Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Foresight and Insight

Thoughtful people have been arguing about the subject of God's foreknowledge and his omniscience for ages. The wrench in the works, it seems to me, always lies in divorcing the timelessness of God's knowing from the sequence of things happening.

God sees the entirety of time, for lack of better words, all at once. He can see not only the free actions of agents in this way, but also his interventions within time along with their effects throughout time (talk about iterated loops!). Despite it appearing terribly confusing to us, God is able to put a screwdriver on the right nut in time in the way we can put one on the right bolt on a machine in front of us and adjust it's functioning to achieve our aims. Foresight.

Additionally, God knows his free moral agents transparently. He sees not only the biochemical processes that carry our soul's thoughts into the realm of physical existence, he also sees the spirit behind it all. He has a superb discernment into what we would do if our circumstances were different because he knows us, he knows what is in us. Though his knowledge of what we actually do is founded upon us doing it, there can be no doubt that he has us pegged, and can see whatever we do coming, so to speak. Insight.

There is no way to translate the scope of God's seeing and knowing into the confines of our ways of doing the same. What he tells us about himself--what he knows and sees, and what he will and will not do--are all that we have that is dependable on the subject. If one's hypothesis about these matters results in a conclusion that has God thinking, saying or doing other than what he's said of himself concerning these matters, then that hypothesis is false. Along those lines, I've come the conclusion that taken together, the biblical material dealing with such matters paints a picture of God's knowledge of the future that is best understood in overarching terms as simple foreknowledge.

The proponents of other approaches (e.g. Determinism, Molinism, Open Theism) would take exception to my conclusions, of course. Scripturally, a case can be made for and against any of those views. When varying theological conjectures arise which have this quality, it is usually because all of the views have only a piece of the puzzle without of acknowledging that the others have a piece too (note my interpretation of the timing of the Rapture). As I see it, all of them in some fashion are both right and wrong, and if so, how can any of them be true?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Foreknowledge and Counterfactuals

Counterfactual knowledge is the awareness of what would be if something other than what happened had happened--seeing, if you will, the alternate timeline that would have arisen if another choice had been made or other circumstances had existed. Is it real? It's hard to say, even in regard to God (though I will try). He is certainly analytical enough to prognosticate in that fashion (as we are under many circumstances), and he has the added benefit of being able to see everything, including our thoughts and intents and not just our outward actions.

Before we can get anywhere with this, however, we must first determine how God uses statements in the Bible we consider counterfactual. Is he actually dispensing information concerning an alternate "what-if" reality, a window on his thoughts about possibilities, or is he merely making points rhetorically? If it were any other person speaking that way we would know the answer was "rhetorical," with the all-knowing God we must pause before reaching such a conclusion. Does God know certainly what any of us would do if we were in different circumstances?

It would be easy enough to say yes, if for no other reason than not to offend God and honor our conceptions of his omniscience and sovereignty, but that isn't really the point. God is about truth, and in particular the truth he tells us about himself. Humans attributing to God what he doesn't claim for himself, even to make him appear "bigger" or "better" doesn't really honor him--at best it would be presumptuous, at worst it would be idolatrous! Is God actually, clearly telling us that he knows what we would do in any given circumstance?

There is scriptural warrant to think he does, cases in point:
Deuteronomy 31:20-22 - God knew the intents of the heart and what history those intents would end up making as a result;
Psalm 139 - God's knows the thoughts and actions of David before they occurred;
Ezekiel 3:6b-9 - God knew the hearts of Israel and took steps within Ezekiel's to counteract them;
Matthew 11:20-24 - Jesus knew that people who did not repent in the past would have repented if they had seen Christ in action. [Now, that is not to say they would have come to faith in Christ, just that the incredibly wicked would not have acted in ways that demanded their immediate destruction rather than waiting until the end of time];
John 2:24-25 - Jesus understood the inner workings of man's intents and desires, and how to thwart their consummation in action;
1 Corinthians 10:13-14 -  God knows what temptation a person can bear and does not allow more than a believer can withstand by promising an available escape.

On the other hand:
Genesis 22:12 - God had to see the determination to act and the act initiated before he could say that he knew that Abraham would not withhold Isaac;
Exodus 13:17-18 - God spoke uncertainly about what the people might do and avoided learning what they would actually do;
Deuteronomy 8:2 - God had to see the heart actualized before he knew for certain what was in it.

I don't know that God meant to establish parallel truth by making counterfactual statements in the Bible. It easy to see these statements as other than the revelation of absolute, certain descriptions of alternate reality. There are obvious other purposes to those counterfactually structured statements that may be more fundamental to their meaning than the apparent counterfactual aspect. As always in biblical interpretation, intent of the (ultimate) author is of paramount importance.

If God had to see something done before he could know it certainly, as seems to be the case in some of the texts cited above, then I think it is safe to say that counterfactuals represent the discernment of God rather than the revelation of an alternate, possible history. Is God accurate in his assessments? Absolutely, but an assessment of a person's character and reactions is not the same as the statement of fact as in a historical narrative. Therefore, counterfactuals in the Bible do not represent an unveiling of Middle Knowledge, but merely the discernment of the all-wise, all-seeing God.

Foreknowledge is based on what God actually sees outside of time, not on permutations of possibilities that he cogitated within the counsels of his own mind before he created. If we posit that God knows with certainty what we would do in any circumstance, that he deliberated through what-ifs of creaturely freedom before he chose what became, we don't have freedom but merely a different way to see Compatibilism. If God has true (that is absolutely certain) counterfactual knowledge of free human action, not founded on what humans actually did, then foreknowledge is "rigged" and compatibilism is true.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Foreknowledge, Time and Omniscience

If God is outside of time, God can foreknow exhaustively on the basis of being omniscient and self-existent, without regard to decree whatsoever. The notion that God foreknows because he has foreordained becomes superfluous, completely unnecessary. Further consideration of it as the cause of foresight can be tossed aside because it is unexplanatory. Of course, that doesn't disprove that God decrees and that is why what is so, is so, but it does remove any necessity for that decree explaining foreknowledge.

If God were instead entwined somehow in time, if there were some sense in which he abided by it, then God could not be the Holy God and the future could not be said to truly exist (to be known). In that case, God would be subject to a quality of creation, not self-existent, and would, like creation, have to wait and see. There could only be the now and the record of the past in such a situation. Any premonition or prescience, even by God, could not be taken as fact so much as prognostication.

God, in fact, sees all at once without regard to and unlimited by time and space--timeless omniscience. This must be so, no matter how hard it may be for us to envision, if God is truly self-existent. That means that God sees all time references with equal facility. Since God is apart from time, I think Simple Foreknowledge is more than adequate to account for God's knowledge of all that is and will be.

That doesn't explain counterfactual knowledge, but that will have to wait until next time...

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Foreknowledge and Time

Foreknowledge, in relation to God, means that God already knows what for us is future. Time, in our experience, is linear--it moves in one direction and there's no going back. If God can foresee time that has not transpired, it means that God is either outside of time not subject to its linear quality, or it means that time is nothing more than the actuality of sequence in the unfolding decisions he has already made. Is there anything about time that might tell us how he foreknows?

The nature of time is of utmost significance in this musing. Is time something or is it merely the tape measure that connects the reporting of events? I think we have an answer to this question--not provided by the Bible, but Einstein. Einstein theorized that time was a dimension of the universe, something, part of the nature of stuff. I think that was proved when atomic clocks on the space shuttle and synchronized atomic clocks on the ground were unsynchronized by the experience of differential speed.

If time is effected by what happens to stuff, it must be part of stuff. If it is part of stuff then I think we can come to some conclusions about its relation to God. God is the creator of stuff: he is not stuff (as in pantheism), he is not dependent on stuff (he is self-existent), he is not limited by stuff (he is sovereign). Therefore, God is outside of time, with all time before him as is all creation. If God sees all creation at once without reference to location, then he sees all time at once without reference to past, present or future.

With more to say...

Thursday, December 15, 2011

I Think We Need A Cold Shower!

Concupiscence refers to the passion aroused for sex--the longing that pursues and finds satisfaction in the completion of the act. Ray Romano, in Everybody Loves Raymond, serves up a workable video definition of the concept when he informs his wife that she's already activated the launch sequence. If we grant a Solomonic exception because Debra and Ray were married, then we have a picture of concupiscence. It is the arousal of desire that fixes itself upon the attainment of sex.

It is an obscure word, in Bibles only found in the King James Version, so many contemporary readers aren't even familiar with it. Modern versions of the Bible generally translate "covet," "lust," or "desire" where KJV translated concupiscence. Translators obviously felt a more general word was required, although I don't think that makes sense in Colossians 3:5 and 1 Thessalonians 4:5 (even though it does in Romans 7:8). I think the context of the Colossian and Thessalonian passages specifically includes things sexual--hence sexual arousal and desire.

Concupiscence is the very definition of how the heathen live, at least if we take our cues from the popular culture. Everything in that milieu is about sex, or more accurately, the arousal of sexual interest and its pursuit. It fills the silver screen, dominates the lyrical, and sells cars, tools, and perfume. It spills over into the church with the baptism of "romantic" love and the near universal evangelical acceptance of the cat and mouse sexual game the world is so adept at playing. I think we all need a cold shower!

Somehow Christians need to wake up from the daze we're in and realize that following Christ means not following the world. We must dare to be different, for we are a different sort in Christ. We're not called to be the versions of the worldly whose only difference from the lot is the address of our final destination. We're new creatures, with a different kind of fire, for the fire that is burning the world can only end in endless fire and is not the sort we want to share.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Sex and the Bible

Sex is a touchy subject. It's hard for me to write or say the word without blushing. I guess an older generation's sense of decorum rubbed off on me. Not to worry, it's not like the vapors are going to overcome me, so let us proceed.

For all the talk of sex these days amongst evangelicals, the Bible is really not very explicit nor exhaustive in its treatment of the subject. Its approach is not developed in detail from the ground up; but rather sex is treated as a given in human life, something assumed, and handled euphemistically with the less said the better. Generalities and principles are the best that can be inferred, and proscriptively, despite all the angst among the religious through the ages, there really isn't that much said at all. There is enough, however.

I can find but four absolute sexual proscriptions in the entirety of the Bible: homosexualitybestialityfornication, and adultery. The overarching principle, it seems to me, is have no sexual intercourse with any creature other than your human spouse of the opposite physical gender. There are specifics that fall under this principle such as no intercourse during menstruation or immediately after birth, and no incest (particularly cross-generational), but that's it, really. So much for the detailed lists that so many believers bandy about!

So how do so many Christians come up with so many proscriptions with so much detail? I think many rely on Natural Law. If one adopts the premise that sex is fundamentally reproductive in purpose, just about anything non-reproductive could be considered willful and ultimately sinful. Masturbation and birth-control are examples of such issues, though neither is ever mentioned in the Bible.

Other proscriptions are clearly man-made and cultural. Specific sexual practices or approaches to the act are most certainly never mentioned in scripture, but that hasn't stopped people authoritatively listing dos and don'ts that do not appear there. What I think can be said in light of what has been said is that whatever a husband and wife wish to do in regards to the subject is up to them. As long as they are agreeable it's nobody's business but theirs.

I wish the subject stayed that way. We are an oversexed culture! What ever happened to less is more? I think the relative biblical silence on the subject ought to tell us something in and of itself, especially today--we think too much and speak too much about sex. And that's just from the pulpit!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

How Can I Find Peace With God?

It is not enough to believe in God, to acknowledge that there is a God over us, a Creator. While that is essential, it is not sufficient to be in good stead with that Creator. Demons willingly acknowledge as much and are certainly not in good stead. So faith in God in its most general sense is not saving faith by any sense.

Doing as God commands is certainly a good way to live in view of God's actual existence, but it does not amend for not doing as God commands. A person could live for years faithfully abiding by all that God commands and on an impulse disobey one day. That one day would be sufficient to wreck the man's record, and his former obedience would not provide any absolution for him. Good works accumulated can never outweigh even the mass of one bad work.

Rightness with God cannot be achieved through banal generalities (e.g. "I believe in God"), nor can it be earned by any with even one bad work to their name (that's all of us). Rightness with God has to be a concession given by God to undeserving people. As such, the means and methods of that concession will have to be of God's choosing, not ours. We're in no position to bargain or call the shots.

Has God made such a provision? Biblical Christians say yes, in very definitive terms. Nominal Christians and other religions are not so clear about things. They either slough off the issue altogether ("all dogs go to heaven," or "if at first you don't succeed try, try again," or "there is no such thing as heaven or hell") or they get one to work hard and hope for the best (more or less).

If you know the turmoil of conviction in your soul, you know that platitudes, theories and uncertainty will not do. Some things have to be known, or there is no peace. So what is the definitive answer of the Bible? God made provision for humanity to be reconciled to him through the efforts of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. He died for our sins and rose from the dead for our justification.

If one can believe that Jesus Christ is God come to earth; that he died for our sin and rose bodily, literally, from the dead; and is therefore the one we should follow (the Lord), that one can be saved. If one relies upon what Jesus has done as the basis and means of standing right with God, reconciliation with God is accomplished. Of course there is a cost involved--not that we can do anything to earn it, or to aid it, but it will impact our future direction. Things will change.

Peace, you see, comes at the price of letting Jesus change your life.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Are All Who Believe in the End of Time Fatalists?

In commenting on whether or not there was any substantial difference as to how determinism or fatalism view a predetermined end, I said, "...if the end is predetermined, the circumstance is fatalistic--regardless of whether or not one envisions the steps that lead to it as determined or not." That concept is worth exploring a bit further, so let's give it a go.

If one believes that God not only knows the end from the beginning but can, Babe Ruth-like, point to a desired end to events and then "hit the ball" to that spot, we certainly have the makings of a fatalistic viewpoint. That would just about include all Bible believing Christians I would think. By that reasoning, if one takes seriously the biblical concept of the "End of Time," that one would have to be generalized as a fatalist. Are all who believe in the end of time thereby fatalists?

If God were merely speaking on the basis of prescience, that is foresight, when such things were prophesied maybe we could say no and leave it at that. In that case, he would only be telling us what unfolds in time rather than what he was causing to unfold: determination would be removed from the equation. That, however, clearly is not the flavor of at least some of what he says. For example:
“Remember the former things long past, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done. Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure’; calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of My purpose from a far country. Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it." (Isaiah 46:9-11 NASB)
It appears from this passage that not only did God see what would happen, but he knew what he wanted to happen and made it so. Much of eschatology seems to me to be of this ilk. Despite this apparent difficulty, there are two factors which keep biblical Christianity from being truly fatalistic: (1) time and temporal sequence is of the created order not of the Creator's, and (2) there is nothing to say that God's determination and the indeterminacy of free agents can act on cause and effect without being co-opted by each other.

The first factor is hard for the human mind to grasp. We don't have the context to understand it--we're creatures of time and everything happens in our existence by temporal sequence. God, however, is outside of time: it's a characteristic of creation but not of the Creator. He is capable of reasoning, and seeing, and understanding in ways we are not, ways which are not limited or timebound. Just because he knows and sees all that for us is in time (past, present, or future), it doesn't follow that he must thereby have determined all that he knows and sees in time. 

If we project our experience upon God, and try to force him into the box we live in, we not only do not see him as he is, we also misinterpret, miss, or make inconsistent all that he says about himself and about stuff in his Word. We think that God has to do things ordered, as in temporal and/or logical sequence as do we, without a shred of evidence other than our own experience. The truth is we don't know how God thinks. Whether God reasons with us or we reason with him, we do so within human constraints--as for God in himself, who can know his mind?

In identifying the second factor, I am not referring to compatibilism. Compatibilism requires that the choices of free agents are made freely by those agents in a way that is foreordained (determined) by God. Those are really mutually exclusive concepts which cannot be contemporaneous anywhere but in the mind of Lewis Carroll. A better concept is concurrence, which posits that the free agent chooses and acts and God concurs (i.e preserves and allows). Of course, either construct envisions God as able to direct things toward a chosen end, so long as, generally, free agents remained free, which is the heart of the matter.

The point is that without freewill everything is most definitely fatalistic. With freewill and God not bound by time, not so much. Is it possible to have true freewill and a predetermined end? I think that is what the Bible describes. So yes, but in order for us to accept it we have to abandon our ability to mentally grasp the way it was reasoned out. Thankfully, we have adequate warrant from the scripture to do that very thing.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Is There a Difference Between Fatalism and Determinism?

Fatalism refers to inevitability. What happens could not have happened otherwise; or in other words, what will be will be because it is preordained, or necessary. Efforts of agents to thwart a fated end (e.g. Greek tragedy) or their efforts to produce any end are not the governing issues in determining what ends will be--fate is. This seems to me an inherently religious perspective.

Determinism refers to pre-existing causes. What will be will be, because causes and conditions that have "gone" before have set forth cause and effect chains that determine the end. Secular determinism is the framework of Godless science (not that science is necessarily godless). Theological determinism is the framework of Calvinism.

By way of illustration, let's say there is a person who sees the probability of an unpleasant future looming ahead of her. She decides to take action and change the course of her future. She takes what action she can, and experiences a chain of events she would not have if she had not taken action. It appeared she had changed the course of affairs and the initial probability wasn't so probable anymore. Unfortunately, the thing she feared came upon her anyway.

A fatalist would say, "I told you so, there is nothing that can be done to avert or change what is fated." The outcome proves the premise. What would the religious determinist say about that end that would be different in any useful way? The thought to avert the future was predetermined; the course of mitigation attempted was predetermined; the apparent success of that course was predetermined; and the ironic result of the whole affair was predetermined. How is the analysis of the end result any different for one viewpoint as opposed to the other?

If a theological determinist is to be a determinist, that one is also, ultimately, a fatalist. Whether one looks at an end occurring regardless of intervening actions, or examines consequent actions step by step, the result is the same--what ends up happening happens because it was necessary and it could not have occurred otherwise. That one cares more about the steps to get there than the other, seems to me to make precious little useful difference, in the end, at all.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Jury Duty

I just finished an experience I've always managed to avoid one way or another all these years. I sat on a jury in a civil trial. I never want to do it again. I don't think I'll have to worry about a criminal trial, since I'm absolutely opposed to prison and would not send any non-violent offender there regardless of the evidence or the law. I doubt that would pass muster in the pre-selection process.

The OJ Simpson trial (and more recently, even the Casey Anthony trial to some degree) have thoroughly undermined my confidence in the jury system. The jury system no longer works (if it ever did) because not all jurors are capable of following simple cause and effect trails, let alone difficult ones; jurors are purposely kept ignorant and information limited by the system so decisions have to be made on the basis of less than the totality of facts or science; a host of legal technicalities and terms make the process of weighing and determining facts very uncertain; etc., etc., etc.

My own experience has only served to validate my concerns. Did the jury I served on do justice? Maybe, but I have my doubts. We took the best guess we could given what we were presented. We were offered precious little, and very purposely I might add. We were deadlocked until a couple of people were willing to acknowledge that the situation meant that there just wasn't enough evidence to make the plaintiff's case. Such is justice in the US, heaven help us.

I think lawyers ought to make up the bulk of juries. They understand the proceedings, the terms, and the nuances of legal determinations. They are the ones making money off the system (would it be too much to ask them to serve some time every year rendering verdicts?). As long as they do not have a horse in the race, they would make the best jurors. They can be mixed with people who, instead of not knowing anything about the fields in question, are familiar with them. We would get more just verdicts, and probably quicker ones I would think.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Arminians Cannot Logically Adopt Perseverance

If grace is resistible and election is conditional, then there remains no basis for the perseverance of the saints. To maintain such, one would have to posit a transition in God's governance of the believer such that God initiates salvation according to Arminian principles (freedom and grace), but after rebirth continues salvation according to Calvinistic principles (determinism). Though a biblical mechanism for such a shift could be posited on the basis of texts like Philippians 1:6, or John 6:39, there is no way to harmonize such a conception with the book of Hebrews or other passages warning that all is lost if one ceases to persevere in faith.

There is no need to. From God's perspective (either looking back from the end or seeing all at once), of everyone who is finally and eternally saved it can be said that they will have made it because of God's efforts to preserve them. For everyone who made a turn to God, even who came to know him intimately, but at some point ceased to believe in Christ and walked away from him, it can be said that they will have fallen irretrievably because of their own freedom to believe or not believe. That God loses none of those he foreknew does not mean he will not lose some of those he knew along the way.

If it is intrinsic to God's will that mankind be free (as any Arminian would attest), then on what basis would a shift to Calvinistic precepts for the saved be justified? It seems to me, any such basis would have to be established by ignoring some scripture on its face in order to emphasize other passages of scripture. What would drive that? Emotion? Comfort? Make no mistake, any such an effort thoroughly undermines the Arminian conceptions of soteriology in the first place. If one knows God's grace is resistible, then one cannot posit a perseverance that is not.

Monday, November 7, 2011

An Alumnus Speaks About Penn State

I am a Penn State grad ('81). I have always been proud to say that. At the moment my emotions would betray that sentiment. I am more than a little ashamed. Like all the vast horde of the Blue and White, I am in shock and dismay over the scandal that has overwhelmed Penn State.

I can't say that I was ever a Paterno fan (though I've always respected him as a person and his approach to the football program), but I have always been a fan of Penn State. I listened to the games on the radio when I was a kid, and do not remember missing a game in Beaver Stadium for the four years I was a student at University Park. I can justifiably say I've seen some of the best players to ever play the game, play the game.

In light of the revelations that have come forth, and I do not believe it is a rush to judgment, given the findings of fact of the grand jury, Joe Paterno must go. I do not see how he can coach another game. I hope that Penn State has the good sense to announce an interim coach immediately, and to start the selection process for a replacement.

Ultimately, I think a clean sweep is required: a new coach, a new coaching staff, a new Athletic Director, a new VP for Business Affairs, and... a new University President. Graham Spanier is more blameworthy than even Paterno for the inaction and travesty that has come to light, and should be fired immediately. The coaching staff should get pink slips effective the end of the season with whatever severance is customary, and JoePa should be cashiered now, never to coach a game again, not even a scrimmage, not even a practice session.

Addendum:
JoePa has announced his retirement, effective at the end of the season. Not to kick a guy when he's down, but that is not good enough! A criminal investigation against the perpetrator was undertaken in '98 and JoePa suddenly, mysteriously forced him off his staff in '99. It seems like he might have known something untoward about the guy. A horrendous eyewitness account in '01 by someone still on his staff now (does that not imply that JoePa found him credible?) should have set off JoePa's alarms full blast. Yet the perpetrator was still bringing young boys to football games, to the locker room, to the campus years later--under Joe's nose!

Joe Paterno has lost any consideration his years of exemplary service may have afforded him. His judgment is suspect, and with the crimes in question of the nature they are, Joe is in no position to represent an institution such as Penn State. He should not be allowed to.

Addendum II:
I am in favor of the Board of Trustees decision to fire Joe Paterno and Graham Spanier, effective immediately. They need to do the same with AD Curley and VP Shultz.

Some Final Thoughts:
Jerry Sandusky has ruined the lives of more young men than we may ever know. He did so with malice and a cold-bloodedness that would do a viper justice. Even after the now open wounds he left behind scar over, the pain of their memory will linger behind. He stole something time allows no one to ever get back--youth. He deserves no consideration from us.

I don't think he should get the opportunity to drain the joy out of one more young man's youth. In that spirit I wish the student body and the Nittany Lion Football Team a good finish to their football season. The simple joys of your youth should not be sacrificed on the altar of a monster. You're young once, if God grants you the grace and opportunity, enjoy the moments while you have them.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Biblical Economics

The world's in turmoil and capitalism and free markets seem to be getting most of the blame. What position on these economic matters should a Christian take? Let me sketch out an outline of Biblical Economics that may help you make up your mind.

Private Property
The foundation of freedom under God and economic prosperity is private property. When Moses led the formerly enslaved out of bondage into a land flowing with milk and honey, freedom and opportunity lay in each man having inviolable land rights in perpetuity. When a person has what they have, unassailable by fellow citizens or governmental power, that person has the basis to work and make a future for himself and his family, and at least the basis for freedom from tyranny.

Entrepreneurial Freedom
God gives people the ability to create wealth. Folk anywhere who have the freedom to take risks and prosper from their efforts, make such efforts to their own benefit and that of those around them. The entrepreneurs gain wealth, those around them gain goods and services they desire. Capitalism (even in it's muted form practiced in the West) has been the only reliable engine of economic development and rising standards of living the world has ever known. Why not, it was God's idea for the economy of a fallen world.

Equality in Justice
Government is responsible under God to maintain justice between people. Me and mine should be protected from violations coming from you and yours. Justice must be blind, with the economically weak standing on equal ground before the bench with the economically strong. That in NO WAY means that justice can be, or should be, equated with economic equality. The poor will always be among us, the law should never allow them to be trampled under by rest of us. Certainly, making everyone poor in the name of equality is the very worst injustice.

Care for the Poor
Since the unfortunate, the feeble, the young, and the disabled will always be among us, sustenance should always be made available to them. However, no provision whatsoever should be made for the able but idle: they should be left to their condition in the hopes that their belly might teach them the lesson of life--no work, no food. The unfortunate, the feeble, the young, and the disabled are no burden to society despite their need. The idle are parasites and fools.

Workers' Wages
A worker's labor is as much an entrepreneurial risk as the investment of intellectual and tangible property. Workers, therefore, deserve to benefit from the profits of any entrepreneurial endeavor as much as do the entrepreneurs themselves. There would be no need for the disaster that is unions, nor the myriad socialistic and inefficient governmental impositions on business if workers were allowed to "freely" share in the profits of the organizations they work for. Perhaps worst of all has been the shill game (SS, healthcare) which in effect refuses to pay workers their wages for today, today.

The Wealth Gap
When economic activity sifts people into the haves and have nots over time, differences in economic prosperity and power can become entrenched and widen. The richer gain more of the means of production and power, the poorer lose more and the result is a loss of freedom and opportunity. A mechanism to reshuffle the economic deck in about every other generation (about every 50 years) would be helpful to long-term, overall economic activity and opportunity.

Usury
Relative weakness between the parties in a transaction, the existence of urgency, and sheer greed should not be allowed to so color interest rates that they become so burdensome that they lock intransigently the borrower into a perpetual state of debt, or threaten (just by their extent) the on-going ability of the borrower to continue economically. Whereas it is economically beneficial to have a ready pool of capital within any nation that can be borrowed by those with a need or with an idea to exploit, it is anything but economically useful to have the burden imposed in order to do so be so weighty as to crush further economic activity from the borrowers.

Monetary Manipulation
Dependable scales are necessary to continuing market activity. If measures are constantly shifting, someone is getting the shaft and the resultant uncertainty will depress economic activity. When the value of money is constantly shifting, either arbitrarily or through manipulation, it is as if a pound is a pound one minute but not the next, or for one customer but not the next. Policies that allow central banks and government printing presses to manipulate currency values seem to me destined to artificially benefit some economies at the expense of others. Ultimately, the result will be depressed economic activity that otherwise could be greater and political instability.

These are temporal considerations that affect this age of sinful man. None of them will transition into eternity, but today, for this age, they form the basis of understanding what a biblically informed approach to economics would look like. I think it interesting that no politician is even remotely promoting such an approach to economic policy, nor is any political party. For all the posturing that comes from such quarters, it is obvious that politicians pay no attention whatsoever to what the Bible might suggest concerning practical considerations of governance. But maybe the Cubans are starting to.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Am I Missing Something?


According to a story by Greg Wilson reporting for Channel 5 in Chicago, Topeka has decided to stop prosecuting domestic violence cases due to budget concerns. I don't get the reasoning that would lead to such a decision, although I must admit I haven't seen a full accounting of the whys and wherefores behind it. Regardless, there are real victims to domestic violence, unlike, ooh, let's say speeding, or possession of marijuana, or breaking curfew, or... I think you can see where I'm coming from. Why not stop prosecuting victimless "crime" rather than sending the already abused back into the jaws of a greater likelihood of death? 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Is Unbelief Sin?

Unbelief is not sin in itself. Sin is the exertion of will (decision, determination, action) in opposition to God. Unbelief is a gut reaction, an assessment of God's character and his word. Adam and Eve did not believe God nor what he said to them, and the result  was choice exerted in opposition to God. The unbelief wasn't the sin, the action it led to was. Unbelief is a state of heart and mind in regard to God which leads to sin.

Unbelief, therefore, is not a sin that can be condemned or forgiven, though the sin it leads to certainly can be. Unbelief itself is merely the spiritual and soulish framework from which sin arises, but not sin itself. As such, neither faith nor unbelief can properly be thought of as works as sin can. They underlie works but are not works themselves.

Whereas it is true that a sinful heart is unbelieving, and it is an undeniable consequence that an unbelieving heart will be sinful; sinful and unbelieving are not synonymous. They are interrelated but not equivalent. Whatever is not of faith is sin, which I think is about the same as saying whatever is of unbelief is sin. The sin is not the unbelief, the unbelief is not sin, sin is what happens when one acts without faith.

To those who argue that if Arminian tenets are true, faith is a work and unbelief is a sin which cannot be forgiven, I say think again! Unbelief is only a state which keeps one from entering into God's promises. It is not unbelief that results in judgment, but unbelief that keeps one under the condemnation for their sin. So, unbelief is not a sin for sin is an act of the will, but unbelief is the state of heart and mind that produces sin and keeps one under the judgment for it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Who Did Jesus Die For?

As in almost anything that observers look upon, one observer can see a thing from a different angle or direction than can another. The two may describe a thing in terms virtually opposite of each other, and yet both be correct, and I would add, objective. Only a view that captures more angles, including those observers', would be more accurate. This is certainly true about our title question.

Calvinists assert that Jesus died only for those that were unconditionally selected to be saved. To say that there is even a hint of truth in such a perspective seems to fly in the face of the scriptures which universally assert that Christ died for everyone. Not everyone gets saved, however, which leads one to question in what way did he actually die for all when only some are benefited. Certainly, there is no doubt that he died for those who are benefited.

From one perspective, looking at efficacy, there is no argument--Jesus death was for some and not for others. From eternity looking back on time, such an assessment would seem to meet the facts as they will be: the repercussions of his death and resurrection will affect some, but not others. To look at that reality from that perspective and say Jesus died for the benefited is a spin that one could technically make and be accurate as far as it goes.

The problem with this view arises when the horizon on the subject is stretched to include intent. Since intent in this regard involves the counsels of God, humans can only know what God tells us about his intent. We cannot figure out the mind of God in this regard, nor infer what our reason tells us he must have been thinking. That is error prone when done between humans, it is idolatry when done concerning God.

God has spoken concerning his intent in offering Christ as the atoning sacrifice for humanity's sin, and has done so conclusively. Christ died as a bonafide sacrifice for all. Whosoever will may lay their sin stained hand upon the head of the scapegoat and tap into its benefits. That anyone who does so requires the intervention of God to do so does not mitigate or limit the expansive intent of the offer, anymore than does the outcome. Jesus is the savior of all men, but especially for those who believe and are benefited.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Overcoming Depravity

Depravity robs the human being of any capacity for any impetus toward God, but does not incapacitate the human being from any response to God. A thoroughly depraved person can respond to the touch of God, the appearance of God, or the unseen spiritual influence of God without having to be re-plumbed or regenerated in order to do so. All that is required is for God to express himself sufficiently to that depraved person so as to stir that person's empty spirit.

Because of the autonomy of humans (an aspect of the image of God, marred though it is in them), whatever interaction the Spirit may bring to him or her is not guaranteed to overcome that human's depravity. If Adam and Eve could go their own way in Eden, then a depraved person under the influence of the Holy Spirit can do so as well (in fact, they're much more likely to). There is nothing irresistible about grace, anymore than there is anything not resistible about any instance of sin. That freedom of will is intended by God is readily evident in mankind being made in his image.

Ultimately, life as God would have it lived will require a complete rebuild. The combination of soul, spirit and body we have been born with since Adam and Eve is not capable of experiencing life as God would have it. Meanwhile, in the here and now, sufficient grace can be brought to bear upon our condition to at least enable reconciliation to and relationship with God. As any of us are naturally, we can be encountered by God and respond to him with faith; we can then even be regenerated and reborn in spirit despite our dying bodies; and therein do we overcome our natural depravity.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Death and Depravity

Depravity and death are cut from the same cloth. When Adam and Eve sinned, the sentence pronounced upon them was death at the time of consummation. The flavor of God's proscription on the act was clearly that the death sentence would be carried out virtually immediately. However, Adam and Eve went on to live long natural lives before that ultimate reality finally caught up with them--or did they?

When we contract an illness, say rabies or bubonic plague, we do not die at the moment of infection. We go on for some time, not even necessarily feeling ill, before the disease runs its course and we stop running ours. Yet, we were diseased from the moment we were infected, and the writing was on the wall. For the human race, death did strike at the moment our primogenitors bit the apple, but it's first evidence was not cessation of natural life, but the emptiness of depravity.

Adam and Eve's physical life and physical capacities continued when they were struck spiritually dead, howbeit diminished and diminishing. Even their soulish capacities continued, though darkly, without the breath of God enlightening them. Death, in its immediacy, was in terms of separation rather than respiration. That is still the most fundamental quality of human depravity for all who were born of Adam and Eve into their condition--body alive but dying, spirit empty and uninspired.

One cannot take a bath if the tub is unplugged, and the soul has no good nor desire for it when God's Spirit is sucked out. Take God out of the image of God and the result won't look like God. This is what depravity is--God missing from the human soul. Will is still there, desire is still there, creativity too, but everything is twisted, off target because God is gone.

Left to our own devices, humans cannot and do not produce godliness. We have soulish capacities one would think capable of producing such, but apart from God our souls are unable. Ultimately, humans need to be rebuilt and re-inspired if they are to live as God intends. That doesn't mean, however, that we are incapable of being influenced by God as we are should he desire to come near. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Emptiness of Depravity

I believe the scriptures teach the total depravity of natural man (see thisthis, and this, e.g.). Human beings, left to their own devices, would not seek after God nor do good. It's not that efforts along that line cannot be nor are not made by humans; it is that those efforts can only end up being idolatrous on the one hand, or productive of a "righteousness" that at best is merely self-congratulatory on the other. If man is to know God or God's way, it will take God revealing it rather than mankind discovering or enacting it--God alone is good.

Which brings us to the practical core of depravity. Depravity is not defined so much by what is in us as it is by what is lacking. Depravity is emptiness, a lack of something necessary if one were to be other than depraved. When Adam and Eve sinned and they (and the offspring "in their loins") fell into depravity, what they fell into was a separation from God. Sin broke their oneness with God--it de-Spirited us, if you will.

Under such a view, our inability exists not so much in an absolute incapacity, but in that God is not sharing himself with us. In the natural, we are still creatures with a spirit (capacity) even though we are without the inspiration of the Spirit (ability). Depravity is what comes out of us when God is not rubbing off on us, so to speak.  Such an inability is not so intrinsic to our nature that it would continue if God came near, any more than idle iron filings remain so if a magnet is passed near. There is no need to posit that a person would be unable to respond to God without first being reengineered. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Finding the Right One

Helping folk find the "right one" is big business. Ads for dating and matchmaking services fill the web, TV, and the mails. It is not unusual to see such endeavors openly associate with Christianity or have departments that cater to the faith community. Love and marriage is not only important to us, but to God (and to pastors), so let me offer some advice for those seeking to find that special one to spend a life with.

THERE IS NEVER JUST ONE
As special as you may be, you're not that unique--you're not GodThere is no such thing as the one: that is nothing more than a Hollywood fabrication meant to stir the flesh. If this one doesn't produce a love connection, then the next one could or the one after that. Out of 6.3 billion people in the world, I'd have to imagine that at least 100,000 would suit you just fine; that is if you're looking for a spouse, rather than a circus dog who can jump flawlessly through hoops.
         
Picky people end up lonely, get desperate, and then settle for less. Nobody's perfect so don't look for the perfect one for you. Even if someone could meet your standard, what's the likelihood you'd meet theirs? Though not just any one will do, remember that everyone has some annoying habits, and some philosophical disagreements with anyone else. So don't hold a standard that would exclude you if the other party approached this thing like you were or that only God would have a right to.

FIND SOMEONE WHO TRUSTS CHRIST
With rare exceptions, the choice of a mate is ours rather than God's, but we must exercise that freedom in line with ChristIf you and your potential mate do not agree on Christ, how will you be able to agree on a godly course through life? "Converting" in order to marry will not do, because folk will do almost anything to marry their love, even falsely acknowledging Christ. If you downplay or do not mention you allegiance to Christ, or accept a lame conversion by your mate in the selection of a spouse, you are out and out ashamed of Christ and that has no future at all!

FIND SOMEONE WITH A SERVANT'S HEART
Jesus, the mightiest, came to serve and he is the example we emulate. We should look for something of Jesus in our potential someones. Therefore, look for a person who endeavors to serve you; who does not consider it inconvenient to do so; who does not consider it a burden. If a potential mate doesn't want to serve you, plain and simple, he or she does not love you.

Don't be so afraid to not be in a relationship that you endure the boot heel of an unloving potential mate--that's mentally ill! Spouses are meant by God to be complementary companions, which means they help each other. Queens that wish to be pampered and kings that demand to be served are alike unfit for marriage, may they make themselves eunuchs or true widows for life! So be a servant, and look for a servant, if you desire marital bliss.

FIND SOMEONE WITH INTEGRITY IN THE SMALL THINGS
Someone who will cheat in little matters will cheat in the big ones too. That one will cheat on you (I certainly hope you see yourself as a big matter as a spouse)! So look for character, with integrity being the key issue. Don't look for a mate like a loaf of bread: just because it's soft to the touch, smells good, and doesn't look moldy, doesn't mean it must be wholesome.

The Bible never promotes romanticism in finding a mate, (even the Song of Solomon refers to love after marriage). God wants godly parents and godly children. If you want a mate, use your heart for sure, but also your Bible and your head! The lust of the flesh and eyes are no basis to find a suitable mate: no more than is mutual hedonism. Who you find, you give your life to, so pick the right one. Look for someone whose vision for God matches yours.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Some Thoughts on Time and Logic

Anything created has a definite beginning and a potential ending. It is in the nature of being created, it is necessary.  An ultimate creator has neither beginning nor ending, necessarily,  because that one is not created. If that one had either beginning or ending, that one would not be the ultimate creator. The attempt to mandate a created quality for the ultimate creator, such as a beginning and a potential end (as atheist sometimes do in saying "where did God come from?"), is to not understand the necessary qualities of the ultimate creator.

Beginning and ending are time ordinals which only have meaning within the stream of elapsing time. The words have no meaning apart from the reality of time. Therefore, time is not only a dimensional aspect of the created order because Einstein theorized it so and findings afterward verified that; but also because, philosophically, time ultimately is entailed within creation. Time is nothing more than something that passes sequentially between ultimate beginning and (potentially) ultimate ending.

Time is wed to created things: it's locked into initiations and progressions. Time cannot exist substantially where there is no beginning, what would it be? It cannot exist in the realm of the ultimate creator, in the place that is other than creation, or that place, that person, wouldn't be without a beginning. Some theologians have been saying for centuries that God is outside of time--they spoke well; for if time is an attribute or aspect of God, then God is subject to time as is any created thing, and his self-contained existence is undermined.

Logicians can have difficulty with such a concept because of the necessities of order in logic. Some thoughts have to occur before others in sequence. I think that situation is more a consequence of our thoughts and experiences being locked within the created order than it is of any ultimate truth in the realm of the ultimate creator. All that can be truly said, I think, is that logic works that way in our realm of elapsing time. Who among us can know the mind of God?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Necessity of Spiritual Encounter

The pattern of scripture is not that men choose God but that men are encountered by God and a relationship ensues. Pelagic theologies frame man's capacity as something capable of initiating a relationship with God, but I think the scriptures are clear that man would never bother with God if God didn't intervene. It's not that we cannot come to an unaided conclusion that God exists or even comprehend his attributes, but in the gap between knowing about someone and knowing him personally, mankind can do none other than chiseling that data to our own liking (idolatry). God, the infinite and transcendent, is never subject to our powers of drawing him out.

Folk bent on discovering God, or knowing the Great Truth--Buddha, Lao-Tzu, or Plato for instance--do not find God the Creator, nor the Son who conquered death. They merely rearrange the particulars of projections of humanity and/or human reasoning. God as he is, God the only all-wise, the self-existent, the maker of heaven and earth, he who sees the end from the beginning, the one who talks, they do not find. Humans cannot find God, he must "find" them.

There is the scriptural command to seek God with one's whole heart with the promise of finding him as a result. However, just a modicum of thought will recognize that it was the word from God to seek and find that was itself the initiator of process in the first place. God "saying" something is how it always begins. God must show up in the places we can perceive (but not necessarily see) and poke us, shake us, call us or we remain apart. If one is ever to truly know God as he truly is, a spiritual encounter initiated by him is absolutely necessary.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Miracles Among the Masses: Faith

If authority isn't the telling issue in the manifesting of miracles, what is? To say, "faith," as if that alone was it would be inaccurate, although faith is very important in the scheme of things. There are recorded incidents of God producing miracles when no faith was present nor was any ensuing. God, of course, can do what he wants, when he wants, how he wants, with whom and to whom he wants; but he doesn't act purposelessly in the manifesting miracles. It seems to me, what could be called ministering miracles, occur at the nexus of three things: 1) faith in the doer, 2) faith in the receiver, and 3) the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Though God is the ultimate performer of the miraculous, if the human agent does not have faith, the likelihood is that the miraculous will not occur. The faith necessary is the kind that has no doubts concerning the thing about to be done: doubt is the underminer of divine intervention. I think that is a hard thing for humans in general to produce, thankfully for God's glory, there is a gracious enablement that can accompany the need for the miracle. That is not to say that we do not have power over our own belief, so if we slough off counting on God to bail us out of our unbelief, we're likely to face disappointment.

If the receiver does not have some measure of faith, the likelihood of a miracle is next to nothing. God occasionally intervenes despite the unbelief of a receiver rather than in conjunction with his or her faith, but generally, that will not be the case. Today, the receiver is often saddled with the entire burden of failure in the effort to produce the miraculous, but I don't think that represents the total picture of what is going on. Regardless, it cannot be denied that Jesus clearly taught miraculous ministry is received according to one's faith.

The Spirit does as he wills and doesn't do as doesn't will. If the Holy Spirit does not have a mind to do a thing, it just ain't gettin' done! We can exercise some will in relation to the Spirit's will insofar as we go along with what he enables (like in tongues), but his doing is still absolutely necessary to anything miraculous. The only means we have of influencing the impetus of the Spirit is prayer, but the Spirit must be present to do whatever if whatever is to be done.

So, when faith in the doer is contemporaneous with faith in the receiver and the Spirit's willing, a miracle occurs.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Miracles Among Masses: Authority

Among the charismatic, over the last 100 years, a phenomenon known as the healing evangelist or miracle crusade has become common place. More or less, such ministry is an attempt to replicate the ministry of Christ (primarily) and (to a degree) the Apostles. Imo, the result has been less than stellar, many (most) of the miracles less than miraculous, and the practitioners a lot more than shoddy. The concept of replicating the works of Christ, is a noble endeavor: the practice, the miracle crusade, doesn't seem very noble at all to me.

Since I'm not ready or willing to saddle the practitioners with the accusation of outright fraud, what do I think is the problem with their doctrine and practice? First, I think there is a misapplication of the concept of authority in their sense of mission; and second, I think there is an ignorance of what inspiration entails in their practice. Let me develop these thoughts, with this presuppostion: Neither Christ nor the Apostles (in Acts) ever commanded things that did not happen. Therefore, a command or declaration that something is so that doesn't become so in short order is not in the pattern of Christ or the Apostles.

Authority can only go so far. Jesus had as much authority as any human will ever possess. He stilled the wind and waves, cursed the fig, forgave sins, and raised the dead. And yet for all his authority, he was stopped cold in Nazareth. Why? Was he not as in touch with Spirit as he ever was in Nazareth? Was he not as perfectly obedient to his heavenly Father there? Did he not have as much authority as he had anywhere else he went?

Jesus was stymied in Nazareth, not because of any issue of authority, but because of unbelief in the potential receivers of God's miraculous blessing. God is certainly under no obligation to put on a demonstrative show for the entertainment of those who would persist in unbelief anyhow. Besides, even Adam in sinless innocence was not forced by God to believe in God or his word--something tells me it wouldn't be belief if it was imposed. So, though unbelief in people doesn't diminish God's authority in the least, it does prevent them from receiving his gracious ministrations or knowing him intimately.

We have the authority we need, and all the authority we're going to get in our Great Commission. Authority in itself, however, will never be the issue that determines our success, it is merely the invitation for us to proceed. We have no power over the belief or unbelief of people, and in that regard, we'll see what Jesus saw: some believe, some will believe, and some won't believe no matter what we do or don't do. All we can do is not give them a reason for unbelief, and in dependence, follow the lead of the Holy Spirit.

I'll complete my thoughts in my next post.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Living in the Future Backwards

Hebrews 11.

Part of faith is embracing a picture of what life could or will be, but isn't at the moment. That is not to say that what could be is relegated to the distant future, but just to say that it isn't in this instant. In this regard faith is sort of like living currently by rules and reality that don't exist now. Living in the moment as if what isn't in the moment is.

Now that could seem a disingenuous mantra, but I take it (at least in part) to be something of what it means to be in the world, but not of it. Without faith, all one has it what is: with faith, one embraces the sovereignty of God and the possibilities entailed therein. I do not believe Christians are meant to go about spouting positive confessions, that in truth are just false confessions (e.g. one who has a fever who says his temperature is normal is lying, not positively confessing), but neither do I believe that we should sit back and take it as if God isn't in charge and hasn't made promises to those who trust him.

We have been redeemed and translated into a kingdom where there is no sickness or death, no class or gender divisions, no racial divides and no sin. Where the light is the Lord himself and there is no cause for sorrow. Part of being God's people in the here and now is appropriating the earnest of our inheritance in the there and then. In that respect, faith is not just about slugging through the now while looking forward to a better future, but also living in the future, backwards.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Just A Bit More About Communion

Continuing on the subject of Communion...

Guilt for the Body and Blood
One may wonder how the violation of the elements of a memorial meal would rise to the level of weakness and death in punishment. To such reverie, I say let us remember: a simple command to not eat a piece of fruit resulted in the weakness and death of everything. It is not the relative scope of the offense itself (as we would see it) which determines God's response in judgment, but what he can see the offense betrays about the condition of faith in the perpetrator. Our scales can in no way be applied to the justice of God.

A God-given sign of faith, not honored as such, carries notable risk with its dishonor. It's not because the substance of the sign (the elements) was violated, but because of the attitude betrayed toward what is conveyed by them. There is no implication in such punishment that necessitates that it entail an affront to some special presence, or gracious virtue. Guilt accrues over simple bread and wine simply because one who is disrespectful of the sign is disdainful of the thing signified by it. One needs to discern this truth when participating in the Supper.

Grace
What God gives us is himself. It's what is at the heart and soul of being born again. The Spirit of God quickens us, and we become living stones, part of the Temple, or habitation of God. It can't get better than that. God, no longer at a distance, but instantly with us and us always with him. To see grace, effectively, as some piece-meal add-on to rebirth fails to understand rebirth. Whatever God wants to demonstrate within the believer springs from his abiding presence within. There are no means of grace, for the only means of divine blessing is God the Spirit, and he is within us before and quite apart from the performance of any ritual.

Superstition
Stevie Wonder was right, superstition ain't the way. Yet it is all too human, even amongst "believers". Case in point: the Bronze Serpent Moses lifted up and of which Jesus said he was the antitype. A memorial for the power God displayed when that serpent was lifted up became, through the superstitious seating of power in the serpent, idolatry. The hold of serpent superstition had to be broken then, the same is true of sacramentalism in the Lord's supper today.

If history is any guide, that same serpent devolution happened quickly in the early church with the Lord's Supper. I think sometimes folks look to the early church for too much. The NT epistles are filled with corrections, rebukes, astonished acknowledgments of sin and doctrinal error in the earliest church. If believers could mess up that badly when the Apostles were still alive and well, what confidence can be placed in their practice once the bodies of the Apostles were cold? The only reliable, authoritative guide we have for faith and practice is the Bible itself!

Conclusion

There is no biblical rule that tells us how often to celebrate the Lord's Supper. The implication in the NT, it seems to me, is that it was practiced often, maybe even at every worship meeting of the first congregations. Nonetheless, I think that if God would have had in mind the sacramental effect that has been saddled on the practice of Communion throughout most of church history, the Spirit would have commanded it less nebulously than "as oft as you eat and drink." No, the spooky necessity attached to the feast is on the back of man rather than the Son of Man.

The celebration does nothing to forgive sin, tap into the blessings God has provided in Christ, or mysteriously bind us together in the one bread and one body of Christ--it bears no sacramental necessity at all.  Jesus inaugurated the meal with the disciples to serve as a memorial until he could eat and drink it again with them in the kingdom of God.  It is simply a God-given way of remembering the means by which we stand before God accepted, and to proclaim our faith that Christ died for our sins, rose for our justification, and is returning for the consummation of his eternal kingdom.

As such the ordinance should not be entered upon callously. One should examine himself before participating and ensure within his own mind that he participates with Christ in view, in a way that honors what Jesus did and taught. That means not eating to satisfy physical hunger or appetite; nor eating self-centeredly, ignoring the body Christ bled and died for. To participate in an manner unworthy of Christ is to eat and drink judgment upon oneself.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Bit More About Communion

Continuing on the subject of Communion...

Participation
Participation, or communion (koinonia), can occur at several levels in regard to the Lord's Supper. There is taking part in the actual ritual, there is the reminiscence of the referent of the symbol, and there is an organic connection to other partakers. None of these levels of participation require  special spiritual presence or grace to be effected. In fact, anything that one could posit as an effect of participation (at any of these levels) is actually stated elsewhere in scripture to be ours just through faith or the Spirit (rebirth).

What one already has through faith and rebirth is not subsequently participated in through ritual. If it were, the ritual would be the efficacious source of whatever grace is envisioned to come through it, regardless of how carefully one may attempt to formulate the concept to make it seem otherwise. NT rituals (baptism and the Lord's Supper) are merely a symbolic and/or memorial celebration of what one already possesses--an outward sign of an inner reality possessed apart from the sign.

Paul's comparison of believers' communion in the Lord's Supper to pagans' participation in the sacrifices of idolatry goes a long way in proving the point. Pagans were participating in their altars by eating the meat sacrificed upon them, much in the same way OT saints did with their altar in Jerusalem. The basis for pagan belief was non-existent--idols are nothing and can produce no aftereffect in what is sacrificed to them--but what the pagans were doing was worship, and therefore sin. Demons were the force pulling the strings behind the scene, so even though there was nothing to idols, even less to meat sacrificed to a nothing; what pagans were doing was, nonetheless, a "joining of hands" with demons and therefore forbidden to Christians.

Rather than substantiating the thought that there is "something going on" in the elements eaten from the table, Paul's argument actually undermines it. By comparing the Lord's Supper to the nothingness of idol sacrifice, Paul locates anything substantial in such participation in the faith it betrays in the honoree rather than in the elements of that honor. The problem with eating meat one knows is sacrificed to an idol is not in any heeby-geebies in the meat, but in what it says about one's faith in the false god (really, the demon) behind it.

Our participation in the Lord's Supper is actually of a similar sort of sharing as the pagans are "experiencing" at their altars. Substantially, spiritually, it's not about the bread or wine or the eating of it--its about faith and worship. The participation of the pagan idolaters in their altars did not require any reality of presence or substance in order for it to be real participation (and incur just condemnation), the same holds true for believers and the Lord's Supper. What makes the practice is not the presence or the substance, it's the faith the participant has in the God it celebrates.

With a bit more to follow...