The Age of Deception

There are different times in history, in reality-all the time, that the church is challenged to live true, and not be deceived by lies and deception. Just in the past century one of the best and saddest examples of this is Nazi Germany. The question “How could people have ever believed Hitler?” is glaring, yet then we must also ask what lies permeate our own society, and how can we be the church in an age of deception?

People believe a lie because they want to: 

Malcom Muggeridge, English journalist, author, WWII soldier and spy, and advocate for Mother Teresa said:

“People do not believe lies because they have to but because they want to.’ Looking back to Nazi Germany we may ask “How could they have bought the lie” but the lie was gradual, consistent, insistent… In Hitler’s own words “Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it…It is not truth that matters, but victory…How fortunate for leaders that men do not think.”

How can I know truth?

In a world of no absolutes what is absolute? How can I know truth, and not be deceived? Proverbs instructs- “Get the truth and never sell it”

Look at the Bereans in Acts chapter 17: “…they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”

Jesus points us to scripture as  truth revealed to us by Father-God in John 17:17. “Make them holy by your truth: teach them your word, your word is truth.”

And also in Matthew chapter 22- “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.”

Francis Schaeffer speaks about how the early church was able to live in a world of deception:

“(God gave) absolutes which enabled the early church to withstand the pressure of the Roman Empire. Without a strong commitment to God’s absolutes, the early church could never have remained faithful in the face of the constant Roman harassment and persecution.”

This remains as true today for the church as it was in the first century. The church fails to be the church when it fails to have absolute truth, a solid foundation of truth as has been revealed to us. Schaeffer said that the Bible speaks to us and gives us guidance, if we’ll let it. Paul said “I know what is right & what is wrong because of the law” (Romans 7:7)

The church can make a right stand in whatever society, if they stand on truth as it has been revealed. This requires not picking and choosing what suits us, and disregarding the rest, but wrestling with, and engaging scripture.  We must honestly read and study, like the Bereans in Acts, and then submit our opinions, preferences, and values to God’s truth first, as best we can.

To pick and chose, or disregard altogether, is exactly what the early church had to stand against with the early heresies. Huge sections of the gospels or Paul’s letters had been left out by those  who fell into dangerous teachings. Paul, writing to the Thessalonians:

“…stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.”

 

The End Of Christendom

When I was in high school and college I often said I felt I was living in a time similar to the Fall of the Roman Empire.

Malcom Muggeridge, British soldier and spy, later journalist and author, came to faith well into adulthood. Afterwards he authored The End Of Christendom, a lecture along with Q&A, in which he said:

Christendom began with the emperor Constantine. Christianity began with the incarnation…

This clarification is necessary in 21st century America. It is also the angst I was trying to verbalize several years ago as a student. America has been changing. I would argue that though the United States does not have a “state religion” in that there is no preferred denomination, the state religion of America up until the past 50 years was a “christendom”  almost synonymous with “cultural christianity.” Christendom,  is not in all actuality Christianity, it is similar in many ways but not in all. The wars in the middle ages accentuate this point in that God does not pick sides between warring Christian Kingdoms, Jesus said “My Kingdom is not of this world.” Christendom however has slowly been rejected by our culture over the past decades as is evidenced in our social mores; from rejecting prayer in school, or display of the Ten Commandments in courthouses to the current scrutiny of evangelicals, and the many other social changes we are witnessing. Many once nominal Christians no longer claim to be so as there is no longer a social advantage in doing so.

As we are now full swing into the new millennium we have to readjust our vision. Muggeridge clarifies for us:

Christendom, however, is something quite different from Christianity, being the administrative or power structure, based on the Christian religion and constructed by men. It bears the same relation to the everlasting truth of the Christian revelation as, say, laws do to justice, or morality to goodness, or carnality to love—if you like, as Augustine’s City of God to the earthly city where we temporarily live.

The founder of Christianity was, of course, Christ. The founder of Christendom I suppose could be named as the Emperor Constantine. I believe…that it is not Christ’s Christianity which is now floundering. You might even say that Christ himself abolished Christendom before it began by stating that his kingdom was not of this world—one of the most far reaching and important of all his statements. Christendom began with the Emperor Constantine. Christianity began with the Incarnation.

— Malcolm Muggeridge, from The End of Christendom, p. 13

The disciples went to make disciples, not necessarily to ensure that the state and the church were always symbiotic. Some would argue that any time the state sponsors the church then you have something compromised, other times the state has tried to suppress the church, as in the former USSR, and yet the church did abide with fiery devotion and integrity.

 

 

Not To Be Your Enemy

Saint Francis said “No man is to be your enemy.”

One of the biggest concerns and pitfalls of the new century is dehumanizing those who view things differently and who’s opinions differ from our own. In the last 20 years this seems to have particularly been accentuated.  Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu notes:

“When we see others as the enemy, we risk becoming what we hate. When we oppress others, we end up oppressing ourselves. All of our humanity is dependent upon recognizing the humanity in others.”
― Desmond Tutu, Anglican clergy & leader

Tutu was working and operating in Apartheid South Africa, and took that activism to change a social and political climate. The difficulty of dehumanizing others stalls progress and continues to build walls between us.  At it’s best the church is to be the conscience of a society.

John Henry Newman, 19th century Anglican and Catholic scholar, noted the need for the church, and her clergy to give voice, addressing the political arena whenever necessary:

“Above all, clergymen are bound to form and pronounce an opinion. It is sometimes said, in familiar language, that a clergyman should have nothing to do with politics. This is true, if it be meant that he should not aim at secular objects, should not side with a political party as such, should not be ambitious of popular applause, or the favour of great men, should not take pleasure and lose time in business of this world, should not be covetous. But if it means that he should not express an opinion and exert an influence one way rather than another, it is plainly unscriptural.”
― John Henry Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons 

While remaining true to scripture and conscience, we should always seek to better and enrich society whenever possible. Francis said “While you are walking somewhere to preach, be sure that your walking is your preaching.” We must always strive to treat others with differing opinions, not as enemies, not dehumanizing them, not over-politically, but retaining the truth that each person is the image of God, and a child deeply loved.

Amending My Political Dogma

I once received criticism for leading prayers of the people, specifically praying for refugees and exhorting parishioners to “Treat the refugees among you kindly…” A good and well-meaning person later said “We really shouldn’t pray political things during prayers.” I disagreed with him gently, told him that I was not praying politics at all but rather I was praying scripture, particularly Leviticus 19:34

The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.

I also said that I felt responsible to teach people to pray according to biblical example, that instead of amending scripture to our politics or opinions, we must amend our life and prayers as we are informed by scriptural example and deed, whenever possible.

Historically, at it’s worst the church has been complicit with the mistakes and abuses of the state. At it’s best the church often functions as the conscience of the state. When the church functions as it should then slavery ends, apartheid ends, people are treated with dignity and respect as an image-bearer of their Heavenly Father.

We face real issues, there are real problems to solve, but we must consider what kind of world we wish to live in and treat others accordingly…the whole “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” thing.

Wilberforce, MLK, Desmond Tutu & many others, with or without famous names, have proven time and again the powerful need for the church to promote the good conscience of a nation. Often that is to uphold the law and to be good citizens, and sometimes that is to oppose laws that are out of date or are just plain wrong. We should continue to be the vioce of good conscience, It’s important and it will determine what kind of world we live in.

Harrowing Hell: Part 3- Gustaf Aulen and Christus Victor

Gustav Aulen, in chapter 3 of his book, Christus Victor, notes that though the early fathers had some divergent views, Irenaeus, Origen, Athanasius, the Cappadocian fathers, and Augustine all agree on this classical understanding of the atonement: that Christ, having died and descended into hell, overthrew the powers of darkness and broke the power of death, being raised again victorious. (Aulén, 37-39). Gustav Aulen notes that Augustine taught how:

…the race of men is delivered into the power of the devil on account of its sin; guilt rests on the whole race. Yet God does not cease to love mankind, and the incarnation is proof of the greatness of His love…the coming of His Son… is proof of the greatness of His love…the coming of His Son into fellowship with us, to take upon himself our sufferings and the evil which rests upon us. Thereby we are saved, justified by His blood, reconciled to God through the death of His Son, delivered from the wrath…” (45).

Elsewhere Aulen references Augustine, who explains,

The devil found Christ innocent, but none the less smote Him; he shed innocent blood, and took what he had no right to take. Therefore it is fitting he be dethroned and forced to give up those who were under his power (51).

After 1600 years, this understanding of the work of Christ, and the harrowing of hell, began to fall out of favor during the Enlightenment; however, in the 20th century, theologians like Bishop Gustaf Aulen began to rediscover this ancient understanding of the triumphant and victorious work of Christ in the harrowing of hell. Aulen writes: “Evil ultimately overreaches itself when it comes into conflict with the power of good, with God Himself. It loses the battle at the moment it seems to be victorious” (55). Basically, if a payment for sin was required- God also paid it in full through Christ. He overcomes not by Almighty fiat, but by putting His own skin into the game.

My understanding of the work of Christ has grown and developed greatly since encountering the concept of the harrowing of hell and Christ’s victory over death and the grave. Jesus was not an unknowing victim but a purposeful savior. He did not just rest or sleep while in the grave, it seems that, in combination with his crucifixion on the cross that this harrowing of hell in between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday accentuates Christ’s complete and total victory as well as His ultimate sovereignty in all things.

Harrowing Hell part 2:

John Chrysostom, in his Easter homily of 400 a.d. quotes Isaiah  “You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below” (Chrysostom) and Melito of Sardis, in the 2nd century celebrated Christ’s resurrection with these words:

Who is my opponent? I, he says, am the Christ. I am the one who destroyed death, and triumphed over the enemy, and trampled Hades under foot, and bound the strong one, and carried off man to the heights of heaven, I, he says, am the Christ (On the Passover, part 102).

One clarification we must make in our understanding of the language is that hell may not have meant the lake of fire that many of us think of today. The Greek word Hades, and the Hebrew word Sheol referred to the place of the dead. Later wordings of the creed reflect this by saying “Christ descended to the dead” (A Christian Presence in Every Community). However, that is not to say that Christ descended into some limbo of nothingness.  The catechism of the Catholic Church states that

“Jesus did not descend into hell to deliver the damned, nor to destroy the hell of damnation, but to free the just who had gone before him” (Catechism, 180).

McGrath, writing on “the harrowing of hell” states “According to this, after dying on the cross, Christ descended to hell, and broke down its gates in order that the imprisoned souls might go free” (McGrath, 335). So, the idea of the Harrowing of Hell is more complex than one may initially think it is.

On Harrowing Hell

The Harrowing of Hell

The Apostles Creed states in the 4th line that Christ:

“Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell:” 

He descended into hell.

Growing up in a non-liturgical setting, I was not aware of the Apostles Creed, I did not read or recite it until later into adulthood. Being Baptist, when it came to remembering Easter, I knew that Jesus was crucified on Good Friday and raised on Easter Sunday, and I did not think much about the time in between.  There was no teaching on it. Encountering the Apostles Creed later opened up that timeline to me and gave me an idea of what happened between Friday and Sunday while Jesus was in the tomb. My Baptist understanding was that Christ slept in death but, as I encountered the Apostles Creed, I questioned if that was all that happened in between.

I later discovered that this “in between time” had a name: “The Harrowing of Hell”.  In The Church of England’s 39 Articles of Religion, article 3 states: “AS Christ died for us, and was buried, so also is it to be believed, that he went down into Hell”(A Christian Presence in Every Community). There is no elaboration beyond this statement. I will explore more fully what this may mean.

There are several scriptures the church has pointed to for a clearer understanding of just what Christ did between crucifixion and resurrection. Catholic theologian, Dr. Taylor Marshall, writing on the subject of Christ’s descent into hell notes the following:

  1. Saint Paul teaches us in Ephesians 4:9 that Christ our Lord descended into Hell after He offered His life on the cross. “Now that He ascended, what is it, but because He also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?”
  2. Saint Peter said in Acts 2:24 that “God hath raised up Christ, having loosed the sorrows of hell, as it was impossible that He should be holden by it.” Christ loosed the Old Testament saints from hell.
  3. Saint Peter also wrote in 1 Peter 3:19 that “Christ coming in spirit preached to those spirits that were in prison, which had some time been incredulous.” On this verse, Saint Athanasius says that “Christ’s body was laid in the sepulchre when He went to preach to those spirits who were in bondage, as Peter said.
  4. The prophet Hosea foretold the descent of Christ into Hell in Hosea 13:14 by placing these words into the mouth of the Messiah: “O death, I will be thy death; O hell, I will be thy bite.”
  5. Zechariah foretells the redemption of those in the Limbo of the Fathers in Zech 9:11: “Thou also by the blood of Thy Testament hast sent forth Thy prisoners out of the pit.” What could this mean except that the Messiah would free people from the underworld?
  6. Colossians 2:15: “Despoiling the principalities and powers, He hath exposed them confidently.” This refers to Christ’s victory over the condemned angels who are the demons of Hell.
  7. Psalm 23:7: “Lift up your gates, O ye princes,” which the medieval Gloss interprets: “that is–Ye princes of hell, take away your power, whereby hitherto you held men fast in hell” (Marshall) .

Next post we will look at theologians and church fathers more on the topic. For now there’s certainly some scripture to chew on.

Comfortable With Who You Are

Servant-leaders must learn to be comfortable with who God has made them to be and not get  self-worth from the praise and adulation of men. It is flattering to be consulted, asked for advice, but what happens when you’re not the coolest pastor, or the coolest church to go to anymore, if you ever were… one year you’re asked to speak at conferences, sit on committees, and people value your thoughts… how will you handle it when you are not sought out? Politics, circumstance, opinions, and sometimes, people are fickle. If you’re getting your self-worth from anyone or anywhere else but God at some point you will become disoriented.

A Prayer called The Litany of Humility states:

From the desire of being esteemed, Deliver me, Jesus. From the desire of being honored …From the desire of being praised …From the desire of being preferred to others…From the desire of being consulted …Deliver me, Jesus.

Learn humility sooner rather than later, practice humbleness and don’t get your self-worth from the praise and adulation of men, learn peace in your heart, learn to affirm others instead of your self interest, encourage others, promote the qualities of others because you are comfortable and confident in whom God has made you.

The Opposite Effect Of An Atomic Bomb

Saint Francis says we should be joyful, good-humoured, and happy…

We ought to be. I am very challenged to live this kind of life at times, yet I know it is the best way to live. It’s the best way to dismantle the atomic bomb of hatred and anger and un-peace that seems to permeate our world these days. The challenge is to “have peace on our lips and also in our hearts” as much of the time as we can be mindful to do so, as Saint Francis would exhort us to do. This may not sound like power to the world, but it is the power that heals and gives new life.

Success

The older I get the less I fear failure.  I’ve found the lessons learned in failures are worth their weight in gold, but especially “not to live in fear”. Most failures don’t kill you, they give you invaluable experience on how to live life forward. If you fail it’s not the end of the world, just take what you’ve learned and apply it. Sometimes you get to help someone else along their way… and that is success.