c) 2012' name='copyright'/>Michael DeShane Hinton

Saturday, January 2, 2016

CHRISTIAN SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY

The ethics of our Christian care for others, known as our social mandate, has been confused by two historical developments that do not reflect the Biblical view.  The first was an unholy alliance between Church and State, beginning with Theodosius, who in 380 AD issued DE FIDE CATOLICA, declaring Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.

The second was the Social Gospel, a product of Marxist economic analysis spawned by Progressives in the first quarter of the 20th Century.  Within 100 years it dominated the mainline Protestant Churches of America, causing chaos and division, and even infected the Roman Catholic Church with Liberation Theology.  The Social Gospel is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

The difficulties with both the ancient and modern false views are these:

1. Scripture predicts the utter destruction of this world and all that is within it, including social, economic, and political institutions (2 Peter 3:1-13).

2. The Church is by definition called out from the world (in Greek εκκησία).  There should be bright lines between the sacred and the secular.  In fact, the chief duty of a priest is to teach the people what is sacred and what is profane (Leviticus 10:10-11 and Ezekiel 44:23).

3. The hope of the world is the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.  So, the primary purpose of the Church is calling people to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ in order that together believers might inherit eternal life (Mark 16:15-16 and John 3:36).

4. The kingdom is defined in spiritual, not temporal terms, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17 ESV)  The world cannot receive the Spirit (John 14:16-17).

5. Likewise, when [Jesus] was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20-21 KJV), meaning the rule of the Spirit in our Christian hearts (see John 14:17, again).

6. When we receive the Spirit our heart of stone is replaced by a heart of flesh, that is, a tender heart that is capable of love/compassion (Ezekiel 36:26).  So, hospitality is a universal requirement for Christians (Romans 12:13, Hebrews 13:2, and 1 Peter 4:9).  Mercy and liberality are specific gifts of the Spirit that one may or may not receive (Romans 12:3-8).

7. But Scripture does not require all Christians to care for all people all the time in the same way.  Though we should never second-guess the sincere efforts of anyone led by the Father in love and good works, neither should we be shamed into performing what is not in our hearts to do (Romans 14:4).  Nevertheless, there are some general rules to follow.

8. The Christian’s first responsibility is to his own family (1 Timothy 5:8).

9. Next we are required to aid a fellow Christian in need.  Both Matthew 25 and James 2 use the language of fellow believers to describe our obligation, “the least of these, my brothers,” and “a brother or sister,” respectively.

10. The Parable of the Good Samaritan describes emergency care.

11. Yes, we have the duty of universal benevolence, as Scripture says, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:10 ESV)

12. In light of this duty, though, one might reasonably ask what it is to do good.  Specifically, what is the good that one must do in each case?  The answer to that question depends on sound moral analysis.  Traditionally, the Church teaches two kinds of mercy:

a.      Spiritual mercy is what all mankind needs, that is, the preaching and teaching of the Church.  Much of human pain is self-inflicted and self-perpetuated because of behavior.  Mankind is sick with sin.  People follow their carnal desires unto destruction.  People are oppressed by the devil; they need healing and deliverance.  The world needs first the Good News of Jesus Christ and his great salvation.

b.      Temporal mercy is what we give first to fellow Christians, including funding the clergy, and then in specific missionary activity, led by the Spirit and bearing the eternal fruit of conversions.  Temporal mercy is incidental and secondary.

Therefore, concerning the politics of social responsibility, we must be aware of pitfalls on both the religious right and the left.  Both seek to use government power to enforce private views and personal ethics on others.  Avoid anyone that would sacrifice others to their own piety.

But if specific acts of compassion are so highly personal and complex what is the legitimate role of government?  Government being a blunt instrument, Scripture is clear about its limited powers:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (Romans 13:1-7 ESV; see also 1 Peter 2:13-17)

Notice in the passage above repeated reference to behavior: good conduct vs. bad, doing what is good vs. doing what is wrong, and God’s wrath upon the wrongdoer.  The government’s job is very simple, to ensure that each of its citizens is secure in his or her person and property.  The government is ordained by God to fight crime.  That means to arrest and prosecute perpetrators.

Government cannot guarantee economic outcomes or personal happiness because God does not and will not bless thievery (taking from one to give to another for votes) nor does he share his glory with another.  But the Lord says to us Christians, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16 ESV).

Friday, September 11, 2015

Predestination

Five verses in the New Testament speak of predestination:

for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. (Acts 4:27-28 ESV)

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:29)

And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:30)

he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, (Ephesians 1:5)

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, (Ephesians 1:11)

The Acts passage cited above reflects what Peter said on the Day of Pentecost:

this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. (Acts 2:23 ESV)

The dilemma presented by predestination is free will, our personal moral responsibility before God.  Peter seems to indicate that God’s sovereignty and our free will can coexist, for in the same breath he both holds the Jews responsible for killing God’s Son and says it was God’s plan that they do it!

How might those two ideas be reconciled?

The solution proposed by this study is that God ordains what happens but not who does it.

Now, that may seem strange since we have the names of people, like Herod and Pontius Pilate, and elsewhere in this regard, Abraham, Jacob and Esau, and Pharaoh, that seem to be chosen by God to accomplish the divine purpose regardless of their own willing or previous work.

But their names are a mnemonic device that reminds Jewish people of what happened in the unfolding plan of their own election.  Each persona appears at critical stages in salvation history.  References to them in the New Testament, along with Paul’s conversion narrative, indicate the next great saving events: the Advent of the Lord and the Mission to the Gentiles, who are elect in Christ.

In the case of the Lord’s crucifixion Peter had to explain it not as a defeat or a set-back but as part of a bigger plan that actually advances the cause of God.  Therefore, on the Day of Pentecost he offered a chance to repent to the very ones that God had used to offer propitiation.  As a group they did what God needed done but as individuals they can escape judgment for doing it.  As Peter said, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.”

In the case of Paul’s apostleship among the Gentiles he needed to show that God’s plan for universal redemption exists “apart from the law,” so he spoke of Abraham’s call 430 years before the law was given (Galatians 3:17).  In fact, all his examples of predestination occurred before the law was given.  It fits his polemic about justification by grace through faith for Gentiles: TO WIT, God can enter covenant with Gentiles if he wants; who are we to question his sovereignty?  Use of plural pronouns (those, us, and we) in his verses on predestination show that he is speaking of himself and his Gentile converts as a group and as a historical phenomenon that needs justification.

All these early church fathers believed in free will:


The idea of individual predestination first appeared in Augustine of Hippo (354-430) and it was not well received by his contemporaries.  Vincent of Lérins called it “a most disturbing innovation, quite out of line with ‘orthodoxy,’” which Vincent defined as that body of belief which is held uniformly by the universal church.

Another contemporary, Julian, Bishop of Eclanum, expressed that Augustine was causing trouble because he “brought his Manichee ways of thinking into the church ... and was denying St. Paul's clear teaching that God wills all men to be saved” (1 Timothy 2:4). The Manichees were a cult to which Augustine originally belonged.  They taught that “the nature of man can be corrupted to the point that his will is powerless to obey God's commands.”

Friday, June 19, 2015

Christian Dualism Is Not Gnostic

Spiritual formation depends on the perspective of the New Testament, which is dualistic (carnal vs spiritual, et al).  But some worry about Gnosticism when they hear the word dualism.

First, Gnosticism is not a dualistic system.  Though there are many forms of Gnosticism, it is a pantheistic view from the Orient.  To the Gnostic the material world is the corruption of an impersonal and indiscreet god-force through multiple levels of emanations that became increasingly unworthy.

The Christian position is fundamentally dualistic in that there is a clear boundary between 1) the pure and holy God that created all things ex nihilo and 2) the things themselves that he created, seen and unseen.

Scripture is also clear about why the world is corrupt: our sin.  So, another category of dualism appears within the created world: that which is 1) morally innocent/neutral/good vs. 2) what is corrupted by sin.  There are many other dualities in the New Testament but these are sufficiently illustrative for now, speaking directly to the chief error of Gnosticism, i.e. denying that God is holy in himself with no adulteration of evil.

Second, Gnosticism is perpetually and addictively syncretistic while, according to Irenaeus in AGAINST HERESIES, the Christian faith has a line of apostolic succession that protects the integrity of the message.

Being syncretistic, Gnostics work into their system any and all religions and philosophies.  When, therefore, a Gnostic writer sounds like a dualist one might be tempted to think that dualism caused Gnosticism.  But that is both a causal and factual error, Harnack notwithstanding.

In conclusion, we should not shy away from the dualistic perspective of the New Testament leading to spiritual growth because of a false claim of heresy against it.

“Solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” (Hebrews 5:14 ESV)

“The one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:8 ESV)

“If you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:13 ESV)


“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” (John 6:63 ESV)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Moral Mechanics of Propitiation


There is an understandable objection to the idea that God punished his Son, Jesus, for the sins of humanity.  It has been called divine child abuse, despite the fact that Jesus was not a child and gave himself for us voluntarily.

Some have another, related concern about the nature of God, that he is portrayed as wrathful and not loving.  This view persists despite the obvious logic that love would provide atonement, saying that God does not want to be angry with us.  This is a simple Sunday school verse away from being universally accepted, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son …”  It is an ethos that forms a complete circle when we realize that all sin is a sin against the divine nature, which is love, love being the law of Christ.  Now, love must be freely given.  In the atonement, then, we see God taking in his own body on the tree the consequences for the condition he himself created in making humanity free to sin.  In the cross all is set right and mankind is presented with propitiation “to be received by faith.”

The more interesting question, though, is how a sacrifice for sins works.  We can assume that the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament are purely prophetic of the Lamb of God.  But since the full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world has been made, what exactly happened that a meritorious cause of our salvation was accomplished?  How can one man’s death atone for the wickedness of another?

 

Scripture says that Jesus “became sin, who knew no sin, that we might become the righteousness of God in him” and that he became a curse for us, “for anything hung on a cross is accursed.”  These are ontological statements, which require that we understand the moral universe in which we live.  A moral universe is different from a magical or speculative one in which God merely declares one righteous while another abides under wrath.  When Jesus died, for instance, there were religious, cosmic, geological, and anthropological phenomenon that serve as signs that something happened that day, once for all time.  The curtain of the temple was torn in two, the sun was darkened at midday, there was an earthquake, and some were raised from the dead.

 

The moral law is that evil be met with evil and good rewarded with good.  But in Christ the good was subjected to unspeakable evil.  Jesus absorbed all the evil that exists in the world like a dry sponge absorbs water.  Sponges come from the water where they naturally live and grow.  Taking a sponge out of the water and making it dry prepares it for absorbing water by the will and use of man.  Jesus came from heaven, where he naturally belongs as the man of heaven.  Yet in him God was incarnate, contrary to nature by a miracle of the Virgin Birth, and he lived in perfect obedience to God.  His virtuous life and obedience made him the perfect sacrifice for sin.  He reversed the flow such that if we give up our sins to him he takes them away.  “Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.”

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Cross and Spiritual Formation


A spiritual perspective or understanding is essential to formation.

 

There are two ways a person might be enlightened.  The most common is through painful life experience.  That happened to me.  I suffered a series of traumatic experiences and went looking for an explanation.  I found it in the New Testament, understood in its salvation-historical context.  It is there in plain sight but I "had no one to guide me.” (Acts 8:31)

 

The second way is to learn it from sound Biblical exposition.

 

The New Testament teaches philosophical dualism: body/soul, time/eternity, and others of equal significance.  Jesus said, for instance, "The Spirit gives life; the flesh can do nothing." (John 6:63)

 

Paul wrote, "The desires of the flesh are against the desires of the Spirit; and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other." (Galatians 5:17)

 

There are five common objections to Christian dualism.

 

Pagan thought.  I answer, “Do not call unclean what God has cleansed.” (Acts 10:15)  Jesus and the early Church, and theologians in every age since, adopted, adapted, mitigated, modified, used, and perfected Greek philosophical categories to explain Christ and the new covenant in his blood.

 

Gnosticism.  I answer, Jesus “came in the flesh” (John 1:14, I John 4:2, and II John 1:7) to show us how to overcome sin, death, and the grave.  Being “fully human,” he is our model and example of obedience to the Father.

 

Previous revelation.  I answer, consider the crucifixion of our Lord.  The Old Covenant was all about the plight of Jews in the world.  “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” (John 11:48)

 

Creation.  I answer, God himself has given up on creation in deference to “the life of the world to come” for which we must prepare ourselves as disciples of the Lord. "This phrase, 'Yet once more,' indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain." (Hebrews 12:27)

The body.  I answer, “It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” (1 Corinthians 15:44 ESV)

Overcoming objections to Christian dualism allows us to grow spiritually through embracing the cross by which “I am crucified to the world and the world is crucified unto me.” (Galatians 6:14)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Brief Exposition of Romans




The most important word in the exposition of Romans is “therefore” found at 12:1.  It occurs there in the logical form of A therefore B with chapters 1-11 being A and the remainder B.

It is tempting to say that A is theoretic and theologically systematic while B is practical.  Whereas it is obvious that B is entirely pragmatic it is a mistake to say A is completely speculative.  A speaks of the power of God (1:16), for instance, then conscience (2:15), receiving by faith the propitiation that God provides in Christ (3:25), walking in faith like Abraham (4:12), peace with God (5:1), baptism (6:3), obedience (6:16), self-awareness (7:23), and walking according to the Spirit (8:4).

 

In A Paul is not presenting new material, per se, but, having expressed his desire to go to Rome, and having heard of their faith, he is interpreting to them how he understands the Gentile experience of Christ to date, in order to establish rapport and begin ministry before arriving (1:8-15).  The polemical nature of his remarks against “works of the Law” reflects his own painful experience of those that question his message and apostleship.  It does not serve as a blanket consideration from which to launch an antinomian protest against their common faith but expresses his moral statesmanship, which culminates in the declarations of chapters 9-11:  all Israel will be saved, if Israel is understood correctly as those that believe in Jesus and walk in his holy ways.
 

In resolving the soteriological differences within contemporary Christianity today, then, Romans provides no support for the pop-evangelical position.  Note, for instance, this passage:

 

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:16-17 ESV)

 

The proviso of suffering with Christ for the sake of salvation casts Paul in the light of Christ:

 

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” (Luke 9:23-26 ESV)

 

The Romans were practicing Christians that Paul wanted to visit as apostle and minister.  The admonitions of B are not about unnecessary and optional works that flow from faith but a pastoral admonition to continue and refine previous saving behaviors in consistently specific ways.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Ethos


The Ethos of Anglican Life Curriculum

I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. –Jesus

  1. We shall represent the thread of the Holy Spirit’s work that runs through the Anglo-Catholic, Wesleyan-type Evangelical, and Charismatic history, experience, and perspective.
  2. We shall support all seven sacraments.
  3. We shall support all the gifts of the Spirit.
  4. We shall support ecumenical efforts and dialogue but especially with those in apostolic succession, that is, the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches.
  5. We shall avoid forensic language in describing salvation, for it has been done to distraction and misunderstanding it has led many into the antinomian error.
  6. We shall oppose elective abortion.
  7. We shall err on the side of gender differentiation.  The curriculum shall support traditional marriage and family values, Western culture, capitalism, and patriotism.  We believe in freedom, prosperity, and the rule of law.
  8. We shall treat God as masculine but the Spirit, though a co-equal person of the Trinity, may be spoken of as neuter, “its” gender in Greek.   The curriculum shall refer to the Church as feminine in gender.
  9. We shall support the three-fold ministries of deacon, elder/priest, and bishops.  The curriculum shall support the ministry of all baptized believers and the ministry of women that have the Spirit.
  10. We shall assume that women may be called to the Diaconate and men to the Priesthood.