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. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day- just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.
Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, "The Lord rebuke you." But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam's error and perished in Korah's rebellion. (ESV)
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There They Go Again
Thursday of Advent 1
5 December 2012
In 1980 when Ronald Reagan was running for President of the United States, he repeatedly questioned the validity of his opponents' opinions, especially the increasingly desperate President Jimmy Carter, with the now-famous phrase, "There you go again." The same could be said of the efflorescence of atheistic propaganda being bandied about in our culture today. Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have been keeping up the virulently atheistic side that arises from the academic world with their books, The God Delusion and Is Christianity Good for the World? respectively. That atheistic drumbeat has given rise to echoes in the general culture especially in the modern entertainment media, which has never shown much sympathy for religion generally, or for orthodox Christian belief in particular. There they go again.
One of those echoes was sounded by Bill Maher in his 2008 movie, "Religulous." Maher, of course, mocks Christian believers because, according to him, they are irrational. In an article in the Wall Street Journal, Molly Ziegler Hemingway reported on the penchant for atheists to believe all manner of nonsenses, such as Bigfoot and psychic healing. Those who stand against God will fall for anything. Maher boldly says, "The plain fact is religion must die for man to live." Yet, Maher himself holds some very strangely irrational opinions. Hemingway pointed out: "It turns out that the late-night comic is no icon of rationality himself. In fact, he is a fervent advocate of pseudoscience. The night before his performance on Conan O'Brien, Mr. Maher told David Letterman -- a quintuple bypass survivor -- to stop taking the pills that his doctor had prescribed for him. He proudly stated that he didn't accept Western medicine. On his HBO show in 2005, Mr. Maher said: 'I don't believe in vaccination. . . . Another theory that I think is flawed, that we go by the Louis Pasteur [germ] theory.' He has told CNN's Larry King that he won't take aspirin because he believes it is lethal and that he doesn't even believe the Salk vaccine eradicated polio.
"Anti-religionists such as Mr. Maher bring to mind the assertion of G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown character that all atheists, secularists, humanists and rationalists are susceptible to superstition: 'It's the first effect of not believing in God that you lose your common sense, and can't see things as they are'" (Molly Ziegler Hemingway, "Look Who's Irrational Now," WSJ [19 September 2008]).
We may easily chuckle at this less-than-rational critic of the rationality of the religious, but Maher presents a problem for the propagation of the faith. Many people will chime in with Maher's mocking humor and never give the Christian gospel a thought. They will have been told that it's all just lunacy and clap-trap by Maher, at best, worthy only of a good belly laugh, or, at worst, worthy to be persecuted and rooted out of civil society by fire and sword. In any case, many people will be led into ignorance of the teaching of the Christian religion with its promise of eternal salvation through the work of Christ Jesus, who dies for sinners like us. We also should not merely laugh at Maher for his gaffs, but we Christian people should pray for his conversion. Christ died for Bill Maher too.
We have a response from a gracious God who redeems even those who hate him, like Bill Maher. Jesus died for Bill Maher too, whether He likes it or not. It is nothing new for Christianity to be rejected and reviled, therefore it is incumbent on the church and her children to defend the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3). There they go again.
"Therefore you who devote yourselves to Holy Scriptures should above all be sure of what you must believe in the Christian religion, that you may have the articles of faith defended with good texts of Holy Scripture and have considered them well. Then when either Satan or his instruments, the heretics, wish to dispute with you, hold these texts up to them and let them go, saying: 'I do not wish to hear your sophistries and speculations. For this is what the Holy Spirit says. He has warned me to hear and incline my ear. A new and powerful teaching is coming, at which many will be offended: that we must let all righteousness go and simply trust and depend on Christ alone and His righteousness; moreover, that this Christ is by nature God and must be adored. So I am certain I do not err, and the argument is refuted that is raised from the First Commandment and the Prophets regarding one God.' If they object: 'Then you make many gods,' I reply: 'I do not make another or many gods, but I say that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one and the same God. There is a unity of substance and one essence though there are three persons. I do not want to have many gods, because many gods compete among themselves. Nor can there be many gods. But here is unity. If I do not understand how the persons are differentiated, it is enough for me that Holy Scriptures say this and call Father, Son, and Holy Spirit by name (Mt 28:19). If I could grasp this with my reason or senses, what need would there be for faith? Of what use is Scripture revealed by God through the Holy Spirit? If I believe nothing but what I can comprehend by my reason, I must reject baptism, the sacrament of the altar, the Word, grace, original sin, and everything. Reason understands none of these things.'
Therefore, this should be the first concern of a theologian that he is a good textualist, as it is called, and that he hold fast to the first principle of not disputing or philosophizing about sacred things. If reasonable or apparent arguments had a place in this, I could distort every article of faith. But in theology one must simply hear, believe, and hold firmly in his heart: 'God is faithful, no matter how absurd what He says in His Word may appear to our reason.'"
Commentary on Psalm 45, 45.11
Lord Jesus, Your compassion for the world is displayed in Your willingness to give Yourself up to death for those who despise and hate You. Turn the hearts of all who despise and hate You, as You have turned ours. Grant that we might speak Your Word to those who know You not. Make us able defenders of our holy faith, that You might be honored and glorified. Amen.
For Lee Burrows, that he might have strength of body and soul
For all the baptized that they might live in the promises offered in the sacrament of new life
For Brenda Stancik, that she might continue to receive healing in accordance with God's gracious will
Art: WEYDEN, Rogier van der Annunciation Triptych (c. 1440)
© Scott R. Murray, 2012