Blog Post 11: The Rule of Benedict, in a Modern Society

What would it look like for Christians to “withdraw” from society and start a counter-cultural society?

Before I cut to the heart of the post, let me give a brief background on the Rule of Benedict. Benedict was a monastic who saw the Roman culture and society, and became disgusted by it. He determined to live a solitary life away from society, but people followed him, and he formed a monastery. His monastery was governed by a book of rules he penned aptly called the “Rule of Benedict.” Put simply, I would probably not make it under the rules of this monastery due to the strict requirements in it. But I won’t get into that.

So onto the question at hand: what would it look like? I don’t think that Christians can completely remove themselves from the world and still fulfill the Great Commission. So it would have to be still in the vicinity of society. We are also to be in the world, but not of it, further supporting the previous proposition. So, I would say this “withdrawal” must still be in contact with society, yet a different entity. Life inside this new society must be Christ-centered, and presumably it would be exclusively Christian, but that is not required. But if the lost are allowed into the society, they could eventually have a non-believer as the head of your Christian society. So actually I think it should be exclusively Christian. But this society must have frequent run-ins with the non-believing society, in order to fulfill the Great Commission. In fact, it should be a priority of this community. They must try to have a one-way influence in the non-believing society. I don’t know what the specs of the Christian society would be, or a hierarchy or anything.  I believe I know how it must interact with the world however, as I explained above.

Now, this idea of a modern withdrawal is not new. It was tried by the Pilgrims (modern compared to Benedict,) but they didn’t keep their society pure Christian (not a fault of theirs.) If they had, they could have had a profound influence for the good on the Native Americans, and by allowing the converts to immerse in their society. I don’t know if we would have the America we know today if Plymouth had been that way, but I imagine it would be a certainly more Christian place to live.

While this is certainly an interesting idea, I don’t know how it would work out today. But the idea of needing to choose between going to live in this community or wallowing in the apathetic life of the Christian in normal society would definitely draw a line between committed followers and “fair-weather-fans.” I don’t think its a bad idea, but I don’t think its feasible to do right now.

Blog Post 10: Eternal Security

Discuss eternal security in light of monergism and synergism.

Eternal security. Why do we always get such touchy subjects to blog about? Anyway, we’re talking about eternal security in light of monergism and synergism. To refresh from last time, monergism is “the belief that regeneration  is entirely the work of the Lord, and that until regeneration, there is no free will. Synergism is “the belief that regeneration is initiated by God through grace, but the individual cooperates.” These views have several implications. For example, how does a monergist (or synergist) view affect one’s view of eternal security? A monergist would most likely think that since God is the one who saved you and you had nothing to do with it, you’re good to go for eternity. Synergists, on the other hand, really pounds home the idea of moral freedom, so they most likely think that one choices can affect and/or destroy one’s eternal security. It seems that they are at odds again. Lets look at some passages that are used in the eternal security debate.

In Defense of Eternal Security

  • Romans 8:35-39

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long;  we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

  • Romans 11:29

“For God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.”

In Denial of Eternal Security

  • Luke 12:41-46

“Peter asked, “Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?” The Lord answered, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns.Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.”

  • 1 Corinthians 15:1-2

“Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.”

There are, of course, other passages used in the debate, but I will focus on these four. Lets start with Romans 8:35-39.

Romans 8:35-39

One of my favorite verses, this verse states that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This verse seems to settle the case. However, if we look at any of these verses on their own, we could say the same. What does this mean? Well, this verse lists several things that cannot separate us from God; ourselves is not on that list. So what this verse might be saying is “Nothing can force you away from God, but you are able to walk away.” The Greek word for separate, “χωρίσει,” can also mean divorce, (in which one of the members of the marriage chooses to break off the covenant, not necessarily an outside force.) Perhaps the gist of this verse is “nothing else is able to touch your relationship with God, but you are capable of divorcing yourself from him.” I’m not sure, I don’t like picking sides when I don’t understand much of the implications, but that could be one interpretation of the verse. This makes it fit in better with the other passages.

Romans 11:29

This verse is new to me: I have never heard it before. Defining terms is a good way to start seeing how it fits into the puzzle of eternal security.

  • God’s call- does this refer to God’s invitation of salvation, or salvation itself? For this discussion, I am postulating that it means God’s call of salvation, which I think it very well may mean.
  • Irrevocable- no catch here; just means “cannot be recanted.”

So, I think this verse says that the call of salvation cannot be recanted. Now, this would seem that, say, one leaves the faith, the offer of salvation is still on the table. But Hebrews 6:4-6, which I shall leave for you to look up, says that once enlightened, if one leaves the faith, one cannot reenter into it. So I suppose that this means the offer of salvation is irrevocable, but once the offer is taken up, it is fulfilled, so its not “offered” anymore. Hope that makes sense.

Luke 12:41-46

This is a rather scary passage. “He will cut him [the ex-believer] to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.” This parable, from the mouth of Jesus Himself, seems to make it clear that if one “gives up” waiting for Jesus and acts like the world, he is as good off as the world when Jesus comes. This has painful implications for many, many Christians that live in apostasy in America today! If Jesus came back today, would you be ready?
1 Corinthians 15:1-2

This is again, frightening. If you don’t hold onto the gospel, you’ve believed in vain. This is similar to the parable told by Jesus. We can’t grow apostate, or you’re as good off as an unbeliever. Again, apostate Christians are not a small group, especially in America. What do verses like these mean for these Christians? Well, I don’t think it can be much clearer; get back on track! I think that apostate Christians, if they haven’t denounced  the faith, aren’t subject to Hebrews 6:4-6, meaning they are still allowed to come back. If you are one of these people, don’t hesitate! Don’t be caught like the servant in the parable. You can still make things right again.

Blog Post 9: More About Augustine

How do Augustine’s answer to the Problem of Evil, his robust understanding of original sin, and a monergistic understanding of God’s sovereignty demonstrate his theological growth from being a synergist to a monergist?

We haven’t finished Augustine yet, apparently. Last week we discussed his sermon on 1 John; this week we are talking about how he switches sides in a major theological debate. Looking at the blog question, it is necessary to define quite a few terms. Let’s start with that:

  • Problem of evil- where did evil come from, since God couldn’t have created it?
  • Original sin- the idea that all humans are sinful by default, due to Adam and Eve’s sin.
  • Monergist and Synergist- will get to those in a moment.

According to Mr. Bryant, Augustine gave Christians one of the best defenses against the problem of evil. See if you can get an idea from the following picture:

Augustine said there was no such thing as “sin.” Hence the Matrix reference. Instead, sin is simply the absence of God’s goodness. Just as there is no such thing as cold, only the absence of heat. This could seem to solve it, with God not creating sin, but simply when a creature (man or supernatural) decides to sin, God is not responsible for making the sin. That is the sinner’s making. This explanation keeps God’s innocence on the problem of evil.

Now for Original Sin. For me, I’ve believed in this concept as long as I can remember. But many, many people do not. These people are not necessarily Christians (although some probably are.) These are the people who believe that they are “good enough” to get to heaven, and that they have at least 51% of their deeds in the “good” column. Back in the day of Augustine, this heresy (yet another!) was under the name of Pelagianism. It was started by none other than Pelagius, and his theory said that it was possible to live a morally good life apart from God. It follows from this that they believed that there was no original sin. Even though this view is desirable, it is not biblical. (Romans 3:23, For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.) The church fathers of that time weren’t as concerned with Original Sin as Augustine, a firm believer of it, thought they should. Augustine pushed Original Sin to the top of the list of things to be dealt with.

Let’s go back to those two difficult-to-define terms. Both “Monergism” and “Synergism ” refer to the process of salvation. I’ll put those in bullet-point also, to make them easier to read:

  • Monergism- the belief that regeneration (the spiritual transformation in a person that brings the individual from being spiritually dead to become a spiritually alive human being) is entirely the work of the Lord. This belief also states that until regeneration, there is no free will. The problem with this idea is that the individual has no part whatsoever in the process of salvation and no free will prior to salvation, they can’t really be blamed for their actions. With no free will, they don’t decide what they do. I don’t think this lack of moral responsibility fits with the Bible, so I think at least some of this idea is incorrect.
  • Synergism- the belief that regeneration is initiated by God through grace, but the individual cooperates. This belief deals with the problem that Monergism faces, but it has its own problem: the individual’s cooperation makes God not able to give salvation by Himself. He needs the person to cooperate to proceed. This raises serious questions about the Sovereignty of God.

Originally, Augustine leaned toward the Synergists. However, as his faith grew, he switched to the Monergist side. I cannot pick a side. It’s like the election; neither side is ideal, but one side seems to be a little better than the other. I feel more comfortable with Monergism because the problem they have is with man, while Synergism’s problem is with the nature of God. I don’t know if that is a legitimate reason, but that is my reasoning. I can’t say which is right, (both of them need something more,) but I think that Monergism is slightly less problematic. But that’s just my thoughts; I have by no means a solid opinion about either. Your thoughts?

Blog Post 8: Augustine’s Homily on 1 John

Comb through the text and find three passages where you see Augustine developing theological themes.

Before I begin, let me say two quick things. First, its good to be blogging again. After a few weeks, I may be a little rusty, but hopefully not too bad. Second, I have always pronounced Augustine’s name as “Au-gi-steen,” not, “Au-gust-in.” Is there a correct pronunciation, or is it open to debate?

Now, let me begin. I found the Homily to be… hard to pay attention to. But that may be due to noisy siblings in the background. If I miss something glaringly obvious, that’s probably why. I did, however, see some theological themes being developed. First off, he is clearly not a Gnostic or Modalist. (Yes, I knew that already.) This is evident in his first point, in which he says:

“Well then the Life was manifested in the flesh; because it exhibited in manifestation, that that which can be seen by the heart only, should be seen by the eyes also, that it might heal the hearts. For only by the heart is the Word seen: but the flesh is seen by the bodily eyes also.”

Augustine recognized the need for Jesus to have been an actual human, and he saw that the fact was clearly stated in Scripture. My guess is that the Gnostics and Modalists weren’t his most fervent of supporters.

Augustine also is establishing God’s perfectness in his sermon. In point 5, he rattles on for a rather long time at how God is light, and uses different passages of Scripture to show that light (God) can have no fellowship with darkness (sin.) Therefore, he says, in order to have fellowship with God, we need to have our sins removed. Right on. Then he says that “the blood of Jesus Christ His Son shall purge us all from sin.” This is, again, is conta-Gnosticism. I’m sure by this point in his Homily they were proclaiming him a heretic.

In my first two points, they both seem to refute Gnosticism. Is Augustine addressing it in his sermon? Even if it is not, it would be rather hard to not have some anti-Gnostic content when giving a sermon on a passage that was most likely written to directly refute Gnosticism. Even though I didn’t see him mention Gnosticism by name, I’m sure he at least had a sense that he was not making Gnostic friends.

Now, for my last point. How should we love others? Augustine says, “What is perfection of love? To love even enemies, and love them for this end, that they may be brethren.” In modern English, it says that a perfect form of love is to love everyone as brothers. In the time of Augustin (354-430) and the time before, Christians were extremely close to each other. Not in distance (or lack of it), but in spirit. They were of one accord, as Acts puts it. Augustine says that Christians needed to love everyone, regardless of who they are, even if they are enemies. This fits into 1 John’s message perfectly: “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” (1 John 4:7)

And I’ll end with that. I apologize if this is hard to read. Be comforted in the fact that the Homily was probably harder. If you want to have a go, (and you haven’t already in writing your own blog,) here’s the link.

Blog Post 7: Modalism

What is Modalism, and how does it represent a dangerous challenge to Trinitarian theology?

I must admit, I am glad we are doing this topic, because in Biblical Theology last year we did the same thing, so I can copy and paste my blog post from last year and put it here. (Just kidding.) But if you want to read my other post on Modalism, click here.

Modalism is a heresy which says many things, some right, and some wrong. It correctly states that God is monotheistic, and they don’t deny the existence of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. What they do say, though, is that there is not Trinity. If you are wondering how they believe in a Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but no Trinity, let me explain further. They believe that there is ONE God, who can exist in three different forms. Not all at once, but He wears the different forms at different times like a costume or mask. For example, God cannot be God the Father and simultaneously be God the Son. According to Modalism, that can’t happen.

Objections are probably flying through your head right now. And rightly so. In order to believe in Modalism, you need to discount many passages in Scripture. Perhaps most famous is Jesus’ baptism, which has all three persons of the Trinity interacting with each other.  Jesus (The Son) is being baptized, while the dove (Spirit) is descending on Him, and the Father speaks from heaven, all at the same time. Clearly, this passage holds loads of trouble for Modalists. I don’t know how modern-day Modalists (yes, they’re still around,) explain it, but the early Modalists had a relatively easy way out. Take it out of the Bible! Modalism has been around before the canon was official, so Christians had no standard to weigh heresies against. It is a good thing that this passage was made apart of the canon, or else our concept of the Trinity would probably by much more “Modalistic” than it is today.

How does Modalism pose a threat to Trinitarian doctrine? Well, I think its a no-brainer. It denies the Trinity! It simply says it does not exist. Besides the baptism passage, there are several verses that fly in the face of this heresy. One of them is when Jesus is praying on the night he is betrayed. Who exactly is he praying to? In Genesis, God often used the pronouns  “we” and “us” when creating the universe. (Let us form man in our own image…) He’s not using the royal we, He’s actually talking to other members of the Trinity. Modalism can’t explain these passages.

So, in conclusion, Modalism is wrong. Even though it acknowledges certain correct aspects of the Trinity, it has false conclusions that are deadly to the idea of the Trinity, (NOT the Trinity itself, of course.) If this heresy had gained traction in the early church, our understanding of the Trinity would be very different.

Blog Post 6: Council of Nicaea

Why is the Council of Nicaea one of the most critical events in the history of the Christian Church?

 

The Council of Nicaea was a meeting of bishops that took place in the year 325 AD. It was different than councils that had come before it, for a two reasons. One, it was not called by the bishops. No, this council had been called by Emperor Constantine. Secondly, it dealt with a particularly dangerous heresy that dealt with Jesus’ equality with the Father. The way the council dealt with both of these issues makes it a game-changing event in church history.

Let’s look at the heresy first. The teachings of a man named Arius of Alexandria were being debated at the council. Arius taught that Jesus was subordinate to God, and “proved” it with syllogisms. He thought that since Jesus was he Son of God, than God must had existed before him. And since God existed before him, then God must have made Jesus, and made him less powerful than himself. His theory relies heavily on syllogisms, not so much on Scripture. It does, however, site some Scripture, including John 14:28, “. . . for the Father is greater than I [Jesus.]”  He also said that Jesus was of a different substance than God. While this may sound the same as the the previous statement, it is actually different, and very wrong. He is basically saying that Jesus is different from God, and less than God. When presenting at the Council to Constantine, he said, (well, sang,)

“The uncreated God has made the Son, a beginning of things created, and by adoption has God made the Son into an advancement of himself. Yet the Son’s substance is removed from the substance of the Father: the Son is not equal to the Father, nor does he share the same substance. God is the all-wise Father, and the Son is the teacher of his mysteries. The members of the Holy Trinity share unequal glories.

The rest of the bishops were quick to see the danger in his teachings, and sought to refute them at the Council. They pointed to John 10:30, “I and the Father are one,” and to the fact that God is the one needed to pass salvation onto us, so for Jesus to pass salvation onto us, he would have to be God, just as much as the Father. They attempted to counter the spreading influence of Arianism, which the public enjoyed, due to the fact that Arianism was often spread through songs. To do so, the Council created the first version of a creed that is still used in churches today: the Nicene Creed.

The Council of Nicaea was called for by Emperor Constantine.  The bishops who gathered at Nicaea gathered there at Constantine’s command. This raises questions still relevant today. If the government is a Christian government, how much power does the government have over the church, and vice versa. If you know anything about church history,  or even the Middle Ages, you know how the church was a political power almost as much as a religion. Was this the proper role for the church, or should it have stayed out of politics? The separation of church and state is still a hot topic today. When Constantine called the council, he gave the appearance that he  had authority over the church. This led to a debate a few emperors down the road who wanted control over the church. Emperor Constanius (a few emperors after Constantine,)  even said “Let whatsoever I will, be that esteemed as a canon.” (Canon, in this case, refers to official church statements, not of books of the Bible.) Eventually, the church was granted some freedom from the Emperor, with the Emperor being treated as “just another Christian.” This freedom led up to the Pope becoming so powerful, as we see throughout history.

So the Council of Nicaea was a momentous occasion for Christianity because it defeated a dangerous heresy and it immersed the church into the political realm. While defeating the heresy was large, on a secular level, the church turning political made a bigger shift in history than the defeat of Arianism. But on a Christian level, I would argue that defeating Arianism was a greater achievement. If we today saw Jesus separate from God, where would we be? What other heresies would this have led to? So I think from a historical standpoint, the church entering politics was the bigger impact of the Council of Nicaea. But from a theological standpoint, defeating Arianism, as well as the creation of the Nicene Creed, were a bigger deal.

Blog Post 5: OMgS! Theosis

How does the concept of theosis impact your conception of eternity?

How does one begin about theosis? It is a tricky subject, and I am not sure how to approach it. I suppose that a definition will be good. According to this week’s reading,  theosis is “the understanding that human beings can have real union with God, and so become like God to such a degree that we participate in the divine nature.” Is this a biblical idea? Or should it be in the same boat as gnosticism was last week, in the heresies?

Well, it has a biblical foundation. What it says is that once we die, we will spend time with God, and he will “rub off” on us so much that God’s nature becomes our nature. If that’s still confusing, it means we become just like God, to a point of being a god, when we die. Where in the Bible does it say anything of the sort? John 10:34 says “Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are “gods”? ”  Jesus is quoting Psalms 82:6. Paul writes vaguely about the idea in his epistles as well. The Eastern Orthodox church holds to this belief as well.

How has theosis influenced me? Well, in only a short day and a half since its introduction, not much. I recently ran across a book advertisement that seems to say some pretty shocking things about what happens in heaven (like judging the angels, determining their guilt or innocence.) I haven’t read the book, but ever since  saw the ad, I have been wary of similar things. So I have yet to completely open up to the idea completely. While last year’s discussion of the city in Revelation helped, (a lot,) I am still doubtful of things of the afterlife that are not clearly spelled out in the Bible.

I find C. S. Lewis’ quote from Mere Christianity on the subject very intriguing. “The command “Be ye perfect” is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command. He said (in the Bible) that we were “gods” and He is going to make good His words. If we let Him—for we can prevent Him, if we choose—He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, dazzling, radiant, immortal creatures, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to Him perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what he said. ” (Macmillan, 1952, p. 174)   Not exactly sure what I think of it, but it seems to sum up theosis rather nicely.

Overall, I feel like it is impossible to know what exactly will happen in heaven. Saying that we will become gods (hence the joke in the title) seems really radical. However, I know that we will become more like God. I, however, am uncomfortable going all the way and saying that we become the same nature as God. Sounds Gnostic, which we saw was false last week.

Anyway, feel free to attempt to sway me either way.

If anyone wants to know, the book that I mentioned is called “The Divine Secret” by Joseph Kovacs.