Seeking God

A major emphasis of Psalm 34 is what it means to seek God.  This psalm describes many of the blessings of seeking God.

The person who seeks God will praise Him…
I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad. Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together!” (Psalm 34:1–3, ESV)

The person who seeks God will receive an answer and will be saved…
I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.” (Psalm 34:4, ESV)
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles.” (Psalm 34:6, ESV)

The person who seeks God will light up…
Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.” (Psalm 34:5, ESV)

The person who seeks God will experience protection…
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.” (Psalm 34:7, ESV)

The person who seeks God will be blessed…
Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Psalm 34:8, ESV)

The person who seeks God will lack no good thing…
Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack! The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.” (Psalm 34:9–10, ESV)

The person who seeks God will fear Him…
Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.” (Psalm 34:11, ESV)

The person who seeks God will do good, not evil…
What man is there who desires life and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalm 34:12–14, ESV)

The person who seeks God will be seen and heard by the Lord…
The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous and his ears toward their cry.” (Psalm 34:15, ESV)

The person who seeks God will not be cut off…
The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth.” (Psalm 34:16, ESV)

The person who seeks God will receive deliverance from their troubles…
When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.” (Psalm 34:17, ESV)

The person who seeks God will be comforted by the Lord…
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18, ESV)

The person who seeks God will be protected…
Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all. He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken.” (Psalm 34:19–20, ESV)

The person who seeks God will be redeemed, not condemned…
Affliction will slay the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be condemned. The Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.” (Psalm 34:21–22, ESV)

 

Theological Unity

A person does not need to venture very deep into Christian circles before encountering theological debates.  In the midst of those debates many take up as their rallying cry, “Unity on the essentials!  Charity on the non-essentials!”  That sounds well and good until you disagree on what is essential and what is non-essential.

I have been wondering how theological debates fit into Jesus’ prayer for his followers:

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (John 17:20–23, ESV)

It would seem from these verses that Jesus desires that his followers would be one and would experience unity in the same way that he and his Father are united.  The thousands of denominations that Christianity has splintered into suggests that such a unity has not been achieved by followers of Christ.

I  care deeply about theology and have blessed with opportunities to teach theology and related subjects.  For as much as I enjoy theology, I am frustrated by the lack of theological unity among people who truly do seek to be faithful to God’s Word.  For some humor, and perhaps a bit of sobering insight, take a look at this comic.  Credit for this comic goes to “Tom’s Doubts cartoon by Saji.”  It can be found all over the Internet, including here and here.

TomsDoubts14

The Greatness of the Spirit

“What does the Spirit do?  His works are ineffable in majesty, and innumerable in quantity.  How can we even ponder what extends beyond the ages?  What did He do before creation began?  How great are the graces He showered on creation?  What power will he wield in the age to come?  He existed; He pre-existed; He co-existed with the Father and the Son before the ages.  Even if you can imagine anything beyond the ages, you will discover that the Spirit is even further beyond.”
(St. Basil the Great)

An Instrument of Peace

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is discord, unity.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is error, truth.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is sadness, joy.
Where there is darkness, light.
O divine master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console.
To be understood, as to understand.
To be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving, that we receive.
It is in pardoning, that we are pardoned.
It is in dying, that we are born to eternal life.

(Francis of Assisi)

A Bible Study Process

Summarized from Living by the Book by Howard Hendricks and William Hendricks

Three Steps in Bible Study

  1. Observation: What do I see? Read the text carefully and repeatedly.  Look for terms, structure, literary form, and atmosphere.
  2. Interpretation: What does it mean? Bombard the text with questions and be prepared to work to find answers.  As you discover answers, work to integrate your answers into a meaningful whole.  Take the passage apart to inspect the little details and then put it back together.
  3. Application: How does it work? Consider how the text applies to your life before you apply it to the lives of other people.  Preach the passage to yourself first.

Sample Questions to Ask

  1. Who? Who are the people in the text?  What is said about them?  What do they say?
  2. What? What is happening?  What is the author trying to communicate?  What is wrong?  What is right?  What is emphasized, repeated, related, alike, unlike, or true to life?
  3. Where? Where is this story happening?  Are they traveling to or from somewhere?  Where was the author?  Where was the audience?
  4. When? When did these things happen?  How does this account fit into the timeline of Biblical history?  When did the author write this?
  5. Why? Why was this passage written?  Why does this person do that or say that?  Why did the author use this word?  Why does this passage follow or precede what it does?  There is no end to “Why” questions.
  6. Wherefore? So what?  What difference should the truth of this passage make in my life?

Early Christian Worship

This description of early Christian worship was written by Justin Martyr (100-165).  It comes from chapter 67 of “The First Apology of Justin.”   

And the wealthy among us help the needy; and we always keep together; and for all things wherewith we are supplied, we bless the Maker of all through His Son Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Ghost.

And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things.

Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons.

And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows, and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds, and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead.

For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration.

 

 

The Augustine-Pelagius Debate

In the words of R.C. Sproul, “We have not broken free from the Pelagian captivity of the church.”[i]  He is declaring that the controversy between Augustine and Pelagius is still asserting itself upon our modern world.  That influence can particularly be felt in the debates between Calvinists and Arminians.  We must remember that the basic tenets of that discussion go back much further than John Calvin and James Arminius.  Augustine and Pelagius are in some ways the forerunners of a contemporary issue.[ii]

In discussing the historical significance of this topic Sproul quotes Adolph Harnack, who said:
There has never, perhaps, been another crisis of equal importance in church history in which the opponents have expressed the principles at issue so clearly and abstractly.  The Arian dispute before the Nicene Council can alone be compared with it.[iii]

In light of the historical and contemporary significance of this topic, we do well to inquire about the fundamental issue in this famous debate.  The controversy began in approximately 410, when Pelagius and his disciple Celestius moved from Rome to Carthage.[iv]  Celestius was hoping to be ordained as a priest in Carthage, but because of Augustine’s influence in that area he found little support.  Both Pelagius and Celestius moved east, where they found more receptivity to Pelagius’ teaching.  However, their encounter with Augustine had prompted him to begin an extensive literary attack against Pelagianism.  What was it about Pelagianism that brought on the fury of Augustine?[v]

Pelagius (c. 354–415[vi]) was likely a British monk who was a teacher in Rome before his move to Carthage.  Millard Erickson describes Pelagius as a moralist whose “primary concern was for people to live good and decent lives.”  In Pelagius’ thinking, an overly pessimistic view of human nature was not expedient toward that end.  When the sinfulness of mankind was overemphasized, there was no longer any motivation to lead a decent life.  He responded to that by stressing the idea of free will.  From his perspective, humans were completely free from external influences, including the effects of Adam’s sin.  The human soul was not tainted by sin.  Adam’s influence upon mankind was limited to his having been a bad example.[vii]

Pelagius also reasoned that, because Adam’s sin had no direct impact on the rest of mankind, there was no special work of God’s grace within the human heart.  He instead considered grace to be present everywhere at every moment.  In his view the grace of God is available to all people in the same way, which led him to reject any notion of predestination.  The primary implication of Pelagius’ theology is that man can, through his own strength and determination, live in complete obedience to God.  Man is not born with a propensity to sin; man’s desire to sin is only developed as bad habits are formed.  That thinking makes salvation by works a legitimate possibility.  However, strictly speaking, because man is not born with a sin nature, he does not so much need to be saved as he needs to be preserved in his original sinless state.  Such preservation is humanly possible apart from God’s intervention.[viii]

Augustine (354-430) is best known for his service as bishop of Hippo Regius in Northern Africa.  The theology of Augustine has exerted tremendous influence upon Western Christianity.  When the term “Augustinianism” is used it is typically in reference to Augustine’s perspective on the human condition.  In contrast to Pelagius, Augustine’s view was not at all complimentary to mankind.  Augustine considered sin to have resulted from man’s misuse of his free rational choice.  Adam deliberately exerted his will against God’s, and through that sin the rest of mankind joined Adam in his sinful state.  Mankind is still free, but only free to sin.  Mankind has both a tendency toward sin and an inability to choose God.  In that condition, asserted Augustine, salvation can only be achieved through God’s grace.  And that grace is not available to all mankind – through God’s act of predestination grace is given to some and withheld from others.[ix]

There is a positive aspect to Augustine’s depressing view of man, and that is his confidence in God’s ability to save whomever he (God, not man) wills.  Augustine viewed salvation as being completely the work of God, performed at the initiative of God, and that gave him assurance that the salvation of God’s elect would ultimately be accomplished.  It can be helpful to recognize that Augustine’s view of salvation was focused on power.  That means that although fallen humans are free, they can only choose sin because they do not have the power to choose otherwise.  Because of that lack of power, it is only through the work of God that anyone believes in him.  Augustine’s view can be summarized by saying that salvation is God’s gracious and unmerited gift.[x]

This discussion of these two theological perspectives has no doubt alerted you to where the conflict between these men lay.  Vincent of Lérins, a contemporary of Augustine and Pelagius, expressed himself on this topic by writing, “For who ever before that profane Pelagius attributed so much antecedent strength to Free-will, as to deny the necessity of God’s grace to aid it towards good in every single act?”  Vincent followed that statement by denouncing Pelagius’ “monstrous” disciple Celestius, who denied the involvement of all of mankind in the sin of Adam.[xi]  The fundamental issue in the debate between Augustine and Pelagius was the impact of Adam’s sin on the human race.

According to Pelagius, Adam’s sin belonged only to him.  Therefore, each person is free to make their own decision to follow either Christ or Adam.  According to Augustine, Adam’s sin placed all of mankind in bondage to sin.  To Pelagius, death was a natural event; to Augustine, death is a painful consequence and reminder of original sin.  These men had radically divergent views of God’s grace.  Pelagius understood grace to be God’s provision for moral advancement, which he made available at creation; Augustine understood grace to be an internal action of Holy Spirit in baptism and conversion.[xii]

Augustine thought that Pelagius was downplaying the seriousness of sin, to which Pelagius responded that Augustine was downplaying the saving work accomplished by Christ’s death.[xiii]  But according to Augustine, Pelagius had turned the doctrine of salvation into a system in which God rewarded human merit.  It was critical to Augustine to emphasize that man is so sinful that any form of reconciliation with God is impossible apart from the work of Christ.[xiv]  Colin Gunton makes the point that Augustine’s objections were based on evangelical grounds, because “if Pelagius was correct, then it was not necessary for Christ to have died.”[xv]  That is because Pelagius did not see sin as a condition from which man needs to be set free, but rather as evil actions.  In contrast, Augustine saw sin as the evil nature inherited from Adam.  That evil nature, with which all men are born, produces evil actions.  However, that evil nature can be removed through the work of God’s grace.  Without grace man cannot believe in or live in obedience to God.  Through grace man can believe in and obey God.[xvi]

The two sides of the debate are summarized well in this statement: “The soul of the Pelagian system is human freedom; the soul of the Augustinian is divine grace.”[xvii]  After this analysis of the debate between Augustine and Pelagius, we can affirm with Sproul that “The heart of the debate centered on the doctrine of original sin, particularly with respect to the question of the extent to which the will of fallen man is free.”[xviii]  This debate has continued for 1600 years; we must not think we will be able to escape the implications of this discussion in our own lives and ministries.  May God find us faithful in handling his truth.

 Works Cited

Bloesch, Donald G. Jesus Christ: Savior & Lord. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997.

Boer, Harry R. A Short History of the Early Church. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1976.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013.

González, Justo L., and Catherine Gunsalus González. Heretics for Armchair Theologians. First edition. Armchair Theologians Series. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008.

Grenz, Stanley, David Guretzki, and Cherith Fee Nordling. Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999.

Gundlach, B.J. “Augustine of Hippo.”  Edited by Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology: Second Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001.

Gunton, Colin E. Theology through the Theologians: Selected Essays, 1972-1995. London; New York: T&T Clark, 2003.

Holze, Heinrich. “Pelagianism.” Edited by Erwin Fahlbusch, Jan Milič Lochman, John Mbiti, Jaroslav Pelikan, and Lukas Vischer. The Encyclopedia of Christianity. Volume 4. Grand Rapids, Mich.;  Leiden, Netherlands: Wm. B. Eerdmans;  Brill, 2005.

McWilliam, Joanne. “Augustine of Hippo (354–430).”  Edited by Trevor A. Hart. The Dictionary of Historical Theology. Carlisle, Cumbria, U.K.: Paternoster Press, 2000.

Schaff, Philip, and David Schley Schaff. History of the Christian Church. Volume 3. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1910.

Shelley, Bruce L. Church History in Plain Language. Updated 2nd ed. Dallas, TX: Word Pub., 1995.

Sproul, R. C. “Right Now Counts Forever: Augustíne and Pelagius.” Edited by R. C. Sproul Jr. Tabletalk Magazine, June 1996: Augustine of Hippo. Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries, 1996.

Steele, David N., Curtis C. Thomas, and Roger Nicole. The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended and Documented. Philadelphia, PA: The Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Co., 1963.

Vincent of Lérins. “The Commonitory of Vincent of Lérins.” In Sulpitius Severus, Vincent of Lérins, John Cassian, edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, translated by C. A. Heurtley. Vol. 11. A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series. New York: Christian Literature Company, 1894.

Whitford, David M., ed. T&T Clark Companion to Reformation Theology. T&T Clark Companion. London; New York: T&T Clark, 2012.

Endnotes

[i] R. C. Sproul, “Right Now Counts Forever: Augustíne and Pelagius,” ed. R. C. Sproul Jr., Tabletalk Magazine, June 1996: Augustine of Hippo (Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries, 1996), 13.

[ii] David N. Steele, Curtis C. Thomas, and Roger Nicole, The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended and Documented (Philadelphia, PA: The Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Co., 1963), 19.

[iii] Sproul, 12.

[iv] Heinrich Holze, “Pelagianism,” ed. Erwin Fahlbusch et al., The Encyclopedia of Christianity, Volume 4 (Grand Rapids, MI.; Leiden, Netherlands: Wm. B. Eerdmans;  Brill, 2005), 124.

[v] Bruce L. Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, Updated 2nd ed. (Dallas, TX: Word Pub., 1995), 129.

[vi] Stanley Grenz, David Guretzki, and Cherith Fee Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 89.

[vii] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), 575–76.

[viii] Ibid., 576.

[ix] B.J. Gundlach, “Augustine of Hippo”, Walter A. Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology: Second Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 121–23.

[x] Ibid., 123.

[xi] Vincent of Lérins, “The Commonitory of Vincent of Lérins,” in Sulpitius Severus, Vincent of Lérins, John Cassian, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. C. A. Heurtley, vol. 11, A Select Library of the Nicene   and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1894), 149–50.

[xii] Donald G. Bloesch, Jesus Christ: Savior & Lord (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 33.

[xiii] Joanne McWilliam, “Augustine of Hippo (354–430),” ed. Trevor A. Hart, The Dictionary of Historical Theology (Carlisle, Cumbria, U.K.: Paternoster Press, 2000), 445.

[xiv] David M. Whitford, ed., T&T Clark Companion to Reformation Theology, T&T Clark Companion (London; New York: T&T Clark, 2012), 400.

[xv] Colin E. Gunton, Theology through the Theologians: Selected Essays, 1972-1995 (London; New York: T&T Clark, 2003), 212.

[xvi] Harry R. Boer, A Short History of the Early Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1976), 161–62.

[xvii] Philip Schaff and David Schley Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol. 3 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1910), 787.

[xviii] Sproul, 12.