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Theological, Doctrinal, and Spiritual Musing - and whatever other else is on my mind when I notice that I haven't posted in a while.
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Daniel of Doulogos Name:Daniel
Home: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
About Me: I used to believe that evolution was reasonable, that homosexuality was genetic, and that people became Christians because they couldn't deal with the 'reality' that this life was all there was. I used to believe, that if there was a heaven - I could get there by being good - and I used to think I was more or less a good person. I was wrong on all counts. One day I finally had my eyes opened and I saw that I was not going to go to heaven, but that I was certainly going to suffer the wrath of God for all my sin. I saw myself as a treasonous rebel at heart - I hated God for creating me just to send me to Hell - and I was wretched beyond my own comprehension. Into this spiritual vacuum Jesus Christ came and he opened my understanding - delivering me from God's wrath into God's grace. I was "saved" as an adult, and now my life is hid in Christ. I am by no means sinless, but by God's grace I am a repenting believer - a born again Christian.
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The Buzz

Daniel's posts are almost always pastoral and God centered. I appreciate and am challenged by them frequently. He has a great sense of humor as well.
- Marc Heinrich

His posts are either funny or challenging. He is very friendly and nice.
- Rose Cole

[He has] good posts, both the serious like this one, and the humorous like yesterday. [He is] the reason that I have restrained myself from making Canadian jokes in my posts.
- C-Train

This post contains nothing that is of any use to me. What were you thinking? Anyway, it's probably the best I've read all day.
- David Kjos

Daniel, nicely done and much more original than Frank the Turk.
- Jonathan Moorhead

There are some people who are smart, deep, or funny. There are not very many people that are all 3. Daniel is one of those people. His opinion, insight and humor have kept me coming back to his blog since I first visited earlier this year.
- Carla Rolfe
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Tuesday, June 12, 2012
That's enough for now
John the Baptist testified that as he anointed Jesus in the waters of the Jordan river, the Holy Spirit descended and remained upon Him. We call Jesus the "anointed one" (Messiah, Christ) not because John anointed Him with water, but but because He was anointed with the Holy Spirit - an anointment that identified Him as the one whom John's ministry had been preparing Israel to receive.

When Jesus came to John for baptism John objected; John understood that it was he who needed to be baptized by Jesus; why would Jesus come to him for baptism? Jesus was not in a state of rebellion against God - He had nothing to repent of. But our Lord persuaded John to perform the baptism as it was proper for them to do so: doing so would "fulfill all righteousness".

You probably don't think of "repentance" as an act of consecration - but that is what it is. It is proper for the creature to obey the Creator who moment by moment supplies both life and breath to the creature. The life that we have is not our own, it belongs to God - it exists for a purpose, and that purpose is God's glory. When we usurp this purpose, and by disregarding God's rightful rule in favor of "self rule", we are taking something (our life) and using it contrary to its rightful purpose (God's glory).

I typically use the word rebellion to describe this state of disregarding God's rightful rule over us (His creation), and I describe (at length) our salvation in terms of being reconciled to God through Christ, having comprehended (by God's grace) the wickedness of our own self rule, and the fitting consequence of damnation which our steadfast rebellion has already earned us, and having comprehended (again: by God's grace) the possibility of being restored under God's rule through a simple but honest trust in the character of God; that is, we appeal to God's promise of salvation in Christ, casting ourselves upon God, trusting that He will fulfill this promise of reconciliation through Christ (even to such wretches as ourselves), and in so doing we are saved from His own wrath.

It makes sense then that the faithful Jews living in first century Palestine who were enabled by grace to comprehend their own sinful estate, to repent of their disregard of God's rule, and surrender themselves to the waters of John's baptism - setting themselves apart, that is consecrating themselves to God. In order for such a consecration, there needed to be repentance - but not so for one such as Christ.

Christ had no need of repentance, for at no time in His life did He rebel against God or fail to trust Him. His baptism in the Jordan was an act of consecration, even as everyone else's baptism was, but unlike everyone else, Christ's consecration of His life did not require repentance. By His own account, however, this singular act of consecration was necessary (for all righteousness).

The scriptures tell us that immediately following this consecration, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus and remained. From that moment forward, Christ preached the kingdom of God - calling sinners to repent (i.e. to consecrate themselves to God) and proclaiming the forgiveness of sins. During His earthly ministry, the Holy Spirit affirmed Jesus as God's Messiah through such signs as the casting out of demons, the raising of the dead, and the healing of the sick.

This same Holy Spirit whom Christ received, and through whose power Jesus ministered to mankind on the earth, was promised to believers through the New Covenant. When Christ's earthly ministry was fulfilled, and He ascended to sit at the right hand of God the Father, He directed the Holy Spirit to indwell believers beginning on the day of Pentecost - the inauguration of the New Covenant which Christ has secured through His own blood.

Prior to Pentecost, sinners entered into God's covenant with Israel when the Holy Spirit granted them both the spiritual ability to conceive of their need for reconciliation, and again the ability to act on that need through faith and repentance. Upon exercising these gifts (faith and repentance) the new believer received all the promised benefits of that covenant (ie. the "old" or "Mosaic" covenant).

The New Covenant, inaugurated at Pentecost was not an amendment to the old covenant, it replaced it entirely. After Pentecost, sinners who came to saving faith did not enter into the Mosaic Covenant, they entered into the New Covenant. They did not receive the promises of the Old Covenant, they received the better promises of the New Covenant which included receiving the Holy Spirit in a capacity that was unknown to the saints under the Mosaic Covenant.

God promised the gift of the Holy Spirit, and at Pentecost, God delivered the gift of the Holy Spirit. The same Holy Spirit Who descended upon Christ in the Jordan river, has likewise descended upon every believer since Pentecost - indwelling them, even as He indwelled Christ. Here is something to meditate on also: He likewise empowers and enables those who come to faith even as He empowered and enabled Christ.

Don't take that the wrong way. God hasn't called you to give your life up for the sins of the world on a cross, and as such, the ministry of the Holy Spirit in your life will not require signs and wonders to authenticate your claim to being the Christ. When I inform you that the same Holy Spirit who enabled Christ enables you - I don't suggest that believers are able to direct the Holy Spirit to perform miracles in answer to their own will. Far be it. It wasn't the awesomeness or the scope of the miracles performed by Christ that authenticated Him - it was that the specific miracles performed by Christ identified Him, and only Him, as the Christ. Recall John the Baptist, in prison, sending messengers to Jesus to learn if Jesus is the Christ. Those messengers came and asked Jesus if He was indeed the one who was foretold, and He replied that they should return to John with a testimony of the specific miracles Christ was performing the blind see, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life. These were not arbitrary acts of kindness - they were great works of God intended to identify the Christ.

We can get pretty messed up, theologically speaking, if we misunderstand the ministry of Christ. If we regard the miracles of Christ as acts of capricious compassion, we are left to wonder, why Jesus did not empty the grave yards, or cure all diseases, or call new manna down from heaven to feed all of Israel for ever? Was it His power or His compassion that was inept?

When Jesus is portrayed, whether on television or in flannelgraph, His miracles are typically accredited to His own divinity being provoked by (and for the purpose of satisfying) His own love and compassion. I wonder how many of you reading have this same image of Jesus. The miracles performed by Jesus were certainly in step with His love and compassion, but the expression of divine power in the form of the miraculous was made manifest in Christ for the purpose of authenticating Him as the Christ. When power had gone out from Jesus to heal the woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years, (c.f. Matthew 9:20), our Lord did not direct it. This healing was the work of the Holy Spirit being witness to Christ.

The odds are pretty good then that, even though the same Spirit that enabled Christ to perform miracles dwells in every believer since Pentecost, we should not expect that this means we will be able to replicate by the same Spirit similar miracles. God may well do a miracle through a believer, but not according to some internal power granted to that believer, nor directed by the arbitrary will of the believer. When the Spirit performs a miracle it is like the miracle done to the woman with the discharge - not a power exercised by man apart from God, but the power of God exercised through men apart from them selves.

The believer, as part of the new covenant, receives the promised Holy Spirit the moment the believer is saved. We do not experience the Holy Spirit as a new consciousness dwelling within us, but separate from our own consciousness. Nor is the indwelling Holy Spirit "speaking" to us through such carnal avenues as our feelings or intuitions. The "Holy Spirit" does not provoke us with an inner voice that only we can hear, or with holy, but ambiguous promptings that we must learn to interpret as we mature. All of that sort of stuff is just mysticism dressing itself up as Christianity.

No, the new believer is not experientially aware of the Holy Spirit within him, anymore than a pregnant woman is aware of the thoughts of her unborn child. There is another consciousness at work in us, but He does not operate in us through emotions, intuitions, voices, promptings, or any such figure-it-out-for-yourself-if/when-you're-spiritual-enough style of tomfoolery. The Spirit expresses Himself within the believer by producing desires that are in line with God's will in that believer - desires that run contrary to the (still existing) sinful desires of the believer. The Holy Spirit imparts to each believer, in some measure, various aspects of His own personality. The one who find Himself suddenly possesses a driving desire to understand the scriptures, and expound what he finds has partaken of the Spirit's desire for the church to know their God. Another shares the Spirit's desire to protect the vulnerable, another to feed the poor, and another to lead the flock. Scripture describes the manifestation of the Spirit in terms of "gifts" - but there is only one gift (the Holy Spirit), and many manifestations of that same gift.

Which brings me to the question of the "sign" gifts, and whether or not they persist to this day.

I think the categories (cessationist/continuist) are misnomers. Believers only receive one Gift when they are saved: Holy Spirit. The manifestation of the Holy Spirit in their life may produce many "gifts" - but these gifts are not to be understood as "powers" or personal "abilities" - rather they should be understood as the manner in which the Holy Spirit has manifested Himself in our lives. If (in ages past) individuals in the church were able to perform miracles by the Spirit, it is evident that they received this power in order to show the old covenant Israelites that the promised new covenant had replaced the old Mosaic covenant.

The notion that the Holy Spirit is supplying believers today with innate abilities such as healing, raising people from the dead, or speaking in other (comprehensible) languages isn't being witnessed anywhere. Do you know of any believer who has raised the dead, or has healed another believer - can they do these things like clockwork, or was it a one timer? Was it obvious, or was it questionable? I mean, healing an aching back from say, 40% mobility to 55% mobility (and this according to the subjective testimony of someone who believes that any doubt in their being healed will cause them to fall into greater suffering) is certainly not to be compared to sight spontaneously being supplied to the blind, or the dead being raised to life days after they died.

If these gifts are in effect, why are there still hospitals? Neither Jesus, nor the Apostles performed miracles in secret - they were out there performing miracles before witnesses. At Christ's trial no one dared to suggest that He was hadn't performed miracles - for these miracles were undeniable - no rational person could deny them and hope to be taken seriously by anyone. The question was not whether Christ had performed miracles, the question was, by whose power were they being performed?

So if the same power that was at work in Christ and the Apostles is still at work in believers today - how is it that in a world with cell phone cameras, the Internet, and unprecedented skepticism, all these miracles are being done off camera? Is God suddenly ashamed?

And what of the gift of prophesy? Thus sayeth the Lord? Scripture itself tells us that God no longer speaks that way - but now speaks to us through Christ.

What of tongues? I think most instances of tongues are just people speaking gibberish because that is what someone expects them to do. They are anxious for evidence of their salvation, longing for something concrete to underscore the validity of their faith, and spouting gibberish (apparently) gives them that - as long as they are surrounded by hundreds of others who share the notion. Others may well be experiencing something supernatural, but that is not to say that their "gift" is the gift of God. Every religion on earth has its own variety of ecstatic speech - surely some of them of demonic in nature, and believers desperately looking for supernatural phenomenon to validate their experience invite this sort of oppression upon themselves.

Tongues is the easiest gift to fake, and it shouldn't surprise any sober reader to learn that more people claim to have this gift than claim to be able to heal people - since the claim is much easier to "prove". Simply speak gibberish, and tell everyone that it is a gift. Follow that up with your testimony that you feel the Holy Spirit in some special way, and who would dare to deny that this experience is anything less than divine?

It isn't that I believe that God no longer does miracles. I believe God continues to do miracles to this day. So I am quite willing to believe the occasional account of some miracle. The question of whether the gifts today continue to be miraculous however seems a settled matter to me. The scriptures describe these gifts as a sign to Israel, presumably to authenticate Christ to them. Any manifestation of any sign "gift" today that cannot be held up as a sign to ancient Israel that Jesus is the Messiah, falls short of qualifying in my book.

To be fair I have never heard anyone speak a (legitimate) language that was unknown to them, and reason informs me that angels do not speak in human-gibberish, but if they do possess some unknown language, it is a real language, and not (demonstrably) gibberish. Likewise the word translated as "interpret" in scripture does not mean that you hear gibberish, and "feel" it means such and such. It means that you understand the language and can translate it for someone else. In order to "interpret" a tongue, one must have the ability to comprehend what is being spoken in the same way you are comprehending my words as I write. It isn't hocus-pocus, it isn't intuition, it isn't you free associating what you think God is trying to say. It is you understanding and translating another, not "made up" language.

If I wake tomorrow and find myself suddenly speaking gibberish when I meant to speak English, perhaps I will revisit my opinion in the matter, but I write today to urge anyone who imagines that their "gift" of tongues is something more profound than their own (learned) habit of speaking gibberish, I urge you to get judgment day honest with yourself. You can be a Christian without having to fake manifestations of spiritual phenomenon, nor do you have to fret about whether or not your faith is genuine based on how spiritual you feel or do no feel.

If you aren't faking it, I am far more concerned about you than I would be if you were. It is one thing, in your immaturity to look (and therefore generate) personal experiences that you (or, and perhaps especially: others) use to judge the validity of your faith, and quite another to be out in la-la land. If you're convinced your tongues are genuine, try recording yourself speaking in tongues then phonetically write out what you said. Are you speaking a real language, with real grammar, rules, and punctuation?

I would guess that the sign gifts died out around or before Rome destroyed the temple in Jerusalem (70 AD). Why then? Because with a temple, there was no sacrifice for sin. Said another way, the Mosaic Covenant was obviously over. If the gifts were signs intended to authenticate Christ to the Jews, the (obvious) end of the Mosaic covenant, would have marked the limit of God's patience in the matter. I say I guess this because there is no way to know for certain. Paul didn't cure Timothy of his stomach ailments - even though Paul had performed many miracles before that. If the gifts were already fading in Paul's life time (and he died before 70 AD), I do not have a hard time believing that such an event was the final nail in that particular coffin. Nevertheless, that's just my guess, and not an exposition of scripture.

Anyway, that's enough for now.

posted by Daniel @ 2:09 PM   0 comment(s)
Monday, June 04, 2012
Sunday School vs. Common Service.
I write today about something that is very close to my heart - Sunday School. 

In our assembly, we have (for years) been blessed by the efforts of a selfless group of saints who have taken up the mantel of supplying instruction to our children through our weekly Sunday School program.  These do not imagine themselves to be, nor do we as a congregation imagine themselves to be, supplanting the role of parental instruction - but recognize their ministry as augmenting the ministry of each parent.

In some congregations, I expect that the Sunday School teachers imagine themselves as "assisting" parents in this duty - which is tragic in that they misunderstand what it is that they are doing, but worse than this are those teachers or those programs which go so far as to imagine themselves as "directing" the parents in what they ought to be teaching their children.

Which is to say that while I am happy to have my own children in a Sunday School program, it is only because the program that they are in has not tried to supplant anything else - but has understood itself to be an augmentation to the instruction that is taking place in the Christian home.

I tell you the truth - I haven't sat down with a flannel-graph to teach my children about Noah and the ark, or David and Goliath.  I don't have them color bible pictures at home, nor do I make them memorize verses (except in Greek, when I am teaching them biblical Greek).  All my instruction is informal - over a meal, or as we sit.  I instruct them by talking to them about what I believe.  I put what I believe into practice in my parenting, explaining to them how my decisions to correct, or to show mercy, or to decide between the left of the right, are not being arbitrarily made, but are subject to my having searched out the will of God.  I take them with me when I go and do a good work, and explain to them that what I do I do because I love God, and the desire to honor provokes me.  When I sin against them, I confess it to them, and ask for their forgiveness - and I expect them to do the same to another.  When in some momentary lapse I behave in a carnal way - I do not justify it, but in a moment of spiritual sobriety I use my failures to teach them that it is never to late to turn from sin. 

We have tried to have a "family altar" or targeted bible studies - but, these haven't worked for us.  Instead we read the bible, both together, and independently - we talk about what the bible means, and how to be Christians in the way that God intends.  We talk about how religion can destroy rather than build faith, we warn them, we encourage them, we correct them, we love them.

I am grateful that others in my congregation nurture my children spiritually - but I do not imagine for one moment that this extra stuff can take the place of my instruction, nor do I imagine it can take the place of gathering together as believers.

I am happy to send my little ones off to Sunday School - as long as Sunday School doesn't supplant their gathering with the whole of the church.  The moment a church sequesters some of its own in one place while the rest meet in another - the church has lost sight of what it means to gather together.

You see, it -is- nice to have programs, and to memorize bible verses, and to color and to sing and to play, and to study at a level that someone else has decided is age appropriate; but for all its pregnant merit (and danger), that is =not= gathering with the church.

I don't when it became vogue to forget that we are commanded to gather together in a group, or when someone decided that this meant we all had to be in the same building, but not necessarily together - that some could be here doing "age appropriate things" and some over there doing "age appropriate things" - and that what really mattered is that whatever "age appropriate things" were being done it was okay and good because these things were "Christian" things - bible study, singing, etc.etc.   Well I am here to say that forgoing what is commanded in order to pursue what seems productive is the very thing that is wrong with the way many Christians "do church".

Sometimes I marvel at the blindness in the church - at how otherwise good and gentle believers fight with tooth and nail to hold onto something that is worldly in origin, and flies in the face of God's commands.  They embrace the teaching of men over the teaching of God, and make their own practices holy in their eyes, and the voice of objection strikes them as shrill, loveless - using words like "traditional" as pejoratives.

Ask me if I will be shuffling my children out of the common gathering and into age segregated classrooms for Christian instruction, and I will tell you that it isn't going to happen so long as the Spirit gives me breath.  Sunday school is a good thing, as long as it is an addendum, and does not supplant the common gathering.

God help this generation. 
posted by Daniel @ 11:37 AM   2 comment(s)
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