Friday, March 16, 2018

Putting On the Heart of Christ

“We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left.” (2 Corinthians 6:3-8)

Colossians 3:12-15


-In the days of the apostle Paul, Colossae was a major city that was in the midst of gradual decline. Originally, Colossae was located along major east and west and north and south trade routes. However, the main trade routes had been rerouted away from Colossae and through neighboring Laodicea. The change in trade routes resulted in a tri-city complex with Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis.
-The church in Colossae was founded by Epaphras (Colossians 1:5-7), and during Paul’s first Roman imprisonment in A.D. 61-62, he wrote to the church there as part of his prison ministry. However, growing heresy began to infect the church—so much so that Epaphras traveled to Rome to seek Paul’s counsel (Colossians 4:12-13). The heresy was a response to the radically pagan and sexually immoral culture of that time, for it brought in legalism and ascetism that taught that matter and the body were inherently evil. Therefore, in this letter, Paul seeks to encourage the church in sound doctrine and to lead them away from a false view of holiness.
-In Colossians 3, Paul teaches that true holiness is not following rules or amassing good works but simply becoming more like Jesus Christ (Colossians 3:4). He exhorts them to put sin to death not in order to be legalistic but so that they can know and become more like their Savior (Colossians 3:5-11). In the following verses, Paul instructs us how to put on the Lord Jesus Christ.

Verse 12
Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,
-Paul exhorts us first to “put on then” (Ἐνδύσασθε οὖν) the new self that has been raised with Christ Jesus.
-To “put on” means “to dress oneself” or “to be clothed” (Luke 24:49). Paul often exhorts us to put on Christ since Christ has already united Himself to us (Romans 13:14; Galatians 3:27)
-Since we have been made new in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), we are to walk in Christ (Colossians 2:6)
-We are “God’s chosen ones” (
ὡς ἐκλεκτοὶ τοῦ θεοῦ) who are “holy and beloved” (ἅγιοι καὶ ἠγαπημένοι).
-Before Paul lists specific attributes of Christ that we are to grow in, he reminds us once again of our position in Christ. We are the people of the living God (1 Peter 2:10-11) who were elected by God’s sovereign love to be redeemed and united in His Son Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:3-10).

-We are declared “holy” (
ἅγιοι) because God has imputed Christ’s righteousness to us (2 Corinthians 5:21), thereby declaring us to be righteous in His sight (Romans 8:33). To be “holy” means to be declared the “saints” of God (Colossians 1:22, 4, 12, 26).
-We are the “beloved” (
ἠγαπημένοι) of God because of God’s love for us—we did not earn or deserve God’s love. He freely and graciously demonstrated His love for us (Romans 5:8) and His love is amazingly infinite (Ephesians 3:18-19) and eternally indestructible and secure (Romans 8:38-39).
-We are to firstly clothe ourselves in “compassionate hearts” (
σπλάγχνα οἰκτιρμοῦ). Election from eternity precedes sanctification in time; the sanctified, feeling God’s love, imitate it [1]
-This phrase is translated into English so we can understand it in our English idioms, but the Greek literally says “bowels of compassion”. In the New Testament world, the “bowels” or “stomach” were the center of deep, intense affections (Philippians 1:8).
-God demonstrates this very same heart to us in Christ (Luke 1:78) and so we are to show tenderness and mercy towards others.
-Stemming from a compassionate heart are “kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (χρηστότητα, ταπεινοφροσύνην, πραΰτητα, μακροθυμίαν).
-“Kindness” (χρηστότητα) is part of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) and its antonym is “severity” (Romans 11:22). God has demonstrated His immeasurable kindness to us in the Gospel (Ephesians 2:7-9)).
-“Humility” (ταπεινοφροσύνην) means to put others before yourself by having Christ at the forefront of our focus rather than ourselves (Philippians 2:3-5). No one has demonstrated more humility than Jesus Christ in the outworking of redemption (Philippians 2:5-11).
-“Meekness” (πραΰτητα) has as its synonym “gentleness” which is how we treat others in a humble way (Ephesians 4:2; 2 Timothy 2:25; 1 Peter 3:15).
-“Patience” (μακροθυμίαν) is longsuffering and forbearance in following the Lord’s will (James 5:10).

Verse 13
bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
-These qualities of Christlike character manifest themselves practically in specific actions, the first of which is “bearing with one another” (ἀνεχόμενοι ἀλλήλων). This means “to endure”.
-“Significantly, Paul focused on the individual who is to have patience, rather than the one who caused a problem. The place to begin in any group tension is with oneself rather than others.[2]
-To “bear” or “endure” (2 Thessalonians 1:4) requires us to trust in God’s purposes for our lives (1 Corinthians 4:12).
-Bearing with one another involves being ready to forgive one another. “And, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other” (καὶ χαριζόμενοι ἑαυτοῖς ἐάν τις πρός τινα ἔχῃ μομφήν).
-A “complaint” (μομφή) is a grievance or offense that we may legitimately or illegitimately have. Grievances and offenses are not necessarily illegitimate—people do objectively sin against us. Yet we are to model Christ when they do (Matthew 5:44; Romans 5:10).
He at length explains what he meant by long-suffering—that we embrace each other indulgently, and forgive also where any offence has been given. As, however, it is a thing that is hard and difficult, he confirms this doctrine by the example of Christ, and teaches, that the same thing is required from us, that as we, who have so frequently and so grievously offended, have nevertheless been received into favour, we should manifest the same kindness towards our neighbours, by forgiving whatever offences they have committed against us.[3]
-We can forgive our brothers and sisters in Christ because “as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (καθὼς καὶ ὁ κύριος ἐχαρίσατο ὑμῖν οὕτως καὶ ὑμεῖς).
-The Lord commands us to forgive as He forgave us (Matthew 6:14; Mark 11:25). This is not a suggestion, but a command from the Lord.
-We can forgive others and release them from the debt they owe us when we understand the indescribable forgiveness God has shown us in the substitutionary atonement of His Son on our behalf (Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14).
-God demonstrates true forgiveness toward us by nailing our debt of sin to the Cross where Jesus paid it all (Colossians 2:14; Isaiah 43:25; Psalm 103:12). We are therefore to cancel the debts that others owe us that they cannot repay.

Verse 14
And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
-“And above all these put on love” (ἐπὶ πᾶσι δὲ τούτοις τὴν ἀγάπην). “Above all” can also be rendered “before all” (Calvin). Love stands as the foundation for all of character and conduct in our lives, for God’s love is the unshakable foundation of our eternal salvation in Christ (Ephesians 1:4-5). Just as with the previous attributes of Christ mentioned in verse 12, we are to “clothe” or “put on” this fundamental attribute of Christ.
-Paul mentions this agape love 74 times of the total 115 times this love appears in the New Testament. This love is foundational to our Christian life (Ephesians 3:17)
-God’s love for us is truly wonderful (Ephesians 2:4-6), and hence we demonstrate His love in us towards His beloved people (Ephesians 5:2).
-If we are rooted and grounded in the love of Christ, our love for others will not be static but will grow and increase (Philippians 1:9).
-Paul gives a rich and masterful description of biblical love in 1 Corinthians 13. Essentially, biblical love is to put Christ and others above ourselves. As an example, in marriage our physical bodies are firstly the Lord’s (1 Corinthians 6:20), then our spouses’ (1 Corinthians 7:3-4), and lastly our own.
-The love of Christ manifested in the hearts of His people “binds everything together in perfect harmony” (ὅ ἐστιν σύνδεσμος τῆς τελειότητος). The effect of Christian love in the hearts of His people is truly beautiful.
-“Binds” (σύνδεσμος) is the metaphor of “tying together” and refers to binding all the virtues together. “Everything” refers to the previous attributes in the preceding verses.
-“Perfect harmony” (τελειότης) refers to “perfection” or “maturity”.
The expression means that mutual love would bring the group to perfection. In parallel of Eph 3:14–19 (esp. vv. 17–18), Paul expressed his conviction that the many dimensions of love could be understood only by observing its operation in the group. By this expression Paul meant that the love would bind them together unto completeness.[4]
-Other translations render “perfect harmony” as bond of perfectness”.

-When we experience this perfect harmony, our hearts are knit together with one another (Colossians 2:2).
-All these attributes of Christ demonstrated in us have their foundation and fruition in biblical love towards one another (John 13:34; Ephesians 5:2).

Verse 15
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.

-The result of putting on the heart of Christ is that Christ’s peace will be present in our lives. “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” (καὶ ἡ εἰρήνη τοῦ χριστοῦ βραβευέτω ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις ὑμῶν).  
-To have something “rule” (βραβεύω) us means it controls us. This is a present active imperative verb, meaning we are to joyfully submit ourselves to the control of Christ and His “peace” (εἰρήνη).
-Christ has personally given to His beloved children His peace (John 14:27).
-We have peace by listening to the voice of Christ and taking refuge in Him, despite the trouble of the world around us (John 16:33).  
-This is not a peace we create but rather a peace we have been given by God—a peace that continues (2 Thessalonians 3:16).  
-When Christ has given us His peace, we then will seek to cultivate peace in our relationships with others (Romans 14:19).
The fact is, the congregation was to do nothing without the peace of Christ as the environment which overshadowed the action. Such peace also gave a sense of validation to the activities of the church. The specific place of rule was in the believers’ “hearts.” In typical fashion for the Old Testament and often for the New, the term signifies the general core of one’s being. It is the decision-making and valuing aspect of persons. Since the term is plural and distributive, the heart of each member is implied. The individual hearts had to be at peace for the congregation to be at peace.[5]
-But this peace is not simply individual; rather, it is the atmosphere that will be evident in the body of Christ—“to which indeed you were called in one body.” (εἰς ἣν καὶ ἐκλήθητε ἐν ἑνὶ σώματι)
-In Colossians 1:16-23, Paul declares that Christ has purchased us as His holy people and is the head of the body.
-Paul declares that we are united in Christ’s body (Ephesians 4:4-6) as we grow in Christ (Ephesians 4:9-16).
Because of peace we are one body, and because we are one body, we are at peace[6]
-“And be thankful” (
καὶ εὐχάριστοι γίνεσθε).
-Paul ends this passage with an exhortation to thankfulness.
Generally a lack of peace results from self-seeking or dissatisfaction with things as they are. Thankfulness points one to the realization that all things are provided in Christ. There is no room for ill will or bitterness if thankfulness prevails.[7]
-A spirit of peace and thankfulness in a church comes from putting on the heart of Christ and recognizing all that Christ has done for us (Colossians 2:7).
-Thankfulness will in fact be a  defining aspect of our eternal worship of God (Revelation 7:12).

“For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.” (Psalm 86:5)

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[1] Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, p. 380). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
[2] Melick, R. R. (1991). Philippians, Colossians, Philemon (Vol. 32, p. 299). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
[3] Calvin, J., & Pringle, J. (2010). Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians (p. 213). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
[4] Melick, R. R. (1991). Philippians, Colossians, Philemon (Vol. 32, pp. 300–301). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
[5] Melick, R. R. (1991). Philippians, Colossians, Philemon (Vol. 32, p. 302). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
[6] John Chrysostom. (1889). Homilies of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, on the Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to the Colossians. In P. Schaff (Ed.), J. Ashworth & J. A. Broadus (Trans.), Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus, and Philemon (Vol. 13, p. 296). New York: Christian Literature Company.
[7] Melick, R. R. (1991). Philippians, Colossians, Philemon (Vol. 32, p. 302). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

The Grace in Which We Stand: A Celebration of 500 Years of Protestant Reformation

I opposed indulgences and all papists, but never by force. I simply taught, preached, wrote God's Word: otherwise I did nothing. And then, while I slept or drank Wittenberg beer with my Philip of Amsdorf the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that never a prince or emperor did such damage to it. I did nothing: the Word did it all. Had I wanted to start trouble.... I could have started such a little game at Worms that even the emperor wouldn't have been safe. But what would it have been? A mug's game. I did nothing: I left it to the Word."—Martin Luther

Romans 5:1-2

-The Protestant Reformation, which traditionally is dated as beginning on October 31st, 1517 shaped the trajectory of the Christian church permanently and profoundly. After several centuries of gradual decline and darkness when the Word of God became silent in the churches and works-righteousness replaced the gospel of God’s glorious grace, the actions of a German monk set ablaze a fire that will never be quenched. Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to the door of the Wittenburg church in order to have a scholarly disputation about the sale of indulgences as well as to bring reform in the Roman Catholic Church. However, it resulted in biblical Christianity springing forth over Europe during the 16th century.
-The Reformation had many underlying causes: theological, political, geographical, and historical. However, God providentially used all these means to bring about the greatest movement of the Holy Spirit in the Christian church since Pentecost. It reshaped the course of nations, governments, economies, polities, dynasties, and ecclesiastical institutions. It indelibly reshaped the face of western culture and civilization.
-God raised up fearless and faithful men and women after His own heart to bring about unprecedented reformation in His Son’s church. Men such as John Wycliffe, Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin, William Tyndale, John Knox, and many others sounded forth the authority of Scripture and the purity of the Gospel.
-What caused men, women, and children to shed blood during the Reformation? What caused such a rapid and widespread reformation in church government, worship, and preaching? How did Martin Luther stand in the face of such incredible opposition at the Diet of Worms in 1521, for example? How has the Christian church stood for 2,000 years through intense persecution and heresy? How do we today stand upon the unchanging foundation of Scriptural authority to declare the power of an unchanging, supernatural Gospel? The answer is found in Romans 5:1-2.

Verse 1
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
-Paul, having finished his argument from Romans 3:23 onwards about the biblical teaching of justification by faith in saying “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith” (Δικαιωθέντες οὖν ἐκ πίστεως) to the results of justification by faith.
-To be “justified” (δικαιόω) is the very heart of the Gospel message. The Greek verb rendered “justified” occurs more times in Romans than in any other book of Scripture (15 times). To be justified means “to be declared right” in the eyes of a person or group of people judging someone.
-During the ministry of Jesus Christ, many endeavored to justify themselves in His sight upon the basis of their own righteousness and works (Luke 18:14).
-Paul’s very first letter centered entirely upon justification by faith alone, wherein he reminded the Galatians that God the Father declares us innocent in His site only upon the basis of Christ’s imputed righteousness (Galatians 2:16; Galatians 3:11).
-The aorist passive form of this verb indicates that this legal declaration has already happened. We have been justified.
Δικαιωθέντες is forensic, passive and not intransitive (“become righteous”) and aorist, hence by a past, decisive act of God: “having been declared or pronounced righteous” (see δικαιούμενοι, δικαιοῦντα, δικαιώσει in 3:24, 26, 30; ἐδικαιώθη, 4:2). With this one word everything that has been said in 3:21 to 4:25 is concentrated and predicated directly of Paul and of the Roman believers.[1]
-The basis upon which we are justified is not by works but “by faith”
(κ πίστεως). We are justified by sola fide—the material principle of the Reformation.
-“Faith” in Scripture is described as certain and active belief (Hebrews  11:1) in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross (Romans 4:25; 2 Corinthians 5:21).
-No one can be declared legally righteous before God upon their own merits but purely upon believing in the righteousness of Jesus Christ on their behalf (Galatians 2:16).
-The apostle Paul declares that as the result of being declared legally righteous, “we have peace with God” (εἰρήνην ἔχομεν πρὸς τὸν θεὸν).
-Herein is a matter of textual variation, as Greek texts either render it in the indicative (“we have peace”) rather than the subjunctive (“let us have peace”). Interpreters are divided, but the majority of faithful English translations have rendered it in the indicative, which also makes more theological sense in the flow of Paul’s argument.
We have peace with God; and this is the peculiar fruit of the righteousness of faith. When any one strives to seek tranquillity of conscience by works, (which is the case with profane and ignorant men,) he labours for it in vain; for either his heart is asleep through his disregard or forgetfulness of God’s judgment, or else it is full of trembling and dread, until it reposes on Christ, who is alone our peace.[2]
-The “peace” (εἰρήνη) Paul speaks of is not what we necessarily think in human terms. On individual terms, we define peace as a time of rest and a time free of stress and strife. Globally, we think of peace as the cessation of war and the mutually-beneficial alliance of nations. Yet there is greater peace possible and a greater need for peace than any of these.
-“Peace” in the Old Testament is shalom. This is a covenant blessing of God for His people (Exodus 18:23; Leviticus 26:6; Numbers 25:12).
-Peace is the great blessing of God when we are in right relationship with Him (Numbers 6:24-26).
-We need peace with God, because by nature we are objects of His wrath (Ephesians 2:3; Colossians 1:21)).
Peace is a word rich with meaning. It speaks of the new relationship that exists between God and those who turn to him in faith (cf. Eph 2:14–15; Col 1:21–22). As Paul used the term, it does not primarily depict a state of inner tranquility. It is external and objective. To have “peace with God” means to be in a relationship with God in which all the hostility caused by sin has been removed. It is to exist no longer under the wrath of God.[3]
-We have peace with God “through our Lord Jesus Christ” (διὰ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ). Solus Christus is the only means whereby we have peace with our holy God.
-Paul declares elsewhere in Scripture that Christ has satisfied God’s wrath and so we now have access to the grace and peace of our loving heavenly Father (Romans 5:9-10; Colossians 1:19-22).
-This peace of God means that we no longer stand condemned in God’s sight (Romans 8:1) but have been eternally set free through the power of the Gospel (John 8:36).

Verse 2
Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice
in hope of the glory of God.
-The apostle Paul says that “through him we have also obtained access by faith” (διʼ οὗ καὶ τὴν προσαγωγὴν ἐσχήκαμεν τῇ πίστει) to salvation.
-Paul states firstly that only in Jesus Christ do we have access to salvation. Both in Old Testament times (Isaiah 43:11; Isaiah 45:5; Hosea 13:4) and in New Testament times (Acts 4:12) and in our times, the message that salvation is only found in Jesus Christ is a message that is folly to the world (1 Corinthians 1:23-24).
-When Paul declares that we have obtained access, it refers to being granted access to someone of higher station than oneself. Favor is requisite in order to stand in the presence of someone, such as in the case of King Xerxes (Esther 4:11).
-The basis upon which we are granted access to salvation is once again affirmed as being only “by faith” (τῇ πίστει) in Christ alone.
-Jesus Christ declares that He alone is the entrance to salvation (John 10:9; John 14:6).
-This salvation is being granted access “into this grace” (
ες τν χάριν) of God.
-But what is grace?
“Grace is free sovereign favor to the ill-deserving.”—Benjamin B. Warfield
-“Grace is the good pleasure of God that inclines him to bestow benefits upon the undeserving. It is a self-existent principle inherent in the divine nature and appears to us as a self-caused propensity to pity the wretched, spare the guilty, welcome the outcast, and bring into favor those who were before under just disapprobation. Its use to us sinful men is to save us and make us sit together in heavenly places to demonstrate to the ages the exceeding riches of God's kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”—A. W. Tozer
-“Grace” (χάρις) appears 154 times in the New Testament, with the most frequent occurrence being in the book of Romans (24 times).
-Jesus Christ has brought us grace from our heavenly Father (John 1:14-17).
-The apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ boldly proclaimed the message of grace alone (Acts 14:33).
-Paul himself was steadfastly devoted to preaching about the glorious grace of Jesus Christ (Acts 20:24).
-We are justified freely by God’s grace as a gift (Romans 3:24) and not of works (Romans 11:6).
-It is upon the basis of grace “that we stand” (
ταύτην ἐν ᾗ ἑστήκαμεν).
-“Standing” (ἵστημι) has important theological connotations.
-Scripture declares that sinners will not stand in the judgment (Psalm 1:5) and that everyone will stand before God (2 Corinthians 5:10). But because of God’s unmerited divine favor, we stand before Him as His beloved children.
-Because we can stand before God by His grace, we can stand firm in the world (1 Corinthians 16:13).
-The Reformers resolutely stood firm in the face of severe religious and political pressure to waver. They stood firm because they knew that they could stand before God purely by His grace.
-Hugh Latimer was the chaplain to King Edward VI, but when Queen Mary ascended the throne of England, he was burned at the stake because he would not recant. He was 68 years old at the time and was not in good health, yet he said as he was being burned at the stake along with Thomas Ridley, “We shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.”
-The fire of the Reformation has never been extinguished because God’s grace has enabled men and women in every generation to stand firm upon the faith once for all delivered to the saints.
-If the Reformation was dependent upon human endeavor, it would have never happened. If the success of Christian witness were dependent upon us, we would lose hope. As John Knox said, “I see the battle shall be great for Satan rageth even to the uttermost and I am come, (praise my God) even in the brunt of the battle." But lest we think we are alone or will be overcome, Knox also said “A man with God is always in the majority."
-The apostle Paul concludes verse 2 by declaring that because we stand in the grace of God, “we rejoice in hope” (
καὶ καυχώμεθα ἐπʼ ἐλπίδι).
-To “rejoice” (καυχάομαι) properly means “to boast” or “to exult”.
-We rejoice when we suffer (as indeed the Reformers did) (Romans 5:3) because we rejoice in God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 5:11) because we have an inextinguishable hope.
-“Hope” (ἐλπίς) occurs more frequently in Romans (13 times) than any other New Testament book.
-In Scripture, hope is not sentimental longing, but eager and expectant certainty.
-We can continue in joy to stand in God’s grace because God’s grace causes us to continue in joy (Romans 15:13).
- This hope is that we have absolute certainty that God will be glorified, for it is the hope “of the glory of God” (
τς δόξης το θεο).
-All of the Reformation solas—Sola Scriptura: Scripture Alone; Sola Fide: Faith Alone; Solus Christus: Christ Alone; Sola Gratia: Grace Alone—culminate in Soli Deo Gloria: Glory to God Alone.
-As a testament to the profound impact of the Reformation, one of the greatest musical composers of the Baroque era (and all time) Johann Sebastian Bach would initial S.D.G. upon his pieces in order declare the supremacy of God’s glory in all his musical endeavors.
-The hope of the Reformers and of us today is that God will be glorified and we will enjoy Him forever (Psalm 57:5; Habakkuk 2:14).


“I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen.”—Martin Luther

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[1] Lenski, R. C. H. (1936). The interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (p. 332). Columbus, Ohio: Lutheran Book Concern.
[2] Calvin, J., & Owen, J. (2010). Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans (p. 187). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
[3] Mounce, R. H. (1995). Romans (Vol. 27, p. 133). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Here We Stand: Another Gospel: The Faith of Roman Catholicism

"Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it." And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.” (Matthew 7:24-29)

The Roman Catholic Doctrine of Nature and Grace

The Nature of Nature
-In Roman Catholic theology, nature is the material world that was both created by God and the recipient of God’s grace. Leonardo De Chirico defined Roman Catholicism’s understanding of nature as, “In Christian vocabulary, nature has been considered the equivalent of the created world as a whole which is both the result of God’s creating activity and the recipient of His saving purposes.”
-In Roman Catholic Theology: An Evangelical Assessment, Dr. Gregg Allison states that, “Nature and grace are interdependent of each other because they exist in a continuum or continuity. The two were divinely designed to operate in reliance upon each other such that nature is to be a channel of grace, and grace is to elevate or perfect nature.”
-Within Roman Catholic theology, it is the created, material world that channels God’s grace to us—in fact, it is impossible for God’s grace to be given to us without nature being the conduit. For example, in the Roman Catholic sacrament of baptism, the water (being part of nature) channels God’s grace to the recipient by removing their original sin.
-Within Roman Catholicism, the material, created world (nature) and God’s grace are interdependent on each other. Scripture however declares that the entire created world is fallen by sin (Romans 8:20-23).

The Nature of Grace
-Grace in Roman Catholic theology is the work of God in nature, whether generally (providentially) or specifically for mankind (redemptively). Once again, Roman Catholicism believes that grace must operate in the theater of nature—indeed, it cannot operate independently of nature but instead perfects the material world, whether creation or persons.
-Grace is broadly defined within Roman Catholicism into two categories: sanctifying grace and actual grace. “Sanctifying grace stays in the soul. It’s what makes the soul holy; it gives the soul supernatural life. More properly, it is supernatural life. Actual grace, by contrast, is a supernatural push or encouragement. It’s transient. It doesn’t live in the soul, but acts on the soul from the outside, so to speak. It’s a supernatural kick in the pants. It gets the will and intellect moving so we can seek out and keep sanctifying grace.”—Catholic Answers
-Since supernatural grace moves men and women to seek out sanctifying grace, and since God’s grace must be communicated through nature (material things), Roman Catholicism’s theology is built upon men and women becoming more and more holy through grace-infused nature.
-By contrast, Scripture declares that we receive grace directly from our triune God (John 1:16; Ephesians 1:7). We do not receive God’s grace through the channels of fallen nature—indeed, we cannot. Furthermore, grace is God’s unmerited divine favor.

The Roman Catholic Doctrine of Revelation

The Nature of Scripture

-Roman Catholicism together with evangelical Christians affirm the inspiration and inerrancy of the sacred Scriptures. The Roman Catholic Catechism states…

105 God is the author of Sacred Scripture. "The divinely revealed realities, which are contained and presented in the text of Sacred Scripture, have been written down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.’

"For Holy Mother Church, relying on the faith of the apostolic age, accepts as sacred and canonical the books of the Old and the New Testaments, whole and entire, with all their parts, on the grounds that, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author, and have been handed on as such to the Church herself."
“106 God inspired the human authors of the sacred books. "To compose the sacred books, God chose certain men who, all the while he employed them in this task, made full use of their own faculties and powers so that, though he acted in them and by them, it was as true authors that they consigned to writing whatever he wanted written, and no more.”

-Unlike Protestants, Roman Catholicism’s canon of Scripture contains additional. Along with the Old and New Testament books, they accept Tobit, Judith, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, a longer version of Esther, the Book of Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch, and a longer version of Daniel. These additional books were never thought to be canonical by the apostolic church, even though some of them (such as 1 and 2 Maccabees) were generally reliable historical books.
-Roman Catholicism, however, parts ways with Protestantism when it comes to Scripture’s sufficiency. Not only do Roman Catholics read Scripture with an additional “spiritual” hermeneutic rather than the grammatical-historical hermeneutic, they believe they must read it in keeping with Roman Catholic tradition. The Catechism states…

113 2. Read the Scripture within "the living Tradition of the whole Church". According to a saying of the Fathers, Sacred Scripture is written principally in the Church's heart rather than in documents and records, for the Church carries in her Tradition the living memorial of God's Word, and it is the Holy Spirit who gives her the spiritual interpretation of the Scripture (". . . according to the spiritual meaning which the Spirit grants to the Church").”
-By contrast, God Himself states in His Word that men are not authorities over His Word—He is the solitary and supreme authority of His Word (Psalm 138:2) that has unrivaled power (Jeremiah 23:29; Hebrews 4:12).

The Nature of Tradition
-Roman Catholicism believes that God’s “word” is found in two sources: sacred Scripture and sacred tradition. Sacred tradition is defined by the Catechism as follows…

78 This living transmission, accomplished in the Holy Spirit, is called Tradition, since it is distinct from Sacred Scripture, though closely connected to it. Through Tradition, "the Church, in her doctrine, life and worship, perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes." "The sayings of the holy Fathers are a witness to the life-giving presence of this Tradition, showing how its riches are poured out in the practice and life of the Church, in her belief and her prayer."
-Furthermore, Roman Catholicism believes that Scripture and Tradition are equally authoritative for the life and doctrine of the Church:

81 "Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit."
"And [Holy] Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound and spread it abroad by their preaching."
82 As a result the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, "does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence."
-Roman Catholicism further believes that the Magisterium (the teaching body of the Church) has the sole right to interpret Scripture…

85 "The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ." This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome.”
-By contrast, it is not an official teaching body but rather the illumination of the Holy Spirit (Psalm 119:105) often through the faithful preaching and teaching of Scripture (Nehemiah 8:8) that correctly interprets Scripture.
-Furthermore, while everyone has theological traditions, those traditions must be entirely governed by the authority of the written Scriptures and never elevated to an equal status with Scripture or standing in contradiction with written Scripture (Matthew 15:3; Mark 7:13) Scripture (not Scripture and tradition) alone stands as the supreme and final authority.

The Roman Catholic Doctrine of the Church

The Structure of the Roman Catholic Church
-Paragraphs 880-886 of the Roman Catholic catechism describe the hierarchal ecclesiastical structure within this system…

880 When Christ instituted the Twelve, "he constituted [them] in the form of a college or permanent assembly, at the head of which he placed Peter, chosen from among them." Just as "by the Lord's institution, St. Peter and the rest of the apostles constitute a single apostolic college, so in like fashion the Roman Pontiff, Peter's successor, and the bishops, the successors of the apostles, are related with and united to one another."
881 The Lord made Simon alone, whom he named Peter, the "rock" of his Church. He gave him the keys of his Church and instituted him shepherd of the whole flock. "The office of binding and loosing which was given to Peter was also assigned to the college of apostles united to its head." This pastoral office of Peter and the other apostles belongs to the Church's very foundation and is continued by the bishops under the primacy of the Pope.
882 The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter's successor, "is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful." "For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered."
883 "The college or body of bishops has no authority unless united with the Roman Pontiff, Peter's successor, as its head." As such, this college has "supreme and full authority over the universal Church; but this power cannot be exercised without the agreement of the Roman Pontiff."
884 "The college of bishops exercises power over the universal Church in a solemn manner in an ecumenical council." But "there never is an ecumenical council which is not confirmed or at least recognized as such by Peter's successor."
885 "This college, in so far as it is composed of many members, is the expression of the variety and universality of the People of God; and of the unity of the flock of Christ, in so far as it is assembled under one head."
886 "The individual bishops are the visible source and foundation of unity in their own particular Churches." As such, they "exercise their pastoral office over the portion of the People of God assigned to them," assisted by priests and deacons. But, as a member of the episcopal college, each bishop shares in the concern for all the Churches. The bishops exercise this care first "by ruling well their own Churches as portions of the universal Church," and so contributing "to the welfare of the whole Mystical Body, which, from another point of view, is a corporate body of Churches." They extend it especially to the poor, to those persecuted for the faith, as well as to missionaries who are working throughout the world.
-The hierarchy can clearly be laid out as follows: the pope (the supreme head of the church), the cardinals (those appointed by the pope responsible for electing a new pope), archbishops (a bishop or cardinal that oversees a large diocese or archdiocese), bishops (an ordained leader who governs a diocese), priests (ordained Roman Catholic ministers who oversee local congregations), and deacons, both transitional (seminary students) and permanent (assistants to priests).
-By contrast, Scripture teaches that the only biblical church structure instituted by Christ is that of elders and deacons (1 Timothy 3:1-13). Elders possess teaching authority and can exercise spiritual discipline in the life of a congregation, whereas deacons do not possess teaching authority and serve the needs of the church. Furthermore, there is no hierarchy of elders in Scripture—elders are equal with one another as together they bow before the head of the church, Jesus Christ (1 Peter 5:1-4). It was none other than Peter who taught the latter point, as he did not consider himself as the head of Christ’s church but rather a “fellow elder”.

The Worship of the Roman Catholic Church
-The worship services in a Roman Catholic parish (church) are one and the same around the world, as the Mass is the worship of Roman Catholicism. The Mass centers upon the sacrament of the Eucharist (communion). Whereas the worship within Protestantism does (or should) center on the preaching of the written Word, the worship within Roman Catholicism centers on the sacrament of Eucharist. The standard order of worship is as follows: 1) Penitential prayers, 2) Kyrie Eleison, 3) Gloria, 4) Scripture readings and accompanying prayers, 5) the recitation of the Nicene creed, 6) the Offertory prayers, 7) Eucharistic prayers, 8) songs accompanying the Eucharistic celebration, 9) the Lord’s prayer, 10) Agnus Dei, 11) the Eucharistic celebration, 12) prayers after Mass.
-In Scripture, worship is to be regular (Hebrews 10:25) and involves preaching the written Scriptures (2 Timothy 4:2), prayer (1 Corinthians 5:16-18), singing (Colossians 3:16), and the sacraments (1 Corinthians 11:23-24).

The Sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church
-As nature channels grace through Roman Catholicism, God’s grace is channeled through sacraments that involve material elements.
-Baptism is given either to penitent adults or the infants of Roman Catholic parents. In both cases, the individual’s original sin is removed and they are regenerated (born again). Hence, this is known as baptismal regeneration. It marks the individual as a born-again member of the church.
-Confirmation is where the Holy Spirit is conferred upon someone who has been baptized. Here, an individual receives the indwelling Holy Spirit. In this sacrament, an individual is anointed and undergoes the laying on of hands. Typically, this occurs in the teen years whereas baptism usually is administered during the infant years.
-The Eucharist is the celebration of the Lord’s Supper through bread and wine, in which congregants actually consume the body and blood of Jesus Christ. The elements are transformed through transubstantiation into Christ’s body and blood, and grace is channeled into the congregant through this consumption. Roman Catholics can participate in the Eucharist prior to confirmation, with many participating in communion around age 7.
-Penance is the regular confession of sins before a priest whereby someone receives regular absolution of iniquities. Penance is necessary in order for sins to be forgiven.
-Anointing of the sick is done when a Roman Catholic falls ill and is dying. This is done so that Christ might heal the sick member of the Church or that someone might die in a state of grace. Formerly, this was known as extreme unction.
-Matrimony is marriage. Whereas Protestantism believes in covenantal union in marriage, they reject that marriage is an actual sacrament of the church.
-Holy orders is the sacrament whereby bishops, priests, and deacons are ordained in the service of the Roman Catholic Church. This is also simply called ordination.
-In biblical Christianity, Scripture speaks only of two sacraments: the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:26-28) and baptism (Matthew 28:19). Sacraments do not save us. Rather, they are visible signs of our spiritual union with Christ Jesus and are means whereby the Lord spiritually meets His people.

The Roman Catholic Doctrine of Salvation

Sovereignty and Free Will

-Roman Catholicism believes in man’s free will, in which man can freely choose God and salvation. The Catechism states…
1730 “God created man a rational being, conferring on him the dignity of a person who can initiate and control his own actions. "God willed that man should be 'left in the hand of his own counsel,' so that he might of his own accord seek his Creator and freely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to him." Man is rational and therefore like God; he is created with free will and is master over his acts.”
-God’s grace cooperates with our freedom because our free will can choose God with the measure of inherent goodness we still possess even though we are sinners…

1742 “The grace of Christ is not in the slightest way a rival of our freedom when this freedom accords with the sense of the true and the good that God has put in the human heart. On the contrary, as Christian experience attests especially in prayer, the more docile we are to the promptings of grace, the more we grow in inner freedom and confidence during trials, such as those we face in the pressures and constraints of the outer world. By the working of grace the Holy Spirit educates us in spiritual freedom in order to make us free collaborators in his work in the Church and in the world: Almighty and merciful God, in your goodness take away from us all that is harmful, so that, made ready both in mind and body, we may freely accomplish your will.”
-God is not entirely sovereign within Roman Catholicism, as the Catholic Encyclopedia states that, “Predestination (Latin præ, destinare), taken in its widest meaning, is every Divine decree by which God, owing to His infallible prescience of the future, has appointed and ordained from eternity all events occurring in time, especially those which directly proceed from, or at least are influenced by, man's free will.”
-By contrast, Scripture states that we were dead in sins (Ephesians 2:1; Colossians 2:13) and could never freely choose God (1 Corinthians 2:14) and that God’s sovereignty is not governed by man’s choices (Isaiah 46:10; Romans 11:33-34).

The Infusion of Grace
-Grace is first received in salvation through baptism, and throughout the life of the Roman Catholic is constantly infused to them. After someone is converted, the process of justification starts. The 6th Session of the Council of Trent states that justification is defined as follows: “Justification is not only the remission of sins, but also the sanctification and renewal of the interior man”. Therefore, justification is not a legal declaration but a lifelong process in Roman Catholicism.
-In Roman Catholic theology, justification is grounded in Christ’s atoning work and received through faith and baptism. It will accomplish eternal life in us if we cooperate and do not annihilate the process.
-Grace is not credited (imputed to us) in Roman Catholic theology but rather infused (progressively transferred) to us throughout our life. We are rewarded merits by God throughout our lives for keeping His Law, and accumulate merits equate to greater personal righteousness. We can accumulate merits and we can receive the merits of the saints as well.
-However, sin can either hinder or end this ongoing process of justification. The Catechism states…

1854 Sins are rightly evaluated according to their gravity. The distinction between mortal and venial sin, already evident in Scripture, became part of the tradition of the Church. It is corroborated by human experience.
1855 Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God's law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him Venial sin allows charity to subsist, even though it offends and wounds it.”
-If someone dies in a state of unrepentant mortal sin that they did not confess, they will be eternally condemned. Therefore, regular adherence to the sacraments (particularly the Eucharist, penance, and “last rites”) are necessary to die in a state of grace.
-By contrast, Scripture teaches that we are credited Christ’s righteousness purely by His grace (Romans 3:21-26) and that we cannot merit any righteousness through adherence to the Law (Galatians 3:1-9).

The Eternal Destinies of Mankind
-Roman Catholicism, like evangelical Christianity, believes that unbelievers are condemned to Hell forever. However, a Roman Catholic can lose their salvation and be sent to Hell if they do not die in a state of grace.

1035 The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, "eternal fire." The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.”
-Regarding Roman Catholics who die in a state of grace, their theology states that they will not immediately enter Heaven.
Rather, their remaining sins and impurities must be eliminated before they are holy enough to enter Heaven. The Catechism states…

1030 All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.

1031 The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.606 The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire: As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.

1032 This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: "Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin." From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God.610 The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead: Let us help and commemorate them. If Job's sons were purified by their father's sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.”
-By contrast, Scripture states that we enter Heaven purely on the merits of Christ’s righteousness (Colossians 3:1-4) and that when we die, we will be instantly be united with our Savior (Philippians 1:23; 2 Corinthians 5:8).


For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)


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Friday, August 18, 2017

Here We Stand: The Faith of the Early Church, Part 2

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” (Jude 1:3)

The Post-Nicene Fathers

Gregory of Nazianzus

-He was born in 329 A.D. and died in 390 A.D. He was one of three men who would become known as the “Cappadocian Fathers”. He was led to Christ through the influence of his wife Nonna, and would become the elder (bishop) of Nazianzus in 328. He was a very accomplished rhetorician and also studied philosophy. He became good friends with his academic colleague Basil of Caesarea while he studied in the city of Athens. In 361 A.D., his father ordained him to be a presbyter, but Gregory was not interested in serving the church in this way. In 362 A.D., Gregory of Nazianzus publicly responded to Emperor Julian’s public opposition to Christianity in his Invectives against Julian. Later in life, Gregory would champion Nicene orthodoxy over against the heresy of Arianism and became a great preacher in the city of Constantinople. In 381 A.D. he was asked to preside over the Council of Constantinople, the second ecumenical council in church history. Quotations from his works include…

“He began His ministry by being hungry, yet He is the Bread of Life. Jesus ended His earthly ministry by being thirsty, yet He is the Living Water. Jesus was weary, yet He is our rest. Jesus paid tribute, yet He is the King. Jesus was accused of having a demon, yet He cast out demons. Jesus wept, yet He wipes away our tears. Jesus was sold for thirty pieces of silver, yet He redeemed the world. Jesus was brought as a lamb to the slaughter, yet He is the Good Shepherd. Jesus died, yet by His death He destroyed the power of death.”

“This I give you to share, and to defend all your life, the one Godhead and power, found in the three in unit, and comprising the three separately; not unequal, in substances or natures, neither increased nor diminished by superiorities nor inferiorities; in every respect equal, in every respect the same; just as the beauty and the greatness of the heavens is one; the infinite conjunction of three infinite ones, each God when considered in himself; as the Father, so the Son; as the Son, so the Holy Spirit; the three one God when contemplated together; each God because consubstantial; one God because of the monarchia. No sooner do I conceive of the one than I am illumined by the splendor of the three; no sooner do I distinguish them than I am carried back to the one. When I think of anyone of the three I think of him as the whole, and my eyes are filled, and the greater part of what I am thinking escapes me. I cannot grasp the greatness of that one so as to attribute a greater greatness to the rest. When I contemplate the three together, I see but one torch, and cannot divide or measure out the undivided light.”

Gregory of Nyssa
-Gregory of Nyssa was the younger brother of Basil of Caesarea and a friend of Gregory of Nazianzus. He was not the great leader that his brother Basil was nor the orator that his friend Gregory of Nazianzus was, yet he was a thoughtful and profound theologian who defended Trinitarian orthodoxy over against heresy. He was born in 335 and died in 395, and was one of nine children born to Christian parents. He was not as outspoken or as bullheaded as his brother Basil, as he would often try to reconcile disagreeing groups over the course of his life. He was also present during the First Council of Constantinople and later tried to reconcile detractors of Cyril of Jerusalem with those who supported Cyril. One quote from a sermon is as follows…

“Now when the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, are with orthodox devotion being glorified and adored by those who believe that in a distinct and unconfused Trinity there is One Substance, Glory, Kingship, Power, and Universal Rule, in such a case as this what good excuse for fighting can there be? At the time, certainly, when the heretical views prevailed, to try issues with the authorities, by whom the adversaries' cause was seen to be strengthened, was well; there was fear then lest our saving Doctrine should be over-ruled by human rulers. But now, when over the whole world from one end of heaven to the other the orthodox Faith is being preached, the man who fights with them who preach it, fights not with them, but with Him Who is thus preached. What other aim, indeed, ought that man's to be, who has the zeal for God, than in every possible way to announce the glory of God?”

-Basil of Caesarea, also known as “Basil the Great”, was born in 330 A.D. He also, like others of his time, was a staunch defender of the biblical doctrine of the Trinity as articulated by the Council of Nicaea. He was raised along with four siblings by his grandmother Macrina. He befriended Gregory of Nazianzus while studying, and they would form a friendship along with his brother Gregory of Nyssa that would later earn the three of them the title of the “Cappadocian Fathers”. Together, Basil and his friend Gregory of Nazianzus would combat the Arian heresy, which still worked its poison among the Turkish world. He would later partner with Athanasius in order to defend biblical Trinitarianism over against Arianism. He died from liver disease in 379 A.D. His most important work On the Holy Spirit stated,

“Did it not at one time appear that the Arian schism, after its separation into a sect opposed to the Church of God, stood itself alone in hostile array? But when the attitude of our foes against us was changed from one of long standing and bitter strife to one of open warfare, then, as is well known, the war was split up in more ways than I can tell into many subdivisions, so that all men were stirred to a state of inveterate hatred alike by common party spirit and individual suspicion. But what storm at sea was ever so fierce and wild as this tempest of the Churches? In it every landmark of the Fathers has been moved; every foundation, every bulwark of opinion has been shaken: everything buoyed up on the unsound is dashed about and shaken down. We attack one another. We are overthrown by one another. If our enemy is not the first to strike us, we are wounded by the comrade at our side. If a foeman is stricken and falls, his fellow soldier tramples him down. There is at least this bond of union between us that we hate our common foes, but no sooner have the enemy gone by than we find enemies in one another. And who could make a complete list of all the wrecks? Some have gone to the bottom on the attack of the enemy, some through the unsuspected treachery of their allies, some from the blundering of their own officers. We see, as it were, whole churches, crews and all, dashed and shattered upon the sunken reefs of disingenuous heresy, while others of the enemies of the Spirit of Salvation have seized the helm and made shipwreck of the faith.”

-Ambrose was born approximately 340 A.D. and died in 397 A.D. He was raised in the region of modern-day Germany as a child and was educated in Rome. For a time, he served as a Roman governor, but left that career in order to be an elder (bishop) of the city of Milan, a very influential city in Italy next to Rome. Ambrose became embroiled with the Arian controversy when taking the position of bishop in the city of Milan. Ambrose faced increasing opposition from the Arians over time, particularly as the Roman emperor adopted this heresy in 385 A.D. He would continue to face strong political and theological opposition, but he would not back down from defending biblical Trinitarianism. One of the “Latin doctors” of the church, he was a theologian who left his mark on church history and theology. He once stated,

The Church of the Lord is built upon the rock of the apostles among so many dangers in the world; it therefore remains unmoved. The Church's foundation is unshakable and firm against assaults of the raging sea. Waves lash at the Church but do not shatter it. Although the elements of this world constantly beat upon the Church with crashing sounds, the Church possesses the safest harbor of salvation for all in distress. There is a stream which flows down on God's saints like a torrent. There is also a rushing river giving joy to the heart that is at peace and makes for peace.”

-Jerome was born in 347 A.D. and died in 420 A.D. Jerome, otherwise known as Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus, was a prolific writer and translated the Bible into the common language of Latin, which would become known as the “Vulgate” translation. For about 1,000 years, the Vulgate translation would be the standard translation of the Scriptures for the Christian church. He was educated in Rome, but during his time there would be badly influenced by the poor behavior of his fellow students. However, during an illness in 373-374, Jerome became fully committed to the Lord and devoted his life to serving Christ. As a translator, he was the first of his kind in knowing both Hebrew and Greek. Interestingly, while he did translate the Apocrypha and include it in his Scripture translation, he did not actually consider it Scripture. He also would frequently write epistles, many of which are extant today. He had a quick wit and a rather dry sense of humor, and once stated,

“It is worse still to be ignorant of your ignorance.”
“When the stomach is full, it is easy to talk of fasting.”

-No one outside the New Testament apostles influenced Christian theology more than Augustine of Hippo. He would influence men who themselves became bastions of history such as Martin Luther and John Calvin. He was born on November 13, 354. He received a Christian education and upbringing, but was enslaved to promiscuity until his conversion in 386 A.D. He later said that through a child singing “Tolle lege” (“take up and read”) he picked up a Bible and read Paul’s letter to the Romans, particularly taking note of Romans 13:13-14. Later, he would then write an autobiographical account of his conversion experience in his Confessions. He was baptized by Ambrose and later became the bishop of Hippo in 395 A.D. During his days the Roman Empire was crumbling, and the shocking sacking of Rome in 430 A.D. prompted him to write The City of God. His theology stood against men such as Pelagius and became a foundational element in later Reformed theology a millennium later. He also greatly influenced the world through his philosophy as well. Some of his more famous quotes include…

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.”

“Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.

“If you believe what you like in the gospels and reject what you do not like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself.”

“God had one son on earth without sin, but never one without suffering.”

“Grant what thou commandest and command what thou wilt.”

John Chrysostom
-John Chyrsostom, the “golden-mouthed preacher”, stands as one of the greatest expositors in Christian history. Born in 349 and dying in 407, his life contributed greatly to Christian preaching. He was born in Antioch and studied at the seminary there. In 397 A.D., he was nominated the archbishop of Constantinople. His best-known sermon was thee “Paschal Homily”, and his hundreds of sermons still serve today as outstanding commentaries on texts of Scripture. In a sermon on Romans 4, John Chrysostom stated on verses 1-2 that…

“For a person who had no works, to be justified by faith, was nothing unlikely. But for a person richly adorned with good deeds, not to be made just from hence, but from faith, this is the thing to cause wonder, and to set the power of faith in a strong light. And this is why he passes by all the others, and leads his discourse back to this man. And he calls him father, as pertaining to the flesh, to throw them out of the genuine relationship (συγγενείας γνησίας) to him, and to pave the Gentiles' way to kinsmanship with him. And then he says, For if Abraham were justified by works, he has whereof to glory: but not before God. After saying that God justified the circumcision by faith and the uncircumcision through faith,and making the same sufficiently sure in what he said before, he now proves it by Abraham more clearly than he promised, and pitches the battle for faith against works, and makes this righteous man the subject of the whole struggle; and that not without special meaning.”

The Ecumenical Councils

The Council of Constantinople (381 A.D.)

-Although the Council of Nicaea had already convened to settle the Arian controversy, Arianism still existed strongly in the Roman world. Therefore, in 381 A.D., the Roman Emperor Theodosius I summoned various elders of Christian churches to Constantinople in order to address this recurring heresy. Once again, Arianism was condemned as heresy and biblical Trinitarianism upheld. Most historians agree that the Council of Constantinople added the clause regarding the Holy Spirit as “the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified, and who spoke through the prophets” and also expanded various portions of the Nicene creed. The expansions from Constantinople have today become absorbed into the Nicene creed such that it is the 381 A.D. revision of the Nicene creed and not the original version produced in 325 A.D. by the original council. No changes in theology occurred in the revision; rather, it was expanded to be more specific regarding Trinitarianism.

The Council of Ephesus (431 A.D.)
-Trinitarian and Christological controversies still raged even in the 5th century A.D., and so the Roman Emperor Theodosius II summoned the elders (bishops) to the city of Ephesus in order to address many issues of theological controversy. Particularly at stake was the debate regarding the divine and human natures of Christ, with the Nestorian heretics separating the two natures. The atmosphere of this council was very heated and contentious because the doctrine of Christ was on the line. Seven sessions later, the Council of Ephesus condemned Nestorianism as heretical and at the same time condemned Pelagianism as heretical. Once more, the Nicene creed was upheld as the creedal standard of Christian orthodoxy for the churches. Such was the legacy of the third ecumenical church council.

The Council of Chalcedon (451 A.D.)

-20 years later, debates regarding the nature of Christ’s deity and humanity prompted the Roman Emperor Marcian to summon a council to the city of Chalcedon in modern-day Turkey. It was the largest church council with approximately 520 elders. Whereas Nestorianism, previously dealt with by the Council of Ephesus, separated the divine and human natures of Christ, the Monophysite heresy blended the divine and human natures of Christ into one nature. The Council of Chalcedon upheld the Nicene creed of 325 and also approved the revisions by the Council of Constantinople of 381. In what would become known as the “Chalcedon Definition”, the Council declared very clearly that Christ is truly God and truly Man, and yet one Person equal with God the Father. They stated,

“Following, then, the holy Fathers, we all unanimously teach that our Lord Jesus Christ is to us One and the same Son, the Self-same Perfect in Godhead, the Self-same Perfect in Manhood; truly God and truly Man; the Self-same of a rational soul and body; co-essential with the Father according to the Godhead, the Self-same co-essential with us according to the Manhood; like us in all things, sin apart; before the ages begotten of the Father as to the Godhead, but in the last days, the Self-same, for us and for our salvation (born) of Mary the Virgin Theotokos as to the Manhood; One and the Same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten; acknowledged in Two Natures unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the difference of the Natures being in no way removed because of the Union, but rather the properties of each Nature being preserved, and (both) concurring into One Person and One Hypostasis; not as though He were parted or divided into Two Persons, but One and the Self-same Son and Only-begotten God, Word, Lord, Jesus Christ; even as from the beginning the prophets have taught concerning Him, and as the Lord Jesus Christ Himself hath taught us, and as the Symbol of the Fathers hath handed down to us.”

The Second Council of Constantinople (553 A.D.)
-The fifth ecumenical council in church history occurred when Christological heresy by a man known as Theodore of Mopsuestia as well as the Nestorians. Attempts had been made earlier to unit those who believed that Christ had one nature (the Monophysites) and those who followed biblical doctrine as defended previously by the Council of Chalcedon over 100 years earlier. Little documentation exists as to the proceedings of this council other than that the issues addressed at Chalcedon were once again present at the second council of Constantinople.

The Third Council of Constantinople (680-681 A.D.)
-Debates about the doctrine of Christ continued to intensify, and on November 7, 680 A.D., the sixth ecumenical church council convened to address two raging theological issues. Monoenergism was the belief that Christ had one “energy” rather than a divine nature and human nature that were distinct yet not separate. Monotheletism was the idea that Christ only possessed one will rather than a divine and human will. Both of these ideas echoed Monophysitism, and so this council convened to address these matters. When it ended, both of these beliefs were condemned as heretical.

The Second Council of Nicaea (787 A.D.)
-The last ecumenical council in history convened not to address Trinitarian or Christological debates, but to resolve the Iconoclastic Controversy. In the 7th and 8th centuries, “icons” (pictures) were often used in worship, particularly with those who were illiterate and could not read Scripture. The Iconoclasts rejected images (icons) outright, declaring that they violated the Second Commandment and that images of Christ, apostles, etc. should no longer be used in worship. The defenders of icons stated that no one really worshipped the images themselves but were rather visual aids in worshipping God and Christ. The Second Council of Nicaea ruled that icons could not be adored (i.e., worshipped) but could be revered and venerated. Much later in history, Protestants, particularly those standing in the tradition of John Calvin, would reject the ruling of the Second Council of Nicaea and make it a matter of confessional Christianity that images of Christ could never rightly be used in worship, for they constituted idolatry.


But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.” (Jude 1:17-21)

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