The Importance of Orthodoxy & the Nature of God

Hello All,

Have you ever had a conversation with someone who claims to be a Christian and then you come to find out in the midst of conversation that they have a little different view of the nature of God. 

For example, when a Jehovah’s Witness (JW) claims that Jehovah is God and Jesus is something in-between God and man.  Or when a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormonism) claims that God the Father and Jesus appeared to Joseph Smith and revealed God’s true nature, which is different from the Bible or any Orthodox understanding of the Trinity (Orthodoxy is doctrine based on the Bible that Christians from different backgrounds have agreed upon for 2000 years). 

I have had dozens of conversations with people who are unorthodox in their understanding of God and I have discovered a common thread in their line of thinking.  They pretty much divide into two camps: (1) those that do not give primal authority to the Old and New Testaments in their development of their doctrinal views; and/or (2) those that claim their version of Scripture is correct and other versions are insufficient.

 What I am about to write is deep but necessary for Christians to know so that we do not look foolish when we interact with people who hold unorthodox perspectives.  What I have found is that Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons are trained well in their belief systems and in how to respond to specific issues, which Orthodox believers in Christ might point out as theological distinctions that divide.  The result is that sometimes Mormon or JW missionaries or common folk from these two religions can run circles around Christians because we do not have sufficient training in Theology, Apologetics, and Orthodoxy. 

My friends, the answer “You’re wrong” without being able to show a person from Scripture how their beliefs are unorthodox will not do.  Likewise, the answer “I don’t know” without an attempt to research this information on your own will also not do.  My friends, we need to know this information for our own edification and so that we can witness to people with confidence that our beliefs line up with the Orthodox Christian beliefs based on Scripture that have been held since the time of the Apostles.

What I am about to write might seem basic to some, but it is of paramount importance concerning our faith and is worth dividing over (i.e., this is why we should not worship in a Mormon Church or go to a Jehovah’s Witness service or a Unitarian / Universalist Church or align ourselves with any religious group that does not have an Orthodox understanding of the nature of God).  We can and should befriend these people, witness to these people, love these people, and develop a good reputation with these people, but we need to make sure we do not compromise Orthodoxy for the sake of these relationships.

The first issue people tend to attack concerning the Trinity is the issue of God the Father and Jesus having the same essence.  In short: (1) JWs believe Jesus is a watered down version of God.  He is not the God but a god; (2) Mormons believe God the Father has a physical body but that his nature / essence is different from that of God the Son and God the Spirit; (3) Universalists, etc. basically believe God is Spirit and that everything is God.

So what is the Orthodox perspective on the Trinity and the Nature of God?

The earliest Christians devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching (Acts 2:42).  Apostolic Authority was necessary for a New Testament writing to be considered Scripture.  In other words, an Apostle of Jesus or an Apostle’s secretary had to have written down the New Testament book for it to be considered “Authoritative” and inspired by God.  The different Christian Creeds written throughout history were not Scripture, but they were based on Scripture so that Christians could point to one, short document that encapsulated the Orthodox Christian beliefs that the majority of Christians believe based on Scripture. 

For the sake of space, in short, each of these Creeds has some type of statement related to the nature of God.  Now those statements were based on the following Scriptures.  While the following Scriptures do not use the word “Trinity”, they do speak of God’s nature in different members of the Trinity. 

Philippians 2:5-11 says about the nature of Jesus – 5 “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

–         Key word – “He [Jesus] existed in the form of God” – “form” in Greek is morphe” = “The outward display of the inner reality or substance.  Here it refers to the outward display of the divinity of the preexistent Christ, in the display of His glory as the image of the Father.” (Cleon Rogers.  The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament.  P. 451).

           In Classical Greek the word “morphe” = “essence” or “essential character” or “the essential make up of a thing / person.”  “The outward appearance cannot be detached from the essence of the thing.  The essence of the thing is indicated by its outward form.”  (Colin Brown.  The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Vol. 1.  P. 705.)

           In Koine Greek (New Testament Greek) the word “morphe” = “the essential nature of a thing” or “being” or essence  or “…the essential nature of Christ is defined as divine in nature…existing ‘in’ divine substance and power…surrounded by divine glory and to have had the same form as God… It is said of this divine mode of existence that Christ existed in it in the past…his pre-existence prior to the incarnation… Christ’s mode of being was essentially changed… Christ’s mode of existence in his earthly life is described as that of a servant” (Colin Brown, p. 706).  In short, Jesus was in the divine form, and then added human flesh thus taking on another form, and as the rest of Philippians 2:5-11 states, Jesus was raised from the dead by God the Father to the glory of God the Father thus displaying the glory He had prior to adding human flesh (see also John 17).

            In summary, Jesus has had the same “essence” as God the Father from eternity past.

–          Theological Implications – the reason the Nicene Creed, the Chalcedonian Creed, the Athanasian Creed, etc. all the way down to Grace Church’s doctrinal statement speaks of Jesus and God the Father having the same nature comes from Philippians 2:6, John 1:1-18, and Hebrews 1:3. 

             Remember, the authors of the creeds were basing their beliefs on the authority of the New Testament written in Koine Greek.  They would have taken Greek terms and translated the ideas of the New Testament into Latin as they wrote the Creeds.  For example:

–          Nicene Creed – 325 AD (revised at Constantinople in 381 AD) states about the nature of Jesus – “And [we believe] in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made…”  

            Substance = homoousiosin Latin, which means “of the same substance as the Father” and which is translated the idea that Jesus had the same “morphe” or “nature” or “essence” as God the Father from eternity past (Wayne Grudem, “Systematic Theology” p. 244.) 

–          The Chalcedonian Creed – 451 AD, states about the nature of Jesus – “…our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead…truly God…consubstantial with the Father according to the Godhead… begotten before all ages of the Father…God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ…”

            Consubstantial = consubstantialis” in Latin, which means having the same nature / essence / substance or “morphe” as God the Father (see Philippians 2:6 – also, see Wayne Grudem, “Systematic Theology” p. 557). 

–          The purpose: of each of the creeds was to more accurately define Doctrine based on Scripture (i.e., to establish Orthodoxy) so that the Church was united concerning the correct interpretation of Scripture.  This was done because many were coming up with unorthodox views that were not based in Scripture but based in philosophy or theology.  The refinement was necessary to be united about what the Scriptures teach.

Hebrews 1:3 says about the nature of Jesus3 “And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,”

–          Key Words – “He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature

(1)    Radiance of His glory = the word “radiance” is apaugasma= the reflection of Yahweh’s Shekinah glory.  Like the rays that reflect the brightness of the sun (Cleon Rogers, p. 516).

(2)    Exact representation  = one word in Greek, “karakter” = an impression from a stamp, like on a coin.  The idea is to have the exact reflection or character of that which a thing represents (Cleon Rogers, p. 516).

(3)    Of His nature = “hupostasis” in Greek = “essence” or “substance” or “nature” or “reality” (Cleon Rogers, p. 516). 

–          Theological Statement – the author of Hebrews is explicitly stating that Jesus has the same essence and nature as that of God the Father.

John 1:1-3, 14, 18 says about the nature of Jesus1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being… 14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

–          Key word“the Word was God” – “Word” in Greek is “logos” = “…the presence and action of God (Yahweh) breaking into human history with power and authority.” (Mark Driscoll & Dr. Gerry Breshears.  “Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe.”  Pp. 210-211).  This is what God did in Jesus (see John 1:14).

            In Classical Greek “Logos” = “…the intelligent force behind all we see.  The Greeks believed all things were interrelated by the Logos, which brought harmony to life & death, good & evil, light & darkness.  Therefore the Greek Philosophers believed the goal of human history was to pursue the study of wisdom & knowledge to understand the Logos…”  (Driscoll & Breshears, p. 211).

            The Greek philosophers had an incomplete understanding of the Logos and therefore some concluded the “Logos” was an intermediary between  God and man (Phlio, Jewish Historian – see Driscoll & Breshears, pp. 211-212).

 In the Greek Translation of the Old Testament (Septuagint or LXX) the “Logos of God” was a description given to Yahweh.  It was a way for Jewish people to avoid taking the LORD’s name in vein (i.e., instead of saying “Yahweh” the Jews would say, “The Word of God” – see Mark Driscoll & Dr. Gerry Breshears, p. 210-211).

–          Theological Statement – John is explicitly stating that Jesus is God, always was God, was involved in creation, and existed in the beginning with God (John 1:1-3).  John is also saying that the pre-incarnate “Logos” took on human flesh in the person of Jesus (John 1:14).  And finally, that the “Word” / “Logos” is the only begotten of God (John 1:14 & 18) and the explanation of God to humanity (John 1:18).

John 1:14 & 18 says Jesus has – 14 “…glory as of the only begotten from the Father18 No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.”

–          Key Wordonly begotten from the Father– “only begotten” is “monogenous” in Greek, which means “only” or “unique”.  “The word emphasizes the unique relationship that the Father has to the Son.”  (Cleon Rogers, p. 177).

 –          Theological implication – no other being, angel or human, has the same relationship to God the Father as does God the Son.  In other words, Jesus is consubstantial” with the Father (see the Chalcedonian Creed above).

 –          Key Words – in verse 18 it says Jesus is “…in the bosom of the Father…” – “bosomis a Hebrew idiom “expressing an intimate relationship between a parent and child” or “intimate fellowship” or is an expression of a “position of honor” bestowed upon Jesus by God the Father (Cleon Rogers, p. 178).  For example, Jesus is described as being “at the right hand of God.”  This does not mean God has a literal right hand, which is what Mormons believe this verse teaches.  Rather, “at the right hand” is also a Hebrew idiom expressing a position of honor.

 –          Key Word“He [Jesus] has explained Him [God the Father].” The word explained” is “exegesatoin Greek = “to explain” or “to rehearse facts” or “to explain divine secrets.”  “Only the Son, who has the very nature of God, is able to give an authentic exposition of God to man.” (Cleon Rogers, p. 178).

 –          Theological Implications – Jesus is explicitly described by John as very God in nature, with a unique relationship to God the Father in position and essence that no other being has ever had, and therefore when the “Logos” took on flesh He did it with a purpose, to explain the secrets of God to humanity.

Again, I write this blog post so that you can scratch the surface of the depth of theology concerning the Nature of God in the person of Jesus.  There is much more I could write, but that would be called a book.  So for now: (1) teach yourself these doctrines by reading Scripture and good books; (2) teach your children and grandchildren these concepts, but simplify them when they are young so that they don’t think God and theology is boring; (3) use these concepts in conversation with people concerning the nature of God and Jesus Christ so that truth can be known; and (4) if someone asks you a question that you do not know the answer to, just say, “I don’t know, but I will find out.”

Godspeed,

PRFaust

Democracy vs. Theocracy

Hello All,

I thought I would take this opportunity to talk about Democracy Vs. Theocracy, church government and why we do what we do at Grace during business meetings:

First, a little Church History; the early Church in the 1st-3rd centuries was an illegal, underground church.  They started out as a form of Judaism and were protected by the Roman Empire until the Emperor Nero started persecuting Christians in the mid 60s AD.  There was a Jewish / Roman War from 66-70 AD culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem and at that point Judaism and Christianity officially went underground.  Various Emperors would order Empire wide persecutions at different points up until 311 / 312 AD when Emperor Constantine made Christianity legal.  By the middle to the end of the 4th century AD, the majority of the Roman Empire was Christian and soon became the official religion of the State.

During the Middle Ages and through the Crusades up until the Renaissance and Reformation in the 1500s, there was no separation of Church and State.  The Emperor and the Pope were constantly vying for power and control resulting in much corruption and hypocrisy within Christendom.  The vision of St. Augustine in the 300-400s AD was that the Church and State would be one, a Theocracy like that of Israel.  The word Theocracy means God (Theos) is ruling the State.  So Augustine’s vision was that everyone in Western Europe (and eventually the entire world) would become Christian under the authority of God ruled by Christian Law.  He believed this vision would culminate in Jesus returning (Post-Millennialism) to sit on His thrown ruling the earth.

Many Christians throughout history have shared this vision, but with variations as to how this would come about.  Plus, many Christian leaders in the 1400-1500s saw hypocrisy and corruption in the Holy Roman Catholic Church and therefore decided to challenge and ultimately break away from Catholicism.  William Tyndale, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Huss, and John Knox are just some of the names of leaders who broke fellowship from this corrupt Theocracy.  The result? Many leaders were burned at the stake or beheaded, while others went underground and eventually came here, to America to start a new life free from persecution.

In the forming of these new groups, they were separated by miles, cultures, and language barriers; the only thing they had in common was the Scriptures.  Each of these groups in forming their new “Denomination” decided to base their theology and practice on the Word of God.  They each intended to “do church” like the early Christians did in the First Century.  Therefore, different groups developed different forms of Church governments.  For example:

–   The Presbyterians established their church government around the Greek word “presbyteros”, which means elder (Titus 1:5).  Hence the Presbyterians believe the church should be ruled and governed by a Council of Elders.

–   The Episcopal (Anglican) Church established their form of government around the Greek word “episkopas” in 1 Timothy 3:1, which means Bishop or Overseer.  Hence they believe a Bishop should oversee a region of churches with a priest appointed by the Bishop at each church.

–    The Lutheran Church in Germany was still state run and therefore operated in that country in a very similar way to the Catholic Church.  Same with the Anglican Church (of England).

–     Free Churches began to develop in which the people did not believe that an outside entity like the State or a Pope or a Bishop from a “Denomination” should control what they did.  So they formed what is known as Congregational Churches within which everyone had a voice.  The challenges of this system is that it becomes a Democracy and people tend to fracture into different factions of people who agree with them resulting in church splits, etc., which is not good for unity or the name of Jesus.

In America these different kinds of churches with people from different nationalities came to our country for religious freedom from persecution, which they achieved, but a new problem arose, people started dividing over which kind of church is best.  Now I want you to imagine you are a son or daughter of an immigrant and your friends in your neighborhood go to different churches with different cultural ways of doing things and with different languages, etc.  You have the same basic beliefs, but perhaps the form of communion, music, or the sermons or even prayer is different, and the way decisions are made in those churches is different as well.  Growing up in America we know that people have been turned off by the idea that my church is better than yours.

At Grace we realize there are people from different church backgrounds with exposure to different forms of Church Government and that they might have questions as to why we do what we do.

Democracy Vs. Theocracy – I heard a Pastor I respect once say that many churches are crumbling because they are run like a Democracy.  In such a church the different branches of the church are “checks & balances” to prevent anyone from having too much control.  The problem with running a church like a Democracy is it actually creates division.  It causes people not to trust one another and causes leadership to fear making decisions, which results in making no decisions.  Biblically, the Church is not a Democracy, but rather a Theocracy over which Jesus is the Head.

The basic bottom line for us at Grace is that Christians are supposed to be united under Jesus Christ and that He has appointed leaders (Elders / Overseers [Bishops]) to Sheppard  / Pastor the flock (1 Peter 5:1-4).  We recognize that the Bible says nothing about exactly how these decisions were made.  Therefore, at Grace Church the reason we post the names of our potential Elders and “Deacons” three weeks in advance is so that you have time to follow the biblical guidelines of Matthew 18:15-20 if you think a person is not qualified for a leadership position.  Then when we vote to affirm a person for leadership it is because we have not heard any accusations as to why such and such a person is disqualified.  So what we are doing is giving people a voice (Free Church background) while doing it in a biblical way so as to affirm the decisions of our leadership in appointing leaders (Elders in Titus 1:5-6 & Deacons in Acts 6:1-7).

I hope this was informative and I hope to hear from you if you have questions.

God Bless,

Ryan

happy new year

Happy New Year! With the new year comes a new series as we return to the Gospel of Luke.  Last year we went through the first six chapters of Luke and beginning this Sunday we will be “Meeting Jesus Again” starting in chapter seven.  I was inspired to do a series in Luke about the person of Jesus based on a book I read in college, which intentionally tried to give a skewed perspective on Jesus.  The book was called, “Meeting Jesus Again For the First Time” by Marcus Borg.  Quite frankly the book made me laugh at first and then made me angry when the students in my class started believing the arguments laid out in the book.  Here is the line of thinking of Dr. Borg:

(1)    We need to meet the historical Jesus.

(2)    Does the bible present the historical Jesus?

(3)    Scholars from liberal universities gathered in the mid-1980s for the “Jesus Seminar” to determine if the biblical Jesus is the historical Jesus.

(4)    Those scholars concluded by casting colored beads that Jesus only said 5% of what he said in the Gospels.

(5)    Therefore we really do not know anything about the historical Jesus and therefore we can make Jesus into who we want Jesus to be.

(6)    For the author of that book, he made Jesus into a spirit person just like other spirit persons that went before and after him.

This is the argument most scholars on liberal campuses use to discredit the Gospels and convince college students that what they learned in church and Sunday school is myth believed and pushed on children by intolerant, narrow-minded people with an agenda.  At least this is the card played by the religion professors I encountered at St. Olaf College.  And this is the attitude of Marcus Borg when I heard him lecture in Portland in December of 2009.

So, who is the historical Jesus? Is the biblical Jesus the historical Jesus?

Before I answer those questions I need to make a few points about the six points above:

(1)    I agree with Mr. Borg that we need to meet the historical Jesus.  And there are a few documents written by Philo and Josephus (Roman & Jewish historians) who write about Jesus.  They do not say much, but they do affirm people witnessed Jesus miracles, that people questioned if he was just a man or something more, Josephus called Jesus the Christ (Antiquities 18:63) and Lord (20:200) and affirmed that Jesus raised from the dead after crucifixion and appeared to His followers as was foretold in the Scriptures (18:64).

(2)    Does the bible present the historical Jesus? Yes! First, what was written outside of Scripture is a brief summary.  Second, what was written in the Gospels is history as recorded by people who walked with Jesus, or in Luke’s case he did a firsthand investigation interviewing everyone in Judea about their firsthand knowledge of the historical Jesus (Luke 1:1-4).

(3)    About the “Jesus Seminar” – first of all you need to realize that conservative scholars were not even invited to this seminar, and those that were thought it was so ludicrous that they refused to go and have their names attached to this event.  Second, casting of colored beads to determine if Jesus said something is an unscientific way of determining if an historical document is accurate.

(4)    Determining Jesus only said 5% of what he said in the Gospels by casting beads is based more on opinion.  They were not present with Jesus 2,000 years ago to confirm or deny that Jesus actually did or did not say such and such.  So, the question is raised, on whose authority do we believe the words of Jesus in the Gospels? We believe based on the authority of the eye-witnesses, just like we believe the accounts of George Washington crossing the Delaware based on the historians’ accountings of eye-witnesses.  If one has the attitude, “If I didn’t see it, I won’t believe it!” Then one has to questions everything that one has not personally seen with that one’s own eyes.

(5)    To say we really do not know anything about Jesus is to discredit the historical documents known as the Gospels, the one’s canonized in the New Testament.

(6)    For Marcus Borg to conclude Jesus was a spirit person just like any other spirit person who came before or after him and that you can become spiritual and connect with the same spirit Jesus connected with is just Cosmic New Age Humanism disguised as “Christianity.”  It is not saving faith.

(7)    Why am I writing a point seven.  Because in Scripture, six is man’s number and the implication is falling short of seven, which is God’s number of perfection.  I believe Marcus Borg’s arguments fall short and that the historical and biblical Jesus are one in the same, God come in the flesh.

So, why am I preaching from Luke about “Meeting Jesus Again”? For those who know Jesus but have fallen out of love with their first love, I want to help you know the real Jesus and re-kindle what has been lost.

For those of you who are skeptical, I want to introduce you to Jesus my first love, based on the Scriptures and let you decide what to do with that information.

I hope to see each of you Sunday.

In Christ, Ryan