Reason in Service
Monday of Pentecost 21
10 October 2016
Martin Luther is not the only theologian to have wrestled with the debate between human reason and faith. This is an age-old argument joined the moment the church proclaimed the Christian gospel in the Greek world. The great divide between reason and faith was marked by the incarnation and death of Christ, who is God of God. Human reason and empty philosophy, as Paul calls it (Col 2:8), pronounces as nonsense the confession that the Christ who died was also the God in whom the Godhead dwelt bodily. No God worthy of the name dies. Eternality, ever-livingness is definitive of being God, or so human reason aggressively demands.
 
Yet the God of Christ claims to have come into time incarnate of a virgin and died. God has given us a faith that runs up against the majesty of human reason and vanquishes that prideful reason by showing our salvation in Christ. All our own ways of salvation have failed (just look around you). All that is left is the radical contention made by God in Scripture that in Christ all the fullness of the Godhead dwelt bodily.
 
This One undertakes to remove from us the curse of sin by nailing the curse to the tree in the body of His own flesh. He removes the shadow of the law with its rites of purification and cleanses through His death our hearts now circumcised by faith in Him. He shares our mortality that we might put on His immortality. He gives up His life that He might give us life. He kills death that death might not hold us. He nails the curse of the law to the cross that the curse might be forever silenced in Him.
 
So what of human philosophy? God certainly wants us to concentrate the minds He created in the service of the gospel. Human reason is still a good gift of God; only vain and empty when it tells God what He ought to believe based on what we "know." Human reason must not have "magisterial magisterium" among us, but be placed under the gifts of faith to serve the holy gospel. Human reason must exhibit true humility by refusing to overstep its bounds; attributing to God what is His and processing what is its own. Hilary of Poitiers certainly does this. There is nothing of obscurantism in his use of reason in service to the gospel. Reason must remain yoked to the service of the gospel.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Hilary of Poitiers
 
"Lest the mind should stray and linger on some delusion of heathen philosophy, it receives this further lesson of perfect loyalty to the holy faith, taught by the Apostle in inspired words (Col 2:8-15). Steadfast faith rejects the vain subtleties of philosophical enquiry; truth refuses to be vanquished by these treacherous devices of human folly, and enslaved by falsehood. It will not confine God within the limits that barred our common reason, nor judge 'according to the rudiments of the world' (Col 2:8) concerning Christ, 'in whom dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily' (Col 2:9), and in such wise that the utmost efforts of the earthly mind to comprehend Him are baffled by that immeasurable Eternity and Omnipotence. He is the One who, drawing us upward to partake of His own Divine nature, has loosed henceforth the bond of bodily observances who, unlike the shadow of the Law, has initiated us into no rites of mutilating the flesh, but whose purpose is that our spirit, circumcised from vice, should purify all the natural faculties of the body by abstinence from sin, that we being buried with His death in Baptism may return to the life of eternity (since regeneration to life is death to the former life), and dying to our sins be born again to immortality, that even as He abandoned His immortality to die for us, so should we awaken from death to immortality with Him.
 
"For He took upon Him the flesh in which we have sinned that by wearing our flesh He might forgive sins; a flesh which He shares with us by wearing it, not by sinning in it. He blotted out through death the sentence of death that by a new creation of our race in Himself He might sweep away the penalty appointed by the former Law. He let them nail Him to the cross that He might nail the curse of the cross abolishing all the curses to which the world is condemned. He suffered as man to the utmost that He might put powers to shame. For Scripture had foretold that He who is God should die; that the victory and triumph of them that trust in Him lay in the fact that He, who is immortal and cannot be overcome by death, was to die that mortals might gain eternity.
 
"These deeds of God, wrought in a manner beyond our comprehension, cannot, I repeat, be understood by our natural faculties, for the work of the Infinite and Eternal can only be grasped by an infinite intelligence. Hence, just as the truths that God became man, that the Immortal died, that the Eternal was buried, do not belong to the rational order but are an unique work of power, so on the other hand it is an effect not of intellect but of omnipotence that He who is man is also God, that He who died is immortal, that He who was buried is eternal. We, then, are raised together by God in Christ through His death. But, since in Christ there is the fullness of the Godhead, here we have a revelation of God the Father joining us to His death; and we must confess that Christ Jesus is none other than God in all the fullness of divinity." 

Hilary of Poitiers, On the Trinity, 1.13
Colossians 2:8-15

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (ESV)
Prayer
Lord Christ, I believe that I might understand. Send Your Holy Spirit that I might place all of Your gifts to me at the service of the gospel. Amen.
 
For all those who are celebrating wedding anniversaries this month, that they would give thanks for the gift of holy marriage
 
For all those who drive over-the-road trucks, that the Lord would keep them safe on their long miles
 
For the elderly, that they would be constant in prayer and offer their wisdom and faithfulness to the church
Art: Durer, Albrecht  The Adoration of the Trinity (1515) 
Memorial Lutheran Church
smurray@mlchouston.org
http://www.mlchouston.org
© Scott Murray 2016
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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