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Sunday, May 03, 2015

Miscellaneous notes on Catholic doctrines . . .

The Catholic position on the Rapture

The Catholic position on the Rapture has not been dogmatically defined. Yet, you maintain that “In the 1940s the Holy Office judged that premillennialism "cannot safely be taught." Which, of course is true—the Holy Office did also say that; however, to say that the Church has not dogmatically defined this issue is, nevertheless, a far cry from outright denying it.

Baptism vis-à-vis Circumcision

Colossians 2:11-12 refers to this type of spiritual circumcision: “In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.” This circumcision does not involve the cutting of the body; it is a cutting away of our old nature. It is a spiritual act and refers to nothing less than salvation, effected by the Holy Spirit. Baptism, mentioned in verse 12, does not replace circumcision; it follows circumcision—and it is clearly a spiritual circumcision that is meant. Baptism, therefore, is a sign of inward, spiritual “circumcision.”
This passage also specifies that the new life, represented by baptism, comes “through your faith.” This implies that the one being baptized has the ability to exercise faith. Since infants are not capable of exercising faith, they should not be candidates for baptism.
Someone born (physically) under the Old Covenant received the sign of that covenant (circumcision); likewise, someone born (spiritually) under the New Covenant (“born again,” John 3:3) receives the sign of that covenant (baptism).
Alan Howe
There is in Protestant evangelical circles a commonly held misconception concerning the Roman Catholic Church today: namely, that we are dealing with broadly the same institution and theology with which our forebears dealt. So, for example, one recently published and generally helpful pamphlet speaks of the current pope, Benedict XVI (formerly Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger), as an ‘arch-conservative’ and mentions his ‘pre-Vatican II doctrinal rigidity’, thus giving the unmistakable impression that little, if anything has changed in the official stance of the church over the past fifty years or more. In order, therefore, to come to a more accurate representation of Rome’s official stance theologically today, we need first to understand what has happened in the past century or so, i.e. not only in the period leading up to the convening of the Second Vatican Council (‘Vatican II’: October 1962-December 1965), but also in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Roman Catholic Theology before Vatican II
Prior to Vatican II the official theology of the Roman Catholic Church was ‘Neo-Thomism’, or more broadly ‘Neo-Scholasticism’, which began to be established from about 1840 in order to rescue the church from an increasing pluralism of ideas and theologies in the early nineteenth century. Neo-Thomism in particular was the movement designed to recover the theology of Thomas Aquinas (1225-74) as central to the church; it was given official sanction in Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Aeterni Patris of 1879. Thus when Protestants think of Roman Catholicism, they may have in mind the overall picture given by an author such as Loraine Boettner in his classic volume Roman Catholicism (P & R, 1962), published during the Second Vatican Council, but describing the theology which had prevailed up to that point. This was a theology which was officially Neo-Thomist and Tridentine (i.e. also upholding the declarations of the Council of Trent [1545-63] which condemned the Protestant Reformation).
Not that liberal ideas in various forms did not circulate within the church between 1879 and 1962. Pope Pius X, in his decree Lamentabili and encyclical Pascendi dominici gregis (both issued in 1907), condemned modernism, describing it (in Pascendi) as the ‘synthesis of all heresies’. Modernist Roman Catholic thinkers such as Baron Friedrich von Hügel (1852-1925), Alfred Loisy (1857-1940), George Tyrrell (1861-1909) and Maurice Blondel (1861-1949) thus became the object of official scorn and rejection.
However, modernist seeds had been sown; and in the background stood the figure of Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801-1890), an Anglican convert to Rome (1845) who wrote what was to become for many later, liberalising theologians at the time of Vatican II a key text: An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. This work was written by Newman as a vehicle to justify the theological developments found in the traditional Roman Catholicism of his day but rejected by Protestantism (e.g. Mariology).
However, as Nick Needham has argued, ‘it is to be feared that the ultimate thrust of Newman’s philosophy of development may have been to bolster the Hegelian evolutionary idea of God and the world which increasingly seems to underlie much modern Roman Catholic thinking’ (essay: The Tragic Enigma of John Henry Newman - CRN Journal, Spring 2001). In other words, Newman’s ideas were eventually to give succor to those who sought to reject the rigidity of Neo-Thomism and instead promote modernist thinking.
Even the papal condemnations of 1907 and the entrenchment of Neo-Thomism as central to official theological training by the 1920s did not, however, entirely halt the spread of modernist ideas. Theologians such as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955), Henri de Lubac (1896-1991), Karl Rahner (1904-1984), Yves Congar (1904-95) and Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-88) began to grapple with the same sorts of ideas which had been condemned in the early twentieth century. This gave rise, for example, to the broad school of thought known as ‘Nouvelle Théologie’ (‘New Theology’) which rejected the official theology of the church.
This move to free the church from what was seen as the straitjacket of Neo-Thomist orthodoxy was also met with official criticism in the encyclical Humani generis of Pope Pius XII, issued in 1950. However, as Reformed theologian David F. Wells narrates, this encyclical ‘was so mild in its wording it can hardly even be seen as a rebuke. The work of the new theologians was not imperiled and still less consigned to the graveyard of heresy. After a further decade of study, their conclusions seemed sufficiently safe and fruitful to be given papal approval’ (essay: Recent Roman Catholic Theology in Tensions in Contemporary Theology - Moody Press, 1976).
So how could this be? What was the event that precipitated the sea-change in Roman Catholicism which would finally admit the New Theology (i.e. modernism)?
Vatican II and aggiornamento
On October 28th 1958 one Angelo Giuseppe Rocalli was elected pope, taking the name John XXIII. Unlike his predecessor Pius XII, the new pope - although already an old man - was open to the modernizing agenda of the New Theology. Thus John XXIII summoned the Second Vatican Council with the specific intention not of merely repeating what had been taught in the past, but rather of achieving a doctrinal breakthrough. As he made clear in his address which inaugurated the Council, his justification was that the 'substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of the faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another'. For a church in second half of the twentieth century it wasn't sufficient to stand still: it was necessary to embark upon a radical process of aggiornamento (bringing things up to date).
The result at Vatican II was a clash of theologies and their representatives, with the Neo-Thomist traditionalists being battled by the newly emboldened modernizers of the New Theology. As David Wells narrates, when the two parties came into conflict with each other, three outcomes were possible: on rare occasions one side prevailed; sometimes, when neither side backed down, a reconciling statement was drawn up which was ambiguous enough to mean different things to the two parties; and sometimes no such reconciling statement could be devised, in which case the two opposing positions were simply recorded alongside each other.
The problem, then, that was bequeathed to the Roman Catholic Church was a set of Council documents which could often be interpreted in varying ways. Rather than resulting in clarity, what Vatican II often did was to produce uncertainty. So what is the situation today, nearly half a century later?
Rome today: three camps, not two!
Today Roman Catholics themselves are clear that in the wake of Vatican II three broad doctrinal camps have evolved. Philip Trower, in Turmoil and Truth (Family Publications/Ignatius Press, 2003), writes:
'Among those calling themselves Catholics today there are in fact not two but three recognizable bodies of belief or opinion. First, there are Catholics in the hitherto universally recognized sense; they accept all the Church's teachings. Then come the modernists or semi-modernists dedicated to altering some aspect of faith or morals. We can also call them innovators or dissenters. It seems the politest name consistent with accuracy. Finally, there are the followers of the French Archbishop, Marcel Lefebvre.' (p.37)
Re-stating and re-ordering Trower's analysis for the sake of clarity, we can characterize the three camps as follows:
1. The Traditionalists: As Trower says, the Neo-Thomist followers of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre (1905-91) make up this camp. They are basically those who have rejected Vatican II as heretical and wish to maintain the doctrines and practices of Rome prior to the Council. Lefebvre founded the Society of St Pius XII in 1970 and in 1988, after himself consecrating four bishops in defiance of Pope John Paul II, was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church. This group is small, although vocal.
There are also a number of (mainly) American Roman Catholic apologists who, although working within the church, are concerned to promote traditional Tridentine teaching. Typical examples here would be ex-Presbyterian (PCA) Scott Hahn, or Karl Keating.
2. The Radical Liberals (i.e. Trower's modernists or semi-modernists): These are the thinkers and theologians who wish to carry forward the most radical interpretation of Vatican II. They too often act in defiance of the reigning orthodoxy. A representative figure would be theologian Hans Küng (b.1928) who was appointed a peritus, or official theological advisor at Vatican II. Although still a priest in good standing today, he was deprived of his mandate to teach Roman Catholic theology in 1979, mainly as a result of his explicit rejection of papal infallibility. The representative journal of this camp is Concilium which puts forward a more radical version of the New Theology.
3. The Conservative Liberals (i.e. those in Trower's analysis who accept Rome's teachings): These are the representatives today of a more conservative interpretation of the New Theology, e.g. Joseph Ratzinger (b.1927), the current pope. The theology of the more conservative liberals is now the prevailing orthodoxy within Roman Catholicism. Their textbook is the officially-sanctioned Catechism of the Catholic Church (first published in English in 1994) and their representative journal is Communio.
The outworking of Vatican II in the doctrine of soteriology
Roman Catholicism is therefore no more monolithic in its doctrine and practice than wider Protestantism. Of course, there is an official line as represented by the Catechism and various papal pronouncements; however, there is usually also visible dissent at both ends of the theological spectrum, i.e. from the traditionalists and from the radical liberals. One thing is clear, though: if there is an official line, it is not going to be that of the church pre-Vatican II. The official line must therefore characterized as liberal in some measure. We can see this in the doctrine of soteriology:
The traditionalists, like orthodox evangelicals, are exclusivists, i.e. they teach that there is no salvation outside the Christian faith, in particular as represented by the Roman Catholic Church. This is summarized in the Latin phrase extra ecclesiam nulla salus (there is no salvation outside the church). Pope Pius X in his encyclical Jucunda sane of 1904 explained this teaching as follows:
'It is our duty to recall to everyone great and small, as the Holy Pontiff Gregory did in ages past, the absolute necessity which is ours, to have recourse to this Church to effect our eternal salvation.'
Evangelicals have also traditionally been exclusivists, arguing, however, that Rome is a false church. Biblical texts such as John 14:6 and Acts 4:12 provide the main arguments for Christian exclusivism.
The radical liberals, like many liberal Protestants, are often pluralists, i.e. they teach that all religions can lead to God and salvation. This is the position of Roman Catholic theologian Paul Knitter, editor (with Protestant theologian of soteriological pluralism, John Hick) of The Myth of Christian Uniqueness: Toward a Pluralistic Theology of Religions (Orbis, 1987). In this teaching Jesus Christ is no longer held to be the only savior, thus contradicting the biblical texts mentioned above.
The conservative liberals, like many other liberal Protestants and some liberal-leaning evangelicals such as Clark Pinnock, are inclusivists, i.e. they teach that people of other religions can be saved by Jesus Christ even if they do not explicitly believe in him. Karl Rahner coined the term ‘anonymous Christians’ to describe people who are saved in this way.
Inclusivism is in fact the official position of Rome today. This shift away from the traditionally-held exclusivism began with the declarations of Vatican II (e.g. Lumen Gentium) and is now enshrined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
  • ‘Those who have not yet received the gospel are related to the People of God in various ways’ (para.839)
  • ‘The Jewish faith, unlike other non-Christian religions, is already a response to God’s revelation in the Old Covenant.’ (para.839)
  • ‘The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day.’ (para.841)
  • ‘The Church’s bond with non-Christian religions is in the first place the common origin and end of the human race...all share a common destiny, namely God...’ (para.842)
  • ‘The Catholic Church recognizes in other religions that search, among shadows and images, for the God who is unknown yet near since he gives life and breath and all things, and wants all men to be saved.’ (para.843)
  • '...all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his body.' (para.846)
  • ‘Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by his grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience - those too may achieve eternal salvation.' (para.847)
It is evident, therefore, the Roman Catholic Church has dramatically shifted her position on the doctrine of salvation. In reality she teaches today that people of any faith (or, perhaps, none) can be saved by means of religious sincerity, because this is in effect anonymous Christianity. Inclusivism has therefore replaced exclusivism. Ian Ker, Roman Catholic priest and biographer of John Henry Newman, explains the current orthodoxy as follows:
'...the Council (i.e. Vatican II) reasserted the Catholic Church's rejection of both the narrowness and exclusivity of the Evangelical Protestantism which restricts salvation to Christian believers, as well as any kind of Liberal protestant approach which undermines the uniqueness of Christ as the sole mediator.' (Catholic Herald, 15th September 2000)
Of course, while describing Rome's official position today perfectly accurately, Ker is actually re-writing the history of his own church whose position prior to Vatican II was patently exclusivist (with the exception of the doctrine of Baptism of Desire, which taught that the unbaptized could be saved if they desired baptism but died before receiving it).
Knowing our opponents
This writer is convinced that one of the reasons why evangelicals often continue to engage purely with the doctrinal controversies of the past (giving the impression that Rome has not changed) may well be that this is within their theological comfort-zone. However, while such engagement is still necessary in those theological loci which divide orthodox evangelicals from Roman Catholic traditionalists just as they did in the sixteenth century, it is important to understand that the debate has actually been relocated and now takes place in a quite different overall theological context. As Reformed theologian Robert Strimple says with regard to the traditionalist Roman Catholic apologists in the USA:
'Evangelical Protestants must recognize, however, what such conservative Roman Catholics themselves recognize: that they form the ''orthodox minority'' (Keating) in the Catholic Church. And when orthodox Protestants enter into debate with those who now form the majority of professional Catholic theologians, the issues addressed must be the even more radically fundamental ones relating to the meaning of every affirmation of the historic faith of the Christian church...' (essay: Roman Catholic Theology Today in Roman Catholicism: Evangelical Protestants Analyze what Divides and Unites us - ed. John H. Armstrong, Moody Press, 1994)
Let us, therefore, know our opponents, so to speak. The Roman Catholic Church has changed fundamentally in the past half-century, from a Tridentine exclusivist body (“no salvation outside the church”) to one that embraces religious inclusivism (“all can be saved by their own sincere religious quest”). In our engagement with Rome’s teachings, let us therefore not merely re-fight the battles of the past, but so understand what Rome in fact teaches that we may be equipped to fight the battles of today.
© Alan Howe. Permission is given to duplicate and distribute this article in any format provided that the wording is not altered and no fee is charged. Please include the following statement on copies: © Alan Howe. Used by permission.


Thursday, April 30, 2015

Holiness . . . don't leave home without it!


 No attribute of God is more dreadful to sinners than His holiness. — Matthew Henry

Dear Friends, financial and prayer partners,

Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God (Matt. 5:8).

We Christians often mistake purity of mind and thought as the center of spirituality. The Scripture, however, informs us that impurity does not begin in the mind but in the heart which represents the desires and affections of man. True, as a man thinks, so is he; but thinking in the impure sense means condescending to the baser emotions and dwelling upon these desires.

“For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person.” Matthew 15:18-20

Here, we are told that purity is to be found in the “heart”—the seat of our desires and affections; whereas, as the “spirit” represents our higher faculties—including our ability to make decisions. Now, it may come as a surprise to some that desires in and of themselves are not necessarily evil. There is, for instance, nothing dirty about sex, unless we make it so—adultery being a prime example. On a more material level, we might say that there is nothing wrong with money; however, that does not give us an excuse to rob, steal, or kill to get it—which, of course, some do.

On a more personal level, allow me to illustrate a case in my own life. I don’t suppose there is a man alive that hasn’t had an impure thought, particularly after puberty. Once I remember after struggling through one such episode, I knelt and began to pray—but for what? I hadn’t given in, or committed any actual sin but I just felt like I needed to wash my soul clean. So, I began to pray—but how? So, I paused and then said, “Lord, forgive me for being human!”

And, of course, that is just the point, being human can get all of us into a lot of trouble. That is why Paul wrote that we must “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).”

Notice Paul said that that is a task we must do. We must take charge of how and what we think about. Pray is not the answer, unless you and I are willing to be responsible for what we think.

Recently, I have been doing some extensive studies in Greek Orthodoxy spirituality, and, I must say, I’ve learned a lot from these Christian brothers, particular the ascetic monks. Naturally, over the centuries these brethren have developed a highly organized method of cleansing their thought life from all the impurities we commonly associate with just being human. I won’t go into all of these, however, I will mention just one—that is what they call “the negative or evil logismoi (i.e., thought form).

No evil though comes to us in the naked form—that is, it does not say to us, I want you to go out and commit adultery, or steal, or whatever. No, the though comes to us in pretty clothes, all dressed up for the occasion. Paul calls these aspect an ‘angel of light.’ So, as with the forbidden fruit in the garden there is tremendous appeal—it excites the imagination, makes us desire to at least entertain the thought. Once it gains that foothold, then it begins to engage our passions until we eventually give in.

James makes this abundantly clear when he writes

. . . each one is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desires. Then when desire conceives, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is full grown, it gives birth to death. (James 1:14-15)
Now, it stands to reason, doesn't it, that the soil in which sin grows is nourished by our own cravings— that is our lustful desires. Now, a word of caution, we often associate the word lust with that of a sexual nature; however, when the Bible speaks of lusts it covers all of our inordinate desires. These we must bring, as Paul says, as previously mentioned, “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).”

How? Well, I can't think of a better way than to just say "No." The 'no' must be said at the onstart, immediately, time is of the essence, evil has a way of taking root immediately, and once rooted it is next to impossible to stop the growth.

What I am saying in essence, in case you have not already got it, is that spirituality is more a matter of making a choice not to entertain even the appearance of evil, than it is a matter of fasting and prayer. God doesn't tempt you, nor should we expect Him to eradicate our evil desires unless we are willing to take full responsibility for them, including a willful decision by us to make an about face and shun even the thought of disobedience.

In a word, His thoughts must become our thoughts. It is for sure that

Whoever says, “I abide in Christ,” ought to walk just as he walked. (1 John 2:6)
May God give us the wisdom to take these words to heart and act accordingly in our spiritual journey each step of the way.



Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Divine 'Yes' . . .


 No attribute of God is more dreadful to sinners than His holiness. Matthew Henry

2 Corinthians 1:20

Ask the average person what the word holiness means and chances are you'll get a blank stare. The truth is that the word means different things to different people. God, though, has only one thing in mind; that is, surrender. Not just any surrender will do, however. We must fall in love with God. I like to think of this as romancing the Divine. Although unlike erotic love, this love does not wax and wane with each phase of the moon.

Trouble is that some “Christians” treat God like a paramour, or as a series of on-again off-again trysts. Same lover, just different moods of intensity. Any commitment is therefore tentative depending on what they can get out of the relationship. We’re not talking about lukewarm Laodicea here—there’s nothing apathetic about the kind of love expressed by these casual lovers. It is either hot or cold. Occasionally they are all fired up, ready to tie the knot –let’s head for Vegas, an Elvis wedding will be just fine! On other occasions they’re just not quite sure—after all there are other options out there. This is not the only party in town. I just might shop around a bit.

And, of course, they do. Loving God is just one among other fun things to; and, after all, He is pretty demanding. Not sure I want to put up with the hassle, is the attitude.

Well, this is where the rub comes in. Holiness is a marriage; and like any good marriage the only condition is love. There are no other rules. And, love means surrender. Total surrender. We are not glances around for an escape hatch. There’s no turning back. We’re in it for the long haul.

Well, I suppose the next question in order is ‘What does that type of surrender look like?’ There is only one answer for that, and that is ‘We always say yes!’

E. Stanley Jones sees this as the logical response to the ‘Divine Yes.’ In other words, in the words of Scripture—

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are "Yes" in Christ. And so through him the "Amen" is spoken by us to the glory of God. (2 Corinthians 1:20)

Now, hold on for a second, this is not a verse to read casually; this is one that we must meditate on.

Think of it this way, God has demonstrated the fullness of His love to us in and through His Son. That ‘Yes’ was total and final. John 3:16 declares that. There is no greater love than this, or greater commitment, either. His final “I do” you might say, and as with any good marriage it has stood the test of time. Through thick and thin He has been there for us.

Now, the beautiful thing about God’s ‘I do’ is that absolutely nothing can or ever will separate us from that love. That’s His promise (Romans 8:39).

It does not matter how bad or unfaithful you are or have been He still loves you. But, as with any love relationship there must be a reciprocal response to make it work. You and I, too, must love God with all our heart, mind, and soul (Matthew 22:37), too.

This love, speaking of the human side, is made plain when we totally commit ourselves to the Lordship of Christ, realizing that since He knows what is best for us, He will always keep our best interest at heart because He love us! Fortunately, also, He has the wherewithal—the power to prove it, and the desire to make it happen.

This is made possible because of His great love for us; and when we surrender in love we are sanctifiedthat is, set aside in holiness, His holiness.

Now, may the Holy One of the true Israel bless you each step of the journey,


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Christian agnostics . . . is that possible?

The story is told of a budding philosopher who set out on a search for truth, during the process he discovered Christianity. There were many aspect of this new discover that he liked; however, being the honest man that he was, he was not sure about some of the deeper mysteries of the religion, so he decide to wait before he embraced it full on. Unfortunately one day as he set about to meditate on this new religion in order to unravel some of the knots of doubts in this new discovery, he was shot with an arrow filled with a slow action poison. None-the-less, he resolved to get all of his questioned answered before he signed on. So, he continued in his pursuit. As he edged closer and closer to declaring himself a fully committed Christian convert the poison finally took his life.

At the time of his funeral a great debate broke out among his fellow philosophers as to whether or not he such be buried a Christian or an agnostic. Finally it was decided to bury him as an agnostic Christian, and so it was, and perhaps rightly so from their perspective.

The point is, Christianity is not a philosophy and, in my opinion, those that approach it as such are in for a great disappointment. I will also goes so far as to say that it is totally impossible to prove any of the claims of Christianity through the use of philosophy. I say this because all philosophy is open ended—there is always room for doubt; therefore, certainty is out.

Scripture speaks of this phenomenon when Paul writes to Timothy with criticism of those that are always learning but never come to any understanding, that is to say, any conclusion [2 Tim. 3:7].

Now, back to our story. Life in a sense is as if we have all be shot with a poison arrow at that time of our conception which slowly but surely works its way through our system until we eventually die. There is no escape either, as Alan Seeger's poem, I Have a Rendezvous with Death, so aptly reminds us. The sad fact is that most live their lives as it they have ever and a day to make up their minds on such an important subject as what happens when we face the Grim Reaper, and what can I do to assure a safe passage into something better?

As Blaise Pascal, the great French mathematician and philosopher once remarked—

“In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don't.”

So, if we have the notion that we will ever have enough faith to answer all our questions, my answer is that no you never will; however, you can have enough trust to navigate the course of this thing we call life, and die with the full confidence that you have done your best and that you are comfortable with the choice to leave the rest up to God.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Make up your mind . . .

As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For he says,
“In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.”
I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation. (2 Corinthians 6:1-2)
... into the mind of Christ so that our actions may be more Christ-like

Philosophers talk of the eternal now. This thought, however, is not restricted to just philosophical speculation, it is also part of God lexicon. He, too, speak of the ever present now; as a matter of fact, He only exist in the now. We are best, therefore, not to search for Him elsewhere.

Yesterday cannot be recaptured; and tomorrow is just over the ever elusive horizon. Always coming, yet not quite yet here. Thus, if we are going to capture the future, we must do it now—that is, we must seize the moment to secure the future.

Now, please understand that this is not mental gymnastics. These are the facts. Think of it this way, all that any urgency has is in the moment. This is why Paul can write to the Corinthians, we urge you to change now! Not tomorrow, or the next minute, or even the next second, but do it now.

Living in the past is impossible, and to live in the dreams of the future is a risky proposition. None of us know what tomorrow may bring. So, in essence what Paul is saying is, salvation must take place in the here and now, or it may never take place.

To better illustrate what I am talking about I will recall a story told by Fr. Meletios Webber, an Orthodox priest and monk once told. He said that—
Once, there was a young man who was given a 70 year prison sentence which he had to serve in solitary confinement. Naturally, he missed home, so he thought about that a lot. He also dreamed of the future. Friendships he wished to cultivate. What he might do. Furthermore, the only contact that he had with the outside was a small smudgy window just below the ceiling of his cell. Much of his time he spent standing on his tiptoes just to catch a glimpse of the sky outside. Of course, he prayed. As a matter of fact he had a litany of prayers that contained a very long list of “I wants.” He lost track of time, so it seemed as if he was confined in time and space neither of which he could grasp. His only hope, was hope.
Then one day, he heard the noise of a keychain outside his cell and someone working a key inside the lock. Finally the door opened and as he stared out in the blinding light he heard a voice say, “We are releasing you today. You have served your time. You are a free man. And with that great news, the prisoner fell over dead with a heart attack. In due course he arrived at the throne on God.
“Where were you when I need you?” he demanded of God.
“I longed to see you,” replied God, “but every day when I came to visit you in your cell, you were not there.”

Which, I think, illustrates that we cannot live in the dreams of the past or the imaginations of the future. God, if He is ever to be known, must be known in the now. Dreams can never replace the here and now, nor will future hopes. There is much that can be said about this truth; however, let’s consider the topic of prayer.

What do you think Jesus hand in mind when he said,

“But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking (Matthew 6:7)?


What he is saying is not only true with God, it is also true when we are dealing with each other. Think of the lyrics by Gloria Estefan,

“I'm trying to say "I love you" But the words get in the way.

God is a person, and when in our search for a relationship with him much like the words of the song we often blur out the present and cover up communication that only the heart can give. Therefore, when we come to God, we must understand that He rewards the yearning of the heart. I believe that this is precisely what Paul means when he writes,

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.  And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. (Romans 8:6-27)

Process theology, I believe, attempts to understand God in the temporal setting, but falls short of doing that in that it strips God of His ontological essence. God never was, nor shall He ever be, He is. His essence of being can and does interface with the temporal, but is not in any way contingent with contemporarily except through His unique relationship with His Eternal Word, who willing in time and space absorbed Himself into His creation in order to transform us, and in general all creation into His purposeful intentions.

Intentions, however, even the best of intentions is only realize when the perfection of that intention is fully one with the Intender—which is axiomatically God.

Jesus prayed specifically for this, when he said,

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us … I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me (John 17:21-23).”

So, we understand that although God does exist outside of time and space He can and does engage with His creation over which He, however, maintains ownership.

Jesus, the express image of God, as the creed declares is both fully God and fully man united in willful intention—to this I fully ascribe; however, when Paul says that we should have the same mindset as Christ Jesus in Philippians 2:5; what He had in mind was the human mind of Jesus, the anointed Christ, not God’s mind. This I say because Jesus was fully man as He was fully God. We are not God, but are fully man in potentiality. Thus our nature is humanly; whereas, God’s is godly, and as such is in essence eternal. Humanity, however, has only the promise of eternity; this I say because only God has immortality. Eternal life for man is a Godly gift, not a right, and certainly not by nature.


It is in light of this new understanding that we are able to fully grasp the meaning of Paul’s declaration that Jesus,

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!


Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:6-11)


The point being, of course, that among other considerations we must understand that to become man, truly man, one must take on the essence of which is man’s, including the spirit and mind of man. This Christ did, and thereby demonstrated that there can—indeed must be—a blending of wills: human and Devine for the incarnational intentions of God to be fully realized.
Yours for the journey,

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Worry . . . a sure ticket to failure.

By faith I understand that change is just not in God’s nature—that, however, I cannot say about everything else around me. Therefore I can sing with confidence that—
My hope is built on nothing less
 Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
 I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
 But wholly trust in Jesus’ Name.
Why? Because I know that—

On Christ the solid Rock I stand,

And that—

 All other ground is sinking sand…

So, It is by faith that we stand firm, unchanging, yet ever pressing towards the final the goal to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14). What a contradiction, some would say. Yet that is not the case; because ultimately Jesus is that Rock that never changes. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8)

He is, of course, also the living Word, all else fades with time. The spoken word is but a shadow, elusive, at best a metaphor or perhaps a sign; and, as such, that word can only point to the real Word who never changes, and is always present—
Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them (Hebrews 7:25).
Imagine, we not only have an ever present living faith, but also a Rock on which to anchor that faith. Somehow, however, we always seem to manage to forget that all the promises of that unchanging faith are “Yes” and “Amen” in Him (Corinthians 1:20). These are His solid, unchanging promises, among which is that we should not worry for instance about finances, and that we should—
Keep our lives free from the love of money and be content with what we have, because God has said that He we will never leave us; nor will He ever forsake us (Hebrew 13:5).
Yet, we worry.
He promises us a new body, and demonstrated that He is fully capable of providing that when He arose from the grave.
Yet, we worry.
We fret and worry that we will be alone, particularly in old age; although Isaiah says He has promised that—
Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you (Isaiah 46:4).
Yet, we worry.
Worry is fundamentally a faithless exercise. Not only is it that, it is also a lie. A lie that we tell ourselves. Jesus has assuredly says—
 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:25-34)
So, in light of these promises why should we lie to ourselves, and doubt His promises?
The journey is ours, yet we walk not alone. He walks alongside us each step of the way, and whispers at each step, “Do not worry … God will supply your every need, according to His riches in Glory.”