There is nothing destroyed by sanctification but that which would destroy us. [William Jenkyn. 1613–1685]
There is nothing destroyed by sanctification but that which would destroy us. [William Jenkyn. 1613–1685]
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. [Acts 2:42-47]
Much is made of the early Acts 2 Church, as well as the early Church in general. It has been called the ideal that all Christian should strive to return to. It has been understood to be Church life at its fullest and purest. People have devoted entire books to arguing that the early Church was untainted and uncorrupted by human tradition, and have proposed that if we could just get back to that type of model, that type of simple communal living and giving, that the Holy Spirit would be well pleased and we would be at our most effective. A lot has been said and written about it, and the whole early Church mystique has taken on mythic proportions. It is legendary. It is that ethereal, untouchable and pristine. It was the pinnacle of Church life, and it’s what we need to get back to in order to enjoy the undiluted spirituality that runs rampant in this type of glorious environment.
I see the attraction in that. You have 13 apostles, alive [for a short time], on fire, and spreading the gospel which they heard first hand. It would have been a time of expectancy and excitement, with miracles, signs and wonders, and that daily awe overcoming and soaking through the church. There would have been people that saw Christ before and after his death and resurrection, and I imagine many were great storytellers. There are great and many enviable aspects of the early church and in the context that it was birthed and then grew out of would have made it more so. Because of this, and because it is viewed as the ideal Church in every way, people want to get back to it and resurrect the aforementioned model, hoping to replicate its success.
Which begs the question to those who want to get back to the early church- which one do you want to be like? Do you want to be like Corinth, a permissive, sexually promiscuous, dysfunctional church with incestuous members, out of control worship, and out of control services? How about Galatia? Do you want to model your church after one that had so quickly abandoned the gospel? Do you want to be like the church in Thessolonica, a church that lost the eschatological hope of the new heavens and new earth, a church drowning in grief? How about Ephesus, who had abandoned their first love and who were near to having their lampstand removed by Christ himself? Even John’s letters to the churches show that they all were having huge problems which could lead to their downfall.
We see from the early onset that the Church, while new and brimming with joy, was quick to go astray and become lost, misguided, full of false teachers, and chugged on with wild heresies and heterodoxy. The early church was not a pure, unadulterated innocent. It went off on the wild side from day one, and the Church has spent the time since her inception fending off false teaching and teachers and other enemies of the church. Truthfully, there was never a time when she was not under attack by foes from without and from within, even with the strong hand and firm guidance of apostolic leadership. People look at theological divisions in the church and wish for a time when it was not so, but that time doesn’t exist. Outside of the Gospels, the bulk of the New Testament is spent addressing, rebuking, clarifying, and combating false doctrine and practices.
It was not only that, but there was persecution. People were being beaten, killed, and martyred. There was persecution from both Jewish and Roman leadership, and families were being ripped apart through death and destruction. It is true that the church bloomed in blood, but how many of us would be eager to return to a time when almost the entire apostolic leadership were murdered and the threat of being rounded up and tortured for sport were a constant threat?
People tend to idealize the communal life which seems to have existed for a time in the first Jewish church, but such actions are descriptive, not prescriptive. Nowhere does the bible command or even suggest that Christians should sell all they have and pool it together for the use of all. That was the decision by one community in a certain context thousands of years ago, and we do not see the slightest indication that it ought to be binding or normative for us today. Furthermore, we don’t see that model with any of the Gentile churches. We see them giving in proportions according to the means they had, and not selling all they owned. I suppose one can attempt to make the case that the authentic early church that we ought to emulate is the Jewish one founded in 32 AD, but once Paul got some of his churches going some 20 years later that they had missed the boat, but I don’t think so. We can just as easily make the case based on the gentile model of Church that we should not pool the resources together. And if we follow the pattern of Acts 2, can we rest assured that none of us will be needy, as stated in Acts 4? Or, will we end up like “the poor saints in Jerusalem” as found in Romans 15?
Another thing that people tend to idealize is the house-church movement, or the act of meeting in homes versus buildings. They point to the early Christians meeting in homes in Acts 2 and suggest that that was the best way to do it. I’m not against the house movement perse, but nothing in the early Church would suggest to us that we ought to eschew meeting in buildings for service. First of all, not only did they meet in homes, but they also met in Solomons Portico. They met in the temple precincts, as the early chapters of Acts informs us, and they regularly went to synagogue services in purpose-built buildings, as well as met in temples constantly. They also occasionally rented halls, like the Hall of Tyrannus in Ephesus. Later in the first century, as the archaeological evidence makes clear, they met in caves, namely the catacombs in Rome. There is absolutely nothing in the New Testament which either suggests or requires that Christians should only meet in homes, and these sorts of arguments ignore the differences in social setting, then and now. Christians met in homes, usually of the most prominent members because they were so large and allowed for over 100 people to gather. We’re not talking about 10 people meeting in a trailer, but rather the roman household could be quite large because it was not just a nuclear family. In addition to persons related by kinship, a household could include slaves, freed persons, hired workers, tenants, and crafts or tradespeople. In a sense they were large-all purpose buildings, and we see as early as the first century that many of the homes had in fact been converted to places of worship.
I have no doubt that being there in those early days would have been electric. How could it not? There are so many things which would have made it awe-inspiring. But at the same time much of what we read about was descriptive, not prescriptive, and we need to look at it that way. Because the early Church existed in a time of transition, we see that in many ways it was quite unhealthy as it fought to move from infancy to maturity, as it struggled to go from instability to stability. For some people, that meant communal living and giving. For some people, that meant living in their own homes, giving to others according to their means, and meeting in all-purpose structures for services and worship. All the time, they battled dysfunction and false teaching within the churches themselves, often winding up on the losing end. Was it the early church great? Yes, but so is and was the latter-day Church. Was the early church some wonderful, pure Christian utopia? Not even for a minute. And yet for those who want to return to it, I think the mistake they make is thinking they can recreate this quality of church by pursuing the things they did. We tend to think, “If we just gave ourselves to the apostle’s teaching, if we ate together, if we sold our possessions and shared, then the kingdom would break in again to our churches. ” But this is moralistic at best and infantile at worst. It is not the pursuit of the archaic model that would usher these things in, but the pursuit of Christ. We need to be realistic about that ancient institution, acknowledge its many failings and shortcomings, and I think be grateful and thankful that Christ has matured and thoroughly equipped his Church to be fully-functioning and effective in our present day society.
This is a follow up to an earlier post I had written, “Can we trust Pope Benedict XVI.” Some of the comments sparked a bit of discussion, so I figured I would double down. As is were, I’m not sure of you’ve heard of Unigenitus or not, but it is the name of a particular apostolic constitution [which is the highest level of decree from a Pope] Apostolic constitutions are by nature meant to be addressed to the public, in the form of a papal bull. This particular one was promulgated by Pope Clement XI in 1713, with the express purpose of condemning 101 propositions of a man named Pasquier Quesnel.
Two things struck me about this. One is the clarity in which the Church of Rome has condemned the gospel of Jesus Christ and the reading of scripture. The second is the force and vehemence in which they do so. At the end of this papal bull, it is reiterated that these things are “Declared and condemned as false, captious, evil-sounding, offensive to pious ears, scandalous, pernicious, rash, injurious to the Church and her practice, insulting not only to the Church but also the secular powers, seditious, impious, blasphemous, suspected of heresy, and smacking of heresy itself, and, besides, favoring heretics and heresies, and also schisms, erroneous, close to heresy, many times condemned, and finally heretical, clearly renewing many heresies respectively and most especially those which are contained in the infamous propositions of Jansen, and indeed accepted in that sense in which these have been condemned.”
In Henrich Denzinger’s book- a famous German catholic scholar where much of the research was done- we see that this dogmatic constitution Unigenitus was confirmed supported by many of the Popes to follow. I quote “It was confirmed by the same Clement XI in the Bull “Pastoralis Officii” (Aug. 28, 1718) against the Appellantes, in which he declares that certain Catholics “who did not accept the Bull “Unigenitus” were clearly outside the bosom of the Roman Church; by Innocent XIII in a decree published on Jan. 8, 1722; by Benedict XIII and the Roman Synod in 1725; by Benedict XIV in his encyclical in 1756, by the Gallic clergy in assemblies in 1723, 1726, 1730, by the councils of Avignon 1725 and Ebred, 1727, and by the whole Catholic world.”
In fact, here is what Pope Benedict XIV said about the bull Unigenitus: “The authority of the apostolic constitution which begins with the word Unigenitus is certainly so great and lays claim everywhere to such sincere veneration and obedience that no one can withdraw the submission due it or oppose it without risking the loss of eternal salvation.” Encyclical of Pope Benedict XIV. October 16, 1756.
Now the Church of Rome will look back on this and impose the great anachronism known as “Ex-cathedra” and say “Well, they were not speaking infallibly when they taught this, and so they were not trying to speak authoritatively for the entire church or confirm any theology” or something along those lines
But here is what I want to know- do you think at the time when this apostolic constitution [which again, is the highest level of decree from the Pope] was written and disseminated, that the pope was trying to communicate truth to the people? Do you think he and the other Popes who affirmed it intended this papal bull to be followed by the public and by loyal Roman Catholics? Do you think they considered it optional or unimportant? Do you think they believed that what they were teaching was something completely out there, or did they believe they was following in the sacred traditions which they always believed taught and confessed? Do you think that they believed they had precedent? Do you think they believed they were speaking with all the authority which they had been given, and if you were a loyal Roman Catholic listening to this public proclamation, knowing that it was approved of and supported by four different Popes, what would you think of the message? Do you believe it would binding? Would you think to yourself “This is the de facto position of the church of Rome. This what they teach, no doubt about it”?
How could you not?
And what are some of these damnable, grave, super-heretical errors found in the Unigenitus, by which believing them can result in the loss of salvation? What are these scandalous beliefs?
The Power of God in Salvation
Justification by Faith that Works through Love
Faith as the Gift of God
The Absolute Necessity of Grace
The Irresistibility of Grace
You can read the full list of the aforementioned which are again, Declared and condemned as false, captious, evil-sounding, offensive to pious ears, scandalous, pernicious, rash, injurious to the Church and her practice, insulting not only to the Church but also the secular powers seditious, impious, blasphemous, suspected of heresy, and smacking of heresy itself, and, besides, favoring heretics and heresies, and also schisms, erroneous, close to heresy, many times condemned, and finally heretical, clearly renewing many heresies respectively and most especially those which are contained in the infamous propositions of Jansen, and indeed accepted in that sense in which these have been condemned.
It’s been a while since I’ve done a sermon review, but I figured now that I have a bit more free time it would be nice to jump into one, and what better than this one with the intriguing title from the McMurray Gospel Assembly.
The sermon starts off with some bible verses, which are then briefly expounded upon. “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 by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. [Romans 3:21-25] Right off the bat we are launched into a gospel presentation which begins with the sinfulness of man. He states that all people have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, that there are no special categories of sin, but rather everyone is in the same boat.
In his preamble Pastor Glen takes care to frame the upcoming sermon in a sensitive manner. He recaps last week’s sermon, which was about how God made the genders with a purpose, and says that there is a new assault in the gender wars, which is the blurring the gender lines. We have invented new classes of genders and sexual identities, straight, gay, bisexual, pan sexual, etc, and parents are encouraged to let their children be any gender they want. In a very real way we have lost the history of what it takes to be a man, and what it takes to be a woman.
He then plays a video of Ray Bolts singing one of his famous songs, and draws a contrast between two men. The first is Ray Boltz himself, who came out as a homosexual in 2008. Now divorced and dating other men, he is currently attending the Metropolitan Community Church [a gay affirming "church"] and is completely unrepentant. The second case-study is Ted Haggard, who was caught with a male prostitute, who has admitted to masturbating nude in front of another young man, and who instead of divorcing, chose to work at his marriage, get help for his homosexuality, and has recently started a new church. According to Glen, what Ted Haggard has done is a good and wonderful thing, whereas what Ray Boltz has done is not.
We are told that there are people struggling with same-sex attraction here in the church today. It is a sin that hits close to home with some of the congregants, and he hopes that people who are dealing and wrestling with this sin will make decisions that are completely, thoroughly saturated with and informed by the grace of God. He says that all of us have battles, and your battle may not make sense to someone, just like someone’s battle does not make sense to you. Society has chosen to adjust and accommodate same sex instead of confronting it, and we have redefined gender marriage, family and humanity in order to accommodate a lifestyle that was never propagated by God.
He talks about the parable of the prodigal son, and says that the context is not about the prodigal sons, but rather about the father. He states “do you know who the prodigal is there? The father. Because prodigal- the word prodigal means extravagant. Unbelievably graceful. Going to the ends of the world. So there’s the extravagant father, with two sons.” He emphasizes that God is extravagant and pours his love upon his boys, whether they be straight or gay, big sins or little sins- everyone.
Even so, the bible is clear on sexual behaviour. Leviticus 18. Romans 1. 1 Corinthians 6. We are told that Scripture is clear that God does not endorse this lifestyle. Unpacking 1 Corinthians a bit, he talks about the list of sins that are condemned, and says that greed is condemned just like homosexuality is, and we downplay greed as not being bad but we are outraged at homosexuality. But that’s not how it is. All the sinners engaging in all these sins need God. “God puts them all together and says ‘none of you will make it.’”
He then states that sexual sins carry some extra consequences. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. [1 Corinthians 6:18-20] and that when we sin sexually, a bond forms with the person we have had sex with and we become one spirit with that person. Because a bond has been created, if you are going to married in the future, you need to cut the bond that has formed. Humans were not meant to be promiscuous, and when we are the consequences are many; diseases, emotional and psychological distresses, etc. Our body is a vehicle for expression of love, not mindless and perverse sex.
Pastor Glen then hammers away the fact that we are no longer slaves to sin, but are now slaves to righteousness. There is a battle at hand- Paul knew it well when he said that he does not do what he desires to do, but the sin he does not desire to do is what he does. There is a battle at hand, and the body and the mind clash. The mind for Christ, the body for the flesh. He says that an early church father described lust as “the ape that gibbers in my loins.” But who will rescue us from this body of death? It is thanks to Christ that we will be rescued. We can’t rescue ourselves by picking ourselves up by our boot straps, only God can help us.
For those who struggle with sexual sin and temptation, get over it is to frame the sin in a certain way, and that is by immediately recognize the man or woman that you are lusting over is a creation of God for God Almighty, made in the image of God for his Glory and you have no right to sin against God by sinning against her. He says “The battle that’s within us is not impossible to win. Your temptation, your orientation, your sin is a master that wants to rule you forever, but if it could then the gospel would not be true. Whatever your orientation may be god is the solution for your struggle. ” God has the solution for the struggle, which is himself.
To conclude, he makes a passionate plea that speaks of his desires and love for gay people, so that they may feel welcome in the church and then offers two resources for people struggling, one is the celebrate recovery bible, and the other is pureintimacy,org
1. I really, really like the name of the sermon. I know that’s not important even the slightest but I found it immensely intriguing and was drawn to it. I think all sermons should have awesome names in the same vein as this one.
2. I found the sermon very much so gospel saturated, which is a wonderful way to gird any sermon. Glen spoke much of the grace of God, of the mercy of God for sinners, as well as our need for a saviour. It was evident to anyone listening that there was one solution- Christ, and we kept on getting pushed back to that. He was the answer for everything, for every struggle and every battle, and I was deeply, deeply appreciative of that.
3. As a whole it is a fairly courageous sermon to preach. Any time you preach on gender issues people are going offended, and Lord knows I deeply and passionately disagree with him on some gender issues [though none stated in this sermon specifically] and when you throw homosexuality in the mix, it can become volatile. And yet I found his thoughts and responses to be temperate and kind, and his heartfelt plea at the end to be beautifully pastoral. Very admirable.
4. I liked the way he brought attention to the brothers and sisters in the church who were struggling with same-sex attraction. He was clear and unmoving in regards to what the word of God said about it, and I know several churches in the city that would have hemmed and hawed and was glad that he did not [Though nor did I expect him to] At the same time, again- he spoke about them in a very pastoral way, urging others to see them in a gracious and loving way, showing us their struggles, and taking care not to alienate them or to make them a different class of sinners.
5. I loved the one quote, which I posted below this thread.
6. At one point he said that an early church father described lust as “the ape that gibbers in my loins.” It was not an early church father, but rather was a quote by Frederick Buechner in a book that he wrote less than 30 years ago.
7. I appreciated that he placed an emphasis on the father in Jesus’ parable, though I think I might take exception with his understanding of what prodigal meant. Historically the first reference to the prodigal son was found in Jerome’s Vulgate in the 4th century, giving the parable the header of filius prodigus. Was the father extravagant? Absolutely. But the etymology of prodigal has to do with someone who squanders and wastes wealth. The context seems to dictate that while in one sense the father was extravagant, that is a secondary and tertiary meaning of the word. The primary understanding of prodigal is that the son was the one who as wasteful and squandered his inheritance. That said- it’s not a big deal at all, and I would be cool with saying that in some ways they were each prodigals. [Though the sons prodigality is understood as the primary meaning of the word]
8. Lastly, I think offering Ted haggard as a good contrast compared to Ray Boltz was unwise. I don’t think what Ted Haggard did was especially commendable, and in many ways his actions since being kicked out of his church and since quitting his counselling and restoration has been deplorable. I have not read anything about Tommy Barnett lauding Ted’s new church, but instead the four pastors who supervised Mr. Haggard’s failed restoration [which includes Pastor Barnett] wouldn’t comment on his new church, but instead pointed to document that said, “we cannot endorse his return to vocational ministry.” Since the scandal has subsided a bit, Ted Haggard has sought to minimize and reframe the incident, called his encounter with the prostitute “a massage that went awry” and dismissed as a “witch hunt” the findings of his former church that he engaged in a pattern of misconduct, including sordid talk and inappropriate relationships. In fact, he has gone on record saying that he had accepted too much guilt after the scandal broke and that “I over-repented,” Simply put, the man is not above reproach and he has been disqualified from the pastorate, and I don’t believe he has any business being the shepherd of a church at all. I think a more appropriate contrasting figure would be someone like the Lutheran pastor Tom Brock, whom I admire deeply and would be a more appropriate example of a man of God dealing with same-sex attraction and the consequences that have emerged due to being outed.
As a whole though, I think this was a very successful sermon, and I can’t wait to hear the next one in the series.
“The battle that’s within us is not impossible to win. Your temptation, your orientation, your sin is a master that wants to rule you forever. But if it could, then the gospel would not be true. Whatever your orientation may be- God is the solution for your struggle.”
Pope Benedict XVI has been in the news as of late, primarily for his thoughts on the possible legitimacy of prostitutes using condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS. I’m not especially interested in those article, other than to say that much of the chatter from Christian and secular newspapers has been decidedly hostile and misrepresentative of the carefully conceived and very nuanced position that the Pope has taken. But that aside, it has gotten me thinking about whether or not we can trust the Pope in this matter, or more specifically, whether the Roman Catholics can trust what their leader is saying. I think if I were a Roman Catholic, I would suspend judgement regarding anything any reigning Popes decree in my lifetime, because there is simply no reason for me to trust what they are saying.
There have been hundreds of Popes and a great deal whose private and public proclamations and teachings have openly clashed with each other. They have disagreed with each other. Fought with each other. Excommunicated each other. They have publically taught and defended heresies to the people of the day. They have been publically condemned by ecumenical councils. Pope Stephen VII, after his predecessor Pope Formosus died, exhumed his corpse, cut off three of his fingers, put him on trial where the rotting corpse was tied to a chair and found guilty of several charges. He was then thrown into the river. Some Popes had multiple wives and lovers, had many children with multiple women, and committed murder, rape, and incest. There have been up to three popes ruling at the same time, each condemning the other and teaching that the other Popes were enemies and heretics. We have had 1800 years of Popes, many of whom have engaged in the most immoral of acts and whose character might be described as nothing short of evil. I would imagine that many Popes are burning in Hell right now.
None of those revelations will surprise any knowledgeable Catholic, who would acknowledge that while they are indeed true, that their actions have neither corrupted nor tainted the truthfulness of what the Church teaches. That the miracle of the Church of Rome is that despite centuries upon centuries of hardships and corruption and wicked men at times leading the Church, that she has remained a true and spotless bride in what she teaches and confesses. How do they do that? By imposing the great anachronism known as Ex-Cathedra upon the Church. That is, they would say that the Popes only extremely rarely exercise their power of infallibility. And, of course, any time a contradiction between popes is noted, it is simply alleged that one or the other or both of the popes is not exercising his infallibility. By utilizing this novelty, they can look back thousands of years at the many horrors of the Papacy and say, for example, when Honorius I taught the heresy of Monothelitism and was subsequently condemned by all the Popes and councils for the next three hundred years, that he certainly was not speaking ex-cathedra for the church. Because he had not invoked this, he could not have possibly corrupted the Church’s teaching and therefore the mysteries of Papal succession and its ability to safeguard truth and doctrine remains unbroken.
That in itself is worthy of further examination, but that’s still not my point. My point is this- how can we trust these Popes? In the past we have had Popes who have taught and rejected the apocrypha, who have taught and rejected the sinlessness of the virgin Mary. Who have taught and rejected major tenants of the modern Roman Catholic Church. And like I said, they have condemned each other, excommunicated each other, and taught some very, very bad things. At the time these Popes were living and teaching though, they believed they were right, and were seeking to communicate truth to their people and their adherents. They were speaking because they wanted their listeners to understand and believe their words. When Pope Boniface VIII taught that everyone had to be subject to the Roman pontiff to be saved- he meant it, and he wanted those listening to follow it. I could pull a dozen wild and crazy teachings from Popes that any good Roman Catholic would look at and say “But those were his private teachings” or “those were his papal bulls and letters- those were not official ex-cathedra statements.”
But I don’t find that very helpful. The fact of the matter is that Roman Catholics have no way of knowing whether or not what their Pope says in the year 2010 will later be condemned as heresy. They have no way of knowing whether or not a future Pope will condemn and anathematize poor Benedict XVI. They have no way of knowing whether or not the teachings they hear from the Pope about condom use to prevent prostitutes getting AIDS will later be picked apart by future Catholics and embarrasedly dismissed as his private thoughts and not ex-cathedra. They may distance themselves from him and he may go down in history as one of the many anti-popes. It’s happened before! Popes have called other Popes heretics- why not again? There is no certainty of continuity and there is no assurance that the man will not be a devil. Like the Roman Catholics of centuries ago who were privy to some false teaching without knowing it, right now any Roman Catholic has no way of knowing whether or not he is being deceived from the head of their Church any more than those Christians of old knew the were being deceived. That is a very, scary thing, and that’s why I would not throw my hat in with this potential-heretic to be.
“Righteous wrath is no less noble than love, since both coexist in God.”
I thought this was a particularily beautiful song.
Sanctus Real – “Lead Me”
I look around and see my wonderful life
Almost perfect from the outside
In picture frames I see my beautiful wife
But on the inside, I can hear her saying…
“Lead me with strong hands
Stand up when I can’t
Don’t leave me hungry for love
Chasing dreams, what about us?
Show me you’re willing to fight
That I’m still the love of your life
I know we call this our home
But I still feel alone”
I see their faces, look in their innocent eyes
They’re just children from the outside
I’m working hard, I tell myself they’ll be fine
But on the inside, I can hear them saying…
“Lead me with strong hands
Stand up when I can’t
Don’t leave me hungry for love
Chasing dreams, but what about us?
Show me you’re willing to fight
That I’m still the love of your life
I know we call this our home
But I still feel alone”
So Father, give me the strength
To be everything I’m called to be
Oh, Father, show me the way
To lead them
Won’t You lead me?
To lead them with strong hands
To stand up when they can’t
Don’t want to leave them hungry for love,
Chasing things that I could give up
I’ll show them I’m willing to fight
And give them the best of my life
So we can call this our home
Lead me, ’cause I can’t do this alone
Father, lead me, ’cause I can’t do this alone
I remember a time many years ago where, as a new Christian, I would commit a sin and then I would lose it. That is, after I did something which troubled my soul and in which caused the inner parts of me to hurt with shame and regret, I would lie on my bed, close my eyes, and beg God to forgive me. That was my mantra. “God I’m so sorry, please forgive me. Forgive me. Forgive me. Wash away my sins and please forgive me.” It offered a sort of relief, whereby before I asked God to forgive me I would feel horrible. After I said those words I felt forgiven- as if in that moment they lifted off of me and they were separated as far as the East is from the West. The penance was in the asking and receiving. Forgiveness was actively happening to me every time I asked for it, and there was no shortage of asking.
Nowadays though, that does not happen. I never ask God to forgive me. I am still grieved by the things I do and my conscience still pricks me. The Holy Ghost still convicts me and brings about that visceral prompting which makes me turn to Christ for comfort and solace. But not for forgiveness.
Because I have already been forgiven, and asking God to forgive me over and over again is a theological trainwreck. When Jesus died on the cross in that great exchange, he took my sins and I took on his righteousness. Through repentance and faith all my sins, past present and future, were never again to be held against the me. I don’t believe that the death of Christ on a cross “potentially” took away my sins, or made it possible for them to be taken away, but that they were actually taken away. In that moment I was forgiven of everything I had done and will do in this lifetime. Every wicked thought and evil deed was no more. Its all done, buried in the blood.
If that is the case, then why would I cry and plead for God to do something that he has already done? As a believer, when I ask God to forgive me, he won’t do it then and there. It’s empty words because it’s already been done. That great act has been finished, and there’s no cause for me to ask him to do so. Not only that, but I would even argue that it is unwise to ask it, as it presumes wishful thinking over established fact. For example, in my prayers I don’t ask God to love me. I don’t say “Oh God, please love me. Just love me. I need you to love me. Will you love me.” I don’t do that because I am already thoroughly loved by the saviour. When I ask Jesus to take a concrete action which he has already done, it distorts the reality and the magnitude of what he has already done. It’s bad theology because it tacitly questions settled acts of the saviour and cast them in a unbiblical light, which then reinforces the bad theology. It’s like saying “Jesus, show yourself to be God.” He’s been there, done that, and has the holes in his wrists to prove it.
Instead of saying “God forgive me.” the better thing would be to say something along the lines of “God, help me feel forgiven.” or “God, I know I’m forgiven, help me respond to your forgiveness better.” or “God, I hate my sins, let the fact that they are covered by your blood lead me hate them even more, that you would have to die for them.” But a believer asking God to forgive you after the fact, as if its in that moment God would actually forgive you? Ultimately that’s blasphemy, as it distorts and degrades what Jesus has already done thousands of years ago, and it’s not something that I feel comfortable saying.
I was listening to a local church sermon podcast, and the subject of The Dark Night Of The Soul arose. For those who are unfamiliar with it, it is a poem written by St John of the Cross, a Spanish Carmelite Monk and Mystic who lived in the 16th century and whose eight-stanza poem outlines the soul’s journey from the distractions and entanglements of the world to the perfect peace and harmony of union with God. The woman preaching [another matter altogether] gave the poem and the man unequivocal praise and highly recommended that everyone read his poem and the accompanying dissertation he wrote which explains and outlines the poem. She stated “If any of you in your Christian walk feel like you are pursuing God, and yet you are feeling this drought, I strongly encourage you to read it…It is a very powerful truth and a very strong discipleship lesson that hopefully we will all go through in our Christian walk.”
This naturally caught my attention for several reasons. The first because I find Roman Catholic mysticism and the so-called “desert fathers” to be an intriguing part of history and the whole concept truly fascinates me. But secondly, and more importantly, it was clear to me that the woman preaching was not particularly familiar with either the man or the poem, which resulted in a misrepresentation of both. To that end, I found her enthused endorsement extremely troubling. I believe a real lack of discernment was exhibited with recommending and then preaching an entire sermon on the man and his techniques, and then implying that they were beneficial to the believer today.
The preacher refers to him merely as a “theologian and a philosopher” But such general terms are vague and not particularly helpful. From a theological point of view he was the Roman Catholic counterpart of the occult mystics of the 5th century who excelled in the theology of darkness. Deeply devoted to esceticism, he teamed up with another occult nun, Theresa of Avila to “reform” the Carmelite order by pushing it to heights of fanaticism. [An order by the way, which was consecrated to the Virgin Mary, and who had as one of its tenants the belief that if you wore a brown scapular, the Carmelite habit, you would be saved from eternal damnation] He became her right hand and the confessor for her nuns and together they explored the heights of enlightened mysticism [which resembles Kabbalah more than anything] which they believed lead to Christian perfection. The mysticism is composed of three parts: purgation, in which the senses and spirit are purged of all desires; illumination, in which God supernaturally floods the soul with his love while the individual remains passive; and union, in which the soul is united with God in perfection. St John of the Cross says that such an individual will be able to skip purgatory since purgatory’s work has been completed in this life. If you completed it and achieved that perfection, you would not have to suffer punishment in purgatory for your sins, but rather would go straight to heaven.
That’s the context in what we’re dealing with, and I know that’s not what the preacher believes. For her, she takes the poem and the treatise on their own and understands the poem to mean that when we are baby Christians, God gives us the warm fuzzies. Later in life, God removes them so we can grow deeper with God and so he can purify us. I’d be interested to hear where that is spelled out in the bible, but that for now is besides the point. Her type of Dark Night Of The Soul is not what St John of the Cross believes or is trying to communicate, not with his understanding of the purpose and end results of consolations and desolations. I don’t believe for a second that the idea of a step-by-step process of self-denial and affliction culminating in glory is taught in Scripture, and I don’t think it’s useful or beneficial for us Christians to be taking lessons and to be getting advice from a Pseudo-Dionysian, Roman Catholic, pro-purgatorial, pro-christian perfection, ascetic mystic monk. Do we really want to involved ourselves in that? I don’t believe it is wise to consider pursuing that, not with with the plethora of false teaching and the gospel confusion. I also don’t believe it wise to promote a poem and a book from a “theologian and philosopher” without offering a proper contex of what they are bringing to the table by way of beliefes, values and presuppositions, and how these might affect what is being promoted.