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Faith and Pleasing God

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Faith and the Message of the Apostles
What was the Message of the Apostles?

The opening lines of great literature tends to be very memorable and great writers lays out significant themes in these lines. The opening lines of Irenaeus’ Apostolic Preaching express a prayer that the reader may “preserve your faith entire and so be pleasing to God” (1.1a [at 1]). This prayer introduces a world of ideas. In this first commentary on his work, we will begin to explore this world of ideas (summarized in my earlier Outline Post). Here, Irenaeus really calls upon the reader to hold firm to the faith preached by the apostles.

Perhaps the most helpful young reformed theologian in Canada today has put it this way, “everyone should read this book three times before the year’s end.”

Having taken up his challenge, I read the book through twice. Now on my third time I am analysing it a little more deeply.

Irenaeus On The Apostolic Preaching Outline

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Faith and the Message of the Apostles
What was the Message of the Apostles?

I have been reading Irenaeus’ great work, Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching. This is an amazing and important book. In it, Irenaeus explains how the Christian faith has an organic, natural, or evolving relationship to the message of what we call the Old and New Testaments. he does not do this by giving his own assessment. Irenaeus instead, bears witness to the preaching of the Apostles on this subject (link). Who was this author? How did he know what the Apostle’s preached? What did he include in his book? 

An Inheritance of Faith – The Thirty-Nine Articles

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An Inheritance of Faith - The Thirty-nine Articles
An Inheritance of Faith - The Thirty-nine Articles

The Thirty-nine Articles are the theological standard of the Anglican Communion.  Charles I, made it known that he agreed with the “Archbishops and Bishops of both provinces and the whole clergy in Convocation holden at London in the year 1562 for the avoiding of diversities of opinions and for the establishing of consent touching true religion.” He further declared:

That the Articles of the Church of England . . . do contain the true doctrine of the Church of England agreeable to God’s Word: which we do therefore ratify and confirm, requiring all our loving subjects to continue in the uniform profession thereof, and prohibiting the least difference from the said articles. . .

This Declaration is printed in my 2012 Cambridge Standard Edition of the Book of Common Prayer (BCP), as it has been in every proper copy of the central liturgical influence in the English speaking world.

Many years ago, as part of my theology and church history courses, I studied the Articles of Religion, as they are properly titled. I have always appreciated the clarity and brevity of this National Creed.

One devotional book that had a huge impact on me was J.C. Ryle’s Holiness (Amazon; .co.uk; .ca). Later, as a teenage camp counsellor, I took Ryle’s 2 volume Commentary on the Gospel of Luke as my daily reading and found him an insightful guide in coming to a greater knowledge of my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (Amazon; .co.uk; .ca).

Ryle on the Thirty-nine Articles

Recently, I began reading his Knots Untied: Being plain statements on disputed points in Religion from the standpoint of an Evangelical Churchman (Amazon; .co.uk; .ca). Once again, I found him insightful and helpful. But one of the most powerful chapters in this book was Ryle’s chapter on the Thirty-nine Articles.

The Anglican Communion in the 21st Century

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Anglican Communion in the 21st Century
Anglican Communion in the 21st Century

The Anglican Communion in the West has been a frequently cited source for the secularism thesis. This thesis argues that as a society advances, it inevitably and invariably declines in religious belief and becomes secular. As our societies continue to advance technologically and politically, it is natural to ask if there is a future for the Christian Church in the 21st Century?

I have always loved Church history. Church history begins in the biblical book of Acts, recounting the early adventures of the Apostles. It proceeds through the age of the martyrs and apologists winning over the Roman Empire in a few generations. This church, from a position of strength, then moved into the explosive missionary movement of the 3rd-10th centuries reaching every area of Europe. Then in the new millennium, despite internal fracturing, the church began expansion to every part of the globe leading eventually the modern missionary movement in the 19th and 20th centuries. Today, Christianity is the largest religion in the world. And it continues to have an impact on the lives of billions and billions of individuals, and the communities and nations they form.

But for those of us living in northwestern Europe, or in North America, it can seem that Christianity is a spent force. But is this assertion true? 

The Church’s One Foundation: Apostolic Preaching on the Old and New Testaments

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Faith and the Message of the Apostles
What was the Message of the Apostles?

Jesus did not come with a blank slate upon which he introduced all new ideas. He bore witness to the historic faith of the people of Israel, and his followers have forever after linked the old and new testaments as Christian Scripture. I have been reflecting on a book that helps explain this development. But before I get into it, I reflect on a key Scriptural truth.

Two Testaments One People

The Christian faith has an organic, natural, or evolving relationship to the message of what we call the Old and New Testaments. Notice how St Paul describes this connection:

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh [were] separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. . ..

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, . . .. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit (Ephesians 2:11,12-13 19-20 & 22).

Paul’s message to the Ephesians in this passage is both Trinitarian and Gospel-centered. He explains our status as Christians by revealing our original separation from God the Father, our historic redemption by Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, and our ongoing reconciliation by the Holy Spirit. He also speaks of the relationship fo the Old and New Testaments.

The People of Two Testaments

Paul’s explanation of the status of Christians expresses itself with references to the old covenant (or Old Testament) promises. It also links to the relationship between God and his Old Testament people Israel. What is the relationship between the Old and New Testaments? Note that as Christians, we are “no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,” and so partakers in the covenants of promises, having hope, having a relationship with God and being incorporated into commonwealth of Israel, as Christ “has made us both [into] one new man in the place of two” (Ephesians 2:14).

What does all this mean? How are we to understand this link between the Testaments? 

A Reasonable Doubt: Why the Presumption of Innocence Matters

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A Reasonable Doubt? Justice must be blind, and deaf to public pressure.
Justice must be blind, and deaf to public pressure.

I love my freedom. By that I mean, I love to be able to go to Tim Hortons and buy a coffee on a whim, at any time of day or night. I love to walk outside and smell the fresh air. I love to travel and see the world.

Reasonable Doubt is the Law

What a terrifying thing it is when all the powers of government, exercised through the police and the judiciary are lined up against a private citizen to deprive him or her of their life, or their freedom. Enjoying the Golden Thread of Criminal Law is one of the great privileges of living in a country with a heritage tied to the English legal tradition. Every defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty in our legal system. The presumption of innocence is inextricably intertwined with the notion of reasonable doubt. 

5 Relationships that Mark an Authentic Church Leader

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Discerning the True Church Leaders from the False
Five Ways to Spot a True Church Leader?

There are so many churches out there today. Sometimes it can be a challenge to figure out which church to join, and which church leaders we should follow. It can even be hard to tell whether a leaders is an authentic leader, or false church leader.

Expect (In)Authentic Leaders

The Bible regularly warns us that there are going to be false leaders everywhere in every era. These many warnings force us to recognize that we might be deceived, if we are not alert.

5 Relationships that Contrast Authentic and Inauthentic Leaders

This problem of figuring out who is authentic isn’t new. The Corinthians were caught in a vicious battle between the Apostle Paul, and a group of self-designated “super apostles,” who sought to win their allegiance. These super apostles made a lot of good points. They were present with the congregation, they were persuasive, but they were not legitimate. Paul contrasts his ministry with theirs, showing 5 relationships that prove his authenticity.  

Interest-Based Negotiation: Making Peace Without Giving In

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Interest-Based Negotiation:Why Can't We Just Get Along?
How Interest-Based Negotiation Can bring people, businesses, families and nations together

Interest-based negotiation is a proposed answer to the critical question, why can’t we just get along? As a parent, I am always petitioning my children to stop fighting, and to get along. But, how can I expect my kids to do this, when most of the adults around them cannot seem do so? The secret to peace between nations and humans is the same—find ways to work together. The trouble is that we just can’t seem to get along.

A cursory reading of Facebook, a few minutes of watching, or reading the news demonstrates our propensity for polarizing conflict. Every day we are reminded that that politics are becoming more and more polarized in Western Democracies (source). The World Economic Forum published a piece arguing that this fragmentation is “crippling Western democracies” (source). Families are not immune. The Independent explains that our societies are experiencing a “family breakdown ‘epidemic’” (source).

A trio of Harvard professors –Fisher, Ury and Patton, in their classic Getting to Yes(now in its 3rdedition: Penguin Books 2011 kindle; .uk.co; .ca) explain that one of the main reasons negotiations in business, family, or politics break down, is that parties get fixated on their positions. People are then left with three choices, win, lose, or compromise.

Now, it’s great to win. But what if winning costs you a friendship? It’s brutal to lose, but what if that is the cost of keeping your job? If you are absolutely convinced you are in the right, how can you accept compromise? But what if the zero-sum approach leads to a total loss?

Essential Christianity: God the Father Almighty

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God the Father Almighty
God the Father Almighty

“I believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.” (see my introduction to the creed).

We may live in a sceptical and naturalistic age, but statistically, most people still believe in God. It is irrational to deny the existence of the creator of heaven and earth. Plato believed that the universe was “the product of rational, purposive, and beneficent agency” (source). Aristotle believed that all movement depends on there being a mover. This observation led him to surmise that one mover proceeded another “a chain of events [that] must lead back to something which moves but is itself unmoved.” This initial mover Aristotle “referred to as the Prime Mover… a being with everlasting life, and in Metaphysics Aristotle also calls this being ‘God’” (source).

These great minds reflect the truth that it is only “the fool” who “says in his heart, ‘there is not God’” (Psalm 14:1) – “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” (Romans 1:20).

God the Creator, the Almighty

The Bible describes the Creative power of God as exercised through speech, “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host” (Psalm 33:6). In the story of Creation, we read of this power described simply, “God said … and there was…” (see Genesis 1:3).

Linguists refer to certain utterances as speech acts, sometimes called words of illocutionary force. These are words that produce a particular effect–“saying can makes it so” (source). In our ordinary lives we see such speech acts. When an authorized officiant at a wedding says, “I now pronounce you man and wife” it makes it so.  God repeats his speech acts in each of the six days of Creation.

How powerful must the Creator of the world be that, at his word, the countless stars of the cosmos were brought into existence? The Apostles’ Creed was originally drafted in Greek. When it speaks about the Father’s creative power, it refers to him as “the Almighty”.  The word translated as “Almighty,” in the first line, is παντοκράτορ(pantokrator). This word means “all grasping,” or, we might say, “he’s got the whole world in his hands.”

This idea that God has the “whole world in his hands” may make for a fun children’s song. But what does it mean in real life? First, it means a great deal. Second, it means a great comfort.

God Almighty Means A Great Deal

Every moment of every day God Almighty holds everything together. He controls every act of every empire in earth. According to Scripture, the desire of even an absolute monarch “is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.” (Proverbs 21:1). Not even a bird falls from the sky, without his involvement (Matthew 10:29).  We fret about politics. We fret about the actions of a Putin, or a Trump, or a Kim Jong-un, but, “All the nations are as nothing before [God], they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness” (Isaiah 40:17). In his own words, “I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create calamity; I, the LORD, do all these things” (Isaiah 45:7).

God Almighty Means A Great Comfort

The Apostle Paul asks his readers to reflect on this question: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). God promised his people “fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10). There is nothing we face that God cannot handle, “greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4). We are his children (John 1:12) And God cares for his children, “cast all your worries upon him for he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

In several recent sermons I reflected on the practical comfort and hope we receive from God, the Father Almighty:

The God of all Comfort(2 Corinthians 1:3-7)

What Hamlet Didn’t know(2 Corinthians 4:13-18)

Further Reflections on God, the Father Almighty

A Sermon on “the Almighty” from Romans 1:18ff

 

Essential Christianity Beliefs Preamble: I Believe in God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit

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Essential Christianity Belief #1: I Believe in God
Essential Christianity Belief #1: I Believe in God

I Believe. But what is this faith I have? “I believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord . . . I believe in the Holy Spirit. . .  Christianity is first and foremost faith in the Triune God. In my Introductory Post, I explained that the Creed reveals the 12 Essential Beliefs which mark a Christian, as a Christian. (see my introduction to the creed). But behind, and throughout each of these beliefs is the great reality of the Triune God. 

I Believe in God: The Triune Creator, Word, and Spirit.

We may live in a skeptical and naturalistic age, but statistically, most people still believe in God (Source; Source 2; Source 3). This is unsurprising since it is irrational to deny the existence of the creator of heaven and earth. The Bible describes God’s creative power, with a simple phrase, “God said … and there was…” (see Genesis 1:3). This is repeated in each of the six days of Creation. The Psalmist summarizes things this way, “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host” (Psalm 33:6). 

God’s creative and sustaining power is seen everywhere. All things that exist are symbols, declaring something of his existence and his nature: 

[19] For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. [20] For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. (Romans 1:19–20a)

Plato reads many of the symbols and finds himself drawn to Creator (source). Aristotle as well reads from Creation the necessity of a First Cause (source). Those that are literate in nature simply see God everywhere, though some deliberately close their eyes, and remain in ignorance (Romans 1:18-23). Content to be illiterate, they may benefit from the wisdom of Socrates, who would argue, “the unexamined life is not worth living” (source).

Christian’s read the symbolic language of nature. But, they do not stop there. They move beyond believing in the (necessary) existence of God, to a place where they believe in God. But what does this mean?