Monday, June 27, 2011

No Defensive Faith

Contemporary Christians tend to act as though they are on the defensive, rather than appreciating the true nature of the battle.  In the panoply of armour in Ephesians, Chapter 6, there is no armour for the back, and Jesus did not say that hell would storm the gates of the Church, but that we would storm the gates of hell. Ever since the Vietnam War years the Church has been unrealistically pacifistic, even to the point of not singing Onward Christian Soldiers.

In all of this we have been looking too much at ourselves, and not enough at Christ.  “For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ” (Robert Murray M’Cheyne).  Our fears come in part from looking at the stormy waters of our own experience, rather than looking at the One who calms the waters.
When looking at the Sovereignty of God, consider the function of the ancient monarch.  The word monarch refers to the singular, sovereign rule of the One who is Omnipotent, Omniscient, and Omnipresent.  This God of ours cannot be surpassed or denied, all power, all majesty, all dominion is His.

The 17th Century French Bishop, Jacques Bousset unfolds the absolute power of the monarch, “The royal power is absolute. The prince need render account of his acts to no one. "I counsel thee to keep the king's commandment, and that in regard of the oath of God. Be not hasty to go out of his sight: stand not on an evil thing for he does whatsoever pleases him. Where the word of a king is, there is power: and who may say unto him, What do you do?  Whoever keeps the royal commandment shall feel no evil thing." … I do not call majesty that pomp which surrounds kings or that exterior magnificence which dazzles the vulgar. That is but the reflection of majesty and not majesty itself. Majesty is the image of the grandeur of God in the prince. The power of God makes itself felt in a moment from one extremity of the earth to another. Royal power works at the same time throughout all the realm. It holds all the realm in position, as God holds the earth. Should God withdraw his hand, the earth would fall to pieces; should the king's authority cease in the realm, all would be in confusion” (J.H. Robinson, ed. Readings in European History 2 vols. (Boston: Ginn, 1906), 2:273-277).
This sovereignty is bestowed on Jesus the Son of God, by God the Father.  It is Jesus who is the Commander of the armies of the Lord!  In biblical terms, according to Revelation 19:11-16, He is the Lord of Hosts, and “On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, ‘King of kings and Lord of lords.”

There are times in battle when each of His warriors are exposed to danger, and sometimes wounded, but not beyond redemption, healing, and restoration.  It is a real battle, and it calls for a steadfast faith that keeps its gaze steadfastly on the Commander.
In The Coming of Arthur, Tennyson points the way to a heroic faith:

Strike for the King and live! his knights have heard 
That God hath told the King a secret word.
Fall battle-axe, and flash brand!  Let the King reign….

The King will follow Christ, and we the King
In whom high God hath breathed a secret thing.
Fall battle-axe, and flash brand!  Let the King reign.
(Tennyson, The Idylls of the King, “The Coming of Arthur,” line 481-500)

It is not enough to sit passively, hoping that the battle will pass us by.  That way lies infinite danger and ultimate defeat.  Rather take up the bright weapons of your faith, pray the Daily Office, meditate on the richness of Holy Scripture, particularly on the Psalms, be ready in praise, and constant in worship.  Equip yourself for the battle, for the surely the battle will come, it always comes; but to the faithful warrior comes also the victor’s crown as he follows his liege Lord and Master.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

These Strange Christians: A Second Century Letter to Diognetus

The letter is titled, The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus; but author of this letter is unknown, “Mathetes” merely means “disciple.” Diognetus was a tutor of Marcus Aurelius, who shared the rule of the Roman empire with Lucius Verus from 161 to 180. The letter to Diognetus is one of the earliest examples of apologetics, the defense of Christianity from its accusers. This was a serious issue and it was during this period of time that the fifth wave of persecution broke out and Justin Martyr was executed. The letter answers the question, “Just who are these Christians?” Part of his remarkable answer tells us that what differentiates Christians from Pagans is the wholesomeness of their lives and doctrine, and not strange and abhorrent customs.

Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of men. Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine. With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign.

And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labour under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them. They share their meals, but not their wives. They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law.[i]

The excerpt above gives us great insight into the life of the Christian in the world today.  What makes us extraordinary is that while we live in the world, we are not of the world.  Christians are not distinguished from others by externals.  In the morning they pick up the paper from the front lawn, have an English muffin for breakfast, walk the dog, and pick up a coffee from Starbucks on their way to work.  The difference is on a deeper level.  In His high priestly prayer, Jesus said, “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.  They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (John 17:14-16).  

The Christian lives in the world, but is not of the world.  His citizenship and his true allegiance is in the Kingdom of Heaven, and the nature of his relationship with the world is informed by the principles of the Kingdom.   In a unique way the Christian is concerned about the basic issues of justice, integrity, fair play, and the demands of love, while the children of the world are in a different way concerned about power, control, and self-realization. 

The world is also in the Church.  The children of the world, loving the pomp and ceremony of the Church, have entered into the Church calling the things of the Church their own, but not owning the Lordship of Christ.  Looking at the flock of the Good Shepherd nothing on the surface separates the lean sheep from the fat sheep but their behaviour and treatment of one another.[ii]  By looking deeper one begins to discover just who are the children of the world, and who are the citizens of heaven.

The letter also tells us that God in His love sent His Son to redeem us, saying:

He gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous, the incorruptible One for the corruptible, the immortal One for them that are mortal. For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than His righteousness? By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified, than by the only Son of God? O sweet exchange! .  .  .  He desired to lead us to trust in His kindness, to esteem Him our Nourisher, Father, Teacher, Counsellor, Healer, our Wisdom, Light, Honour, Glory, Power, and Life, so that we should not be anxious concerning clothing and food.[iii]

That sweet exchange, that substitution of His life for ours, is the very core of our faith and experience; the truth that Jesus died as a ransom for us, and out of joy and love in return we give our lives to Him.  Charles Williams tells us that, “By an act of substitution he reconciled the natural world of the kingdom of heaven, sensuality with substance.  He restored substitution and co-inherence everywhere; up and down the ladder of that great substitution all our lesser substitutions run; within that sublime co-inherence all our lesser co-inherences inhere.”[iv]  Co-inherence is that unity that all members of the Body of Christ have with their Head; Christ in us, the hope of glory, and the bond of love that binds each to the other.

We are drawn into that sweet exchange, For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died;  and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).   With John of the Cross, the true citizens of the kingdom of heaven pray, “This life I live in vital strength / Is loss of life unless I win you.”[v]  The true citizen of heaven lives in awe of the God of love and knows where the ultimate priorities lie, but the child of the world flees the way of exchange.  The true citizens of the kingdom of heaven, in that bond of love and exchange, are committed to bearing the burdens of one another.

[ii] Ezekiel 34:20-22   "Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD to them: Behold, I, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep.  Because you push with side and shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your horns, till you have scattered them abroad,  I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep.”
[iv] Charles Williams, “The Order of Co-inherence”, Essential Writings in Spirituality and Theology, Cambridge: (Cowley Publications, 1993), p. 147
[v] Roy Campbell, trans. St. John of the Cross: The Poems, (London: Harvill Press, 1951), p. 55