Martydom Part 3

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In the United States it is easy to be caught up in the bubble of what I am calling Affluent Anesthesia. We live in such abundance compared to the rest of the world (throughout all of history for that matter) that it is easy to be detached from reality. I realized this when I went to Iraq and was torn out of my protective American bubble. I realized that people in those places often live in a constant state of threat and danger. Talking to an Iraqi man, it hit me that he doesn’t know when his children leave the door if they are going to be shot, run over, blown up, or any number of terrible things. This made me realize how sectioned off from reality we really are. Events like the case of Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag bring me back to reality. She is a Christian who is being held on sentence of death in Sudan for being Christian. Her brother charged her with the crime of being Christian, and it is a crime if you are the child of a Muslim. You are born a muslim and it would be apostasy to convert which is punishable by death. She has recently given birth to a child while in prison, and the latest news is that her chains have been removed to give birth and care for her child. (More found here: http://news.yahoo.com/sudans-death-row-apostate-mother-unchained-171505242.html )

In her honor I have been posting sections from the story of Felicity and Perpetua which I will continue.

Chapter III

  1. “Again, after a few days, Pudens, a soldier, an assistant overseer of the prison, who began to regard us in great esteem, perceiving that the great power of God was in us, admitted many brethren to see us, that both we and they might be mutually refreshed. And when the day of the exhibition drew near, my father, worn with suffering, came in to me, and began to tear out his beard, and to throw himself on the earth, and to cast himself down on his face, and to reproach his years, and to utter such words as might move all creation. I grieved for his unhappy old age.
  2. “the day before that on which we were to fight, I saw in a vision that Pomponius the deacon came hither to the gate of the prison and knocked vehemently. I went out to him and opened the gate for him; and he was clothed in a richly ornamented white robe, and he had on manifold calliculae. And he said to me, ‘Perpetua, we are waiting for you; come!’ And he held his hand to me, and we began to go through rough and winding places. Scarcely at length had we arrived breathless at the amphitheatre, when he led me into the middle of the arena, and said to me, ‘Do not fear, I am here with you, and I am laboring with you,’ and he departed. And I gazed upon an immense assembly in astonishment. And because I knew that I was given to the wild beasts, I marveled that the wild beasts were not let loose upon me. Then there came forth against me a certain Egyptian, horrible in appearance, with his backers, to fight we me. And there came to me, as my helpers and encouragers, handsome youths; and I was stripped, and became aa man. Then my helpers began to rub me with oil, as is the custom for contest; and I beheld that Egyptian on the other hand rolling in the dust. And a certain man came froth, of wondrous height, so that he even overtopped the top of the amphitheatre; and he wore a loose tunic and a purple robe between two bands over the middle of the breast; and he had on calliculae of varied form, made of gold. And he called for silence, and said, ‘This Egyptian, if he should overcome this woman, shall kill her with the sword; and if she shall conquer him, she shall receive this branch.’ Then he departed. And we drew near to one another, and began to deal out blows. He sought to lay hold of my feet, while I struck at his face with my heels; and I was lifted up in the air, and began thus to thrust at him as if spurning the earth. But when I saw that there was some delay I joined my hands so as to twine my fingers with one another; and I took hold upon his head, and he fell on his face, and I trod upon his head. And the people began to shout, and my backers to exult. And I drew near to the trainer and took the branch; and he kissed me, and said to me, ‘Daughter, peace be with you’: and I began to go gloriously to the Sanavivarian gate. Then I awoke, and perceived that I was not to fight with beasts, but against the devil. Still I knew that the victory was awaiting me. This, so far, I have completed several days before the exhibition; but what passed at the exhibition itself let who will write.”

Chapter IV

  1. Moreover, also, the blessed Saturus related this his vision, which he himself committed to writing:–“We had suffered,” says he, “and we were gone forth from the flesh, and we were beginning to be borne by four angels into the east; and their hands touched us not. And we floated not supine, looking upwards, but as if ascending a gentle slope. And being set free, we at length saw the first boundless light; and I said, ‘Perpetual’ (for she was at my side), ‘this is what the Lord promised to us; we have received the promise.’ And while we are borne by those same four angels, there appears to us a vast space which was like a pleasure garden, having rose trees and every kind of flower. And the height of the trees was after the measure of a cypress, and their leaves were falling incessantly. Moreover, there in the pleasure garden four other angels appeared, brighter than the previous ones, who, when they saw us, gave us honor, and said to the rest of the angels, ‘Here they are! Here they are!’ with admiration. And those four angels who bore us, being greatly afraid, put us down; and we passed over on foot the space of a furlong in a broad path. There we found Jocundus and Saturninus and Artaxius, who having suffered the same persecution were burnt alive; and Quintus, who also himself a martyr had departed in the prison. And we asked of them where the rest where. And the angels said to us, ‘Come first, enter and greet your Lord.’

  2. “And we came near to place, the walls of which were such as if they were built of light; and before the gate of that place stood four angels, who clothed those who entered with white robes. And being clothed, we entered and saw the boundless light, and heard the united voice of some who said without ceasing, ‘Holy! Holy! Holy!’ And in the midst of that place we saw as it were a hoary man sitting, having snow-white hair and with a youthful countenance; and his feet we saw not. And on his right hand and on his left were four-and-twenty elders, and behind them a great many others were standing. We entered with great wonder, and stood before the throne; and the four angels raised us up, and we kissed Him, and He passed His hand over our face. And the rest of the elders said to us, ‘Let us stand’; and we stood and made peace. And the elders said to us, ‘Go and enjoy.’ And I said, ‘Perpetua, you have what you wish.’ And she said to me, ‘Thanks be to God, that joyous as I was in the flesh, I am now more joyous here.’

  3. ‘And we went forth, and saw before the entrance Optatus the bishop at the right hand, and Aspasius the presbyter, a teacher, at the left hand, separate and sad; and they cast themselves at our feet, and said to us, ‘Restore peace between us, because you have gone forth and have left us thus.’ And we said to them, ‘Are you not our father, and you our presbyter, that you should cast yourselves at our feet?’ And we prostrated ourselves, and we embraced them; and Perpetua began to speak with them, and we drew them apart in the pleasure garden under a rose tree. And while we were speaking with them, the angels said unto them, ‘Let them alone, that they may refresh themselves; and if you have any dissensions between you, forgive one another.’ And they drove them away. And they said to Optatus, ‘Rebuke your people, because they assemble to you as if returning form the circus, and contending about factious matters.’ And then it seemed to us as if they would shut the doors. And in that place we began to recognize many brethren, and moreover martyrs. We were all nourished with an indescribable odor, which satisfied us. Then, I joyously awoke.”

Coakley, John W. and Andrea Sterk. Readings in World Christian History Volume I: Earliest Christianity to 1453. New York: Orbis. 2011. Print.

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Martyrdom part 2

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In honor of Meriam Yahia Ibrahim, the sudanese woman who is scheduled to die because of her Christian faith, I began last week a series looking into the lives of early Christian martyrs. This is the second chapter following the martyrdom of Felicity and Perpetua.

Chapter II

  1. “After a few days there prevailed a report that we should be heard. And then my father came to me from the city, worn out with anxiety. He came up to me that he might cast me down, saying, ‘Have pity, my daughter, on my grey hairs. Have pity on your father, if I am worthy to be called a father by you. If with these hands I have brought you up to this flower of your age, if I have preferred you to all your brothers, do not deliver me up to the scorn of men. Have regard to your brothers, have regard to your mother and your aunt, have regard to your son, who will not be able to live after you. Lay aside your courage, and do not bring us all to destruction; for none of us will speak in freedom if you should suffer anything.’ These things said my father in his affection, kissing my hands and throwing himself at my feet; and with tears he called me not Daughter, but Lady. And I grieved over the grey hairs of my father, that he alone of all my family would not rejoice over my passion. And I comforted him, saying, ‘On that scaffold whatever God wills shall happen. For know that we are not placed in our own power, but in that of God.’ And he departed from me in sorrow.

  2. “Another day, while we were at dinner, we were suddenly taken away to be heard, and w arrived at the town hall. At once the rumor spread through the neighborhood of the public place, and an immense number of people were gathered together. We mounted the platform. The rest were interrogated and confessed. Then they came to me, and my father immediately appeared with my boy, and withdrew me from the step, and said in a supplicating tone, ‘Have pity on your babe.’ And Hilarianus the procurator, who had just received the power of life and death in the place of the proconsul Minucius Timinianus, who was deceased, said, ‘Spare the grey hairs of your father, spare the infancy of your boy, offer sacrifice for the wellbeing of the emperors.’ And I replied, ‘I will not do so.’ Hilarianus said, ‘Are you a Christian?’ And I replied, ‘I am a Christian.’ And as my father stood there to cast me down from the faith, he was ordered by Hilarianus to be thrown down, and was beaten with rods. And my father’s misfortune grieved me as if I myself had been beaten, I so grieved for his wretched old age. The procurator then delievers judgment on all of us, and condemns us to the wild beasts, and we wnt down cheerfully to the dungeon. Then, because my child had been used to receive suck from me, and to stay with me in the prison, I send Pomponius the deacon to my father to ask for the infant, but my father would not give it to him. And even as God willed it, the child no longer desired the breast, nor did my breast cause me uneasiness, lest I should be tormented by care for my babe and by the pain of my breasts at once.

  3. “After a few days, while we were all praying, suddenly, in the middle of our prayer, there came to me a word, and I named Dinocrates; and I was amazed that that name had never come into my mind until then, and I was grieved as I remembered his misfortune. And I felt myself immediately to be worthy and to be called on to ask on his behalf. And for him I began earnestly to make supplication, and to cry with groaning to the Lord. Without delay, on that very night, this was shown to me in a vision. I saw Dinocrates going out from a gloomy place, where also there were several others, and he was parched and very thirsty, with a filthy countenance and pallid color, and the wound on his face which he had when he died. This Dinocrates had been my brother after the flesh, seven years of age who died miserably with disease—his face being so eaten out with cancer that his death caused repugnance to all men. For him I had made my prayer, and between him and me there was a large interval, so that neither of us could approach to the other. And moreover, in the same place where Dinocrates was, there was a pool full of water, having its brink higher than was the stature of the boy; and Dinocrates raised himself up as if to drink. And I was grieved that, although that pool held water, still, on account of the height to its brink, he could not drink. And I was aroused, and knew that my brother was in suffering. But I trusted that my prayer would bring help to his suffering; and I prayed for him every day until we passed over into the prison of the camp, for we were to fight in the camp show. Then was the birthday of Geta Caesar, and I made my prayer for my brother day and night, groaning and weeping that he might be granted to me.

  4. “Then, on the day on which we remained in fetters, this was shown to me. I saw that that place which I had formerly observed to be in gloom was now bright; and Dinocrates, with a clean body well clad, was finding refreshment. And where there had been a wound, I saw a scar; and that pool which I had before seen, I saw now with its margin lowered even to the boy’s navel. And one drew water from the pool incessantly, and upon its brink was a goblet filled with water; and Dinocrates drew near and began to drink from it, and the goblet did not fail. And when he was satisfied, he went away from the water to play joyously, after the manner of children, and I awoke. Then I understood that he was translated from the place of punishment.”

 

Coakley, John W. and Andrea Sterk. Readings in World Christian History Volume I: Earliest Christianity to 1453. New York: Orbis. 2011. Print.

Martyrdom part 1

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“Given until today to recant her faith by a Sudanese court, Meriam Yahia Ibrahim instead declared she remained a Christian at today’s hearing. The judge at the Public Order Court in El Haj Yousif Khartoum then confirmed her sentence of 100 lashes for adultery and death by hanging for apostasy.”

Many Christians in the world today are facing true persecution for the faith. Many die without having caused any ripples in the media worldwide. In light of this woman’s great stand of faith and impending martyrdom, in honor of her I wish to post some testimonies from church history. This is our heritage as Christians and we ought to honor and respect those great brothers and sisters who make the ultimate sacrifice for Christ, paying with their very lives. The word Martyr comes from the greek word “Martureo” which means to “bear witness to,” or “to testify.” May we pray for the health and well being of these great witnesses to Christ.

Because of length I will treat this first one chapter by chapter.

The Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicity

The noblewoman Vibia Perpetua, her slave Felicity, the presbyter Saturus, and the others were martyred together at Carthage in 203. This Passio presents itself as a collection of documents. The most prominent of these is Perpetua’s literary account of her own experiences, one of the very few surviving first-person narratives by women of the first millennium of Christianity. The preface to the work, with its affirmation of present-day prophecies and visions, sounds themes consistent with the “New Prophecy” that was to be embraced by Tertullian of Carthage, and it is possible that he himself was the editor who brought these materials together.

 

Chapter I

  1. The young catechumens, Revocatus and his fellow servant Felicitas, Saturninus and Secundulus, were apprehended. And among them also was Vivia Perpetua, respectably born, liberally educated, a married matron, having a father and mother and two brothers, one of whom, like herself, was a catechumen, and a son an infant at the breast. She herself was about twenty-two years of age. From this point onward she shall herself narrate the whole course of her martyrdom, as she left it described by her own hand and with her own mind.

  2. “While” says she, “we were still with the persecutors, and my father, for the sake of his affection for me, was persisting in seeking to turn me away, and to cast me down from the faith—‘Father,’ said I, ‘do you see, let us say, this vessel lying here to be a little pitcher, or something else?’ And he said, ‘I see it to be so.’ And I replied to him, ‘Can it be called by any other name than what it is?’ And he said, ‘No.’ Neither can I call myself anything else than what I am, a Christian.’ Then my father, provoked at this saying, threw himself upon me, as if he would tear my eyes out. But he only distressed me, and went away overcome by the devil’s arguments. Then, in a few days after I had been without my father, I gave thanks to the Lord; and his absence became a source of consolation to me. In that same interval of a few days we were baptized, and to me the Spirit prescribed that in the water of baptism nothing else was to be sought for than bodily endurance. After a few days we are taken into the dungeon, and I was very much afraid, because I had never felt such darkness. O terrible day! O the fierce heat of the shock of the soldiery, because of the crowds! I was very unusually distressed by my anxiety for my infant. There were present there Tertius and Pomponius, the blessed deacons who ministered to us, and had arranged by means of a gratuity that we might be refreshed by being sent out for a few hours into a pleasanter part of the prison. Then going out of the dungeon, all attended to their own wants. I suckled my child, which was now enfeebled with hunger. In my anxiety for it, I addressed my mother and comforted my brother, and commended to their care my son. I was languishing because I had seen them languishing on my account. Such solicitude I suffered for many days, and I obtained leave for my infant to remain in the dungeon with me; and forthwith I grew strong and was relieved from distress and anxiety about my infant; and the dungeon became to me as it were a palace, so that I preferred being there to being elsewhere.

  3. “Then my brother said to me, ‘My dear sister, you are already in a position of great dignity, and are such that you may ask for a vision, and that it may be made known to you whether this to result in a passion of an escape.’ And I, who knew that I was privileged to converse with the Lord, whose kindnesses I had found to be so great, boldly promised him, and said, ‘Tomorrow I will tell you.’ And I asked, and this was what was shown me. I saw a golden ladder of marvelous height, reaching up even to heaven, and very narrow, so that persons could only ascend it one by one; and on the sides of the ladder was fixed every kind of iron weapon. There were swords, lances, hooks, daggers; so that if any one went up carelessly, or not looking upwards, he would be torn to pieces and his flesh would cleave to the iron weapons. And under the ladder itself was crouching a dragon of wonderful size, who lay in wait for those who ascended, and frightened them from the ascent. And Saturus went up first, who had subsequently delivered himself up freely on our account, not having been present at the time that we were taken prisoners. And he attained the top of the ladder, and turned towards me, and said to me, ‘Perpetua, I am waiting for you; but be careful that the dragon does not bite you.’ And I said, ‘In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, he shall not hurt me.’ And from under the ladder itself, as if in fear of me, he slowly lifted up his head; and as I trod upon the first step, I trod upon his head. And I went up, and I saw an immense extent of garden, and in the midst of the garden a white-haired man sitting in the dress of a shepherd, of a large stature, milking sheep; and standing around were many thousand white-robed ones. And he raised his head, and looked upon me, and said to me, ‘Thou art welcome, daughter.’ And he called me, and from the cheese as he was milking he gave me as it were a little cake, and I received it with folded hands; and I ate it, and all who stood around said, Amen. And at the sound of their voices I was awakened, still tasting a sweetness which I cannot describe. And I immediately related this to my brother, and we understood that it was to be a passion, and we ceased henceforth to have any hope in this world.”

 

First quotation from an article found on Christianity Today.  http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2014/may/americans-wife-faces-sudan-death-penalty-after-pregnancy.html?&visit_source=facebook

Coakley, John W. and Andrea Sterk. Readings in World Christian History Volume I: Earliest Christianity to 1453. New York: Orbis. 2011. Print.

 

What happened on Good Friday 2,000 years this day

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Today is a day celebrated around the world by Christians called Good Friday. Why is it so good? To fully understand the context of this historic day, when Jesus went to the Cross, we must understand a little about the day as begun in the Old Testament. Remember, that this week is the week of Passover for the Hebrew community. Thousands of Jews dispersed across the Roman Empire would have gathered in Jerusalem, the only place to offer this sacrifice. This was a traditional ordinance begun by God Himself, when He rescued the people out of slavery. These themes are very helpful to fully grasp the significance of Good Friday.

Exodus 12:1-21

The Tenth Plague

Now the LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, This month shall be the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year to you. Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying, “On the tenth of this month they are each one to take a lamb for themselves, according to their fathers’ households, a lamb for each household. Now if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his neighbor nearest to his house are to take one according to the number of persons in them; according to what each man should eat, you are to divide the lamb.

Your lamb shall be an unblemished male a year old; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. And you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month, then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel is to kill it at twilight. Moreover, they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses in which they eat. And they shall eat the flesh that same night, roasted with fire, and they shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled at all with water, but rather roasted with fire, both its head and its legs along with its entrails. And you shall not leave any of it over until morning, but what ever is left of it until morning, you shall burn with fire.

Now you shall eat it in this manner: with your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste—it is the LORD’s Passover. For I will go through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike down all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments—I am the LORD. And the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live; and when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.

Now this day will be a memorial to you, and you shall celebrate it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations you are to celebrate it as a permanent ordinance. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, but on the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses; for whoever eats anything leavened from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel. And on the first day you shall have a holy assembly, and another holy assembly on the seventh day; no work at all shall be done on them, except what must be eaten by every person, that alone may be prepared by you.

You shall also observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this very day I brought your hosts out of the land of Egypt; therefore you shall observe this day throughout your generations as a permanent ordinance. In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread, until the twenty-first day of the month at evening. Seven days there shall be no leaven found in your houses; for whoever eats what is leavened, that person shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is an alien or a native of land. You shall not eat anything leavened; in all your dwellings you shall eat unleavened bread. Then Moses called for all the elders of Israel, and said to them, “God and take for yourselves lambs according to your families, and slay the Passover lamb.”

The images of Judgment, Covering, Blood, Sacrifice, Unblemished Lamb, Salvation, freedom, and Slavery are all here in the narrative. God is coming in Judgment over the people of Egypt and their Gods, yet He is going to Cover His people by the Blood of another through Sacrifice of an unblemished (purity)lamb and in this act He has saved them and they will be freed from Slavery. There is another day given to Israel that is filled with this very same imagery. After traveling to Mount Sinai the Israelites receive the Ten Commandments (Moral Law), the many other commandments (Civil Law), and the tabernacle (Sign of His presence). After this they receive the commandments covering sacrifice and worship (Ceremonial Law) in the often-skipped book of Leviticus. Here we see a ceremony directly related to Good Friday.

This is taking place in the tabernacle which was broken into different sections. Outside there was an altar for sacrifice and a basin for washing. Inside the entrance to the tent there was a room where innocence was burnt. Here the priests could all go. However, there was a final compartment separated by a large veil where the Ark of the Covenant and the Book of the Law was held. Here was where God’s presence would dwell, and only on man, on one day could go in to offer sacrifice. This is that sacrifice.

Leviticus 16:1-22

Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement)

Now the LORD spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they had approached the presence of the LORD and died. And the LORD said to Moses, “Tell your brother Aaron that he shall not enter at any time into the holy place inside the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark, lest he die; for I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat. Aaron shall enter the holy place with this: with a bull or a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. He shall take from the congregation of the sons of Israel two male goats for a sin offering and one ram for a burnt offering. Then Aaron shall offer the bull for the sin offering which is for himself, that he may make atonement for himself and for his household. And he shall take the two goats and present them before the LORD at the dooray of the tent of meeting. And Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats, one lot for the LORD and the other for the scapegoat.

Then Aaron shall offer the goat on which the lot for the LORD fell, and make it a sin offering. But the goat on which the lot for the scapegoat fell, shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make atonement upon it, to send it into the wilderness as the scapegoat. Then Aaron shall offer the bull of the sin offering which is for himself, and make atonement for himself and for his household, and he shall slaughter the bull of the sin offering which is for himself. And he shall take a firepan full of coals of fire from upon the altar before the LORD, and two handfuls of finely ground sweet incense, and bring it inside the veil. And he shall put the incense on the fire before the LORD, that the cloud of incense may cover the mercy seat that is on the ark of the testimony, lest he die. Moreover, he shall take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the mercy seat on the east side; also in front of the mercy seat he shall sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times.

Then he shall slaughter the goat of the sin offering which is for the people, and bring its blood inside the veil, and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, and sprinkle it on the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. And he shall make atonement for the holy place, because of the impurities of the sons of Israel, and because of their transgressions, in regard to all their sins; and thus he shall do for the tent of meeting which abides with them in the midst of their impurities. When he goes in to make atonement in the holy place, no one shall be in the tent of meeting until he comes out, that he may make atonement for himself and for his household and for all the assembly of Israel. Then he shall go out to the altar that is before the LORD and make atonement for it, and shall take some of the blood of the bull and of the blood of the goat, and put it on the horns of the altar on all sides. And with his finger he shall sprinkle some of the blood on it seven times, and cleanse it, and from the impurities of the sons of Israel consecrate it. When he finishes atoning for the holy place, and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall offer the live goat.

Then Aaron shall lay both of his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the sons of Israel, and all their transgressions in regard to all their sins; and he shall lay them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who stands in readiness. And the goat shall bear on itself their iniquities to a solitary land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness.

Again, certain themes are flowing throughout this narrative: Sinfulness (Iniquity), Holiness, Cleansing, Separation, Mediation, Blood, Sacrifice, Mercy, Atonement, Removal of sins, and Imputation (transferal, scapegoating). The Israelites were a sinful people who could not approach a Holy God freely for only the High Priest could approach Him and only after being Cleansed. They were Separated from God by the veil which was a symbol of the separation that occurs due to sin. Only one man who was the Mediator between God and the people could approach God with a sacrifice for the people. The blood of this sacrifice was to be placed on the Mercy seat of God showing His grace upon them in offering atonement. Furthermore, those sins also had to be placed upon another to bear them because the people could not bear them themselves, they were then removed from Israel through an act of transferal of guilt upon another (the scapegoat) also known as imputation.

Now that we understand these Old Testament ceremonies we can now trace these themes forward into the New Testament. Here are all the themes covered in the above narratives.

Judgment, Covering, Blood, Sacrifice, Unblemished Lamb, Salvation, freedom, Slavery, Sinfulness (Iniquity), Holiness, Cleansing, Separation, Mediation, Blood, Sacrifice, Mercy, Atonement, and Imputation (transferal, scapegoating).

All of these are found in Christ on the cross on this day 2,000 years ago.

Judgment

But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him. (Isaiah 53:5-6 predicting Christ)

Covering for Sin

Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works: Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD will not take into account. (Romans 4:4-8)

Blood

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, he entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the bood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works. (Hebrews 9:11-14)

For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it. For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives. Therefore even the first covenant was not inaugurated without blood. (Hebrews 9:16-18)

Sacrifice

For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; nor was it that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood not his own. Otherwise, He would have need to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. (Hebrews 9:24-26)

Unblemished Lamb

Upon seeing Jesus John the Baptist proclaims,

“Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)

Peter tells us as believers:

And if you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each man’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay upon earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:17-21)

Salvation

Before the birth of Jesus, the Angels proclaim of Him,

And she shall bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins. (Matthew 1:21)

Freedom

It is for freedom that Christ se us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)

Slavery

They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s offspring, and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, You shall become free? Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. And the slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed. (John 8:33-36)

Sinfulness

As it is written, “There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one. Their throat is an open grave, with their tongues they keep deceiving, the poison of asps is under their lips; Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness; their feet are swift to shed blood, destruction and misery are in their paths, and the path of peace have they not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes. Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; (Romans 3:10-22)

He who was delivered up because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification. (Romans 5:25)

Holiness

But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, (1 Corinthians 1:30)

Cleansing

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave himself up for her; that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless.

Separation

For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and form the glory of His power, (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9)

Mediation

And for this reason (see Hebrews 9:11-14) He (Jesus) is the mediator of a new covenant, in order that since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. (Hebrews 9:15)

Mercy

He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that being justified by His grace we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:5-7)

Atonement

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10)

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:24-26)

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, (1 Corinthians 15:3)

Removal of Sin

And you know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. (1 John 3:5)

Imputation

And He himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls. (1 Peter 2:24-25)

There are far more verses and themes to connect to the events on this momentous day. We also must remember that the cross is incomplete if not followed by the resurrection and ascension of Christ into all authority. For Paul says, “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:14) Also, the mediation we receive from Christ is made after He ascends into heaven, for it was better for Him to go than to stay (Matthew 26: 24). However, Christ satisfied the wrath of God on the cross when He paid for our sins. He obtained an eternal redemption on the cross that was finally completed when he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:3). In light of all these things we must proclaim our loud Amen! There is nothing needed for us to do, for Christ has done it all. He has come down to save you from your sin, and He has already accomplished everything! Amen to the work of Christ on the cross as He breathes His last breath!

When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own household. After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, “I am thirsty.”

A jar full of sour wine was standing there; so they put a sponge full of the sour wine upon a branch of hyssop, and brought it up to His mouth. When Jesus therefore had received the sour wine, He said, “it is finished!” And He bowed His head, and gave up His spirit. (John 19:26-30)

On Controversy

 

In the midst of much controversy within the church, with no foreseeable end in the future, I figured a great post on dealing with controversy biblically would be in order. Today, we would much rather be silent than to engage in controversy. As someone who generally engages controversy, I figure most people might see me as one who loves it. I would disagree and say I have much desire to stay out of it, and just be silent on the sidelines. However, there is biblical precedence, if not expectation, that we engage in this. In fact, It is Jesus who said, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34) Christ is divisive and even families will be divided on account of allegiance to Christ so we must understand controversy. Also, there is the very reality of disunity within the church. Because there will be error, in what way do we approach it? This has been a very real question for me to answer personally, and I have done a lot of study, and repenting, as I work through these issues. Here to help us is John Piper in his book “The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright.” This book is a response to the New Perspective on Paul, a theology which takes a different (and some say bad) look on justification. Before engaging with N. T. Wright he writes this chapter to explain why its necessary.

 

On Controversy

I am a pastor first. Polemics are secondary and serve that. Part of our pastoral responsibility is what Paul calls “the defense and confirmation of the gospel” (Phil. 1:7). Virtually all of Paul’s letters serve the church by clarifying and defending doctrinal truth and its practical implications.

The reason I take up controversy with N.T. Wright and not, say, J.D.G. Dunn or E.P. Sanders (all notable for their relationship to the so-called New Perspective on Paul) is that none of my parishioners has ever brought me a thick copy of a book by Dunn or Sanders, wondering what I thought about them. But Wright is a popular and compelling writer as well as a rigorous scholar. Therefore, he exerts significant influence both in the academic guild and among the wider public. If he is mistaken on the matter of justification, he may do more harm than others. In addition, Wright loves the apostle Paul and reverences the Christian Scriptures. That gives me hope that engaging with him will be fruitful. I know I have learned from him, and I hope that our common ground in Scripture will enable some progress in understanding and agreement.

How Then Shall We Conduct the Controversy?

In his essay called “Polemic Theology: How to Deal with Those Who Differ from Us,” Roger Nicole begins,

 

We are called upon by the Lord to contend earnestly for the faith (Jude 3). That does not necessarily involve being contentious; but it involves avoiding compromise, standing forth for what we believe, sanding forth fro the truth of God—without welching at any particular moment.

 

When we are arguing about the meaning of the gospel, it is important to do it “in step with the truth of the gospel” (Gal. 2:14). If Bible-believers are going to disagree about the meaning of the Bible, we should try to do so biblically. To that end, I offer the following encouragements.

Wise Words from Old Times

In 1655 John Owen published The Mystery of the Gospel Vindicated and Socinianism Examined. It contains one of my favorite exhortations, namely, that “we have communion with God in the doctrine we contend for.” In other words, arguing for the truth of God should never replace enjoyment of the God of truth.

 

[More important than all is] a diligent endeavor to have the power of the truths professed and contended for abiding upon our hearts, that we may not contend for notions, but that we have a practical acquaintance within our own souls. When the heart is cast indeed into the mould of the doctrine that the mind embraceth—when the evidence and necessity of the truth abides in us—when not the sense of the words only is in our heads, but the sense of the thing abides in our hearts—when we have communion with God in the doctrine we contend for—then shall we be garrisoned by the grace of God against all the assaults of men.

 

But is it really necessary? Must we contend? Cannot we not simply be positive, rather than trying to show that others are wrong? On June 17, 1932, J. Gresham Machen delivered an address before the Bible League of Great Britain in London titled “Christian Scholarship and the Defense of the Faith.” In it he said,

 

Men tell us that our preaching should be positive and not negative, that we can preach the truth without attacking error. But if we follow that advice we shall have to close our Bible and desert its teachings. The New Testament is a polemic book almost form beginning to end.

Some years ago I was in a company of teachers of the Bible in the colleges and other educational institutions of America. One of the most eminent theological professors in the country made an address. In it he admitted that there are unfortunate controversies about doctrine in the Epistles of Paul; but, said he in effect, the real essence of Paul’s teaching is found in the hymn to Christian love in the thirteenth chapter of I Corinthians; and we can avoid controversy today, if we will only devote the chief attention to that inspiring hymn.

In reply, I am bound to say that the example was singularly ill-chosen. That hymn to Christian love is in the midst of a great polemic passage; it would never have been written if Paul had been opposed to controversy with error in the Church. It was because his soul was stirred within him by a wrong use of the spiritual gifts that he was able to write that glorious hymn. So it is always in the Church. Every really great Christian utterance, it may almost be said, is born in controversy. It is when men have felt compelled to take a stand against error that they have risen to the really great heights in the celebration of truth.

 

Machen also reminds us that not just the heights of celebration in the truth but also the salvation of souls may well come through controversy for the cause of the gospel:

 

During the academic year, 1924-25, there has been something like an awakening. Youth has begun to think for itself; the evil of compromising associations has been discovered; Christian heroism in the face of opposition has come again to its rights; a new interest has been aroused in the historical and philosophical questions that underlie the Christian religion; true and independent convictions have been formed. Controversy, in other words, has resulted in a striking intellectual and spiritual advance. Some of us discern in all this the work of the Spirit of God….Controversy of the right sort is good; for out of such controversy, as Church history and Scripture alike teach, there comes the salvation of souls.

 

Longing for the Day of Unity in the Truth

The heart-wrenching truth of our day, and every day, is that Christians often disagree with each other—sometimes about serious matters. Therefore, we rejoice that it is God himself who will fulfill his plan for the church: “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose” (Isa. 46:10). We take heart that, in spite of all our blind spots and bungling and disobedience, God will triumph in the earth: “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. For kingship belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations” (Ps. 22:27-28).

Yet one of the groanings of this fallen age is controversy, and most painful of all, controversy with brothers and sisters in Christ. We resonate with the apostle Paul—our joy would be full if we could all be “of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (Phil. 2:2). But for all his love of harmony and unity and peace, it is remarkable how many of Paul’s letters were written to correct fellow Christians. One thinks of 1 Corinthians. It begins with Paul’s thanks (1:4) and ends with his love (16:24). But between those verses he labors to set the Corinthians straight in their thinking and behavior.

The assumption of the entire New Testament is that we should strive for peace. Peace and unity in the body of Christ are exceedingly precious. “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Ps. 133:1). “Seek peace and pursue it” (1 Pet. 3:11). “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Rom. 14:19). But just as clear is that we are to pursue peace by striving to come to agreement in the truth. “The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable” (James 3:17). It is first pure. Peace is not a first thing. It is derivative. It comes from hearty agreement in truth.

For example, Paul tells us to set our minds on what is true, and honorable, and just; and the God of peace will be with us (Phil. 4:8-9). Peace is a wonderful by-product of heartfelt commitments to what is true and right. Hebrews speaks of the “peaceful fruit of righteousness” (12:11). Paul tells Timothy to “pursue righteousness … and peace” (2 Tim. 2:22). The unity we strive for in the church is a unity in knowledge and truth and righteousness. We grow up into the one body “joined and held together” as we “attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God” (Eph. 4:13, 16). “Grace and peace” are multiplied to us “in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (2 Pet. 1:2). And paradoxically, the weaponry with which we wage war for “the gospel of peace” begins with “the belt of truth” (Eph. 6:14-15) and ends with “the sword of the Spirit,” the Word of God (6:17).

Why True Unity Flows From Truth

The reason for this is that truth frees us from the control of Satan, the great deceiver and destroyer of unity: “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32; cf. 2 Tim. 2:24-26). Truth serves love, the bond of perfection. Paul prays for the Philippians that their “love [may] abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment” (Phil. 1:9). Truth sanctifies, and so yields the righteousness whose fruit is peace: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17; cf. 2 Pet. 1:3, 5, 12).

For the sake of unity and peace, therefore, Paul labors to set the churches straight on numerous issues—including quite a few that do not in themselves involve heresy. He does not exclude controversy from his pastoral writing. And he does not limit his engagement in controversy to first-order doctrines, where heresy threatens. He is like a parent to his churches. Parents do not correct and discipline their children only for felonies. Good parents long for their children to grow up into all the kindness and courtesy of mature adulthood. And since the fabric of truth is seamless, Paul knows that letting minor strands continue to unravel can eventually rend the whole garment.

Thus Paul teaches that elders serve the church, on the one hand, by caring for the church without being pugnacious (1 Tim. 3:3, 5), and, on the other hand, by rebuking and correcting false teaching. “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9; cf. 1:13; 2:15; 1 Tim. 5:20). This is one of the main reasons we have the Scriptures: they are “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16).

“By the Open Statement of the Truth We Commend Ourselves”

Faithful Christians do not love controversy; they love peace. They love their brothers and sisters who disagree with them. They long for a common mind for the cause of Christ. But for this very reason they are bound by their conscience and by the Word of God to try to persuade the church concerning the fullness of the truth and beauty of God’s word.

We live in a day of politicized discourse that puts no premium on clear assertions. Some use language to conceal where they stand rather than to make clear where they stand. One reason this happens is that clear and open statements usually result in more criticism than ambiguous statements do. Vagueness will win more approval in a hostile atmosphere than forthrightness will.

But we want nothing to do with that attitude. Jesus refused to converse with religious leaders who crafted their answers so as to conceal what they thought (Mark 11:33). Our aim (if not our achievement) is always to be like Paul when he said, “But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Cor. 4:2).

(Pages 27-32)

Piper, John. The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright. Wheaton: Crossway. 2007. Print.

Creeds Part II- Primitive creeds and the Bible

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Creeds, as seen in the last post, were extremely important to the formation of the early church. While it is easy to see their importance, we might ask the question, “Why did they start forming them?” It is helpful to look to the New Testament for this answer. The early creeds found in the second and third centuries were based around a baptismal formula given by Jesus. Before leaving His disciples, Jesus had some closing words to send the disciples out with:

And He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead the third day; and that repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:46-49)

This power would come at Pentecost when they would receive the Holy Spirit, as elaborated in Luke’s continued narrative in he book of Acts:

And gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, “Which,” He said, “you heard of from Me; for John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” And so when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” (Acts 1:4-8)

Matthew also gives us a record of this account from a different angle, filling in some of the gaps missing in Luke’s depiction.

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

It is clear that the apostles were given specific commands as the mission of the church. They were to: (1) preach repentance and forgiveness for sins; (2) to be witnesses to the life and resurrection of Christ; (3) to go forth from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth under the power of the Holy Spirit; (4) To baptize those who believed in the name of the trinity (Father, son, and Holy Spirit); (5) to teach these new believers in everything commanded by Christ. The early believers took this command seriously and the early Creeds were formed around this Trinitarian declaration.

As shown in the last post, the common use of a creed (or symbol) was in baptismal confession, where the believer proclaimed the basic truths of the Gospel that the early believers thought were necessary for salvation. Because they were very mission oriented, it is not hard to see how the early creeds were formed around this basic Trinitarian confession.

One of the main uses of this “symbol” was in baptism, where it was presented to the candidate in the form of a series of three questions:

Do you believe in God, the Father almighty?

Do you believe in Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who was born of the Holy Ghost and of Mary the Virgin, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and died, and rose again at the third day, living from among the dead, and ascended unto heaven and sat at the right of the Father, and will come to judge the quick and the dead?

Do you believe in the Holy Ghost, the Holy Church, and the resurrection of the flesh?

This is the core of what historians call “the old Roman symbol,” or simply R. It is obvious that this creed—like most ancient creeds—has been built around the Trinitarian formula that was used in baptism. Since one was baptized “in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,” these questions were posed as a test of true belief in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. (Gonzalez, 77-78)

This early creed, in different forms yet with the same basic elements, is found throughout the early church.

I select, as a specimen, the descriptive account of Tertullian, who maintained against the heretics very strongly the unity of the traditional faith, but, on the other hand, also against the Roman Church (as a Montanist), the liberty of discipline and progress in Christian life… …In his tract against Praxeas (cap. 2) he mentions also, as an object of the rule of faith, ‘Spiritum Sanctum, paracletum, sanctificatorem fidei eorum qui credunt in Patrem et Filium et Spiritum Sanctum.’ We may even go further back to the middle and the beginning of the second century. The earliest trace of some of the leading articles of the Creed may be found in Ignatius, Epistola ad Trallianos, c. 9 (ed. Hefele, p. 192), where he says of Christ that he was truly born ‘of the Virgin Mary’ … was crucified and died… and was raised from the dead’… (Schaff, 17, footnote 3)

Iranaeus, writing in the early 2nd century, used these creeds as the rallying point for Christian theology, and a way of refuting heresy. He shows how the common practice was to recite these during Baptism.

We have already seen how Irenaeus castigated the Gnostics for tearing apart the “mosaic” of scripture and reassembling it into something foreign. What then was the proper key for biblical interpretation? For the orthodox church, the core message of Christianity was conveniently summed up by the creed used to instruct new converses before baptism. This “Rule of Faith” provided believers with a synopsis of what the Bible was all about. It certainly did not contain a bunch of myths about primal Aeons. Rather, the Rule taught one creator God who was revealed by the Spirit through the Hebrew prophets. This Father God has been supremely revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of his Son, who was incarnate by a virgin for our salvation. The future holds a final resurrection for all, with rewards for the righteous and punishment for the wicked from the Lord Jesus Christ. So we can see that for Iranaeus, the story of salvation was a comprehensive narrative of God’s redeeming work in human history. Irenaeus was one of the earliest patristic writers to see this big picture. The Rule of Faith became the organizing principle of his theology, since it outlined the overarching story of Christian redemption. (Litfin, 90-91)

While we can see the importance for the early church after the apostolic era, it may surprise Christians to realize that there is biblical precedent for the usage of creeds. In fact, Paul often comments on the usage of certain creedal formula’s using them as a profession in his letters.

One of the clearest usages of a creedal formula in Paul’s letters is found in 1 Corinthians, written while Paul was in Ephesus on his 3rd missionary journey around A.D. 55.

Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. (1 Corinthians 15:1-5)

Gary Habermas in the book Case for Christ, explains exactly what this section in 1 Corinthians is while being interviewed by Lee Strobel:

 My challenge to Habermas was simple and direct: “Convince me it’s a creed.”

“Well, I can give you several solid reasons. First, Paul introduces it with the words received and delivered [or passed on in the NIV], which are technical rabbinic terms indicating he’s passing along holy tradition.

“Second,” Habermas said, looking down at his hands as he grabbed a finger at a time to emphasize each point he was making, “the text’s parallelism and stylized content indicate it’s a creed. Third, the original text uses Cephas for Peter, which is his Aramaic name. In fact, the Aramaic itself could indicate a very early origin. Fourth, the creed uses several other primitive phrases that Paul would not customarily use, like ‘the Twelve,’ ‘the third day,’ ‘he was raised,’ and others. Fifth, the use of certain words is similar to Aramaic and Mishnaic Hebrew means of narration.” (Strobel, 229)

Continuing, Habermas elaborates on the dating of this important Gospel Creed.

            “We know that Pual wrote 1 Corinthians between A.D. 55 and 57. He indicated in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 that he has passed on this creed to the church at Corinth, which would mean it must predate his visit there in A.D. 51. Therefore the creed was being used within twenty years of the Resurrection, which is quite early.

“However, I’d agree with the various scholars who trace it back even further, to within two to eight years of the Resurrection, or from about A.D. 32 to 38, when Paul received it in either Damascus or Jerusalem. SO this is incredibly early material—primitive, unadorned testimony to the fact that Jesus appeared alive to skeptics like Paul and James, as well as to Peter and the rest of the disciples.” (Strobel, 230)

But it can be dated even earlier.

            “I would concur with the scholars who believer Paul received this material three years after his conversion, when he took a trip to Jerusalem and met with Peter and James. Paul describes that trip in Galatians 1:18-19, where he uses a very interesting Greek word—historeo.”

I wasn’t familiar with the meaning of the word. “Why is that significant?”

“Because this word indicates that he didn’t just casually shoot the breeze when he met with them. It shows this was an investigative inquiry. Paul was playing the role of an examiner, someone who was carefully checking this out. So the fact that Paul personally confirmed matters with two eyewitnesses who are specifically mentioned in the creed—Peter and James—gives this extra weight. One of the very few Jewish New Testament scholars, Pinchas Lapide, says the evidence in support of the creed is so strong that it ‘may be considered as a statement of eyewitnesses.’” (Strobel, 230-231)

Here we see one of the most ancient of creeds having an impact on the world today! Many scholars wish to discredit the historicity of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, yet here is evidence of it at the very early stages. Paul uses other common Christian expressions and creedal statements showing his approval of their veracity and effectiveness many times in his pastoral epistles.

It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. (1 Timothy 1:15)

It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. (1 Timothy 3:1)

In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following. But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. It is a trustworthy statement deserving full acceptance. (1 Timothy 4:6-9)

It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him; if we endure, we shall also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us; If we are faithless, He remains faithful; for He cannot deny Himself. Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless, and leads to the ruin of the hearers. (2 Timothy 2:11-14)

He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that being justified by His grace we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God may be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for men. (Titus 3:5-8)

John MacArthur explains these statements:

This is a faithful saying (trustworthy). A phrase unique to the Pastoral Epistles (cf. 3:1; 4:9; 2 Tim. 2:11; Titus 3:8), which announces a statement summarizing key doctrines. The phrase “worthy of all acceptance” gives the statement added emphasis. Apparently, these sayings were well known in the churches, as concise expressions of cardinal gospel truth. (MacArthur, 1779)

Lastly are two early Christian Hymns:

And He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created by Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:15-17)

James white explains the construction behind this:

Colossians 1:15-17 is considered by some to be an early Christian hymn. Its structure most definitely resembles the poetic style of a song, and one can find it easy to see how Paul would utilize song to teach doctrine in the churches. The principal verses relevant to our discussion of pre-existence form the first half of this passage – the second discusses the pre-eminence of Christ in redemption and in the Church. (White, web)

And the second:

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. (Philippians 2:5-7)

James White again explains:

It, too, is hymnic in structure, and is set off as such by the New International Version. The major section comprises what is actually a sermon illustration of Paul’s in reference to his admonition to the Philippians to act in humility of mind toward one another. To support this point, Paul points to the person of Jesus Christ as the ultimate example of this attitude. Indeed, it is vital to understand the immediately preceding context when some phrases within the passage are encountered, as we shall see. (White, web)

As can be clearly seen, creeds were of great importance in the early church and would only grow in importance once great heresies began to spread. Even now, we cannot escape their importance, and why would we want to? I hope you will find these creeds, and those that follow, of great value and worth because it helps to remind us of the great tradition we stand in as Christians. I will close with the words of Paul who commands us to:

 Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; (Ephesians 5:18-19)

And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to guard them securely; and he, having received such a command, threw them into the inner prison, and fastened their feet in the stocks. But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; (Acts 16:23-25)

Gonzalez, Justo L. The Story of Christianity: Volume I The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation. New York: HarperCollins. 2010. Print.

Litfin, Bryan M. Getting to Know the Church Fathers: An Evangelical Introduction. Grand Rapids: Brazos. 2007. Print.

MacArthur, John. The MacArthur Bible Commentary. Nashville: Thomas Nelson. 2005. Print.

Schaff, Philip. The Creeds of Christendom: Volume I The History of Creeds. Grand Rapids: Baker. 1993. Print.

White, James. “Alpha and Omega Ministries.” Alpha and Omega Ministries. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Mar. 2014.

Creeds: Part I – Their importance

 

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I am starting a new blog series today on Christian Creeds. Through my own study, and my Christian History class at Moody, I have become very convicted about the importance and necessity of Creeds in the life of a Christian. Sadly, their importance has been diminished as the church moves away from a denominational structure and into a more non-denominational one. Creeds tend to be associated with high church models and dead religion, endlessly repeating the same lines without meaning them at all. However, historically this is not how we should view the creeds. It is ironic that they have taken on this “dead church/ dead religion” visage, because they have in times past been a sign of a vibrant faith. I hope to show that to you through this brief education on the creeds. If you wish to know more about the creeds and the early church just get some of the books I am referencing because they are great sources.

First, it is necessary to have a proper definition of the words used through history for statements we now know as “creeds.”

A Creed, or Rule of Faith, or Symbol, is a confession of faith for public use, or a form of words setting forth with authority certain articles of belief, which are regarded by the framers as necessary for salvation, or at least for the well-being of the Christian Church. (Schaff, 3-4)

In a day of the church when Creeds are generally looked down upon, if not out right rejected, the question might be asked, “why are these necessary?” That is a great question to ask, and one that is very important to understanding the formation of the church and scripture.

Recall that in the introduction we talked about the word “catholic” as meaning “universal.” It is a word that defines something desirable: unified, worldwide belief in the truth, instead of sectarian aberration and heretical lies. But this universal orthodoxy within the church was not achieved right out of the gate. Instead, the historical evidence shows that Jesus was almost immediately subjected to competing attempts to interpret him in various ways. Among the many attempts, the Gnostic sects were the most vocal. They advanced their own Jesuses, and thus their own Christianities. Irenaeus was locked in a battle with them for the definition of authentic Christianity. But how could such a thing be determined definitively?

From our vantage point today, we might be tempted to define the “orthodox” as the group that was “biblical.” But such an approach wouldn’t have worked in the second century, since there was not yet an agree-upon Bible containing two testaments, much less to offer a precise definition of which books should be included in it. Although most of the biblical writings were already circulating among the churches, the process of delineating a proper canon still awaited finalization. As we will see, Irenaeus was one of the leading figures in establishing the canon of scripture. Until this standard was put solidly in place, the heretical actions tried vigorously to make the scriptures heir own. It was not that some groups used sacred writings and others avoided them. Rather, the questions were: Which texts are authoritative? How should they be interpreted? By what authority do they speak? Whose interpretations of them are correct? These are the questions Irenaeus was attempting to answer once and for all.

The way to determine orthodoxy, according to Irenaeus, was to go back to what the apostles had proclaimed as Christ’s own word. To achieve this, Irenaeus argued for three main things: (1) a catholic church whose leaders drew their authority from teaching the same doctrines as the apostles; (2) a catholic church whose Bible is comprised of two testaments, written by prophets and apostles; and (3) a catholic church whose Bible is interpreted in light of the apostolic preaching summarized in the early creeds, instead of by fanciful narratives and cosmic mythology. (Litfin, 78-79)

How important were the early Creeds? So important they helped to ground the church in apostolic doctrine before all the scriptures that would form the New Testament had been completely collected.

Next to the Gospels, the book of Acts and the Pauline Epistles enjoyed early recognition. Thus, by the end of the second century the core of the canon was established: the four Gospels, Acts, and the Pauline Epistles. On the shorter books that appear toward the end of the present canon, there was no consensus until a much later date; but there also was little debate. The book of Revelation, widely accepted by the third century, was questioned after the conversion of Constantine, for its words about the prevailing culture and the empire seemed too harsh. It was in the second half of the fourth century that a complete consensus was achieved regarding exactly which books ought to be included in the New Testament, and which ought not to be included. Even then, this was not decided by an official council nor by any other decision-making body, but was rather a matter of consensus—which in itself shows that very few considered this a burning issue. Furthermore, in this entire process the guiding concern was not theology in the abstract sense, but the life of worship, for the main question was, is this book to be read when the church gathers for worship?

Another element in the church’s response to heresies was the use of various creeds, particularly in baptism. Quite often the church in a particular city had its own creedal formula, although similar to others in neighboring cities. Apparently what happened was that a “daughter” church used the formula it had learned from the “mother church,” although with some variations. On this basis, scholars have classified ancient creeds into “families,” and such families can then be used to trace the relationship among various churches.

One of these creeds was an earlier and shorter formulation of what we now call the Apostles’ Creed. The notion that the apostles gathered before beginning their mission and composed this creed, each suggesting a clause, is pure fiction. The truth is that its basic text was put together, probably in Rome, around the year 150. Due to its use in Rome, the ancient form of the Apostles’ Creed is called “R” by scholars. At the time, however, it was called “the symbol of the faith.” The word symbol in this context did not mean what it does to us today; rather, it meant “a means of recognition,” such as a token that a general gave to a messenger, so that the recipient could recognize a true messenger. Likewise, the “symbol” put together in Rome was a means whereby Christians could distinguish true believers from those who followed the various heresies circulating at the time, particularly Gnosticism and Marcionism. Any who could affirm this creed were neither Gnostics nor Marcionites. (Gonzalez, 76-77)

This word “symbol” used had some interesting usage that will help us to understand exactly how the early Christians were using it; and, even more fundamentally, how Christians viewed themselves.

It (symbol) was first used in a theological sense by Cyprian, A.D. 250 (Ep. 76, al. 69, ad Magnum, where it is said of the schismatic Novatianus, ‘eodem SYMBOLO, quo et nos, baptizare’), and then very generally since the fourth century. It was chiefly applied to the Apostles’ Creed as the baptismal confession by which Christians could be known and distinguished from Jews, heathen, and heretics, in the sense of a military signal or watchword (tessera militaris); the Christians being regarded as soldiers of Christ fighting under the banner of the cross. Ambrose (d. 397) calls it ‘cordis signaculum et nostrae militiae sacramentum.’ Rufinus, in his Expositio in Symb. Apost., uses the word likewise in the military sense, but gives it also the meaning collatio, contributio (confounding symbolon with symbolee), with reference to the legend of the origin of the creed from contributions of the twelve apostles (‘quod plures in unum conferunt; id enim fecerunt apostolic,’ etc.). (Schaff, 3)

Without a doubt Creeds were very instrumental in forming the early church and the Christians that recited them. They represented the standard theological understanding of the day, the common faith all Christians possess. Though we may react against any kind of creed in this post-modern era, it is impossible to overemphasize their importance in the historic Christian faith. I will close with this great summary of their importance.

There is a development in the history of symbols. They assume a more definite shape with the progress of biblical and theological knowledge. They are mile-stones and finger-boards in the history of Christian doctrine. They embody the faith of generations, and the most valuable results of religious controversies. They still shape and regulate the theological thinking and public teaching of the churches of Christendom. They keep alive sectarian strifes and antagonisms, but they reveal also the underlying agreement, and foreshadow the possibility of future harmony. (Schaff, 4)

Gonzalez, Justo L. The Story of Christianity: Volume I The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation. New York: HarperCollins. 2010. Print.

Litfin, Bryan M. Getting to Know the Church Fathers: An Evangelical Introduction. Grand Rapids: Brazos. 2007. Print.

Schaff, Philip. The Creeds of Christendom: Volume I The History of Creeds. Grand Rapids: Baker. 1993. Print.