The Communion of Saints

Often, this line is separated from the other lines connected with the Holy Spirit. I am quickly changing my thoughts about this. I do believe in the communion of saints. However, this line seems fitting as a description of the Church. The Church consists of the Saints. There is a communion, not simply a fellowship, but a relationship between all Saints of all places and all times.

It is truly impossible to mention or to conceive a conjunction, more beautiful, more close and intimate, or more endeared by mutual love, than that which subsists between God and his people, between Christ and the Church. Here beauty and comeliness appear in full perfection. In Christ indeed it shines with a transcendant lustre; and hence it is said in the Psalms, “Thou art fairer than the sons of men;” where the doubling of the radical letters in the Hebrew word rendered “fairer,” adds to the energy of the signification. But the beauty even of the Church is so great, that he whose province it is to judge, pronounces this eulogy upon her: “Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair, thou hast doves’ eyes.” Nay, “Thou art all fair, my love; there is no spot in thee.” Again, this union is so intimate, that hardly any similitude is sufficient to express its closeness.

Herman Witsius and Donald Fraser, Sacred Dissertations, on What Is Commonly Called the Apostles’ Creed, (London: Khull, Blackie & Co., 1823), 2:346. (emphasis mine)

Culturally speaking, I think we shy away too quickly from the word intimate. As with so much in our day, words have been co-opted by sex. Intimacy is one of those words. But intimacy is “in•ti•mate \ˈin-tə-mət\ adjective [alteration of obsolete intime, from Latin intimus] 1632. 1 a: INTRINSIC, ESSENTIAL,
b: belonging to or characterizing one’s deepest nature; 2: marked by very close association, contact, or familiarity 〈intimate knowledge of the law; 3 a: marked by a warm friendship developing through long association 〈intimate friends〉; b: suggesting informal warmth or privacy 〈intimate clubs〉; 4: of a very personal or private nature 〈intimate secrets〉. (Inc Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary., 2003.)

All of these aspects are present in the Church. We are individual members of one body, as Paul would put it. Yet, there is a clear connection between the Saints, true members of the Church.

Becoming a Christian is not really about institutional membership or about adopting a system of ideas. To become a Christian is to be included in the circle of Jesus’ followers. I am washed with the same bath that Jesus and all his followers have had. I get to share the same meal that Jesus shared with his followers. Four of Jesus’ followers left written records of what he said and what he was like, and I get to spend my life continually pondering those four accounts. I read them not because I am studying ideas about Jesus but because I am studying him. I want everything in my life, right down to the smallest and most disappointing details, to enter somehow into communion with the life of Jesus.
I share the holy bath and the holy meal, and I read the holy stories, because I am seeking Jesus. But when I do these things I am also seeking myself. I want to find myself among the circle of Jesus’ followers. I want to be wherever Jesus is—and he is in the company of his friends. I want my whole life to be “hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:3). I want my life’s small story to be tucked into the folds of Jesus’ story.
When this happens, my life acquires a meaning beyond itself. I begin to see myself as part of a great company, an ever-widening circle of people who have handed their lives over to the pattern of Jesus’ life. This great company of disciples seems to speak with one voice, to breathe with one Spirit, to cry “Abba, Father!” with one unceasing prayer (Rom 8:15–16).

Ben Myers, The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism, eds. Todd Hains, Jeff Reimer, and Sarah Awa, Christian Essentials, (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2018), 110–111.

If this is a description of the Church, I might ask why is there so much division, fighting, political maneuvering, and downright hostility in our churches? First, there is no true intimacy among the local church members. I have known many parents whose whole view of theology changes when one of their children strays from the faith. They think that love requires them to become different parents to keep their child’s love. “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” (Hebrews 12:6, ESV) Think about the prodigal son. His father knew he was making a terrible mistake, but he let his son go and be chastised by the world.

This situation, though, does not play out the same way when these parents discover some sin in the life of others in the church. “I saw Henrietta go into that bar down the street. Shame on her for drinking alcohol! We’ve got to do something about this, or we will be known as the church of the drunkards.” And so, the gossip mill begins to churn. How quickly the judgment is made. No one took the time to find out that Henrietta was not a drunk. She was meeting a friend for a drink and spent the evening sharing the gospel. Who do you think God would chastise now? In both scenarios, faith was lost, love was lost, and people were hurt. The sinful son led the parents to lose faith. The parent who lost faith because of love for a sinful son acted like those in the world when it came to jumping to conclusions, judging a fellow believer, and spreading false information that would lead others to judge poor Henrietta.

One short illustration paints a dark picture. Where is communion here?

Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

John 13:33–34, ESV

Second, there has been a failure of the Elders of the church to discipline her members. There are traditionally three marks of the Church: preaching the Word of God; administering the Sacraments; and disciplining her members. When the first is not done, there can be no communion. “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,” (Ephesians 4:11–13, ESV, emphasis mine). All three marks of the Church work together to “build up the body of Christ” by “attaining unity of the faith.” I could say quite a bit about the first two marks, but it is the third that has disappeared from most churches.

This disappearance of discipline may come from a lack of teaching the Word of God. It may come from failure to seriously administer the sacraments. But, I believe it also comes because so many people view the church like they view every other institution in society. We live in a “me first” world, which should not surprise us as that attitude was the root cause of original sin. Unless we become intentional enough to fight against this sin, teach against this sin, and discipline those who continue to live in this sin, the Church will not matter. When Church does not rule the lives of people, there is no communion and no church.

The parents who allow their son’s errors transform their theology away from Christ have nothing to stand on. Their son may fall deeper and deeper in his sin, even to the point of his own physical harm, have nothing to offer. Their love became corrupted by their fear to discipline. The parent’s concerns that to discipline might end with the loss of their son become a self-fulfilling prophecy. When the church fails to discipline her members out of the fear they might lose some ends up losing everyone.

Now, a word about discipline. Such a nasty concept. Such a wrong idea, too. Discipline is not corporeal punishment. Discipline is training. When we devote ourselves to follow Christ, we begin to live a life ruled by Christ and his Word.

     “Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD! Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart, who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways! You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently. Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes! Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments. I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous rules. I will keep your statutes; do not utterly forsake me!” (Psalm 119:1–8, ESV)

     “In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches. I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.” (Psalm 119:14–16, ESV)

     “Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it.” (Psalm 119:33–35, ESV)

     “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:105, ESV)

These verses come from only one Psalm, but their sentiment can be found throughout the Psalms and all of Scripture. We are to meditate on the Word of God. Meditation is not the same as taught in Eastern cultures. There, people are taught to empty their minds to enter the ultimate realm. Sadly, such a state or place, or ideal does not exist. Christian meditation is the process of focus on the Word. It is to memorize the Word, not just its words but the content of them. Great athletes practice and work hard to discipline their bodies so they can perform well even under great pressure and stress. Musicians practice their music, no, more than music but also the very sound they make with their instruments so that every note comes out clean and pure. When in a group, they practice together so they can get to know each other and play various notes and rhythms together with one another so that the end result is an audience that hears the whole piece, not its parts.

All of this is discipline. Athletes who whine about the exercises they are given are not athletes for long. Musicians who do not dedicate their lives to their craft will not remain musicians for long. They will fall into the category of musician that has a hobby, not a calling. The same could be said of wood workers, programmers, teachers, business men and women, and so on. And, Christians who do not hide God’s Word in their hearts, who do not study the Word, who do not count the errors of others in church, who fail to hear the Spirit’s message in the sermon instead of becoming bored with it, or offended by it are among those who use Christianity as a hobby, not a life.

I believe in the communion of saints. I believe because all of the saints will live in communion with each other, and with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit forever. What can I do to become a better Saint, to be knit more closely to Christ and all the Saints. That is my calling; that is our calling.

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The Holy Catholic Church

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Ephesians 4:1–6, ESV

For years as a pastor, I encouraged the use of the Apostles’ Creed in worship. The Creed is one of the ways to unite the Church. Frequently, people would object to this one line. For clarity, the Roman Catholic Church is not the Holy Catholic Church. As you can see in the passage above, from the very beginning, there was a knowledge that there is only one Church, one Body, one Faith, etc. All of the New Testament writers observed many local assemblies. Nevertheless, these congregations were all a part of the Holy Catholic Church.

The word “catholic” means, “1 universal; relating to all men; all-inclusive. 2 comprehensive in interests, tastes, etc.” (Collins English Dictionary, 2000.) When applied to the church, catholic recognizes the whole Church consisting of all who are justified by faith throughout all of the world and all of time. The Roman Catholic Church was originally just the catholic church. However, the more powerful it grew and the more humanistic it became, eventually the term catholic was used opposite its meaning. Rather than being one church in the world, the Roman Church made itself that one church, and everyone else was not a part of it.

At its most basic level, it was a power grab from which came all manner of heresy. The Papacy was not immutable. There is no Biblical teaching that defends the office of Pope. The papacy was nothing more than an organizational structure used to unify the church. But inerrancy? Infallibility? Ultimate spokesman for King Jesus? None of these can be found in the Bible. No matter how hard Roman scholars want the Pope to be the official passing the keys of the kingdom from Peter, it is just not there.

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Matthew 16:18–19, ESV

The translation most commonly found in English Bibles ignores the syntax of the Greek, and thus misleads the reader. R.T. France wrote in his commentary:

The insistence by the Roman Catholic Church that they are the only true church has not united Christianity. No, it has divided the church, first with the split from the Orthodox church of Constantinople, then with the Protestant church of the Reformation. What puzzles me is that the Roman Church for well over a thousand years has not been able to see their hubris and their error.

What I want to point out with the Creed’s reference to the Holy Catholic Church is that it falls within the third section, which is foundationally, “I believe in the Holy Spirit.” The first important acknowledgment must be that to believe in the Holy Spirit, one must recognize that the Church is not something mankind does. From beginning to end, the Church from top to bottom, is a work of God, particularly God the Holy Spirit. This is why Jesus is so adamant with the disciples that if he did not go away, the Spirit could not come. This is why Jesus ordered his disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the coming of the Holy Spirit. This is why the coming of the Spirit on Pentecost was such a monumental event.

We need not look to the Roman Catholic Church for hubris. We must look to ourselves. When we gather for worship, it is not because it is the right thing to do. It is not because going to church makes us feel good. It is certainly not about being entertained with snappy music and an emotional massage. We gather to worship because God calls us and the Spirit gathers us. Those who think it is their own decision to go to church or not are deceiving themselves. The gathering of the believers is essential to life as a Christian. Anytime I give into laziness on Sunday morning or choose my kid’s soccer games over church, I give in to the flesh and walk not according to the Spirit.

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

Romans 8:5–11, ESV

The second observation is that what we do when we gather as the church is to worship God. That is our purpose. Communal worship is far greater than individual worship. I am so convinced of this that I often question whether the individual can truly worship without connection in time and space with other believers. Yes, you can read the Bible alone. You can pray alone. But you cannot baptize alone or participate in the Eucharist alone. If we cannot utilize the sacraments of worship, then we cannot worship. The old Roman Church was right to suggest that there is no salvation outside the church. Where they got it wrong was that the Roman Church was only an expression of the Catholic Church. The Church of Jesus Christ is much larger than the Roman Catholic Church.

One problem with individual worship is that it denies the work of God the Spirit, baptizing us into one body and keeping us in the unity of the body. “I don’t need anyone else.” But God said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” The closest human relationship anyone can experience is marriage, husband, and wife. Paul teaches us that even this relationship is preparatory for the ultimate one between Christ and the Church. It is a mistake to think that my personal relationship with Jesus Christ is the foundation of salvation. My relation to Christ as a part of the Church is ultimate. So, it is true that Christ died for the sins of the world, but the world is the world of believers baptized by the Spirit into his body.

Closely akin to the second observation is the third. Worship is not something we do. Instead, worship is who we are. Every emphasis in Scripture on obedience is not about doing something to be saved. It is not about doing something to prove our salvation. Obedience is simply what those who are saved do because they can’t even think of doing something else. Yes, Scripture recognizes our progress toward the goal, but the believer makes this progress by obeying Christ. But we don’t make the progress. It is the Spirit within that progresses us, which is called the ministry of Sanctification.

The ultimate goal is the one we had at the beginning. We were created in God’s image to glorify him (worship) and to ensure the rest of creation is nurtured so God may be glorified by it. This is why I say that worship is who we are. If it is something we do, then it is up to us to decide how to worship God. However, we are incapable of making such choices, just like we did not choose Jesus. He chose us and he tells us how to worship. Furthermore, as we worship God’s way, we are transformed ever more into who we were called and saved to be: God glorifiers.

All of this (and more) is the work of the Holy Spirit who had been poured out upon us. All of this is why the Holy Catholic Church is a ministry of the Spirit of God and Christ.

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I believe in the Holy Spirit.

And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.

Isaiah 11:2–5, ESV

The Creed has presented the Father and the Son, who are the first two members of the Trinity. Now it moves to the third person, the Holy Spirit. There have been plenty of heresies regarding Father and Son, which can also be said of the Spirit. Some people deny personhood to the Spirit and suggest that it is a principle of power or energy. Their idea is that the Spirit is much like the “Force” in the Star War Movies. However, there is an abundance of Scriptural evidence that the Spirit is a person equal to the Father and the Son.

Another prevalent interpretation of the Spirit arose in the early 20th century and developed into the Pentecostal movement. Known more commonly today as Charismatics, their focus is upon the ecstatic gifts of the Spirit in the life of the believer. There is no end to the various Charismatic movements. Still, in general, the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” is an experience that often comes after an individual’s new birth and conversion. Passages in the book of Acts show that there were occasions when a group of believers were asked if they had received the Spirit yet.

As a teenager, I was involved with a group of Charismatic believers, and to this day, I still have books in my library that purport to teach one how to speak in tongues. It took a few years of development as a Christian before I saw the fallacy in such an attempt. There is no place in the Bible that even hints that anyone “learned” to speak in tongues. Instead, the act was spontaneous and a sign that the Spirit had now come upon them. So why are tongues even mentioned in the New Testament? I believe that any occasion mentioning tongues must be placed in two contexts.

The first is the Day of Pentecost, where “tongues of fire” were seen to come upon the disciples of Jesus who had gathered to wait for that event. Rather than speaking in tongues, Luke writes that they spoke in different languages. How do we know? Because those gathered in Jerusalem for the feast on that day heard these people speak in their own language.

Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”

Acts 2:5–13, ESV

The word for tongues is glōssa. It refers to the physical organ we use to taste and speak. Additionally, glōssa is used for the actual language that is spoken. I am not convinced that the term is ever used for some kind of ecstatic or angelic language. (I mention angelic because Paul speaks of the “tongues of angels” in 1 Corinthians 13. That Paul is speaking in a hypothetical does not imply that he believes in angelic tongues. Every communication in Scripture between angels and humans is spoken in the language of the listener.

The second context is the transitional nature of the book of Acts and the entire period covered by the New Testament. If Kenneth Gentry, among others, is correct in writing that the book of Revelation was completed before the destruction of Jerusalem, then the entire New Testament was completed before 70 A.D. (see Before Jerusalem Fell here and here). Likewise, if the judgment on Jerusalem was the end of the Old Covenant with the beginning of the New Covenant, it would also mark the end of the transition from the Apostolic Age and the initiation of the Church age. By 70 A.D., the gospel had been preached in all of the known world, and the church had been established. We are now the Body of Christ on earth, and receiving the Holy Spirit at the time of our New Birth, there is no longer a need for apostles to manage the church.

Why is any of this significant? First, the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements focus on human experience. The American Evangelical has become more fascinated with how Christianity feels than with what Christianity is all about. Remember the words of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him together.” Be assured that there is no enjoyment of God if he is not glorified above all else. We are not the focus of salvation. How we feel about things is irrelevant. The only relevance is how God is glorified and his Kingdom established.

Second, seeking the miraculous experience like speaking in the tongues of angels denies the actual work of the Holy Spirit today.

See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft.

Exodus 31:2–5, ESV

Rousas Rushdoony notes concerning this passage from Exodus, “We are not here dealing with mystical ecstasy, but with hard work, sweat, and perseverance, all guided and governed by God the Spirit. God’s law is practical, and its goal is the Kingdom of God. The Spirit is also practical, and His goal is the Kingdom, because the Trinity works in unity. God is not interested in our ecstatic experiences, however much we may be; He is interested in His Kingdom and our service thereto.” [1]

Paul’s mention that all things in the Church be done “decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14) seems to speak against the chaos found in many churches today. During my career as a pastor, I often heard from parishioners how much they disliked prewritten prayers as against spontaneous praying. The orderliness of the former was considered stiff, and the freedom of the latter was supposedly more “spiritual.” Things that are planned out in advance are not yielding to a Spirit that blows wherever it will. It makes me wonder why so many weddings are planned out to the minutest detail. Certainly, the Spirit cannot be present in such orderliness.

Why was God so specific in the way the tabernacle was to be built? Why was he so detailed when describing the worship that pleased him? Why didn’t he allow for more spontaneity in the Spirit? Why is the law of God so stiff? Because the God of all creation with the Son and the Spirit planned everything in the beginning. God did not one day say, “You know, I feel like creating something that has never been before. Once I get it all done, I will sit back in amazement watching all things working themselves out.”

I believe in the Holy Spirit. I believe in the Holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Spirit. I believe they do all things in concert and harmony and that this was only accomplished by planning all things, preparing all things, creating all things, sustaining all things, and bringing all things to their appointed ends and purposes.

[1] Rousas John Rushdoony, Systematic Theology in Two Volumes, (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1994), 1:204.

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From there He will come to judge the living and the dead.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

John 3:16–21, ESV

These verses in John 3 are rarely read together in today’s churches. The focus of the gospel has shifted to almost exclusively the love of God. Thus, Jesus, who says, “For God so loved the world,” is translated into “since God loves the world, that must include everyone in the world.” Our God is not only the author of salvation, but he is also the judge of sinners. Jesus made clear that he was not sent into the world to judge (condemnation), but that there is condemnation already present among those who do not believe. The unbeliever has reaped condemnation because “the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness.” How do we know this to be true? “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light…”

Jesus was not wasting his words. When he spoke, he spoke truth. These verses are the gospel message. They cannot be separated from one another. None of these words are difficult to comprehend. Whenever and wherever the gospel is preached, both salvation for belief and condemnation for unbelief must be a part of the conversation. One without the other denies the gospel as proclaimed by Jesus.

The Jesus loves me gospel has become such a focus in many churches that the gospel has become something like fire insurance. If you don’t believe, you are going to hell, but if you do believe, you will go to heaven. Furthermore, belief does not have to be anything more than an altar call a person is tricked into going down for. Music, worship space, preaching are all laid out for an emotional response. They demand a response of feeling guilty. However, those who feel guilty do so regarding a few specific sins they have committed. Unfortunately, the individual does not recognize that everything he does is in some way steeped in his or her sin nature.

So, such individuals may pick up the language of modern Christianity or even start attending church occasionally. But there has not been a fundamental change in their life. They think everything is good between them and God. Yet, when Junior has a soccer game that conflicts with the gathering of Christ’s body for worship, they choose the soccer game. After all, God would certainly want us to support our child in his activities. That is what good parenting is all about. Few think that Junior should not be playing a sport instead of the communion of the saints with voices raised in worship.

Nevertheless, our culture demands to be our first love. The temptation to love the world is strong. I know it well. What helps me are two things: the love of God who called me to serve him and the fear of God’s wrath. This may sound odd to many but think back to when you were a child. I hated doing yard work, but my dad would assign some chores for me to accomplish before he came home. I would put off going outside to work as long as I could. Yet, there always came a time when I decided my father’s praise was much better than his wrath and disappointment.

Blessed is the man 
      who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, 
      nor stands in the way of sinners, 
      nor sits in the seat of scoffers; 
      but his delight is in the law of the LORD, 
      and on his law he meditates day and night. 

      He is like a tree 
      planted by streams of water 
      that yields its fruit in its season, 
      and its leaf does not wither. 
      In all that he does, he prospers. 
      The wicked are not so, 
      but are like chaff that the wind drives away. 

      Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, 
      nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; 
      for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, 
      but the way of the wicked will perish.
(Psalm 1, ESV)

With this background, we may now turn to the Creed. It has presented the birth, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascent to sit at the right hand of the Father. “From there, he will come to judge the living and the dead.” The idea of judging the living and the dead could mean that Jesus will judge those who are alive when he returns, and the dead are those who have died before his return. I don’t really think this is an adequate interpretation. The living are those who have been born again and the dead are those who are wicked.

How will Jesus judge?

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Matthew 25:31–46, ESV

Jesus uses the metaphor of a shepherd separating sheep from goats. The difference between them is demonstrated by their works. James wrote that “faith without works is dead.” Jesus had John write 7 letters to the 7 primary churches in Asia. Below is the one he wrote to the Ephesians.

 ‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’

Revelation 2:2–7, ESV

The other six also refer to works, either by praising or condemning. Paul presents the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians as a picture of true Christianity. These characteristics are the natural outworking of the Holy Spirit sanctifying us. For those who remain true to Christ, especially in times of trial, there is a promised crown as reward.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12, ESV)

Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:8, ESV)

And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” (1 Peter 5:4, ESV)

With this knowledge, we are responsible for judging all things in our culture. We are not called to condemn people but to judge the righteousness of works. The past few weeks, we have had a clear indication of the hearts of humanity apart from God. Allow me to explain.

Kyle Rittenhouse was placed on trial for killing two and wounding one during a Black Lives Matter riot. In the end, the jury declared that Kyle was not guilty. Yet, so many media commentators are rehashing their initial judgments of the incident ignoring the facts that the jury found as false since that time. There is a narrative being pushed on the American people, a narrative that has divided is preaching racism, that has crushed good people saying that all white people are racists, that has ruined the reputations of people who have done nothing wrong but offer a cool drink to those who are thirsty.

We are being told what is up is down, right is left, men are unnecessary, men can become pregnant, all white people are racist, conservative blacks are white supremacists, and more. So many lies that if repeated often enough by the majority of the media, many will eventually come to believe. We as a people have lost our first love: a love of liberty, a love of federalism, a love of objective morality, a love of order, and more. Yet our first and greatest love that is all but forgotten is our love of neighbor, our love of righteousness, and our love of God.

Let us be clear about the gospel in our churches. Let us be honest about the gospel in our preaching and evangelism. And let us not fear rejection no matter how harsh. It is God our Father and Christ our Lord who work all things. It is not our job to change hearts or lives. It is our job to shine the light everywhere. It will reveal what needs to be revealed. The Holy Spirit will work in the hearts of those who are called.

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Filed under Faith, Gospel, Hate, Love, Racism, Sin, Truth

He ascended into Heaven…

And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.

Acts 1:9, ESV

The complete line in the creed is “He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.”

One of the great days on the Church calendar is Ascension Day. It has fallen into the dark recesses of theological thinking in modern American Evangelicalism. Yes, we sing with all our might, “Our God reigns!” Yet we fail to live as if this is true. The reality of it is that most Christians believe the IRS reigns over the Church. The fear of losing our tax-exempt status has relegated preaching to general platitudes. We are to be bold. We are to be fearless. We are to say that we don’t care about getting tax exemptions for our donations. We give to God because it is the right thing to do. (I could go on about giving practices, but I will refrain myself.) Test yourself. Test your faith. Do we seek the kingdom of God first?

The ascension of Jesus Christ to the right hand (the authority) of God was the coronation of the King of the Universe. Our God does reign! If we believe it, we will expect our pastors to preach the word of God. We need to know what God thinks of our government and those who run it. We need to know what God says about abortion, the family, homosexuality, welfare, and more. And we need to stop being apologetic about it all. We are the subjects of the King of kings. What have we to fear? Nothing!

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?

Romans 8:32–35, ESV

In the 1970s, comedian Flip Wilson used to say, “The devil made me do it,” to get a laugh. In a sense, Eve was the first to use such an excuse for her disobedience in the Garden. Nevertheless, there have always been stories of supernatural evils performed by the devil and his demons. My issue with all of these stories, from the Salem witch trials to Satan’s bible, is that we give the devil too much credit. But he was utterly defeated by the death of Jesus Christ on the cross.

And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day—

Jude 6, ESV

Talk of the devil and his power has led to all sorts of evil. But let’s tell the truth. The devil is in chains. He was put there by the King. When we are tempted to do wrong, it is our own sinful nature leading us astray. We are responsible for what we think, say, and do. And the reign of Christ ends with the judgment of the unjust. Judgment befalls us all.

Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

1 Corinthians 3:12–15, ESV

The ascension of Christ marks the beginning of the reign he earned by conquering sin and death. For me, the Day of Ascension should be celebrated right up there with Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. It used to be that Christians gathered for worship on Ascension Day. I cannot say that this is not done anymore, but I can say that when I was ordained in the Christian Reformed Church, the attendance at such a service dwindled just like Sunday night worship. When I was called by a Presbyterian church as her pastor, there was no thought whatsoever about either of these services. Today, my heart breaks that most Christians act like God is only worth an hour of our time each week.

Christ is our King. The King has separated one whole day each week when we are to put aside all our worldly activities and bow in the courts of Christ Jesus. Only then will we have grown spiritually enough that we can stand against the evil in our world. When we are transformed into dedicated followers, disciples, if you will, of Jesus, we can turn the tide and impact the false religion of humanism. Such a stand is what seeking the kingdom of God entails.

I have one final comment. One of the reasons the Church has become relevantly impotent is due to the heresy called Dispensationalism. I was raised with a Scofield Bible in my hand. I attended a Dispensational college. One of the problems with Dispensational theology is that it is solely focused on the future Kingdom of Christ, and it doesn’t credit the current Kingdom. I once heard the famous J. Vernon McGee ask his radio listeners, “Do you polish brass on a sinking ship?” The answer to this rhetorical question is supposed to be no. But there are some problems with the premise behind the question.

The implication is that the world is the sinking ship. Therefore, the Church and her members have no obligation to work to improve society. You see, the Dispensationalist is taught that we are going to “jump ship” before it sinks entirely by means of a rapture. Thus, who really cares if the government mandates we either get vaccinated or lose our job? Certainly not Christians. The outlook of a Dispensationalist is pessimistic at best. It doesn’t feel that way because we’re going to a “better place.” But what is the mission of the Church? It is not to make believers because only the Holy Spirit can do that. It is to make disciples by teaching them to obey all Christ commands. In other words, to become servants of the King in his Kingdom.

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’”

Matthew 25:31–45, ESV

It appears that we are to “polish brass” because the ship is the Lord’s, and he is not about to let it sink. The “end of the world” is the end of the world of humanism and the sin that follows. I don’t know of a Scripture anywhere that says the created earth is going to be destroyed. God said it was good after he created it. The sin of man did not eradicate the goodness of God’s creation, nor could it. The sin of man is the breaking of the image of God in man. You see, Jesus came to redeem, not to completely destroy.

For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

Romans 8:20–21, ESV

I have continued on long enough to hopefully help my brothers and sisters more fully appreciate the doctrine of the ascension of Christ to his Throne. The end of the world is not near. Every day that Christians grow deeper in the Word, they move farther away from their sin and become obedient servants of Christ. And, Jesus is coming again. Seems to me that our most important function right now is to polish that brass for his arrival.

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The third day he rose again from the dead

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.

1 Corinthians 15:3–6, ESV

Before I continue with today’s blog, I would like to apologize for failing to write at my normal pace recently. Life changes have interfered with my production. My calling to pastor a church will stop (temporarily?) at the end of October. As of November 1, I will be retired, so, I am hoping to do more writing then.

Today, I learned a new term for my identity. Surely, I am way behind the times, but that word is “cisgender.” I always thought I was male, but the liberal segment of our society seemed to need to call me cisgender because they no longer use the only two genders that have ever existed, male and female. I had to look cisgender up and found this definition:

Cisgender (sometimes cissexual, often abbreviated to simply cis) is a term for people whose gender identity matches their sex assigned at birth[1] For example, someone who identifies as a woman and was assigned female at birth is a cisgender woman. The term cisgender is the opposite of the word transgender.[2][3]
  1. ^ “Definition of Cisgender” Retrieved October 22, 2020.
  2. a b Schilt, Kristen; Westbrook, Laurel (August 2009). “Doing Gender, Doing Heteronormativity: ‘Gender Normals,’Transgender People, and the Social Maintenance of Heterosexuality”. Gender & Society23 (4): 440–464 [461].doi:10.1177/0891243209340034. S2CID 145354177.
  3. ^ Blank, Paula. “Will the Word “Cisgender” Ever Go Mainstream?”The Atlantic. Retrieved May 13, 2018.

I would like to thank those of the nominal members of society for ensuring I cannot be confused with those who are transgender. I was worried for a moment. It is interesting, though, that those who claim to be transgender are allowed to adopt their own moniker while finding that my ordained gender can no longer be called male. I kind of like being male. And I love that my wife is female. Things have worked well that way, at least for the past 40 years.

Things have truly been turned on their heads in the past few years. Government has always been problematic as few Presidents, Congress men and women, and Senators have ignored the safeguards of the Constitution. Those who wrote this historic document all agreed that there was no protection in it from unscrupulous politicians who seek to control the populous rather than be controlled by them. Please don’t think I am referring only to President Biden, for there are many names that should be added to a long list of these men. Unfortunately, Biden has become the pinnacle of our loss of liberty and enslavement to irrational socialists. We only have ourselves to blame.

Jesus said, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10, ESV). Likewise, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45, ESV) I would suggest that any politician who does not govern as Christ came to serve, are immoral leaders deserving of judgment. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” (Romans 1:18, ESV)

How can we survive a society that longs to be enslaved by socialism, that loves handing their children over to Moloch, that changes the very meaning of words so they become the opposite of sense? The obvious way for me is to turn our lives over to the King of all creation and obey all that we are taught in the Scriptures. This, however, can have many meanings, so let me suggest one. Those who are true to Christ know in the deepest recesses of their hearts that on the third day following his burial, Jesus rose from the dead.

I know that churches celebrate this truth on Easter. Yet, the resurrection is far more than a one-day-a-year celebration. As with all of God’s truth, the resurrection must transform us every day. Think about it. What does the resurrection of Christ mean?

First, Christ Jesus was raised from the dead to demonstrate that his work on the cross fulfilled God’s purposes. His sacrifice was accepted by the Father as payment for sin. Second, Jesus’ resurrection provides that those who are his are reconciled to the Father. Third, Jesus’ resurrection was new life. Jesus was different from before. He was also the same, but he now had accomplished his mission of seeking and saving his lost sheep. Fourth, and most importantly for us, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ became our death and new birth in him.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

2 Corinthians 5:17, ESV

Our resurrection is both in the present and in the future. Much of what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15 has to do with this final resurrection when the trumpet shall sound, the dead in Christ shall be raise, and the living in Christ shall be translated. Corruptible become incorruptible. Assuredly, this is the day we most look forward to. This is our hope, our everlasting life, our perfect and continual offering of service to God our Father. It is when we are adorned in white as the Bride of Christ and join him in the wedding feast. O, how we long for that day!

“For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.”

1 Corinthians 15:52–56, ESV

But today is not that day. And Paul quickly reminds us that there is much to do before that day comes: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58, ESV)

Man’s world cannot stand against that no matter how oppressive or how silly. Cisgender and transgender are humanity’s words. Male and Female are God’s Word. There is no question in my mind that humanity’s words will follow the way of humanity’s tower of Babel. We are experiencing the confusion of language even now. God’s answer to those he has called his children is to stand firm and not be moved by the culture in which we live. We are to always flourish doing the Lord’s work. Because, our labor in the Lord is empty. We are victorious in Christ and we are to live as victors even though we may not see immediate success. For the righteous shall live by faith.

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He descended into Hell

There is a universal acceptance of the above statement as part of the Apostles’ Creed. Interpretation of what it means that the crucified Christ descended into hell is far from universally understood. There are many people who can’t comprehend that Christ descended into hell.

The first part of the confusion is our understanding of hell. The word hell today is almost exclusively understood as the place of eternal judgment. This is not at all biblical. The Greek word that was used in the Creed is katōtatos. In Latin it is inferna. Both words come from Ephesians 4.

Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth?

Ephesians 4:8–9, ESV

The translation “lower regions” captures the thought well. A corresponding word in the New Testament is Hades. This is not a place of judgment or punishment. It is the place, in Jewish thought of the time, where those who died went to await whatever comes next. For Paul, Jesus was crucified and was truly dead. For him, this was demonstrated by the fact that he, like all others, descended into Hades.

But the descent of Christ is not the crucial point. He had to descend in order to “ascend on high.” Furthermore, the ascent of Christ was the time that “he led a host of captives,” those who had died and gone to Hades but had lived by faith and were thus declared righteous. Why could they not have ascended on their own? Because Christ Jesus had not yet paid the penalty for their sin. In Romans 5, Paul makes very clear that we are justified not only by Christ’s blood (his death) but also by his life (his resurrection).

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

Romans 5:6–10, ESV

The conclusion I draw, then, is that those who die in Christ now join those who were led forth from Hades awaiting the final resurrection. That is the resurrection from corruptible to incorruptible (1 Corinthians 15). The gospel hymn by J. Wilbur Chapman puts it altogether in the chorus:

"Living, He loved me; 
Dying, He saved me; 
Buried, He carried my sins far away;
Rising, He justified freely forever;
One day He's coming - O glorious day!

Thus, as Paul says in Ephesians, Jesus’ descent into Hades is a significant event for anyone who would believe. Descending to Hades links the death of Christ with his resurrection, a link that is not made any other way. It is a link from forgiveness to reconciliation, both of which are parts of our salvation in Christ.

Just to add a personal thought. I have attended many schools in training for the ministry. My journey has covered many decades. Upon reflection, having taken many courses on evangelism, none of them have taught the gospel message that is the “power of God unto salvation,” (Romans 1:18). There has been a lot of methodology, philosophy, analyzation, but I guess it was just assumed that we all knew what salvation was about. In the old days, we were given method books, such as Evangelism Explosion, or tracts like “The Roman Road.” Later it became church transformation to become “seeker sensitive,” and getting to know “Unchurched Harry or Mary.” Then there came the attempt to help people find their purpose.

However, though many of these systems brought people into the church, they really did nothing to “make disciples, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded,” (Matthew 28). Looking back on my years in ministry, I know there have been lives touched, comforted, encouraged, both believer and unbeliever. Though I cannot see it now, I cannot say that I have led anyone into a deeper desire to study God’s Word and to make obedience to it the integral part of their life. I think that the Western Church has descended into the lower parts of the faith and gotten quite comfortable there.

I have been told after a service, “Good sermon, Pastor.” I don’t know in what way it was judged to be good. Church on Sunday morning has become just one of many things to do, but probably not as important as youth soccer of professional football. Please don’t misunderstand me. For me, to miss church on Sunday morning is like fasting for a week. I experience emptiness an a longing for fellowship with Christ that can only be found in the gathering of his body. On-line church doesn’t cut it either. It is just another way to fit church into our schedule which by definition makes church a secondary value.

This month I am retiring from pastoring. I can’t say that I am retiring from ministry. God help me, that shall never end. But I leave longing for a place where the music instructs, challenges, chastises, and laments. I love “rock” music. But church music has become what I used to call elevator music. It is bland, unoffensive, and many times theologically misleading if not heretical. Church is often designed to be entertaining, though if that word is used to describe it one might well find themselves outside the church rather than in it.

I long for a richer understanding of the sacraments, one that restores their sacred nature and redeems them from the realm of that which is optional. I am not claiming any particular theological position, though I would love that discussion. I am saying that they have lost their role as the centerpiece of worship. I know that there are traditions that continue to take the Supper weekly, but I believe they are significantly out numbered by those that think once a month is good enough, or those that do it occasionally or not at all. What is more central to the gospel than the Eucharist?

In short, our world is in serious trouble. I believe it is because we have replaced the presence of God, the washing of the Word, and the power of the Spirit with our own desires and pleasures. I have seen individuals and families that have gotten bored of the same old programs, who cannot understand why their young men and women can’t stand hanging around a service that is meaningless to them because they have always had their own place to go during that time instead of sitting with mom and dad in those padded seats that have replaced old fashioned pews.

And example of that which I am speaking is the ease with which church after church closed their doors on the word of a non-elected bully of a doctor who helped create the disease that has us all doing unnatural things for a long time now. “But I get a lot out of our on-line worship and the messages.” Exactly! You get but you do not give and the very definition of worship is gathering as Christ’s body giving all glory to God in the highest.

My rant began with the failure of knowing, teaching, focusing, and living the gospel of Jesus Christ. Never was I ever told that the gospel is faithfully laid out for us and summarized in the words of the Apostles’ Creed. But there it is. And in the end, it has been no one’s fault but my own, for I became happy reading those books that confirmed what I believed, the books that made me feel warm and fuzzy, the books that made no challenging expectations on my time or mental effort. God forgive me for being the kind of Christian I so hate, a lazy Christian. I hate the lazy Christian not because I hate any individual person, except the laziest of all, me.

Thank God that he descended into hell in order to lift me up. Lord, can’t you lift me a bit more quickly?

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…was crucified, dead and buried…

    I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth
    And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord
    Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary
    Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried; He descended into hell
    The third day he rose again from the dead
    He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty
    From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead
    I believe in the Holy Ghost
    I believe a holy catholic church; the communion of saints
    The forgiveness of sins
    The resurrection of the body
    And the life everlasting. Amen. [1]

The facts of Christ’s crucifixion are essential to Christian belief. “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried…” (1 Corinthians 15:1–4, ESV) I am not aware of any dispute regarding Jesus’ crucifixion. Even those who deny that Jesus was God, who claim that he was historically only a man, and maybe a Rabbi, generally will accept that he was crucified.

Most scholars in the third quest for the historical Jesus consider the crucifixion indisputable, as do Bart Ehrman, John Dominic Crossan and James Dunn. Although scholars agree on the historicity of the crucifixion, they differ on the reason and context for it, e.g. both E. P. Sanders and Paula Fredriksen support the historicity of the crucifixion, but contend that Jesus did not foretell his own crucifixion, and that his prediction of the crucifixion is a Christian story. Géza Vermes also views the crucifixion as a historical event but believes this was due to Jesus’ challenging of Roman authority. On the other hand, Maurice Casey and John P. Meier state that Jesus did predict his death, and this actually strengthened his followers’ belief in his Resurrection.

As the above quote would indicate, the dispute about the crucifixion surrounds the historical context and, more importantly, the supernatural aspect of Jesus predicting it. Yet Paul states clearly that the death of Christ was “according to the Scriptures.” The Biblical test is the only one that really matters, unless we want to deny the inspiration of Scripture. (That is one of the amazing supernatural aspects to the Word of God. All Scripture is in harmony and few things are stated that are not repeated throughout.)

Peter is one who clearly states that Christ Jesus predicted his death and that the prophets knew of it by the Holy Spirit. “Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.” (1 Peter 1:10–12, ESV)

Most would agree that the predictions of the death (and resurrection) of Christ throughout the Old Testament are plentiful. Isaiah 53 is a good example.

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Isaiah 53:3–6, ESV

The death of the Savior was predicted even within the curse from the original fall of Adam and Eve.

The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

Genesis 3:14–15, ESV

If you rule out the opinions of those who “search for the Historical Jesus,” I am unaware of any Biblical scholar who denies that Jesus was innocent yet crucified, that his crucifixion was the payment required by God’s justice for the forgiveness of sins, and that this is a real act in history with eternal and historical significance.

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation [2] by his blood, to be received by faith.

Romans 3:21–25, ESV

Why does the creed include he was dead and buried to crucified? I can suggest two reasons. First, over time, there have developed theories that Jesus did not die, but merely fainted or lost consciousness. Such theories are explanations for the resurrection which being a supernatural event cannot be historical as well.

Thus grew and thus died the theory of the rupture of the heart of Jesus. It is only an evidence that there is no proof in
the hands of the Christians that Jesus died on the cross, and like the drowning man they catch at every straw. But the proof is now complete that Jesus did not die upon the cross, and the tomb at Khan Yar is a living witness of this fact, the truth of which would soon be seen by the world.

The ‘Rupture of the Heart’ Theory of the Death of Jesus, The Review of Religions, May 1905, p. 191.

If you are interested, there are more recent articles that are similar here, here, and here. All of these articles come from the same source. However, they are representative of the overall theory that Jesus did not die on the cross. Yet, each one uses science as a credible proof of their point and they are still speculative at best. The creed takes into account the nature of human sin and it does not allow for theory. Jesus died according to all four gospels and all remaining New Testament writings.

Second, the strongest evidence for the death of Jesus is that he was buried. Mark wrote about the event this way, “And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph. And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.” (Mark 15:42–47, ESV)

Even before people thought to argue that Jesus did not die, Mark answers their objection. “Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died.” Those who were crucified with Jesus had their legs broken to hasten the process. As long as someone on the cross still lived, the Roman guards had to stay so that no one could come and save them. Instead of breaking Jesus legs, they thrust a spear in his side. This too was to speed up his death. Speculation that following all of the physical suffering Jesus experienced before the cross did not significantly effect his death, and that the spear thrust itself did not hasten it is foolishness. If he did not die, then there is no Christianity, and I can’t help but wonder if this is the motivation for the argument.

We must note that the creed is not interested in speculation. It is doctrine, the teaching of the Christian Church from the beginning. It is a concise statement telling us what we must believe to be accounted members of the Way. It is truth physiologically and historically with enough evidence to verify it. Paul makes sure that we know there were many witnesses to the resurrected Jesus, and we are told that the disciple Thomas had his doubts answered by touching his wounds. The problem is not evidence, though. It is interpretation, and interpretation of something always begins with what the interpreter brings of his or her self.

The beginning of any belief system is one’s world view. Modern science is rooted in materialism. Modern education is a matter of indoctrination. All of the ideas of mankind begin either with God or no god. One is truth and the other is not. There are no options in-between, no compromises to be made. I believe…

[1] Historic Creeds and Confessions, electronic ed., (Oak Harbor: Lexham Press, 1997).

[2] PROPITIATION, n. propisia´shon. [Fr.; from propitiate.] The act of appeasing wrath and conciliating the favor of an offended person; the act of making propitious. In theology, the atonement or atoning sacrifice offered to God to assuage his wrath and render him propitious to sinners. Christ is the propitiation for the sins of men. Rom. 3. 1 John 2. Noah Webster, Noah Webster’s first edition of An American dictionary of the English language., 2006.

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It Was the Worst of Times

I just finished a post on Pontius Pilate. While writing, I could not get the images of the terror in Afghanistan right now.

It is not unusual for people to think they are living in the worst of times. In 18th Century France, people were done with royalty and wanted to rule themselves. Their desire for a better government resulted in no government. Whatever order they wanted to eradicate, they won chaos. Charles Dickens likened it to worse times:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

Charles Dickens, introduction to his novel, A Tale of Two Cities.

During my short lifetime, there have been many times said to be the worst. The execution of President John F. Kenedy, the Vietnam “war,” the gas shortage of the 1970s, the Iraqui war, the war in Afghanistan, just to name a few. Many of the military actions following the War to End All Wars, then its brother, World War II, have been highly controversial. The public was divided between those who supported the decisions of the politicians and those who believed they were unnecessary at best and criminal at worst.

I am not interested in either explaining history or rewriting it. However, the most recent “war” is the 20 years American troops have been in Afghanistan is a tragic repeat of history. Our government officials did not know how to end the Vietnam war, but they felt the opposition to it by Americans. So, it was determined to sacrifice territory to the North Koreans. This was not done by negotiating some form of transition. It was accomplished by pulling out suddenly. The images on the news broadcasts were tragic. People died trying to get on helicopters. More people suffered by being left behind. And the South Koreans in Saigon were targets of the enemy.

Recently, the foolishness, or maybe arrogance of our current President repeated the Vietnam horror of Richard Nixon. Granted, he did not make this decision on his own. He had plenty of advisors. But, for whatever reason, he did not choose to listen to those who remembered Saigon, and despite telling the American public that pulling our military out of Afghanistan would be transitional, planned, and take some time. The result is there was no transition, there was no plan, and it happened over hours, not days or months.

We pulled out so fast, there was no longer the minimal support provided to the Afghanistan military, and it crumbled along with the dreams and hopes of freedom promised by the United States. We pulled out so fast that we left all kinds of military property, and gave it to America’s worst enemy since the 9-11 attack on American soil. We pulled out so fast that the Afghani people became terrified of what was to come and they would do anything to find a way out. For the life of me, I cannot comprehend why the Taliban wants to keep the people who do not want to stay.

Once again, the images on the media covering the situation honestly are just as tragic as Saigon. We pulled out not considering those Americans left behind. We pulled out not thinking about those Afghanis who would suffer more than you or I have ever suffered. Why hand over people, weapons, and technology to the Taliban? Why lie about it to the American people? Why, after this catastrophe, would anyone try to paint this as a victory for the United States. Those men and women of the U.S. military who died in Afghanistan essentially died for nothing. All we fought for ended in nothing. Just like Vietnam.

There have been politicians I didn’t like. But none has made me embarrassed to be an American until now. This is not the worst time in human history. But it is a very dark time. Once again, I am reminded to turn to my true leader, my King, who is the light of the world.

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He Suffered Under Pontius Pilate

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Luke 3:1–3, ESV

Luke, in his gospel, makes the first mention of Pontius Pilate in all of the four gospels. Luke was detail-oriented in all of his writings. All of the gospels place Jesus within historical contexts, but Luke gives us specificity that is easy for us to overlook. I cannot deny that I have read the above passage many times and almost glossed over the names written. However, if we take all of Scripture seriously if all of it is inspired, then to overlook the details is a mistake. This is not to say that every verse in the Bible presents some deep doctrinal significance. The popular use of proof-texting is an example of such a mistake.

Another example is the failure of those who do not study the whole Word of God. Again, I admit that I have avoided whole books, especially in preaching, that are considered either boring or inappropriate. Leviticus and the Song of Solomon come to mind. The mindset is to focus on the “important” books, like Romans, Ephesians, or in the past few decades, the Revelation of Jesus Christ. It takes a deliberate effort to seek the truth on every page of the Scriptures.

So, I found this mention of Pilate and others at the beginning of John’s ministry preparing the way of Christ. Yes, it gives us a good indication of the time John began preaching repentance for sins. However, it also presents the main players in the life, ministry, trial, and death of Jesus. I also find it intriguing that this group of Roman rulers is listed in the context of John proclaiming repentance. There are probably no better examples of sinners in need of the humility of penitence and forgiveness than these. And, they include Jew and Gentile alike.

Luke points to one of these men later in the gospel displaying the depravity of sin.

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.’”

Luke 13:1–5, ESV

Joel McDurmon writes of this passage, “

The people then immediately prove that they have eyes but see not, and ears but hear not. They do this by pretending they have indeed discerned the times: “There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices” (Luke 13:1). These people were up on current events. They knew the times! They knew that the evil Roman Empire was murdering innocent Jews—and defiling their religious rituals, too! (McDurmon, Joel. Jesus v. Jerusalem: A Commentary on Luke 9:51–20:26, Jesus’ Lawsuit Against Israel. Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2011, p. 38.)

What he does with this passage is first and foremost to place it within the previous context when Jesus tells of his coming in the final judgment (the ending of the Old Covenant making way for the new. This was accomplished in 70 A.D.). Jesus is not simply replying to the desecration of the Jews and their religious rites. What he does is to compare those around him to the Galilean sinners. Jesus focuses on the need for all to repent, or they too will perish. In the end, we know Pilate as a man without a conscience.

We can begin to see why the Creed mentions Christ’s suffering under Pontius Pilate instead of his torment by the Jewish leaders. All of the gospel writers make clear that the crucifixion lies at the Jew’s feet. But they could not kill Jesus. They needed the support of the Roman governor. In addition, Pilate finds no guilt in Jesus worthy of death. What kind of leader is Pilate to condemn Christ to beatings, torture, mockery, and crucifixion despite his innocence? He was the man at the right place in the right time.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law…”

Galatians 4:4, ESV

Such is the work of God. He uses whatever means he chooses to accomplish his purpose. He also prepares those through whom he uses to produce his design. Like many others before him and even more after him, Pontius Pilate is a key link in the chain that fulfills God’s salvation of his people. That does not mitigate Pilate’s general depravity or his particular sins. Throughout Scripture, when God utilizes sinners to bring judgment, they are also judged by God. With one interesting exception. God used the zeal of Saul to disperse those in the church at Jerusalem into the world. However, he then calls Paul to salvation and has him take the gospel to the Gentiles. God can curse, and God can bless. Everyone deserves God’s judgment for their sin. But some are called from their bondage to sin to be freed and cleansed by the one who died on the cross.

The gospel is precisely this good news. How can we keep silent?

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