“The beginning of Christendom is, strictly, at a point out of time. A metaphysical trigonometry finds it among the spiritual Secrets, at the meeting of two heavenward lines, one drawn from Bethany along the Ascent of Messias, the other from Jerusalem against the Descent of the Paraclete. That measurement, the measurement of eternity in operation, of the bright cloud and the rushing wind, is, in effect, theology.”
– Charles Williams, The Descent of the Dove
I’ve recently begun working through G.K. Beale’s A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New. I have the sense of being drawn into a deep, expansive ocean. In just a few chapters I’ve already been shown new facets of the Biblical revelation that is not only intellectually satisfaction, but imagination enriching. It makes my Bible feel thicker.
David Clarkson writes in his excellent Soul Idolatry:
That choice of Christ is only real and sincere, when the soul takes him, not only as a Saviour, but as a Lord. Try, then, by this. Are you as willing to be commnaded by Christ, as to be saved by him — to submit to his laws, as to partake of his benefits? Do ye desire him as much to make you holy as to make you happy — as much for sanctification as for salvation — as much to free you from the power [of] sin as from the guilt of it — not only that it may not damn you, but that it may not have dominion over you? If you do not choose Christ for this, and in this manner, you choose him not at all. ‘Tis plain, while you would have Christ for your Saviour, something else is your god.
I’ve been preaching through a list of “Essential Tenets and Reformed Distinctives” the past several weeks; today was on the priesthood of all believers. In laying out my discussion I realized how closely this doctrine is related to the doctrine of the authority of scripture. The role of the priest is to act as a mediator – speaking God’s word to people, and on behalf of the people to God. The doctrine that each of us are priests means that we speak directly to God in our prayers through Christ, and we hear God speak directly to us through the scriptures.
We lose this if we do not take the scriptures to be the very Word of God. If they are only a witness to the Revelation, or potentially a channel for the Word then we must have someone distinquish for us which portions are the Word of God and which are the words of men. We return to having a magisterium, an authoriatave priest or professor who tells us which portions are accurate witnesses and which are errors.
(Photo of people reading the New Testament for the first time in the Mape language by kahunapule)
My thesis, “Church authority and non-subscription controversies in early 18th century Presbyterianism”, is now available online at the University of Glasgow’s website.
The practice of confessional subscription, or giving assent to a confession of faith through signing a formula of approbation, was the subject of debate among Presbyterian Churches in the early eighteenth century. While other studies have examined the local controversies, this thesis offers a comprehensive examination of the question of subscription and the connections between the debates among English Dissenters, in the Church of Scotland, the General Synod of Ulster, the Synod of Philadelphia and the Presbytery of Charleston. It identifies the common background and influences, especially in questions of ecclesiastical authority in the Church of England that preceded and greatly influenced the subscription controversy, which itself was essentially a debate over Church power. The discussions within the different Church bodies are reviewed with the connections between the bodies being highlighted. The debates began with the attempt to introduce subscription among English Dissenters leading to the Salters’ Hall Debate of 1719. Although there was not an open challenge to the Westminster Confession of Faith in the Church of Scotland, the tradition of subscribing inherited from emigrants and the involvement of ministers in correspondence with other Churches influenced the developments elsewhere. Next the development of Irish Presbyterianism from both English and Scottish traditions is shown followed by a discussion of the actual controversy in the General Synod of Ulster. In a chapter on the Synod of Philadelphia an interpretation of the American Adopting Act (1729) within the context of the international debate is offered. The closing chapter covers the much overlooked Presbytery of Charleston with insights from sources that have not previously been studied for that Church’s history.
Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. – Luke 24:50-51
The year I graduated from University a fellow student, Heather Whitestone, won Miss America. Many of us who had little or no interest in the competition before watched that year. It was exciting to watch someone who ate in the cafeteria with us competing in a national competition. And of course we were proud when she won. My roommate at the time had asked her out and been told that she was dating someone – I still tease him about being able to say that he was turned down by Miss America.
There is something in us that takes pride in sharing something in common with someone given an honor. I was proud of a fellow University student. We feel a sense of honor when they play the “Star Spangled Banner” at the Olympics. I’ve heard folks tell me with pride that Mt. Carmel and friends and family are in the movie Walk the Line. We share in the honor given to someone we have a bond.
The Sunday before Pentecost is Ascension Sunday, when we remember that Jesus, having finished his earthly ministry was “carried up to heaven” to be seated, as the Apostles’ Creed puts it, “at the right hand of God the Father Almighty”. Consider what it means for Jesus to have ascended to heaven. Jesus is the Word become flesh, God incarnate. Yet after he had paid the penalty for our sin by dying on the cross, and after he was resurrected from the dead, he didn’t throw off the human body and become pure spirit. Nor did he become un-incarnate, dumping off His human nature now that the “dirty work” was finished. The flesh he had taken was not disposed of as though it had no use. It was taken into glory. Jesus remains incarnate, that is, he continues to be fully Human (mind, body, and spirit) as well as fully Divine.
How all this works in incomprehensible, but what we can understand is the God values His good creation, including the physical world of dirt and water, flesh and blood. We receive an amazing honor in having one who is fully human “seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven” (Hebrews 8:1). Therefore, the way we view and treat ourselves and our neighbor should bear in mind that Lord did not despise the flesh or his humanity, but has glorified it and promises to glorify us as well.
I’ve usually posted daily updates during my research trips to Scotland. This year I went to Glasgow for my viva (the equivalent of the oral defense.) After the big event I spent most of my time visiting friends (and missing trains) so I didn’t keep a daily blog but thought I would post a summary of the whole trip now that I’m over my jet lag.
I arrived Thursday morning and wandered around the University to see what had changed since I was there last. I forgot how much I love Glasgow. I met with my supervisor that afternoon to prep for the viva the next day. I stayed at the cozy Alamo Guest house that evening.
Friday I woke too late to get breakfast at the Guest House but fortunately found a place serving breakfast. My viva went well and after a late lunch with Professor Hazlett I was off by train to Gloucester, England to visit my friend Allan.
Saturday Allan showed me around Gloucester. We had lunch at Robert Raike‘s house, a pub in the former home of the founder of the Sunday School movement. (I discovered gammon – good stuff.) After dinner at an Indian restaurant (my first proper sit-down Indian meal) we went to the Fountain Inn to catch up. Sunday we worshiped at the United Reformed Church before I caught my train on the way back to Glasgow feeling absolutely stuffed.
Window in St. Lawrence's
Things had been running so smooth. Before I left I had tried to book a room in Glasgow close to the rail station but I couldn’t get any of my cards to work with the online reservation system and the hotels I tried wouldn’t accept bookings by phone. (I’m suppressing a rant to get on with my story.) The train to Birmingham was very late. I’m not sure what caused the disruption – they announced that a train failed – but it caused a domino effect. I apparently had missed the last train to Glasgow and was put on another to Edinburgh which wouldn’t have been a problem had it not also been extremely late. Due to a general ignorance of English geography I really didn’t know where I was or which way I was going. I realized that it was going to be 2 AM before I got to Edinburgh which seemed awfully late to be trying to find a room. Then they announced the upcoming stops – Leeds…Wetherby…York. York – Tim! The only other folks I know in England live in York. Tim’s the Parish Priest at St Lawrence and St Hilda in York. I borrowed a kind stranger’s cell phone and called to let Tim know I would be in York soon – though I didn’t know when. I was welcomed into the Vicarage in the middle of the night. We reenacted one of Jesus’ parables (Luke 11:5-9) with a nearby Indian take-away that was just about to close.
Since I didn’t have anything scheduled for the next day, Tim invited me to accompany him on a car trip to Wales. He was going to visit family and I had to get a train from somewhere. I got to spend a little time with Tim’s family before heading off.
It was good to have an unexpected visit and catch up. Tim has recently been the subject of controversy for a pre-Christmas sermon criticizing the lack of assistance for the poor taken as advocating shoplifting. As we discussed the sermon and media reports (and distortions) I was shocked to hear that Church of England parishes don’t have some of the basic resources available to assist those in need that I’m used to here such as a pastor’s discretionary fund. I get the impression that the Church’s mission to the poor has been given to the priest personally, the state welfare system, or the Salvation Army.
Church in Raglan
We had time to get a bite to eat in Raglan (had Welsh rabbit for the first time) before I caught the train to Glasgow from Abergavenny. Thankfully the train ride was uneventful and I was able to get to the hotel for some rest before a ridiculously early plane flight home.
Dynion - Gentlemen
Today I was received by the Presbytery of the Mid-South, Presbyterian Church (USA). I presented the following Statement of Faith:
I adhere to the classic, historic faith of the Christian Church, particularly as it has been understood by the Reformed tradition. I confess the faith of the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, the definition of the Council of Chalcedon and the the Athanasian Creed. I am also in agreement with the historic, Reformed consensus as collected in the PCUSA Book of Confessions. I believe these are in agreement with the Holy Scriptures which is the infallible rule of faith and practice.
I believe in a sovereign and holy God who created all things. This God is Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Humans were created in His image to be in relationship with Him and each other, but through sin have rebelled against God and impaired their relationship with other humans and the whole of creation which now longs for redemption. All people are by nature deficient due to our sinful nature and unable to know God apart from His intervention.
In spite of our rebellion God sent His Son to become incarnate in human flesh. He entered history and lived a life of perfect obedience, fulfilling the Law that we could not and suffering death on the Cross to pay the penalty our sin and rebellion deserved, propitiating the wrath of a righteous God. He was resurrected on the third day.
Through the work of the Holy Spirit we come to have faith in Christ and his work on the cross. Through this faith, and solely by God’s grace, we are pronounced righteous and adopted into God’s family, the Church. As the Church we are called to proclaim the good news of Christ’s work to those around us and, out of our gratitude for God’s grace, to live a life that is congruent with God’s Kingdom through our work for justice, charity to the poor, care of creation and other works of mercy.
I’ve had conversations with friends recently about the Church’s approach to and use of the internet and social media. John Piper has started using twitter and, unlike most folks who take up technology without consideration, has posted about his reasons for it on his blog.
He says he sees two responses to social media and the internet. I would add a third, which I think is much more prevelant: the adoption of technology without any consideration of the consequences that he mentions.
That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread. (Luke 24:13-35 ESV)
The narrative of Jesus meeting the disciples on the road to serves as a wonderful image of the church in microcosm. Yesterday evening I taught on the passage and wanted to share in brief some of the connections I see Luke pointing to in the event.
- ‘That very day’ – that is the Lord’s Day, the day Jesus had risen. The Church gathers on the day of resurrection to meet the risen Lord.
- ‘two of them’ – “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matt. 18:20)
- ‘were going to a village name Emmaus‘ – that is to a small village not mentioned before. True worship is no longer in Jerusalem, but ‘in Spirit and in truth’ and everywhere. The Church is not marked by a specific location, but gathers in Jerusalem, Emmaus, Glasgow, New York, secret house meetings in China and in Allsboro.
- They were ‘on the Road’ – Road (Greek: ὁδός) also means “way” the term used for followers of Christ in Acts which was also written by Luke. See for example Acts 9:2; Acts 19:9 and Acts 22:4.
- The disciples were Cleopas and an unamed disciple – that is, it was not Peter, James or John or even another of the Apostles. It was ordinary followers that the Risen Lord met with, Cleopas and someone not named who could have been any other of the 500 regular men and women who saw Jesus before his ascension. The implication Luke has is that it could easily have been any of his readers.
- ‘Jesus himself drew near’ – the Trimphant Christ meets his disciples on the Way on the Lord’s day. This what happens every Sunday. In many villages, cities and towns around the world as we gather he draws nears. Moreover, they didn’t recognize him. First, Jesus is truly present regardless of what they understand or feel. Had Jesus never revealed himself he still would have been there, it his presence not our experience that makes it real. Second, consider how often we gather to meet the Risen Lord without recognizing his presence.
- Worship is defined by and the Church is recognized in Word and Sacrament – “he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures” and ” he was known to them in the breaking of the bread”
- “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” – All scripture”Moses and the Prophets” point to Jesus. Jesus uses scripture as a means of revelation, and it is Jesus who is the true Teacher through his Spirit.
- “When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them.” – The four verbs took, blessed, broke, and gave are the words used to describe the actions of the Lord’s Supper. See Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:23 and Luke 22:19 (blessing and giving thanks are almost synonymous in mealtime prayers which is why we alternatively ask someone “Say the Blessing” or to “Give Thanks” before eating)
- Then they told what had happened on the road – From being nourished by the Lord in Word and Sacrament they leave to tell about the what had happened and how he was made known to them. They go on a mission of bearing witness to what had happened.
This passage from Luke reminds us of who we are and the ordinary means God has given through which we disciples on the Way, wherever we are, experience the true presence of the Risen Lord. He draws near to us through Word and Sacrament in the community of Faith every Lord’s Day.
Lord Jesus, stay with us, for evening is at hand and the day
is past; be our companion in the way, kindle our hearts, and
awaken hope, that we may know you as you are revealed in
Scripture and the breaking of bread. Grant this for the sake
of your love. Amen. (A Collect for the Presence of Christ from The Book of Common Prayer)