many of them would prefer to avoid, how to begin?

But there are other aspects of him no less deniable; and it is fatal to ignore them, or to pretend that they are not there.

The chosen path is to directly identify the issue, face it and then state its moral import.

“And he looked around at them with anger.” (Mark 3:5), so we read. Those who knew him best remembered that his eyes could be as a flame of fire, and spoke with bated breath of something awesome in him which they tried to describe in the strange phrase “the wrath of the Lamb.” There was nothing gentle in that fierce message that he sent to Herod, “Go and tell that fox.” (Luke 13:32). Nor was there any trace of mildness in him at that tremendous moment when he turned upon his best friend, who had meant only kindness, with the terrific rebuke, “Get behind me Satan!” (Matt. 16:23).

This accounting of the instances where our Lord and Savior demonstrated anger and condemnation is meant to startle the comfortable Christian into a state of recognition that things may not be as simple as they had previously seemed.

If it is true, as it is true, that nothing does he underline more heavily than the duty of forgiveness–and this not once but over and over, declaring bluntly that salvation offered in the gospel is not unconditional, but that, as he says, if you forgive men not their trespasses, neither will your heavenly Father forgive you (Matt. 16:15)–nonetheless, he himself did not always forgive. The Pharisees did not find him gentle or meek or mild when he pursued them, ruthlessly and remorselessly, with those blistering denunciations as scorching as anything in literature. “You whitewashed tombs” (Matt. 23:27); “you serpents” (Matt. 23:33); “You make him [your proselyte] twice as much a child of hell as yourselves” (Matt. 23:15). Rather than make peace with such men acting so, he chose to go to his death. And when the traders would not cease from polluting the temple of God with their unseemliness and noise and chaffering, there came a time when he said that if they would not go then he would drive them out. And he rose up and did it.

Here the Rev. Gossip addresses the core of the Christian pacifist creed.  For though forgiveness is an unalterable foundation of Christianity, it is demonstrated by Christ’s own words and deeds that forgiveness is not an excuse to accommodate evil.

Desperate attempts have been made by some who feel uncomfortable over it to tone down and edge out this incident. … And this was a wild scene, with cowering figures clutching desperately at their tables, as these were flung here and there; or running after their spilled coins, as these rolled hither and thither; or shrinking at the lash that had no mercy till the holy place was cleansed. For though it is possible to read this account as if only the cattle were actually struck, that seems very unlikely; and in the reports as given in the other Gospels, quite impossible. If this incident had been recorded of anyone else in history, it would universally have been accepted as the scene of violence it was. And those who try to explain it away do so because they feel unhappily that it will not fit into their preconceived idea of what Christ should do or be; that here somehow he acted for once out of character, and fell inexplicably below himself, forgot his own law of life, lost his head and his temper. All of which is painful and regrettable. And the best thing to do is to say as little about it as one can, and look the other way, and rub this unfortunate episode out of our minds, and think of him only at the great moments when he was his real self.

This is the crux of the issue.  Too many of we Christians want to “control the narrative” on the character and purpose of Jesus Christ.  We want all the benefits of comfort and forgiveness without any of the responsibilities or complexities.  Jesus Christ must be who we wish Him to be rather than who the Bible actually says that He is.   The good Reverend places his arm around our trembling shoulders and gently walks with us towards the precipice of our failure.

But that is foolishness. Surely our understanding of what Christlikeness is must be gathered, not from such incidents that we choose to select and to regard as typically Christlike, but from the whole of his life and character and conduct. For not only now and then, but always and in every situation, Christ did the perfect thing to do. He was as Christlike here in the temple as when dying for us on the Cross. Here to he was revealing God as truly as on Calvary. For, declares Paul with assurance, in God there is kindness–and severity (Rom. 11:22). And the one is as divine and glorious as the other.

Now that we have been shown the error of our ways, the process of recovery can begin.  And that recovery can only be effective if we begin to understand that God’s Word is not something from which we can pick and choose.  Rather, it is something before which we must bow and offer up our preconceptions and corrupted desires.

For what if he were not: were only flabbily good-natured, ready to make no fuss about our sins and to pretend that they do not matter greatly, and so push us through! “Ah, God,” cried Luther, “punish us we pray Thee … but be not silent … toward us.” A fearsome prayer! For what if he hears and answers it? But what if he does not, and lets us sin on undisturbed! For nothing do we owe Christ more than for the magnificence of his hopes for us, and his refusal to compromise with us, and the severity that pulls us up with sharpness.

The presented alternative is a world in which Christ has become a false idol to whom we sacrifice our children, fellows and selves to obtain license to sin.

And as for ourselves, if Christ is always to be followed, it is clear that while our usual rule of conduct is a frank, free, patient forgiveness, there are times when we must not forgive; when, as Hugh Mackintosh says bluntly, “Lack of indignation at wickedness is a sign, not of a poor nature only, but of positive unlikeness to Jesus Christ.” We must not so misread Christ that he becomes an ugly idol, blinding our understanding, and hiding the true God from us. The wrath of God is never thought of in scripture as opposed to his holiness. It is a necessary part of it. Christ would have lost my soul if he had not refused to compromise with me.

When Christ in His fullness is apprehended the soil is made ready to nurture a mature Christian conscience.

I look at this beautiful passage as a bookend to that of Jonathan Edwards’ sermon on Christ’s gentleness of heart towards us poor lost sinners.  Edwards stresses Christ’s gentleness while acknowledging His wrath.  Gossip stresses Christ’s wrath while acknowledging His gentleness.  Between these two beautiful meditations on our Lord and Savior we begin to discern His full glory!

The Death of Beauty (8)

http://www.wga.hu/art/v/valentin/driving.jpg

Christ Driving the Money Changers out of the Temple Valentin de Boulogne

Celebrating Past Beauty (6)

Arthur John Gossip’s Interpreter’s Bible Exposition on John 2:13-17 (1)

The beauty found in this extensive passage  has to do with the courage to stand against a powerful prevailing falsehood with compassion, conviction and power.  The Reverend Gossip is likely unknown to the vast majority of  my readers, so here is a short biography.

Arthur John Gossip

Arthur John Gossip

Arthur John Gossip (1873-1954) was Professor of Christian Ethics and Practical Theology at the University from 1939 until 1945.

Born in Glasgow, Gossip graduated MA from the University of Edinburgh and was licensed as a Free Church of Scotland minister in 1898. He was minister of a number of churches before coming to St Matthew’s United Free Church in Glasgow in 1910; he served as a chaplain in Belgium and France during the First World War, and he returned to Scotland as minister of Beechgrove Church in Aberdeen.

In 1928, Gossip was appointed Professor of Christian Ethics and Practical Training in the United Free Church’s Divinity school in Glasgow (known as Trinity College after the reunion of the United Free and Church of Scotland in 1929, and the amalgamation of the Divinity schools at the College and the University). The University’s Chair of Ethics and Practical Theology was suppressed after Gossip’s retirement in 1945.

The expository passage is long, but must be discussed in its entirety for the full impact to be felt.  Therefore, this is part one of a two part discussion.

The First Epistle of John ends thus: “We know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true; and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” (1 John 5:20-21). As if to say: Here has been revealed to you God as he really is. Hold it firmly in your mind and do not let yourself be wiled away from it. Keep your eyes on Jesus Christ, and you will think rightly about God.

The Rev. Gossip opens with a Scripture passage that sets the context for and the parameters of what follows.  The theme is that Christians must hold firm to seeking in Scripture “God as he really is” by keeping their “eyes on Jesus Christ.”

But the mind of men is ingenious in fashioning difficulties for himself and finding ways of thwarting God’s gracious purposes towards him. And what if we so misread Christ that the portrait of him in our minds is not authentic, but a caricature? What if our misconception of him makes Christ himself an idol that hides the true God from us; because we accept only such facts about him that happen to appeal to us, and blandly overlook, or stubbornly refuse to see, others no less evidently there, but which we choose to think less worthy of him, and which will not fit into the conception to which we have come, less by diligent and humble study of the Scriptures than by excogitating for ourselves an idea and an ideal of what the Christ should be?

We are now drawn into the core of the dispute.  The reader is not browbeat as dull or dishonest.  Rather, by a series of pointed questions we are led to the idea that well meaning, good faith Christians can yet fail to perceive Jesus Christ in His fullness.  This failure is tied directly to our fallen state, thus asking us to look more deeply into our own motivations and preconceptions.  In effect the Rev. Gossip is gently asking us to consider a possibility that we would rather avoid, but that is of the greatest importance to our Christian lives.  Surely some will turn away at this point.  But, due to the gentleness of the approach and the demonstrated weightiness of the issue, many will travel further down this path.

That is precisely what too many have done, with disastrous consequences, not for themselves alone, but for the world. The “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” idea has been so overworked that many preach and follow a Christ who has small resemblance to the Christ of the N.T.; a Christ who is not loving, but unkindly indulgent; weakly good-natured, immorally so; whose great aim seems to be to get us off. Undoubtedly he himself claimed to be “meek and lowly in heart” (Matt. 11:29). And that he was and is so, incredibly so, stares at us from a dozen passages in the Gospels; and is proved daily in our experiences of his unbelievable patience and lack of exasperation with impossible people, imprudent and inexcusable.

Note that the Rev. Gossip doesn’t deny the gentle, forgiving aspects of our Savior’s character.  No, he affirms them as first things to both accept and be eternally thankful for.  So the purpose is not to deny that which the reader may already believe true (because it is gladly embraced as true).  The issue is that it is at this truth that so many Christians have stopped.  This truth is so appealing, so comforting that we are tempted to wish that it encompasses the whole truth about Jesus Christ.  But this is simply not the case, which necessitates what follows.

Taking Stock at the 500th Post

500posts

General Comments

So here I am writing the 500th post on this blog!  The first post is dated November 25, 2014 and titled “Opening Thoughts.”  My first paragraph is:

This blog will focus on my sense of sojourning through a foreign land as an orthodox, Reformed Christian.  This sense has been a longstanding one with regard to the popular culture here in the United States. I am by no means isolated from this country’s entertainment, political and business cultures.  In fact, I am an active participant in them all.  Though many aspects of these cultures are troubling, I am accustomed to dealing with the challenges and benefits that they provide.

Looking back 499 posts later I’m reasonably comfortable with my adherence to this framework.  That being the responses of an orthodox Reformed Christian to a wide variety of issues within the United States.

I am shocked by the speed that this “foreign land” has expanded over these mere four and a half years.  At the start my sense of alienation was clear but not central. Now I find myself fundamentally alienated from my Christian denomination, the culture and the political environment.  Therefore this blog has transformed from one  centered on exploration to one focused on identifying and exposing the myriad of insane ideas that are driving our civilization towards destruction.

Thus what began as an exploration focused on the PCUSA has expanded into areas such as environmentalism, philosophy, economic systems, politics, heresy, literature, abortion and anti-Semitism, among many others.  I have published three eBooks, all focused on topical issues addressed through Biblical exposition and meditation.  Most recently I have added satire as a means of communicating my concerns.

I have identified the prime driver of civilizational destruction to be Progressive ideology as practiced by both secular and religious institutions.  Therefore I have focused strongly on a critique of this ideology’s foundations, strategies and results.  Some of the major themes of this critique are:

I’ve also attempted to understand and then explain the philosophical underpinnings of the Progressive project (e.g., postmodernism, nihilism, Marxism, multiculturalism, intersectionality, pacifism, Gnosticism, identity, etc.).  My goal is to enhance our ability to counter their positions and to unmask the shocking evil that hides beneath that wafer-thin veneer of moral and intellectual posturing (many people who parrot the Progressive ideology have no idea what they are actually supporting).

Although I have expanded my scope far beyond the PCUSA, I still maintain a regular focus on this my denomination. The only way that I can maintain my Christian conscience is by a posture of opposition and rejection.  Yes, there remain many faithful pastors, elders, deacons and members in the denomination.  However, the theology and behavior of the dominant Progressive leadership has been so outrageously apostate and dishonorable that to remain silent is tantamount to support.  My voice is small, yet I will not choose silence.  So, as long as I’m in this denomination I will speak out as necessary.

I’m currently working on a new eBook provisionally titled A Denomination’s Debacle.  The book pulls together much of the PCUSA information and associated commentary from this blog with the addition of new material to fill-out the story.  It’s currently over 300 pages long, which is almost twice the length of my previous longest eBook.  It troubles me that through exclusive use of publicly available information such a substantial case for the PCUSA elite’s apostasy and corruption can be made.

the-truth-about-truth-a-nietzsche-feature-darwin-festival-version-3-638The “God is Dead” Christian Elite

Throughout this blog’s existence I have occasionally paused to discuss why our elite Christian leadership believes and behaves as it does.  Along these lines I have explored postmodern Christianity, the Social Gospel, Gnosticism and raw power politics, among others.  However, identification of a single unifying principle for this phenomena has to this point eluded me.

Perhaps the foundational principle is that these “Christian” elites agree with Nietzsche that belief in “God” as a reality upon which Western Civilization can base its religious/moral world view, “is dead.”  Let’s think through the consequences of this hypothesis.

Let’s say that you are a pastor or elder who has personally lost faith in the Christian God (or any god for that matter). And, you find that there are many others in the church who hold similar views.  So, you all find yourselves in an organization (i.e., the church) whose fundamental reason for existing has, in your opinion, vanished.  Yet the church has many remaining members and wields moral power in the civilization.  What then to do?

Well, you could work to dissolve the church by openly arguing that it has become obsolete and useless.  However, given that tens of millions still (foolishly in your opinion) believe in God’s existence you would likely fail and be expelled.  Therefore you would have to create a new organization to advance your philosophy.  That’s a very heavy lift with a small likelihood of success.  Far better to remain in the church but work for its transformation into an institution that does “social good.”

Of course, if “God is dead” and the Bible is thus null and void, how to find the social good to pursue?  The answer was found in the most aggressive, organized and presumptive human ideology supposedly pursuing the “social good,” that being what we now call Progressivism (which has its roots in Marxism, as contemporary Progressives are finally admitting).  Thus the elite Christian leadership of Mainline Denominations turned their churches from the Gospel of Jesus Christ to “the gospel of social change and justice” as defined by the secular Progressive political project.

chasmFor decades this stealth-coup was hidden behind multiple complex theological smoke screens that orthodox Christians had great difficulty penetrating.  However, with the advent of gay ordination and marriage the chasm between orthodoxy and heterodoxy became so vast that no amount of smoke could obscure it.  Thus we have seen the parting of ways where so many orthodox members and churches have exited.

Yet some orthodox members and churches have so far decided to remain.  If they do so with the clear understanding that they are missionaries to a now pagan, post-Christian denomination then perhaps they can successfully maintain their orthodox Christian identity.

However, if they pretend that they remain part of a “Christian” denomination then they will almost certainly be eventually converted and then absorbed.  This will occur because they grant legitimacy to the denomination’s dominant post-Christian ideology and thus will increasingly fall prey to its influence.  If that be their end then they have no excuse, for they have been warned and their consciences will testify against them at the time of accounting.

The Death of Beauty (7)

Celebrating Past Beauty (5)

ww2-146-lPaul Ramsey Article (2)

Make no mistake, Mr. Ramsey had a partisan position with regard to participation in World War II — he was for it.  However, the means by which he pressed his point of view could hardly be more different than those used by today’s Progressive Christians.  For, nowhere in Mr. Ramsey’s article will you find accusations of mental illness in his opponents manifested as a “phobia.”  Nor will you find dark intimations of evil motives due to some sort of “ism.”  Finally, you will not find all of the talking points for his secular political position cobbled together with a throwaway reference to Jesus in order to claim that the piece is Christian.

What you will find is a profound meditation on the nature of the human condition in general and sin in particular.  Along the way he will acknowledge truth and error on both sides of the debate.  But the essential fact here is that Mr. Ramsey seeks to convince those in disagreement or on the fence by the quality of his arguments.  That is, he treats those not or not yet on his side as moral and intellectual equals.

By his own words Mr. Ramsey is in disagreement with “Liberal Protestantism”  on the issue at hand.  His opponents apparently were scandalized by the fact that prosecution of the war required people to engage in unrighteous acts.  Of this there can be no dispute, and Mr. Ramsey does not attempt to do so.  Rather, he points out that by so completely focusing on sin as “unrepentant unrighteousness” they fall prey to the less obvious but far more dangerous and destructive sin of “unrepentant righteousness.”

34+Then+Jesus+said,+Father,+forgive+them,+for+they+do+not+know+what+they+do.+Luke+23-34+(NKJV)The departure point for this argument is Christ’s words from the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23: 34).  For, this greatest sin (perhaps excepting the “unforgivable sin”) was done entirely by people who believed that their motives were righteous.  For the Jewish leaders they were stopping a false Messiah.  For the Romans they were maintaining peace.  Mr. Ramsey’s point is that Christ’s words were not only applicable to that specific case, but are true in general.  Here is the key excerpt.

Do we not here recog­nize that sin and responsibility may vary inversely, rather than directly, with consciousness, so that greater sincerity actually means greater sin? Our own responsible and sinful implication in social institu­tions must already extend far out beyond the range of our conscious participation, else on what grounds do we make ourselves more consciously sinful by making ourselves more sensitive to the grinding, impersonal results of our common life? And when we are stabbed sharply awake to evil results that have followed from one of our actions, which we certainly did not “intend that way,” should this not give us pause, and bring the reflection that it is not just in this case that we sin not knowing what we do.

Mr. Ramsey’s point is not that, because sin consists of “unrepentant righteousness” then there is no need to be concerned about “unrepentant unrighteousness.”  Rather, it is to argue that by making an idol of our righteousness we can end up participating in greater sinfulness.

Before God, unrepentant unrighteousness and unrepentant righteousness come to the same thing; and an indication that they are judged alike by God is the fact that in history they come in time to the same thing, namely, cruelty. This is the Cross in History from which also, in the light of the Cross of Christ, we learn that man’s deepest sin lies in an unrepentant righteousness that knows not the sin for which it is responsible.

How then, if we must admit that we sin both in our unrighteousness and righteousness, can we avoid becoming incapable of any act or thought lest we thereby sin?  Mr. Ramsey’s answers are:

More fundamental than sorrow for our past sins is a repentant faith which in acting nevertheless waits for the Lord to complete by His Divine Provi­dence the goodness of our finite actions, and which still trusts Him when in His Divine Judgment our action is thwarted and rejected. If we are to be truly forgiven, truly the Father must forgive us.

and:

By the action of God in history, the sinfulness of human actions is judged and corrected, and the goodness of human action saved and incorporated in the Divine Will. Since our judgment about what is good is always infected by our sinful righteous­ness, the act of God in history always has, in rela­tion even to the best of us, an aspect of “otherness,” of being beyond the good and evil of our own mixed, self-defensive human judgments. When we do think we know the will of God for our time, our wills are strengthened, either to do or not to do, by a course of events utterly beyond our control. After each event we must always confess that we have been acted upon more than we have acted, that we have been changed more than we have changed anything, and that the ideals with which we began have not been realized in reality so much as they have been transformed to accord more with reality. By grace are we saved!

Nazi-Capture-Jews-WW2Although Mr. Ramsey’s prose does not achieve the heights of beauty discovered by Mr. Lincoln and Rev. Edwards, it yet is beautiful.  Its beauty lives in the lovely, humble and trusting manner in which he connects our fallen lives on this earth with the judgement and grace found only in God.  And, he meets a great human need by helping those brave but conflicted souls who found themselves called to oppose great evil to bear that terrible responsibility within the context of their Christian faith.


 

The Death of Beauty (5)

Celebrating Past Beauty (3)

Jonathan_Edwards_engraving

Engraving of Edwards by R Babson & J Andrews

Jonathan Edwards (1703 – 1758) Sermon

Jonathan Edwards (a strong supporter of Calvinist theology) is best known for his sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”  But he nonetheless has written words about our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ that beautifully capture the simultaneous majesty and humility of His Person.

I have attempted to address this aspect of our Savior’s character in Chapter 4 of my recently published eBook Christ and Cornelius: The Biblical Case Against Christian Pacifism (also available in PDF on this blog’s Documents Repository page).  Compared to this sermon excerpt my work looks clumsy and unconvincing.

And here is not only infinite strength and infinite worthiness, but infinite condescension, and love and mercy, as great as power and dignity. If you are a poor, distressed sinner, whose heart is ready to sink for fear that God never will have mercy on you, you need not be afraid to go to Christ, for fear that he is either unable or unwilling to help you. Here is a strong foundation, and an inexhaustible treasure, to answer the necessities of your poor soul, and here is infinite grace and gentleness to invite and embolden a poor, unworthy, fearful soul to come to it. If Christ accepts of you, you need not fear but that you will be safe, for he is a strong Lion for your defense. And if you come, you need not fear but that you shall be accepted; for he is like a Lamb to all that come to him, and receives then with infinite grace and tenderness. It is true he has awful majesty, he is the great God, and infinitely high above you; but there is this to encourage and embolden the poor sinner, that Christ is man as well as God; he is a creature, as well as the Creator, and he is the most humble and lowly in heart of any creature in heaven or earth. This may well make the poor unworthy creature bold in coming to him. You need not hesitate one moment; but may run to him, and cast yourself upon him. You will certainly be graciously and meekly received by him. Though he is a lion, he will only be a lion to your enemies, but he will be a lamb to you. It could not have been conceived, had it not been so in the person of Christ, that there could have been so much in any Savior, that is inviting and tending to encourage sinners to trust in him. Whatever your circumstances are, you need not be afraid to come to such a Savior as this. Be you never so wicked a creature, here is worthiness enough; be you never so poor, and mean, and ignorant a creature, there is no danger of being despised, for though he be so much greater than you, he is also immensely more humble than you. Any one of you that is a father or mother, will not despise one of your own children that comes to you in distress: much less danger is there of Christ’s despising you, if you in your heart come to him.

Can anyone point to theological prose that more beautifully calls us poor sinners to repentance?  Here is the work of a soul utterly captivated by Christ’s love.  The Reverend Edwards here intermingles two apparently opposite and irreconcilable aspects of our Savior’s character in a passage that unifies them with grace and power.  What non-Biblical words could more beautifully invite repentance and convince us that Christ has the power to save and protect?


It is a shameful fact that the name of Jesus Christ, let alone truthful meditation on His Person and purposes are so rarely found in contemporary PCUSA theological prose.  I certainly don’t demand beauty (otherwise I’d need to stop writing myself).  However, just to see that, regardless of the execution, hearts burn with thankfulness for and love of Christ Himself would be a wonderful relief.

iBooks Publish Announcement

For those of you living in the Windows and/or Android worlds, you can download the PDF version from my blog site here.

Christ and CorneliusChrist and Cornelius

I have published an eBook on iBooks.

Christ and Cornelius: The Biblical Case Against Christian Pacifism

Is Jesus Christ a pacifist?  Many Christians believe this to be the case.  However, unless this position can withstand careful Biblical scrutiny it cannot be considered true.  I have subjected this claim to that very standard in this book, and, have found it to be unsupported.  Along the way important issues regarding Biblical interpretation, the person and purpose of Jesus Christ, the application of King David’s life to our own times, the first Gentile convert to Christianity and Western Civilization’s crisis, among others, are discussed.

Christ and Cornelius (10)

800px-Jesús_y_el_centurión_(El_Veronés)Closing Thoughts (2)

The story of Cornelius’ salvation by Christ is of signal import because of its being the first Gentile conversion that was affirmed by the Church.  However, within the examination of Christian pacifism its meaning becomes all the more profound.  For, when God, in His infinite wisdom and mercy, chose whom that first Gentile convert would be, it was a Roman soldier, a centurion.

Perhaps some could be persuaded to “pass by” this telling detail, were it an isolated case.  But, it most certainly is not.  In fact, this event is actually the third part of a Scriptural trilogy that leaves no reasonable doubt as to God’s teaching.

In “Part 1” we find John the Baptist proclaiming Christ’s coming and therefore calling all to repentance through baptism.  And, who should respond to his message but a group of soldiers.

Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

Luke 3:14

Note that when the soldiers ask John what they must now do, he completely ignores their roles as war-fighters. This is a passing strange omission for the anointed Prophet who is preparing the way for Christ’s mission, particularly so if pacifism were to be a central principle of that mission.

In “Part 2,” Jesus Christ has arrived and is actively preaching the Gospel.  He is sought out by none other than a Roman centurion who’s servant is gravely ill.   As a consequence of this encounter Christ lifts up this man’s demonstration of faith, placing it far above that which He has seen in the nation of Israel.

When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.  

Matthew 8:10,11

I simply point out that Jesus responds to the centurion’s faith without making so much as the smallest comment on his occupation.  Were Jesus intent on turning humankind away from any form of violence, it would be passing strange that Jesus did not add instruction about future conduct to His praise of the centurion’s faith.

Now in “Part 3,” the trilogies’ capstone, we find that God has also chosen a Roman centurion to be the vessel through whom His Church will welcome the Gentiles into Christianity!  And, within this world-shattering event, is this man’s occupation as a Roman soldier raised as a barrier to entry?  Not in the slightest!

No, the barrier to be overcome is that of the ceremonial Jewish law that demands separation from the Gentiles.  This issue, which applies to fellowship with any Gentile, be they soldier or not, is the only one raised and addressed!

We should have discovered an absolutely clear pattern by now. Soldiers were (and are) welcome in the Church without having to give up their profession. This is not to say that their Christian faith won’t have a powerful impact on their conduct. But, with all of these opportunities to send the message that their position as war-fighters was incompatible with the Christian faith passed up by John the Baptist, Christ Himself  and now the Apostle Peter, it is virtually impossible to conclude that this was their intention.

And finally note that this unmistakable trilogy is in addition to all the other clear Biblical evidence against pacifism.  Thus, I must conclude that the pacifist position cannot survive a complete, careful Scriptural study.

I understand that pacifism has a long and substantial place in Christian thought. However, clearly this is a consequence of powerful personal feelings being overlaid on Scripture’s teaching to create a false belief.  I am not here denouncing Christian pacifists.  For, who among us fallen, frail humans is uniformly immune from failure of this nature?  Certainly not me.  However, we should hope that all Christians, if provided compelling evidence of erroneous belief through Scripture’s  teaching would submit to Scripture.

Just because we can’t travel all the way with Christian pacifists doesn’t mean that we should ignore their counsel. Quite the opposite, their deeply held belief in peace compels the rest of us to more carefully test our own conclusions with regard to the use of force. However, in the extremity of danger, neither can their erroneous position force us to stand idly by while terrible evil is done (or is about to be done). Perhaps we can end this phase of the discussion with these words from Proverbs.

A wise man has great power, and a man of knowledge increases strength; for waging war you need guidance, and for victory many advisers.

Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter.  If you say, “But we knew nothing about this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?

Proverbs 24:5,6; 11,12

Amen.

Christ and Cornelius (9)

Gerbrand van den Eeckhout-Cornelius.Closing Thoughts (1)

Near the beginning of this series the hypothesis to be tested was defined as follows:

Therefore, were one a believer in Christian pacifism, then, beyond the primary issue of Gentile conversion, the secondary “scruples that Peter found so hard to overcome” must have been about the admission of a professional warrior into the pacifistic Christian community.

The means of testing this hypothesis was also defined, that being:

… by taking the radical step of submitting to what the Bible actually says as opposed to assuming what we would like it to say.

Of course, this hypothesis and means also describe the methodology of this blog.  That is, Christ’s saving act upon the Roman centurion Cornelius and his household is simply one event from the larger sweep of His purposes.  We are here considering how, if at all, God has chosen to deal with the issue of warfare and the humans who engage in it.  Be it David or Cornelius, a tribe, nation or empire, is God willing to incorporate human warriors within the bounds of His grace, and, are Christians prevented from engaging in warfare?  Therefore, I will expand the scope of these concluding remarks accordingly.

I have discussed the challenges associated with knowing who Jesus Christ is throughout numerous posts.  For example, how unexamined assumptions can blind us to what the Biblical text actually teaches.  I have also discussed how we can overcome this barrier.  The answer consists of being open to the entire Biblical record in combination with the application of orthodox Reformed doctrine and interpretative rules.

I then reviewed the Biblical record regarding the concept of pacifism at a high level.  Recall that while I fully embraced Christ’s teaching that we should always seek “peacefulness,” this was demonstrated to be distinctly differentiable from the ideology of “pacifism.”  This conclusion was reached by application of the general interpretative concepts discussed above to the specific issue of pacifism.

This foundation allowed us to examine the life of King David with minds un-befuddled by pacifistic cant.  This fresh study was necessary because our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ is tied in the most intimate manner with King David, a warrior and poet after God’s own heart.  Thus, failure to understand the human king who’s life and reign foreshadows Christ’s eternal Kingship utterly undermines our ability to fully comprehend the person and purpose of our Savior.

All of this has led up to Christ and Cornelius, which is obviously the capstone to the series’ argument, and which will be discussed in the next post.

 

Christ and Cornelius (8)

st_peter_preaching_in_the_presence_of_st_mark_big.jpgControversy in the Church

Peter’s Report to the Church (Acts 11:1-18)

For Peter and the Jewish Christians who accompanied him the evidence of God’s direction was both immediate and unmistakable.  But, for those Jewish Christians who were not privy to this compelling information the news must have hit like an earthquake.  There must have been extreme agitation and confusion throughout this small, vulnerable community of believers.

11 Now the apostles and the brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?”

Note first that there is already at this extremely early time (i.e., the 30s A.D., or less than a decade after Christ’s resurrection) an identifiable “circumcision party” within the Church.  It’s natural to therefore assume that there was also something on the order of a party that did not cling so tightly to their Jewish heritage in existence.

The specific point of controversy was that Peter had violated Jewish ceremonial law by eating with Gentiles.  In fact, this was the only point of controversy.

But Peter began and explained to them in order: “I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, something descending, like a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came down to me. Looking at it closely I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I said, ‘No, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has cleansed you must not call common.’ 10 This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven.

Peter responds by first recounting his vision from God concerning once forbidden sources of food.

11 At that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesare′a. 12 And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brethren also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 And he told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon called Peter; 14 he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’

Next Peter recounts the amazing sequence of events that brought him and the six brethren together with Cornelius and his household.  Here we find Peter including Cornelius’ vision and obedience as integral parts of the common experience of God’s leading among Jews and Gentiles.

Peter’s explanation may answer a mystery discussed previously, that being why Cornelius “fell down at his feet and worshiped him” (i.e., worshiped Peter, in Acts 10:25b).  As Peter recounted in Jerusalem, the angel who met with Cornelius said of Peter that “he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.”  Thus, it is reasonable to conjecture that Cornelius’ expectation for salvation originally but erroneously were attached to the person of Peter rather than to Jesus Christ.  However, this initial confusion in no way prevented God from achieving His providential purpose.

15 As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?”

Peter reaches the climax, where God’s purpose in all of this becomes so unmistakably apparent that the only faithful response is immediate and joyful obedience.  Note that Acts’ author, Luke, has chosen to recount virtually the entire story from Chapter 10 here in Chapter 11.  The fact of this complete repetition is strong evidence for the tremendous importance of this event to Church history.

18 When they heard this they were silenced. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance unto life.”

I wonder if there were two distinct groups being here described, those who “were silenced” and those who “glorified God.”  For, in Paul’s letters and later in Chapter 15 of Acts, the “circumcision party” didn’t simply melt away.  Certainly some from the “circumcision party” could have been (and likely were) so convinced by Peter’s testimony that they completely and permanently changed their position.  However others certainly did not.

However, we must not lose sight of the primary point, that being that the Church in Jerusalem had overwhelmingly accepted the principle that Christianity is intended for all, Jew and Gentile alike.  In this they chose obedience to Christ’s command to “make disciples of all nations” over their Jewish heritage.  And, God’s providential promise to make Abraham’s offspring a blessing to all nations had, in His good time, come to pass in this fallen world.

Christ and Cornelius (7)

Peter and Cornelius

clouds_from_GodGentiles Receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:44-48)

Note that it is God who continues to drive this encounter to its predestined outcome.

44 While Peter was still saying this, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45 And the believers from among the circumcised who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God.

Peter and “the believers from among the circumcised” (i.e., the Jewish Christians) knew from direct, personal experience what were the true marks of “the gift of the Holy Spirit [being] poured out” upon the elect.  The ideas that Cornelius and his household could have demonstrated this gift by chance or that they were acting with dishonesty are beyond absurd.  No, God had acted with unmistakable clarity to ensure this outcome.

Baptism_of_corneliusThen Peter declared, 47 “Can any one forbid water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.

Peter responds with faithful acceptance and takes immediate action.  Everything that has occurred, from Peter’s and Cornelius’ visions, to the circumstances of their meeting, to the proclamation of the Gospel and, finally, to Cornelius’ and his household’s receiving of the Holy Spirit, has provided iron-clad evidence of God’s leading to this point.  And so, these Gentiles, this Roman Centurion and his household, these elect souls are “baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

It is thus Peter, not Paul, who has welcomed Gentiles into the Christian Church.  Peter, as is his wont, will eventually vacillate on this certain decision from God.  It will be Paul who both acts to bring the full harvest of Gentile souls into knowledge of this saving grace and who demands that the Church consistently submit to God’s sovereign choice.

Nevertheless, Peter’s act of trust and faith here, against two-thousand years of Jewish religious and cultural separation, unmistakably confirms Christ’s statement:

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.  (Matthew 16:18)