O LORD, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; many are saying of my soul, there is no salvation for him in God. But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. I cried aloud to the LORD, and he answered me from his holy hill. I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the LORD sustained me. I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around. Arise, O LORD! Save me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked. Salvation belongs to the LORD; your blessing be on your people! (ESV)
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The Faith Matters
Wednesday after the Epiphany of our Lord
7 January 2015
Just when you think that our evil generation has thought up a new world of the false teachings, "misbelief, and other great shame and vice," a look back at church history disabuses you of the notion. There is a cold comfort when we recognize that the devil is trying to overturn the faith of the holy church using the same lures and baits as he always has. He is a one trick show pony. This ought to make it easier to spot his attacks and allurements. But somehow it doesn't. Our descent into false belief comes as a new revelation in every generation. We think we are unique when we generate some "great insight" about the faith that improves upon the teachings of our fathers. In the end, however, it becomes clear that we have been enticed by the same old false faith fed to "inquiring minds" by the father of lies from the time of the Fall.
Ignatius of Antioch (late 1st c. AD) lists the false teachings and false practices that attracted adherents in the first century in his Letter to the Philadelphians. It sounds very much like a laundry list of modern misconceptions about the faith of Christ. There is nothing new under the sun (Eccl 1:9). There are those who deny that the God of the Old Testament, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the God of Jesus Christ; making a sharp distinction between the two testaments. Often that shows itself in the description of Old Testament being the religion of the law and the New Testament giving the religion of the gospel. Inevitably, proponents of this division between the Testaments will argue that there is no more law or wrath against the sin of humans, but that God just overlooks our sins, as though He would consider them to be adolescent high jinks, which He winks at and smirks about. On the other hand, there are those who deny the merits of Christ, by presuming that they are capable of meriting their own righteousness in God's sight. In this way, they deny the sufficiency of the person and work of the eternal Son. Ultimately, this means that there is no basis for distinguishing between Judaism and Christianity. If people merit their own holiness, Christianity has no right to exist over against Judaism.
I found it exceptionally interesting that Ignatius of Antioch joined faith in the incarnation of our Lord of Mary to the blessings and benefits of holy marriage. First, those who deny that marriage is a gift from God along with the blessed relations of the flesh by which humans procreate, are implicitly denying Christ's fleshly incarnation of Mary. If God has created the flesh and commanded us to be fruitful and multiply (Gn 1:27), then there is no reason why God could not have sent His Son born of a woman. He takes our flesh that He might cleanse it for its highest and holiest purposes. Christ suffers in the flesh as the vehicle of our salvation. Who could be ashamed of such a flesh?
Human flesh is also to be used purely and for the purposes for which God created it. Thus the flesh must not become for us only a vehicle of pleasure. We must seek beyond mere pleasure to the highest use of human flesh; that is to honor God and serve other people. Mere pleasure-seeking is a perversion of human flesh and a yawning invitation to an open tomb. What is good must go beyond my feeling good. Christ's suffering unto the highest good certainly teaches that. His passion gives the greatest good to us.
Indifferentism is not new in our day. Ignatius warned the believers in Philadelphia against the idea that everyone was welcome to believe whatever he wanted. He reminded them that the apostle who brought them Christ expected that we would think, and therefore confess, the same things. There was no room for "their own faith" in the first century. Neither is there today. We must confess one Christ and one faith (Eph 4:5). There is only the faith of the incarnate Son of God, Christ Jesus, our Lord. Our faith must be His. It really matters. It always has.
Ignatius of Antioch
"If anyone preaches the one God of the law and the prophets, but denies that Christ is the Son of God, he is a liar, even as his father the devil is (Jn 8:44), and is falsely called a Jew (Rev 3:9), being under mere fleshly circumcision. If anyone confesses Christ Jesus the Lord, but denies the God of the law and of the prophets, saying that the Father of Christ is not the Maker of heaven and earth, he has not continued in the truth any more than his father, the devil (Jn 8:44), and is a disciple of Simon Magus, not of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:18-19). If anyone says there is one God, and also confesses Christ Jesus, but thinks the Lord to be a mere man, and not the only-begotten God (Jn 1:13-14), and Wisdom, and the Word of God, and deems Him to consist merely of a soul and body, such a one is a serpent, that preaches deceit and error for the destruction of men....
"If anyone confesses these things, but calls lawful wedlock, and the procreation of children, destruction and pollution, or deems certain kinds of food abominable, such a one has the apostate dragon dwelling within him. If anyone confesses the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and praises the creation, but calls the incarnation merely an appearance, and is ashamed of the passion, such a one has denied the faith, not less than the Jews who killed Christ. If anyone confesses these things, and that God the Word did dwell in a human body, being within it as the Word, even as the soul also is in the body, because it was God that inhabited it, and not a human soul, but affirms that unlawful unions are a good thing, and places the goal of happiness in pleasure...this person can neither be a lover of God, nor a lover of Christ, but is a corrupter of his own flesh, and therefore void of the Holy Spirit, and a stranger to Christ. All such persons are but tombs and sepulchers of the dead, upon which are written only the names of dead men.
"Flee, therefore, the wicked devices and snares of the spirit which now works in the children of this world (Eph 2:2), lest at any time being oppressed, you grow weak in your love. But be joined together with an undivided heart and a willing mind, 'being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind' (Phil 2:2), being always of the same opinion about the same things, both when you are at ease and in danger, both in sorrow and in joy."
Ignatius, Letter to the Philadelphians, 6
Almighty God, as You brought Your son, David, to repentance for his sins of adultery and murder, so bring us to our knees in sorrow over our transgressions of Your holy law and our false beliefs, that redeemed by the precious blood of David's Son and David's Lord, we would live free. Amen.
For those who think they can improve on the ways of the Lord, by seeking techniques of proclamation that are more successful than God's Word, that they would repent of their arrogance
For the family and friends of Pastor Kim DeVries, whom our Lord called out of the church militant into the church triumphant, as they give thanks to God for the hope of the resurrection and the life of the world to come in funeral services today
For the members of the family of Jeff Jones, who the Lord Jesus called from this vale of tears, that they would be comforted by the overabundant grace of Christ
Art: AERTSEN, Pieter Adoration of the Magi (c. 1560)
© Scott R. Murray, 2015