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Archive for the ‘History of Redemption’ Category

Heidelberg Catechism #43

Q. What further advantage do we receive from Christ’s sacrifice and death on the cross?

A. Through Christ’s death our old selves are crucified, put to death, and buried with him, so that the evil desires of the flesh may no longer rule us, but that instead we may dedicate ourselves as an offering of gratitude to him.

Theological: Romans 6 (among other passages) teaches us that we were buried with Christ in baptism. The blessings of that baptism are received by faith (more…)

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Honestly, I do not try to focus on issues of Calvinism and Arminianism… Facebook makes me do it! A friend of mine and a brother in Christ, Mr. Billy Birch, has posted on the Arminian view of 1 Timothy 2. This post was shared by some other friends on FB. I want to respond to it and take a crack at showing that 1 Tim 2 does not support the Arminian position.

First, hermeneutics. Not that I noticed Billy using the term “hermeneutics” incorrectly, but (as a general note), hermeneutics is a singular noun and takes a singular verb. (E.g., Billy’s hermeneutics is all messed up – just kidding!) More substantively, folks like to speak of hermeneutics as grammatico-historical, but the reality is that our hermeneutics includes our theological assessment, too. Now, admitting this is not tantamount to saying that our theology dictates our exegesis. Rather, it does means that our theology both aids and is reformed by our exegesis. There’s no way around this, and it is as it should be. We’ll pick this topic back up at the end of this article.

I think the best place to start is in verse 1 of 1 Timothy chapter 2. (more…)

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Our People in the first century of the dominion of the kingdom of Jesus Christ:

A. Jesus of Nazareth (ca. 6 BC – AD 30) – Jesus is an early first century figure. One thing to remember is that he is a real man who really walked the earth, drank wine, got exhausted, was tortured and murdered, but rose from the dead. The Bible calls him the Cornerstone of the great Kingdom edifice. Everything hangs on him. All history turns on this man. We date events before his birth with BC (= Before Christ) and after his birth with AD (= anno domini, meaning “in the year of our Lord”), a dating system in use since AD 525 (but made common under Charlemagne). Everything that follows in church history (and, increasingly, in all of history) is a response to this man.

B. The Foundation – the Apostles and Prophets (ca. AD 45 – 96) – the next building stage in the “household of God” is the foundation (Eph 2:20). Via revelation from God, these people set up the church government and worship (for what they actually set up, see here & here). They interpreted and applied the meaning of the great “fact” of the Cornerstone. They, themselves, were not the Cornerstone, but bore witness to him. God blessed the church greatly with growth, even despite heavy Jewish persecution and two major bouts of Roman persecution. The first was under Nero (ca. AD 64-68) and the second under Domitian (ca. AD 89-96).

C. The Great Early Victory of Christianity: The Destruction of the Temple (AD 70) – This destruction was foretold by Jesus (24:1-35; Mk 13:1-31; Lk 21:5-33 [esp. vs 20]) and, I think, it is the major point the book of Revelation, which we think was written under Nero’s reign. (See Ken Gentry’s book for detailed evidence for this [try it for free, here!]) Flavius Josephus (d. ca. AD 100) is the main primary source for the so-called Jewish Wars of AD 63 – 70, wherein Rome laid siege to Jerusalem. In the end, the city was completely overrun and the Temple was razed. Thus, from 17 July AD 70, Judaism functionally ceased.

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Here’s another angle on why to study church history… dig this:

1 Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;
incline your ears to the words of my mouth!
2 I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter dark sayings from of old,
3things that we have heard and known,
that our fathers have told us.
4We will not hide them from their children,
but tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might,
and the wonders that he has done. Psalm 78:1-4

The Psalmist, here, commands a covenantal pedagogy. Parents were to tell their children of the mighty works of Yahweh. The works he did generations and generations before were to be recounted to the children of the present generation. By way of application, the works that our great, great, great grandparents saw (should) have been reported down the generations to us, and we’re to tell them to our children. Are you parents doing this? More on this below.

5He established a testimony in Jacob
and appointed a law in Israel,
which he commanded our fathers
to teach to their children,
6that the next generation might know them,
the children yet unborn,
and arise and tell them to their children,
7so that they should set their hope in God
and not forget the works of God,
but keep his commandments;
8and that they should not be like their fathers,
a stubborn and rebellious generation,
a generation whose heart was not steadfast,
whose spirit was not faithful to God. Psalm 78:5-8

Part of the parental responsibility, as articulated here, is to train our children to train their children. God calls us to multi-generational pedagogy. Positively, we’re to train up our kids to set their hope in God, remember his mighty works, and to keep his commandments. This instruction comes, do take note, in the context of the covenant body – the people of God.  Teach your kids not to repeat the unfaithful and rebellious aspects of their fathers (vs. 8). These fathers, however, are their fathers. This can be called covenant identity. Our children are part of the family of faith, which faith is passed on generation to generation. This is our children’s identity; it’s WHO THEY ARE. We baptize our children of the covenant because they deserve it by identity. We train them up to know and own their own, God-given identity, with all its attendant blessings and responsibilities.

Our fathers are our fathers. See that the rest of the Psalm rehearses a great many negative and rebellious acts of God’s people. Our fathers, whether they were unfaithful or not, are still our fathers. There’s a great deal we can learn from the sins of our fathers, often times more than we can learn from their faithfulness.

Final point: Does this command to tell our children of the mighty works of God end where the Bible ends? That is, are there no mighty works of God outside the pages of Scripture? What about the great acts of God in judging our apostate fathers (Israel) by the hand of Rome in AD 70? What about the great martyrs of the first centuries of Christianity? Is their faith not a mighty and wonderful work of God? What about the Cappadocian Fathers? Does this include Athanasius? How about Nicaea? What about Augustine? Shouldn’t Augustine’s mind qualify as a one of Yahweh’s mighty deeds? What about Boethius? The growth of the Eastern Church? And on, and on, and on… Do your children know the story of Athanasius? Do you kids know why Augustine was weeping in the garden under the tree, and what the little kid was singing outside the garden walls? They most certainly should. It’s their history. It’s their identity. These stories are some of the stories of their people, stories to which they’re entitled by covenant identity. Don’t rob them. Neither should we rob them of the “negative” stories. Our people are not only the people who suffered persecution at the hands of Jews and Romans, but we are also the people who persecuted Jews and heretics. Our stories include both Ignatius of Antioch and Tomas de Torquemada. Our identity encompasses both the selfless missionary work of Patrick, Augustine of Canterbury, Aidan, Xavier, and Geneva under Calvin and also the loathsome violence of the Crusades. In a word, our identity is quite catholic, but not in the unfortunate, narrow sense that Rome uses it (they’ve hijacked that term, but it’s not theirs – it’s ours). Rather, our identity is catholic in the fulsome, glorious, biblical sense. We belong to the people of God, a people spanning from Adam down to the present moment, and with a view to 1000 more generations (maybe 100,000 more generations). Church history isn’t just informative and instructive, it is part of our identity.

Who are your people?

A toast to Christian catholicity!

 

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I spent a couple years taking the adults of my local church through church history, century by century. Some people were very grateful for this and others didn’t say much. Some folks had to be asking (internally): “Who gives a RIP about the French Wars of Religion?!?” Maybe the more “spiritual” gainsayers might have been asking: “I want to learn about how to serve Jesus better in my daily life. What do the Huguenots have to do with that?”

On one hand, I understand these questions, but on another hand, I am completely mystified by them. Make sense? NO? Okay… well, I understand that people have been burned out on history by LOUSY teachers. Teachers who make much of dates and names, but lack a metanarrative and don’t have a love for story. As Christians, we have THE metanarrative. Theologians call it the Covenant of Redemption, which is God’s eternal plan to save his people. Also, Christians should love story. Thus, Christian teachers of history should ROCK. Many folks have not sat under that kind of teaching, so they have the notion that history is boring. That’s really, really, really too bad. That’s like hearing about sex from your great, great aunt Matilda the Prude and deciding that it’s just not for you. Yer missin’ out.

On the mystified side of things, we have to acknowledge that the past affects us in profound ways. Time is a stream and what happened upstream impacts us whether we want it to or not. I think that there’s a deep-seated desire in humanity to know its past. I think God’s made us that way; he’s made us in a state where we’re connected to the past.

Two things come immediately to mind. One is very common and the other not so. As to the common sentiment, “Those who don’t know their past are condemned to repeat it.” I have no qualms with this. I think it is true enough. There’s an instructive aspect to the study of history: “Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were…” (1 Cor 10:6-7). The second notion is less common: the past necessarily impacts and affects us. Whether we know the past or not, we’re impacted by it. If we do know it, even if we reject it and distance ourselves from it, we’re still impacted by it. The past shapes us… necessarily. Thus, we’d do well to get our minds around that which is shaping us.

Lord willing, I’ll post a couple more of these Why-Study-Church-History posts in the upcoming days. From there, I hope to post on the important events and people of Christian history in the order in which they occurred. I think this will be a great blessing to my readers.

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The Qur'an

As I expected, posting on the burning of the Qur’an struck a nerve. A couple of friends have been doing some thinking here and here. Their thoughts are worthwhile. There’s another stone I hoped to turn over today. That is, a lot folks who don’t know about different religious traditions have a tendency to lump them all together. They say things like, “Religion has caused more bloodshed than anything else in human history.” I suspect that no religion, not even blood-thirsty Islam, can hold a candle to the religion of the state (Communism) in the 20th century. But I digress. These types of folks look at the worldwide bloodshed caused by Islam, shake their heads and say, “That’s just religion for you.” In some cases the ignorance typified in such comments is invincible by human means. In other cases, people simply don’t know and are not closed to learning. In such cases, the ignorance can be alleviated with some sound instruction.

What I am attempting to do in this post is to contrast the Christian takeover of Europe with the Muslim takeover of the Middle East and the northern parts of Africa. What I’m not attempting to do is say that everything done in the name of Christ is fuzzy bunnies, and that everything done in the name of Allah bloody carnage. I want to leave the reader with a distinct notion of the way Christianity spread, and I want that notion to be in vibrant contrast to the notion of the way Islam spread. These origins are important, as they necessarily reverberate and echo down the corridors of time, influencing the later practitioners of each religion. Christianity is what it is partially because of how it started and how it spread. Islam is what it is for the same reasons.

The Bible

CHRISTIANITY: The main figure in Christianity is Jesus Christ. He’s the one who died a sacrificial death to redeem the world to God. He suffered to remove human suffering. He gave himself up to be tortured and murdered for the life of the world. Christianity started with self-sacrifice for the sake of others in execution of Jesus of Nazareth ca. AD 30. From the time of Christ’s resurrection, Christianity was persecuted, first by the Jews, later by the Romans. It was not religio licita (a legal religion that was free from official Roman persecution) until AD 313 and was eventually received as the official Roman state religion in AD 380. As Rome fell and the Barbarian tribes swept into Europe, there were wars, some of them involving Christological conceptions (Arianism) and blood was indeed shed. But more profoundly impactful were the great missionaries of the 5th, 6th, and 7th centuries. I’m not going to tell the stories, but they’re worth knowing. They’re worth retelling to your children, and they again to theirs. They’re stories of selfless heroism in service to Christ and to humanity. These missionaries gave their lives to extend Christianity through preaching and service. Many of them left their homes and families and went to distant countries and lands. They poured themselves out peacefully to serve Christ. St. Patrick, usually associated with Ireland, was actually English. Columba is associated with Scotland, but was Irish. Aidan is associated with England, but was Irish. Augustine of Canterbury is associated with England, but was Italian. Boniface is associated with Germany, but was English. You get the idea. Christianity is spread through preaching the Gospel, Baptism, the Eucharist. It takes lives dedicated to serve others to spread Christianity. HUBBA HUBBA!

ISLAM: The central figure in Islam is, of course, the prophet Muhammad. He was born, by Western (read: Christian) reckoning in AD 571. Maybe another time I’ll contrast the personal lives of Jesus and Muhammad, but suffice it to say that in 622, Muhammad fled from Mecca to Medina. In Medina, he basically took over, raised an army and, in 630, he waged war on Mecca. He took over Mecca and established Islam as the super-dominant religious, military, and social force in all of the Arabian Peninsula. Muhammad died two years after the conquest, in 632. The prophet died, but his conquest went on. There were conquests basically non-stop until ca. AD 750 (and they continue to this day). See the map to cover this time period. Also, see Wikipedia’s article for a lot more information.

Muslim Conquests to AD 750

These conquests were not “go preach the Word and serve people for Allah,” they were filled with violence and forced conversions (at the end of a sword). These conquests were “convert or be killed in the name of Allah.” Note the contrast of origins: Jesus was a selfless servant, one who gave his life for the world. Muhammad was a warlord, extending his rule through violence. Note the development: Christianity was under persecution for 300 years. Islam was the persecutor from the time of Muhammad. Note the takeover: Christianity flourished by the work of selfless missionaries. Islam flourished by murdering all that stood in its way.

Now, I submit that these two very different origins and expansions ought to be enough to show that Islam is vastly different from Christianity. It is enough to prove that not all religions are the same and cause bloodshed after the same fashion. I also submit that the subsequent developments of both Christianity and Islam are deeply influenced by the events outlined above. So, here’s a question for you: Which religion would you rather have take over your neighborhood? Maybe a more important question is which religion is responsible for creating the blessed society in which your neighborhood exists?

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I was just sitting here listening to the Beastie Boys and Young MC doing some thinking about the Abrahamic covenant. Specifically, I was thinking about how different Christians view God’s promise of the land to Abraham. Some of our Christian brothers make a great deal about the land of Israel. Take a text like, “And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God” (Gen 17:8). One way of understanding this promise (call it fully dispensational) sees a promise only of a specific strip of land to a specific people group (that is, the land of Israel to the Jews). Since the land was never fully given to the Jews, it’s argued, God is still going to give it to them. Thus, consistent Dispensationalists maintain that God will deal with the physical nation of Israel in the eschaton (the end times), and he’ll give them the promised land. In this view, the promise of the land is rooted in the national identity; it’s Jewish land promised to the Jewish people.

Now, other folks have a different understanding (call it partially dispensational). These folks look as passages in the NT like, “But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree” (Rom 11:17). They (rightly) note that God’s plan was always to graft all nations into the one nation. That is one great mysteries, that is, revelations of the New Covenant (cf. Eph 3:1-6). So, these brothers know that the “national identity” of Israel has been greatly modified by the ministry of Christ and the coming of the New Covenant. Israel now includes all the nations of the world. As the gospel comes to the nations, they hear it and, by God’s grace, believe on Christ. These nations are then grafted into Israel, the olive tree. So far, so good. In fact, so far, very good. The problem is that, when it comes to eschatology, their view is stagnated. These brothers still have their eye on the strip of land beside the Mediterranean Sea. They contend that Christ will return and set up his earthly kingdom in Israel and give it all to his people (both Jews and Gentiles), thus fulfilling the promise of the land. I’ve called these brothers Partial Dispensationalists, but maybe it’s easier to say that their hermeneutics is not thoroughly covenantal, but is, at certain points, closer to dispensational hermeneutics. In this view, the promise of the land is viewed in the context of God’s redemptive plan for Israel; it’s a promise of a specific land to Israel in the fullest sense.

Finally, we have a fully consistent covenantal view of the promise of the land. This view agrees with the partial-dispensational view above regarding the nature of the Israel. God’s intention was to bring all nations into his one nation. We see, however, that same covenantal expansiveness in the promise of the land. God spoke to one nation and promised that nation one strip of land. But in so doing, he was (in Christ and in the opening of the New Covenant) addressing all nations. Similarly, as he promised one piece of land to that one nation, he was promising all lands to that nation. The people of God, that is, Christ’s church, will inherit the whole world. That’s what Jesus means when he says, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Mt 5:5). In fact, we see the exegetical necessity of this as Paul ministers to the children of the Ephesian church. He says:

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” (Eph 6:1-3)

He’s not only applied the Jewish commandment and promise (directly from Moses – what could be MORE Jewish than Moses?) to the church at Ephesus (with a significant Gentile population), but he’s even told them that the promise of the land applies to them… in Ephesus. The little boys and girls in Ephesus are told that it will go well with them and they’ll live long in the land if they obey their parents. Thus, even at the Ephesian boys and girls were grafted into Israel, so their land was grafted into the land. In this view, we have a covenantal promise of the land to a covenantal people; it’s the Land in the fullest sense promised to Israel in the fullest sense.

Christ gets ALL of this!

This last view is an expression of fully consistent covenantal hermeneutics. The other two view are stagnated and regressive. They do not understand (to one degree or another) how the pieces fit into God’s redemptive whole. God’s redemptive work has moved on, it’s grown to include all nations and all lands, but these brothers are still looking at the specific nation and land. Christ’s after all lands, nations, peoples – he wants it all and he’s going to get it all. His kingdom will extend from the River to the ends of the earth, and righteousness will cover the whole earth even as water covers the seas. Christ will build his kingdom and absolutely nothing will stop him from doing it. This non-stagnated eschatology is consistent with covenantal hermeneutics. It’s jet-fuel eschatology; it’s called Postmillennialism.

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