Considering a Few Who Have Shaped the Church’s Thought: PATRISTIC & MEDIEVAL PERIOD / REFORMATION & MODERN PERIOD

Theological Book Summaries

The writer to the Hebrews wrote: “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith” Hebrews 13:7. Too often Christians find themselves imitating the faith of those who actually do not speak the word of God to them in truth. Instead, they listen to teachers who proclaim what their itching ears want to hear to their utter destruction. One way to guard against that is to consider how believers through the centuries understood the Gospel, and treasured Christ as they lived out its implications.

There are two cautions, two extremes, I think are critical to consider if we are to love God with our minds and hearts. First, we must guard against thinking that because something is old (pick a number) it’s irrelevant in the present and for our future. Second, we must guard against thinking that because something is new it’s relevant for the present and future. Both extremes are foolish, irrational, clothed in hubris and blind us from discovering objective truth in order to live it out presently and in the future.

The following summaries are provided to encourage, challenge, comfort and invigorate the follower of Christ to consider how in the last two millennia followers of Christ understood and lived out the implications of their faith. It’s to consider how these believers spent their energies for the glory of God and the cause of the kingdom, and to see where their example is worthy to be emulated.

Some things will seem odd, some things odious, some things onerous, and some things endearing. I trust in no way you will be bored. These summaries are but a taste of their substance that I’ve attempted to capture so that you, the reader will take up and read at the source.  Click the link Theological Book Summaries to download the entire summaries.

(Soli Deo Gloria)

 

 

Selected Book Summaries From the REFORMATION & MODERN PERIOD: John Bunyan”Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners”

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Bunyan: Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners[1]

In Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, during his incarceration, Bunyan writes a spiritual autobiography, where his conversion to Christ is contrasted from his former idolatry.  The son of a traveling blacksmith, Bunyan in 1653 was incarcerated for 11 years because he refused to refrain from preaching.

He starts his autobiography by explaining the former darkness that bound him (Eph. 2: 2, 3) such that a sinful lifestyle became second nature to him.  Yet, thoughts of coming judgment and hell tormented Bunyan around nine or ten years of age.  However, until he married, all manner of vice drowned out the aforesaid fears as he gave himself over to satisfy his every lust.

Experiencing Guilt Yet Not Converted

Bunyan was much vexed with guilt after hearing a sermon on keeping the Sabbath, and in a mystical experience, he heard a voice (supposedly from Christ) challenging him to leave sin for heaven or embrace hell for sin, despair gripped Bunyan, believing that he was beyond Christ’s forgiveness.  After this experience, Bunyan noticed that his speech went from swearing to leaving that pleasantly behind (this happened before he knew Christ).  Yet, while experiencing some outward manifestations of reform, Bunyan was not converted.  He had religion, but without Christ, he was outwardly righteous, but inwardly wicked.  He was pleased with his own righteousness, while ignorant of Christ’s righteousness.  That is, until it was initially revealed to him through women conversing about the new birth and as Bunyan read the Scriptures, his thirst to truly know God grew.

The Gift of Faith

As Bunyan read (1 Cor. 12: 8, 9) regarding the gift of faith, he wondered if he could receive it, moreover, if he actually had it, but simultaneously was puzzled as how to verify whether or not he had faith.  He then wondered how he could know if he was elect which tormented Bunyan, for he understood Romans 9: 16 to say that one’s election is grounded not on one’s desires, nor on one’s willingness, but on God’s mercy.  Hence, unless God elected him, he knew that hell awaited.  The Tempter tormented Bunyan much with this issue, discouraging his soul deeply, but eventually God’s sweet mercy and calling became real to him (Mk. 3:13).  In his soul, Bunyan understood Romans 8:39 and assured him of God’s love for him.

Struggling with Christ’s Exclusivity

He then had to deal with doubts about Jesus being the only Savior, for the Turks also have their scriptures and their savior is Mahomet.  Yet, something within his spirit allowed Bunyan not to doubt Jesus and the Scriptures he had.  But he still had many bouts with doubt, which caused Bunyan much unrest.  Yet scriptures such as (2 Cor. 5:21; John 14:19; Rom. 8:31; Heb. 2: 14-15) comforted him regarding salvation and the rescue from death, all of which are grounded on God’s goodness toward his creatures.

Called to Ministry

Now concerning his call to ministry, Bunyan offers a brief account explaining among other things how his peers recognized God’s hand on him and gladly desired to hear him preach.  After fasting and prayer, he was appointed to a more ordinary and public ministry of preaching.  Bunyan understood that God desired men with gifts to use them for the Masters glory, rather than bury them.   The following Scriptures encouraged him to labor diligently in the ministry of the word (Acts 8: 4; 18:24-25; 1 Pet. 4:10; Rom. 12:6) and also those of church history (Foxes Acts and Mounments).

Moved for the People

When he preached, Bunyan was moved for the people, as they were confronted with the gravity of their sin before a holy God.  In touch with his own wretchedness, Bunyan was amazed and humbled that the people loved him, and that God was using him for preaching the word.

Mode of Preaching

His mode of preaching focused first on the problem of sin in mans’ hearts, and the terror that awaits the ungodly.  Having been under the torment of such a reality himself, Bunyan understood his duty to warn people of God’s coming judgment and Christ’s rescue.  While he received opposition from the doctors and the priests, Bunyan did not shrink back from proclaiming the gospel.  He was not a polemical preacher, but focused primarily on the redemption that is only found in Christ.

Bunyan sensed God’s leading before he embarked going to any particular place.  Moreover, he also understood that where God lead him, the Devil would meet him trying to oppose the work of the gospel.  He desired to go into the darkest places spiritually speaking and preach the gospel among those who had not heard it, interceding much for them.

[1] Bunyan, Graces Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, Dr. Alan Gomes, Spring 2002 Biola University, Reformation & Modern Theology Selected Readings, CD ROM Pp. 1-58).

 

Selected Book Summaries From the REFORMATION & MODERN PERIOD: Trent on Justification (Discussion) & (Canons)

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Trent, On Justification (Discussion)[1]

Pope Paul the III presided over the Council of Trent, which focused on clarifying the significance of Justification.  They understand that man in his state of original sin is incapable of self-rescue.  Said rescue can only be realized through faith in Christ’s propitiatory sacrifice as one appropriates the benefit of his death personally.  This justification is derived from God’s prevenient grace, which one can reject.

The justification of the impious has God as the final cause, God’s mercy as the efficient cause, Jesus Christ as the meritorious cause, the sacrament of baptism is the instrumental cause, and Gods justice as the alone formal cause.  We are freely justified by faith.  It’s the genesis of human salvation.  However, if one demonstrates confidence in that their sins are forgiven, they are not.  For nobody can have such certainty of faith or of perseverance.

Moreover, justification is realized not forensically, but dualistically as faith and good works manifest in a believer.  Furthermore, it is necessary and possible to keep the commandments, for works of righteousness are the means to realize final salvation.  If one falls away from justification, he can again be justified through the Sacraments of penance, confession of sins, sacerdotal absolution, fasts, alms, etc.  And finally, the ultimate fruit of justification is merited eternal life.   

Trent, On Justification (Canons)[2]

The Canons lay out a plethora of anathemas to those in disagreement with Trent’s views.  Such anathemas include those holding: that man’s image in Adam’s was erased, rather than effaced; that God is the cause of evil in man; that justification is by faith alone; that men are just without Christ’s righteousness; that by faith alone absolution and justification are realized; that perseverance is certain, unless divinely revealed; that Jesus is the Savior but does not need to be obeyed; that one cannot lose their salvation; seeing good works as fruit of being justified, rather than the grounds thereof, etc.

[1] Document retrieved through Hanover College, History Department,  Comments to: luttmer@hanover.edu

[2] Ibid.

Selected Book Summaries From the REFORMATION & MODERN PERIOD: Calvin On Predestination (Institutes)

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Calvin On Predestination (Institutes)[1]

The Doctrine of Election

In Calvin’s treatise On Predestination, he first addresses the doctrine of eternal election, where some are predestined to salvation and others to destruction.  He begins by affirming that neglecting this doctrine essentially impairs God’s glory and produces pride in the individual.  He admonishes both the inquirers and those shunning the doctrine of predestination, to stay within the bounds of scripture, rather than venture into what God has concealed, for everything we need to know is contained therein.  When God ceases revealing, we cease wanting to be wise.  Calvin understood that profane men would scoff and cavil this doctrine, but it is not to deter one from its inquiry.  For scoffers will always find something to poke fun at.

Predestination is the Eternal Decree of God

For Calvin, predestination is “the eternal decree of God by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man,” God testifying his election of Israel in (Dt.32: 8, 9; 4: 37; 7: 7, 8; 10: 14, 15; Ps.47: 4; 33: 12; 1 Sam. 12:22; Is. 41:9 etc.).  God also shows His rejection of Ishmael, Esau, Saul, and Ephraim (Ps. 78: 67, 68; 147: 20; Mal.1: 2, 3; Rom. 9:8; Gal. 3:16; etc.).   Though in the line of Abraham, they were rotten, not the remnant.  Hence, in God’s eternal and immutable council some were elected for salvation, and others to perdition.

Calvin makes a case for election from Scripture contra those who interpret election, as those who God foreknew would not be worthy of his grace.  His election is certainly not based on man’s inherent worth, for it precedes works.  As Paul declares God’s choosing us (i.e., believers) before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4, 5; Col. 1:12; cf., 1 Tim. 2:9).  Jesus himself explicitly demonstrates God choosing us not based on past merits, but on God’s mercy (John. 15:16).  Again, Paul shows that the origin and cause of election proceed not from works of merit, but from God’s good pleasure (Rom. 9:11).  Calvin disagrees with those that assign election to past or future works, for he understands that God finds nothing in man to show him kindness (Rom. 9:15).

Moreover, Peter accentuates God accomplishing the believer’s salvation by his own determinate foreknowledge in Christ’s death (Acts 2:23).   Election is further supported by the Father’s donation to Jesus, “All that the Father gives me shall come to me” (John 6: 37, 39, 44, 45; 17:9; 12; 13:18;).  These texts demonstrate God’s gratuitous adoption of those whom according to his good pleasure, he wishes to be his sons, because God is contented with his secret pleasure.  Calvin then considers the church fathers on this issue (Ambrose, Origin, Jerome, Augustine, and Aquinas) understanding that Augustine got the doctrine correctly in his later years and continues dealing with objections to his position.

Responding To Objections

Calvin deals with several objections to his view and responds accordingly.  He first addresses those who object that God makes anyone reprobate, and reminds his dissenters that Paul does not try to defend God, but simply reminds us that it is unlawful for the creature to argue with the Creator.  Calvin further shows that the reprobate, are those trees not planted by the Father who are doomed to destruction (Mt. 15:13).

A second objection is that it seems unjust and capricious for God to doom some to destruction before they have committed any wrongs.  Calvin’s response is that because of God’s ontological status (being righteous), he does not commit any lawlessness, and by the mere fact of his willing (in election), is necessarily right.  A further objection is that God seems to be a cruel judge by preordaining the reprobate’s sin.  But, Calvin defends the justice of God with Paul’s words, “…O man, who are thou that replies against God…” (Rom. 9:20-21).  This passage couches God’s infinite mind, to man’s finitude.  The last objection we will consider is the charge that Scripture nowhere declares that God decreed Adam’s fall.  Calvin responds that Scripture proclaims all mankind was in Adam, made liable to eternal death.  The decree is dreadful, but it is impossible to deny that God foreknew man’s end before being created.  To do so, is rash and not advised.

Election Confirmed by God’s Calling

Calvin deals with election confirmed by God’s calling and the reprobate bring upon themselves the righteous destruction to which they are doomed.  Calvin admits that election is God’s secret, but is manifest in his effectual calling.  He then deals with the metaphysics of said calling and concludes that it is founded on God’s free mercy.  He then illustrates aforementioned and understands that this calling is grounded on Christ.  He further considers objections to his position that the elect sometimes fall away and responds accordingly (e.g., the son of perdition passage, many are called but few are chosen, etc.)

[1] Calvin’s Institutes: Chapters 21-24, (This document is from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library at Calvin College. Last updated on May 27, 1999. Contacting the CCEL).

Selected Book Summaries from the PATRISTIC & MEDIEVAL PERIOD Augustine, On Nature and Grace[1]

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            Augustine’s treatise On Nature and Grace was a response to the pernicious views of Pelagius’ concerning the grace of Christ.  He addresses the letter to Timasius and Jacobus, whom he calls ‘my beloved sons’.  Augustine’s manner in confronting the heresy is done graciously, not vehemently, for he does not judge the motives of his zealous rival, but rather his writings.

God’s Righteousness through Christ Alone

He begins by speaking of God’s righteousness, which comes not through the law, but only through Christ Jesus.  This righteousness makes one a Christian, that is, if he needs it.  But if one, by virtue of his own righteousness, needs not Christ’s righteousness, then the death of Jesus was in vain.  But if Christ’s death is not in vain then human nature cannot of its own merit, escape the wrath of God.  Said escape can only be realized by faith in Christ.

Our Corrupted Natures

Although our nature was created whole and sound, it was corrupted by original sin, which was committed by free will, and now requires Divine rescue from it’s fallen state.  This rescue is gratis, not merited, it’s a justification freely given by God through Christ’s sacrifice.   For because of original sin, all mankind is justly under God’s wrath, and as such needs a Savior, so that they can be ‘vessels of mercy.’

Pelagius’ View of Man’s Ability to not Sin

Pelagius advanced the argument that actually all men sin, but its possible that they can abstain from it.  Augustine responds that just because something is possible, it does not follow that it can actually happen.  Moreover, one is not unrighteous because of his own choice [Pelagius], but rather because of his inability to choose to be righteous.  To affirm the former, rather than the latter, would make the cross of Christ of none effect and prove one to be a liar (1 Jn.1:8).  Pelagius corrupts (Jam.3:8) to support the above notion by making an interrogative note: “Can no man, then, tame the tongue?” as opposed to “No man can tame the tongue.”  James wrote this of the tongue, emphatically, not interrogatively, so that we would petition God for his mercy and grace.  Augustine rightly points to (Jam.3: 10) to support his conclusion of our need for God’s grace to tame our tongue.  Furthermore, Augustine points out that in the Lord’s Prayer, we are commanded to ask for pardon from past sins, and to be kept from future transgression.  But, if we do not need divine assistance in the matter, why then are we commanded to ask for help?  It seems foolish therefore, to ask for something we have.

Pelagius’ View Concerning Our Corrupt Human Nature

Pelagius denies that human nature has been corrupted by sin, for if sin is not a substance, then how can it corrupt human nature?  Augustine responds by first pointing out, that such a view opposes the Jesus who said, “they that are whole, need no physician, but they that are sick.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”  (Mt.9: 12-13)  Second, even though sin is not a substance, it does not prevent our nature from becoming corrupt.  Augustine continues and explains that we humans are sufficient of ourselves to commit sins, but insufficient of ourselves to be healed from it.  For the penalty of sin is death, and as such we need to choose to stop sinning, but we need to be revived from the grave, before being able to do that.  We need a Vivifier!   Until our souls are revived by Christ’s grace, we are unable to respond to God in righteousness.  To think we need no such assistance reveals our pride and restricts the humble petition for divine grace from being offered.

Augustins’ God-Centeredness for Man’s Healing

Augustine further points out that although God’s purpose in acting is to heal all things, He does not follow the sick patients prescription for its accomplishment.  For in His purpose to endow the Apostle Paul with power, God made sure that Paul was weak because “My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor.12: 7-8).  In fact Paul’s ‘thorn in the flesh’ was given to keep him humble because of the multitude of revelations that God gave him, so that he would not be prideful, and that in the ‘right’ thing.  By doing this to Paul, God is preventing the apostle from boasting in gifts he has received, not earned, and as such, he is being protected from eternal peril.  Now, God in a certain sense forsakes the proud, so that such a one may learn that he has a Master, and thus learns to renounce the pride.

Pelagius’ View of Man’s Equality to God

Pelagius also equals man’s sinless to be equal to God, but Augustine responds by noting that the creature can never in substance become equal to God.  Moreover, Pelagius honors God as Creator but dishonors him as Savior when he holds that Jesus heals us of our past sins, but not the future ones.  Unwittingly, Pelagius is not encouraging that believers be watchful and pray, “lead us not into temptation”; instead he is advancing an independent attitude between the creature and the Creator.  Another argument Pelagius raises is that Abel was sinless on the heels of asserting that not all people’s sins in the Bible were recorded.  Augustine responds, by noting that Adam, Eve, and Cain’s sin are recorded, but to conclude and even ‘add’ that Abel did not sin because it’s not in the text, is a wicked act for the text also is silent on that.

Augustine addresses many other issues concerning how only by God’s grace one can be sinless, that what He commands is not impossible but in no wise removes the need for petitioning his divine help.  He also tackles the issue of free will and its ramifications to the believer’s life.  Toward the end of the letter, Augustine uses other authorities to combat Pelagius’ views, he demonstrates how to exhort men to godly living, and ends the treatise by accentuating the need for the Holy Spirit to help believers walk holiness.

[1] Augustin, Aurelius, Bishop of Hippo, “Treatise on Nature and Grace: Against Pelagius,” The Nicene and

Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Volume V, Pp.121-151, (T & T Clark Edinburgh: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Reprinted in 1997)

Selected Book Summaries from the PATRISTIC & MEDIEVAL PERIOD “Athanasius, On The Incarnation”[1]

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The Universe’s Creation

In his letter On The Incarnation, Athanasius first grounds his apologetic of the incarnation on the universe’s creation.  He does this by addressing fallacious views of creation, the first of which is Epicureanism (fortuitous generation).  They contend that everything is its own cause and is independent of any purpose, but Athanasius argues that the diversity of bodies and parts actually supports an intelligent, creating designer.  Then there are the Platonists (pre-existent matter).  They purport that God created the world with the matter that already existed; in other words, God is seen as a mechanic using available material to construct the universe.  Athanasius contends that this view weakens God, for he could not create the material needed to construct the universe.  But He could not in any sense be called Creator unless He is Creator of the material with which all things have been made.  Moreover he accentuates that the world as well as humans were made ex-nihilo and that Scripture attests to this.  But when Adam disobeyed, the promise of death had to be met out.  Yet, in keeping with God’s goodness, He could not allow his creation, especially his image bearers, his rational creatures to continue in a corrupt state.  Thus, he sent the incorporeal immaterial One who has always been, and through the incarnation takes a body of our nature, and reveals Himself, in order to conquer death and restore life back to us.

The Reason for the Incarnation

Second, Athanasius asserts that the reason for the incarnation was to give man the knowledge of Himself.  For, to be destitute of the knowledge of God is equivalent to a purposeless existence.  Hence, in the incarnation man can get a “front row seat” and somewhat understand the Father and their Maker, and as a result have a happy and blessed life.  But man rejected the knowledge of God (which is the equivalent of irrationality for Athanasius) and replaced it with idolatry, witchcraft, and astrology, even though the creation along with the Law and Prophets gave further attestation to the Creator.  Such darkness prevented man from understanding the knowledge of God, and as such, only the Lord Jesus Christ could bring about such knowledge to man.  In His mercy, he condescended to man to save the lost.

God’s Ubiquity Not Affected by the Incarnation

Third, the incarnation affected not his ubiquity, for even though he was in a body, he never ceased being the sustainer of all things.  He maintained the same nature (separate from the creation).  Moreover, his miraculous acts (healing the sick, casting out demons, raising the dead) his death on the cross, and his resurrection from the dead, testified to his dominion over creation and as such, to his deity.  His public death among other things did not show weakness, but rather it demonstrated strength.  It was the means by which he would destroy death, while simultaneously through the resurrection manifest the monument of victory over death.  His public death was also necessary for the doctrine of the resurrection to be believed as a historical event, rather than a mere fable, both by his disciples and those who would later believe.  Christ’s death on the cross, demonstrated his bearing the curse on our stead, for “Cursed is he that hangs on a tree.”  This death and resurrection secures for the believer the joy of life, rather than the torment of death.  For, just as Christ is the first fruits of life, through the resurrection, believers will follow in like manner.  Hence the fear of death to man is overthrown.  Death is swallowed up in victory!

Proofs for the Resurrection

Fourth, the resurrection has many proofs to its veracity.  First of all, the fact that men from all cultures are turning to faith in Christ points to him being alive, not dead.  Second, being the source of life, it was impossible for him not to bring his body back to life.  Third, even if God is invisible, the fact that his works of casting out demons and overcoming idolatry through his people is manifest are proof of the resurrection.  For, demons would scarcely obey in the name of a dead man, but rather in the name of the One risen.

Responding to the Jews Concerning Christ’s Person from the Old and New Testaments

Fifth, Athanasius answers the unbelieving Jews by using the Scriptures to argue for the incarnation with many references.  He starts with the virgin birth (Mt.1: 23, cf; Is. 7:14), and moves on to Moses’ prediction (Num.14: 5-17; Is. 8:4), his living place (Hos. 9:1), his death (Is. 53:3), his birth and death on the cross (Jer.9: 19; Ps.22: 16; Is.9: 10), his miracles (Is.65: 1-2, Rom.10: 20; Is.35: 3) and more scripture.  He then argues from the withdrawal of prophecy and the destruction of Jerusalem (Mt.11: 13; Lk.16: 16), and points to the fact that it was the Lord himself that would save us (Is.63: 9).

Unbelief of the Greeks Addressed

Sixth, Athanasius addresses the unbelief of the Greeks concerning the absurdity of the incarnation and he points out that it is no problem for Christ to manifest in a body if in fact the Logos Manifests Himself in creation.  Moreover, his manifestation in a body is grounded on his relation to Creation as a whole.  Hence, because he wanted to reveal himself to man, he became man.  Another line of argument concerns the reason for the incarnation.  Since man is the only creature that sinned, he would not see or recognize the Creator through his works, so through the incarnation he manifested his works among them.  He continues with many other proofs to counter their scoffing, but ends his letter with an exhortation for those who love knowledge to find it where it only resides: in Christ, where it’s attained through virtuous living that’s grounded in loving the Logos who is blessed forever more.

[1] Athanasius, “On The Incarnation of The Word,” The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series,

Volume IV, p.36 (T & T Clark Edinburgh, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Reprinted in 1996).

 

Selected Book Summaries from the PATRISTIC & MEDIEVAL PERIOD by Sergio Tangari

Justin-Martyr

Justin Martyr, First Apology[1]

In his first Apology, Justin addresses the Roman Emperor; Pius Augustus Caesar, his sons Versimmus and Lucius, both of which are philosophers, the Senate and all of the Roman people.  Martyr’s chief concern is regarding the injustice Christians are suffering at the hands of Roman authorities.  The Christian worldview is being egregiously misrepresented, and as such, Justin challenges these “lovers of truth” (the philosophers) to listen to reason, and to investigate to see whether or not the allegations raised against believers are warranted.

First, Christians are being condemned for simply bearing the name.  Justin points out that a mere name does not constitute whether one is evil or good, but rather the actions one does or does not commit should condemn or acquit them.

Second, Christians are charged of being atheists and Justin points out that they are atheists of a certain kind.  This atheism is not equivalent to our modern usage of the word.  Instead, it concerns the refusal of Christians to worship the pantheon of Roman gods, which Justin rightly labels as “demons”, which are not gods at all.  Instead Christians acknowledge only Jesus Christ as God, the only one worthy to be worshipped.

Third, Justin accentuates the need for Christians individually to be tried to see if they actually are evildoers, and if found guilty, they ought to be punished.  But to merely condemn one for bearing the name “Christian” lacks reason, and it is a travesty of justice.

Fourth, Justin points out the foolishness of idol worship and demonstrates how God is to be served.  Idols are nothing but soulless dead representations of contingent beings (creatures) and as such, to worship them is not only senseless but an offense to God (creator).  Since God is the only necessary being, he is the source of all things, and as such, the service that God accepts, must conform to the excellencies that reside in Him.  Moreover, Justin points out that the Christians worship is rational and is based on Christ’s teaching, who among other things, calls all men to repentance from dead works to serve the living God.

Fifth, Justin continues with a litany of Christ’s teaching found in the Gospels.  Concerning truth telling, the believer is to let “your yes be yes, and your no, no”.   Regarding civil obedience, give to Caesar what belongs to him, and to God what belongs to Him.  Here, Justin distinguishes the proper relationship the Christian is to have with the state and with God.

Sixth, Justin answers the heathen analogies to Christian doctrine, to the history of Christ and to his Sonship and points out that although there are similarities, truth and redemption are only found in Christ Jesus the Lord.  Since the aforementioned obtains, Christians have abandoned the worship of false gods, the practice of sorcery, and promiscuous behavior.

Seventh, Martyr points out that the life and works of Christ are predicted in the Hebrew prophets, and as such uses fulfilled prophecy to argue for the veracity of Christian doctrine.  He starts off with Moses describing the time of Jesus’ coming and his passion.  Then Isaiah (the most quoted prophet) describes the predicted virgin birth, reign, and crucifixion of Christ, while Micah describes Bethlehem as the place of his birth.  Furthermore, the Psalmist predicts his incarnation, crucifixion, and ascension.   Justin also points out that Judea’s desolation, Christ’s healing ministry, and rejection by the Jews are also foretold.  Hence, if what was foretold has already been fulfilled, for Justin, it stands to reason that the predictions not yet fulfilled, will be.  And are thus worthy to be believed.

Eighth, Justin explains that even though demons have instituted the rite of baptism in their temples, true baptism is reserved only for those who are born again.  He continues to explain that partaking of the Eucharist is reserved only for those who have been regenerated and baptized.  He finally explains the reason they worship on Sunday and explains their liturgy.

Justin concludes his letter in the manner in which he started, he appeals to reason and justice. He challenges his audience, if the material presented is reasonable and true, and then they should honor it and not decree the innocent to be killed.  If it is nonsensical, they should totally disregard it. He then warns them that they will not escape the coming judgment of God if they do not stop their injustice.

[1] Martyr, Justin, “The First Apology of Justin,” The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume I, pp.163-187,) T & T

Clark Edinburgh, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Reprinted in 1996).

Selected Book Summaries from the PATRISTIC & MEDIEVAL PERIOD by Sergio Tangari

1

Ignatius, Epistle to Polycarp

Ignatius like Polycarp comprised part of the band of disciples after the apostles.  They are known as the “Apostolic Fathers” the bishop of Smyrna, a disciple of the apostle John

While Ignatius highly esteems Polycarp and feels privileged to behold him, nevertheless he commends and exhorts the bishop of Smyrna for many things.  Polycarp is commended for his steadfastness in the faith and is exhorted to be constant in evangelism, diligent in intercessions, focused on church unity, winsome in his speech, sober as God’s athlete who awaits his eternal reward.  Moreover, Polycarp is exhorted to consider the times and zealously contend for the faith, which is being challenged with false doctrine.

Polycarp now focuses on household codes.  Concerning widows, they are to be nurtured, protected and befriended.  Concerning slaves, both male and female are to be treated with dignity.  If marriage is to honor God, it must be patterned after Christ’s relationship with his church, and the husband/wife union must have the bishop’s approval.  To heed the bishop results in God heeding the flock, the goal of which is the unity of the body.  Finally, Polycarp is exhorted to appoint a Messenger in Antioch for the work of the gospel.

This is definitely not business as usual.  Note the preoccupation Ignatius reveals with eternal issues in correspondence to the Great Commission (MT. 28:18-20):

18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

To accomplish Christ’s command, Ignatius understood the urgent need for Polycarp to practice the things exhorted (i.e., evangelism, intercessions, church unity, gracious speech, etc.)

It’s uncanny how relevant this letter was then and is so today.  These exhortations are pointed, concise, and conspicuously God centered.  Christians would do well to pattern their discipleship according to this brief powerful letter.

(SDG)

Selected Book Summaries from the PATRISTIC & MEDIEVAL PERIOD by Sergio Tangari

1Considering Some Who Have Shaped the Church’s Thought  

The writer to the Hebrews wrote: “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith” Hebrews 13:7.  Too often Christians find themselves imitating the faith of those who actually do not speak the word of God to them in truth.  Instead, they listen to teachers who proclaim what their itching ears want to hear to their utter destruction.  One way to guard against that is to consider how believers through the centuries understood the Gospel, and treasured Christ as they lived out its implications.

There are two cautions, two extremes, I think are critical to consider if we are to love God with our minds and hearts.  First, we must guard against thinking that because something is old (pick a number) it’s irrelevant in the present and for our future.  Second, we must guard against thinking that because something is new it’s relevant for the present and future.  Both extremes are foolish, irrational, clothed in hubris and blind us from discovering objective truth so that we may live out its implications presently and in the days ahead.

The following summaries are provided to encourage, challenge, comfort and invigorate the follower of Christ to consider how in the last two millennia followers of Christ understood and lived out the implications of their faith.  It’s to consider how these believers spent their energies for the glory of God and the cause of the kingdom, and to see where their example is worthy to be emulated.

Some things will seem odd, some things odious, some things onerous, and some things endearing.  I trust in no way you will be bored.  These summaries are but a taste of their substance that I’ve attempted to capture so that you the reader will take up and read at the source.

(Soli Deo Gloria)

                                                           

 The Patristic & Medieval Period

Ignatius, Epistle to the Romans[1]

In his letter to the Romans, Ignatius addresses the issue of his death.  As a prisoner, Ignatius first encourages the Romans to pray not for his deliverance, but for his death.  Secondly, he desires a martyr’s death to prove the genuineness of his faith.  Third, martyrdom is to be via the wild beasts.  Fourth, Ignatius desires death to rid himself from his persecutors.  If the wild beasts don’t want him, he will entice them to rip him to shreds.  For his goal is to attain to Jesus.

Fifth, only by death could Ignatius attain to the true life.  He desires neither the pleasures of this world nor it’s kingdoms, but rather the pleasures of God and His kingdom.  Only through death can he attain to this true life.  Sixth, he exhorts the Romans to demonstrate their fidelity to Christ by imitating him.  Seventh, Ignatius affirms that what he has written to the Romans is in accordance with Gods will.  Hence, to prevent Ignatius from martyrdom is equivalent to the Romans hating him.  Finally, he encourages the Romans to pray for the Syrian church, who only have Jesus Christ as the overseer.

If Christ is not risen from the dead, then Ignatius was a fool.  But if Christ is risen from the dead according to eyewitness accounts (The Gospels, Acts, 1 Corinthians 15, etc.) then Ignatius understood true treasure and was thus willing to lay down his life for the Master.

As a young man, in 1984 I attended a lecture where Richard Wurmbrand, the Lutheran pastor tortured for Christ, imprisoned in a communist prison for over 14 years, spoke of his experiences.  It was humbling for I was in the presence of one who loved Jesus in word and deed.  While not all believers are chosen by God to journey that road of suffering, all believers are called by Christ do die to self.  This is why Jesus made it clear that in order to follow him, we must deny ourselves, pick up our cross, and follow Him.  The road is hard, for some more than others, but the rewards far outweigh the temporary hardships.  What say you friend?

[1] Ignatius, “Epistle to the Romans,” The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume I, 73, (T & T Clark Edinburgh, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Reprinted in 1996).

Reflections From 1 Corinthians 4: IS THEIR EVER A TIME TO JUDGE ANOTHER’S WORK IN THE GOSPEL? (Vvs.1-5)

1-corinthians

Paul continues his thought from chapter three and exhorts the believers to think biblically, truthfully, when they regard the apostle’s status:

“Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy. But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord.”

Like the Corinthians, many of us tend to label and decipher a person’s value based on their status in life.  To assist them in their view of the apostle, Paul says; “regard us as servants of Christ…stewards of God’s mysteries.”  Note the gravity and humility of this statement.

On the one hand, the gravity of being put in charge to steward, care for and appropriately handle the mysteries of God (i.e., to unfold the meaning of the incarnation and work of Christ on Calvary’s cross) as revealed to the apostle by Christ himself.

On the other hand, consider Paul’s humility recognizing that he’s Christ’s servant not a “superstar apostle” celebrity.  Contrary to the Corinthian blunder of comparing themselves among each other, Paul compares himself to no mere man, but recognizes his status before the risen Lord as a servant.  All who are in ministerial work are just that, servants and nothing more.

They are servants who have received mercy and God’s kindnesses.  That’s why any boasting that’s not Christ centered is truly in vain.  The Creator has given all things which the creature enjoys (i.e., salvation and gifts which accompany God’s people) freely, these are not earned.  Thus, to boast in that which you have not accomplished and posing as if you did is indeed delusional.

After describing his position as servant and steward, Paul accentuates that not just anyone can be a steward, only he who is “trustworthy” which implies that many are not and as a result, can’t be stewards (i.e., the Corinthians).  This is emphasized because the Corinthian’s seem to have questioned Paul’s legitimacy as an authority to heed.

Paul explains to these believers that their view of him and especially his apostleship is insignificant because he knows that God the Judge will have the last word on such matters and will rightly approve or disapprove of his work on the final day.  Do we realize the weight of this understanding?  Can we appreciate the profundity of this reality that we will all stand before the judgment seat of God and be rewarded for our service and receive our praise from God?

Paul thus commands these believers to withhold their judgment because the day approaches when our works and motives fueling said works will be exposed by the all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good, all-just, all-wise God who perfectly and without bias judges.

We all long for praise, it seems, especially when we do something well because of our skill set.  This brings a measure of satisfaction, nevertheless, longing for the creatures praise is too short sighted, since they too only see our actions through the “key-hole” of life.  Paul is wisely pointing the Corinthians and us to look for God’s approval, praise and reward for its’ worth has an infinite texture to it that our creaturely praise can’t compare.

(SDG)