Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Importance of the Epistle to the Hebrews

The following paragraphs were adapted from the last of six lessons I recently completed for my parish's Sunday School:

I chose Hebrews for this study because I believe it is the most important book in the NT. For me, it is the key to interpreting the Person and Work of our Savior as found in the Gospels. The Gospels are chronological histories of Jesus’ life on earth. When taking them at face value, it is easy to be lulled into the impression they are just stories about Jesus’ miracles and records of his parables and sayings cobbled haphazardly together. Until we get to Hebrews, we don’t really know that Jesus is the ultimate Priest as well as the perfect Sacrifice. We don’t really know he is a Priest as well as a King in Heaven, or that these offices are combined in the single inheritance he rightfully received as the only begotten Son of God.[1]

The Epistle’s Place in the NT

Along with the Gospels, Hebrews stands as the Christological[2] foundation of the NT. The great epistles that expound the doctrine of Justification (Romans, Galatians and Ephesians) all presuppose the past, present and on-going mediatorial work of the Son. The other epistles, excepting perhaps I John, are all primarily devoted to pastoral or other secondary matters. Acts is, of course, a history of the early Church, a history of the activity of the Holy Spirit sent forth from Christ’s heavenly throne. Revelation is a series of visions of the liturgy of Heaven, of royal judgments and priestly intercessions. Hebrews forms a bridge between the Gospels and Revelation by moving us from cross to throne, from altar to sanctuary, from sacrifice to blessing, and from suffering to glory. It accomplishes this by explaining the logic behind Jesus' filial obedience, humiliation, and subsequent exaltation as the glorified Christ.

The Themes of Hebrews

Furthermore, Hebrews provides the key for understanding how the Christian interpretation of the OT works. The Gospels give many examples of fulfilled prophecy, but Hebrews combines many OT passages together to show not only that but how Jesus fulfills the whole OT history: which includes but is not limited to the sonship of Adam[3], the sonship of Israel (Israel was God’s chosen “son”)[4], the royal sonship of David[5], the Sabbath[6], the ancient priesthoods[7], the covenants[8], the sacrifices[9], and the faith of all preceding generations[10]. Hebrews contains the interpretive key to unlocking all Scripture’s mysteries.

A Spiritual Journey

Finally, to read Hebrews as it is meant to be read is to embark on a spiritual journey, an encounter with God's living word. This journey begins when we realize Jesus is the complete and final revelation of God’s word and the ultimate meaning behind creation (vv. 1:1-2, 10-12). With this understanding we are prepared to perceive the divine Son at the center of God’s Heaven, attended and served by angelic beings (vv. 1:5-2:9). We see also that he shares our human nature with us in order to be a merciful and faithful High Priest on our behalf (1:10-18).

As God’s faithful and obedient Son, Jesus acquired the Sabbath inheritance, the final rest that even such saints as Moses and Joshua were unable to achieve, since they had been mere servants (3:1-4:10). At 4:11ff., the epistle encourages us to “strive to enter the rest” by passing through the double-edged sword (the word of God) that guards the way to Paradise. For, as it says earlier, “those who believe are in the process of entering the rest.”[11]

In the Anglican communion liturgy (1662) after the Absolution and Comfortable Words and before the Proper Preface, we recite the Sursum Corda: “Lift up your hearts! We lift them up to the Lord!” By faith, we ascend to join the angels and archangels to “laud and magnify” the glorious Name. And then, all the prayers are offered to prepare and sanctify the elements of the Eucharistic feast. Spiritually, we are in the heavenly Temple eating the meat of the sacrifices as the priests did long ago in Solomon’s Temple and in Moses’ Tabernacle before that.

Our great High Priest, Jesus, is with us. As Priest after the order of Melchizedek, his priesthood is founded on better promises (than the Levitical order)[12], confirmed with a divine oath[13], and perpetuated in a single immortal life.[14] This new Royal High Priesthood entails a change of covenant (or law), the establishment of the better covenant anticipated by the prophets, the New Covenant.[15] After Jesus offered his all-sufficient and unrepeatable sacrifice, he entered the true Tabernacle of which the earthly Tabernacle was a copy.[16] By contemplating Jesus’ priestly ministry we come to the true meaning of sacrifice. We learn that the Lord is not interested in the blood of bulls and goats, but in faithful obedience to his will. This is the obedience that Christ rendered—complete obedience unto death.[17] In reading the epistle we come to the understanding that the obedience of faith (final perseverance) is required of his followers also.[18] It is only by pursuing the path of faith (for without it, it is impossible to please God[19]) that we will be able to take our place among the cloud of witnesses surrounding the throne of God.

The Epistle to the Hebrews presents a magnificent vision of the divine-human Son and the liturgy of Heaven of which he is the center, exhorting us to press on in faith and obedience in order that we too may inherit the blessing appointed for God's sons.

[1] Cf. Zech. 6:12-13.
[2] I.e., pertaining to the doctrine of Christ
[3] 1:3; 2:5-18; cf. Gen. 1:26; Lk. 3:23-38.
[4] 3:1-5; cf. Ex. 4:21-23, Hos. 11:1; Matt. 2:15.
[5] 1:5; cf. 2 Sam. 7:12-16; Ps. 2:7ff.
[6] 3:7-4:16.
[7] 5:1-10; 7:1-28.
[8] 7:12; 8:6-13; 9:15-17.
[9] 9:23-10:18.
[10] 2:13; 3:6; 5:7; 10:5-9; 12:2.
[11] 4:3.
[12] 6:13-18.
[13] 7:20-22.
[14] 7:23-25.
[15] 7:12; 8:6-13; 9:15-17; cf. Jer. 31:31-37; Ezek. 11:17-20; 36:23-38; 37:21-28.
[16] 10:14-18; 8:2,5; 9:23-25.
[17] 10:5-9; cf. Phil. 2:5-8.
[18] 6:11-12; 10:35-39; 11:6; 12:3-17.
[19] 11:6.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

"Employer and Employee" a Perversion of Natural Society

Tribunus at Roman Christendom had this to say:

Just as the Father serves so does a Christian father and, indeed, a Christian king or master.

Indeed, the relationship between the Father and the Son and between God and His people is the model for the relationship between every master and every servant.

The Christian master is a father to his servant. They obey him and he protects and cares for them. Their bond is a bond of mutual charity, loyalty and fidelity. It is a quasi-familial, paternal relationship, just as the relationship of priest and people is a paternal relationship.

Such was the model of the master-servant relationship that obtained in old Christendom. Think of good King St Wenceslaus fetching food for the poor and warming the feet of his servant or of King St Louis of France or of any of the saintly kings of Christendom.

Nowadays, this relationship - based upon the divine - is mocked, derided and scorned to ridicule and falsely caricatured as a relationship of exploitation, venal peculation and cruelty by the master and of craven, stupid subserviance on the part of the servant.

What a shameless lie!

This, indeed, is what the relationship became when it ceased to be based upon the divine charity and instead became the pedestrian, mundane and loveless relationship of "employer" and employee".

No longer was the relationship familial but merely a cold, sordid relationship of money, exchange, trade and mutual exploitation...

Read the rest of this hard-hitting post which also features many great pictures. I think Tribunus' post should be made into a tract for widespread distribution!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Quote of the Day: Loyalty

"If loyalty is treated as a personal taste or a means to an end, which is what count as rational motivation in political modernity, it’s just not loyalty."

-Jim Kalb

Who Should be King of the U.S.?

The monarch should be American. However, there ought to be continuity with our original (British) sovereign, if possible. Therefore, here are two suggestions:

a) the American nearest in blood relation to the House of Hanover. This option has the dual benefit of having one of our own and repairing the breach of the past. Also, such a person might be an "average Joe" who happened to win the lottery of life by merely being related to the Hanovers. This might appeal to the American preference for the long-shot, the under-dog, and the "big chance."

b) a prominent and distinguished American male who will marry the most eligible princess from the houses of either Hanover or Windsor, for the good of the country. (I'd be happy to oblige if absolutely necessary. ;)) Seriously, though, this option has the dual benefit of providing an excellent individual most capable of achieving success and establishing a tie with existing royals.

The "chosen one" (not Obama) needs to be a Christian committed to his religion, Judeo-Christian ethics, classical western virtues, and traditional American liberties rightly construed (freedom of religion, equality before the law, representative government, free markets, etc.).

Finally, there should be a state church that solemnizes official government assemblies in a standard way. The king should be a member of this church and have a function in it appropriate to his national responsibilities. The currently emerging American Anglican Province would be my choice.

What do ya'll think?

Friday, November 07, 2008

From a letter to a dispensationalist friend

Dear _____,

I think it's great your pastor is taking you through the different end-times views. It shows a mature approach that is willing to open the scripture and allow other believers to challenge us with insights they may have that we never thought of. Basically, my rejection of dispensationalism can be reduced to three main objections:

1) With the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus Christ, there can no longer be animal sacrifices. Furthermore, the whole levitical priesthood and ministry has been replaced by Christ's priesthood and ministry (see Heb. 7-10). Therefore, there can never be a revival of the OT system during a future millennium.

2) Jews and Gentiles have been brought into "one new man", which is the Church or the Body of Christ, through Christ's work of redemption. There is now no more enmity between the two (see Eph. 2:11-22). Therefore, the dispensationalists wrongly teach that there are still (or can ever be again) two peoples of God. Only a reversal of Christ's cross-work could make such a situation thinkable.

3) No matter how many "dispensations" different dispensational writers think there are, the pre-determined pattern is always the same: man is given responsibility, he fails, and judgment must inevitably follow. However, Jesus Christ did not fail. He broke the cycle of human failure and made possible true obedience. This is the promise of the new covenant (Jer. 31 and other passages), that God will pour out his Spirit and give his people hearts of flesh so they will be empowered to render obedience to him. Contrary to Scripture, dispensationalists teach that the new covenant has not been established (Matt. 26:28) and that the gates of hell do in fact prevail against the church (Matt. 16:18)!

Now, I don't know the future. Sin will always be a fact of the human condition until Christ returns. However, it is a lack of faith that says the conversion of culture is impossible. It is also unhistorical. We have already had over a 1000 years of Christendom. The "Dark Ages" is simply propaganda devised by Enlightenment historians. During that period, western Europe outpaced all other civilizations in cultural, scientific, moral, and spiritual development. The problem was, as I see it, that we had so much success that later generations took it for granted and forgot Who's blessing made it all possible. So the last 200 years or so of apostasy, and the last 100 years of the worst bloodshed in human history, may be bringing us back to the realization that the nations must repent if they expect to prosper with God's blessing (Ps.2).

I am hopeful but not certain of what the future may bring. From the human perspective, we must strive to obedient to God's word regardless of the outcome. This means that society as a whole, and not just individuals, are obliged to bow the knee to Jesus, who has been enthroned as King of kings and Lord of lords (Phil. 2:8-11).

One last thought, _____. There is no biblical promise anywhere that Christians will avoid suffering in this world. In fact, we have been told to expect persecution. As far as the judgments that God will pour out on the world, the Israelites were not raptured out of Egypt during the plague judgments. God was able to preserve his people while visiting wrath upon the Egyptians. Similarly, the rapture is not a necessary prerequisite for the Great Tribulation to occur. Of course, I do not deny the future resurrection; I merely differ with my dispensational brethren on the proper sequential arrangment of events. Much more serious are the differences I've outlined [above].

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Synergy of Grace and Congruent Merit

It is… necessary to establish all virtues, not only chastity and temperance, but also patience, gentleness, charity, humility, and all others. This is not effected in one particular way but in many ways, which differ according to individual disposition. It is sometimes fostered by prayer, meditation, and good works, while a person may sometimes prove himself by enduring hunger, cold, shame, disgrace, and other troubles for love of virtue and truth…

One reason for this fact may be that our Lord Jesus Himself is the supreme Master of this craft and the supreme healer of spiritual sickness, without whom we can do nothing. It is therefore reasonable to require that a man should follow and practice what He teaches and inspires. But a master who can only teach his pupil one lesson has little knowledge to impart, and a doctor who prescribes one medicine for all ailments has little learning. So our Lord Jesus, who is wise and good, reveals His wisdom and goodness to His disciples in different ways, and gives to each soul the particular remedy best suited to its need. A further reason is that if there were one particular way by which a person might come to the perfect love of God, a man might imagine that he could attain it by his own efforts, in the same way that a merchant makes his profit by his own effort. But the love of God cannot be attained in this way, for one who wishes to serve God wisely and love him perfectly must desire God as his sole reward.

But no creature can deserve to possess God through its own unaided efforts, for even if the physical and spiritual exertions of a single man were to equal those of all creation, he would not on that account deserve God as his reward. For God is supreme bliss and infinite goodness, and immeasurably transcends everything that mankind can merit, so that He cannot be won by man’s own efforts, like some material reward.

God is free, and gives Himself to whom He wills and when He wills, and not for any particular achievement or at any particular time. For though a person may do his utmost throughout his life, he can never attain the perfect love of Jesus until the Lord Jesus Himself freely gives it. On the other hand, He gives this love only to those who exert themselves to the utmost, and would do even more if they could.

It seems clear, then, that neither grace alone without full support from the soul, nor a soul’s individual efforts unsupported by grace, can bring it to reformation in feeling—a reformation grounded in perfect love and charity.

But God’s grace allied to man’s efforts fosters the blessed fervor of perfect love in a soul, a grace only granted in its fullness to a soul that is truly humble, and stands in awe of God.

Consequently one who is not humble and zealous cannot attain this reformation in feeling, since one who is not completely humble cannot see himself as he is. For instance, he may do all the good deeds that he can, and he may fast, watch, wear a hair shirt, and practice all kinds of bodily penance; he may perform all the outward works of mercy for his neighbor, or all the inward duties of prayer, contrition, and meditation; but if he rests content with these and relies on them, regarding them so highly that he presumes on his own merits and thinks himself good, gracious, holy, and virtuous, he still lacks humility. Even though he says and thinks that all that he does is due to God’s grace and not to himself, he still lacks humility, because he will not yet renounce all credit for his good deeds, nor make himself truly poor in spirit and know himself to be nothing. And until grace enables a soul to recognize its own nothingness, and, having seen the truth in Jesus, to drop all pretence of personal merit for its good actions, it is not perfectly humble.

What is humility but truthfulness? There is no real difference. For grace enables a humble soul to see that Jesus does everything, and that the soul itself does nothing but allow Jesus to work through it as He wills. But one who is guided solely by human reason and is unaware of any alternative form of guidance finds it very hard—indeed, almost impossible and unreasonable—to do good actions and then to ascribe all merit for them to Jesus and discount his own part. Nevertheless, one who has a spiritual perception of truth knows this to be wholly true and completely reasonable. Indeed, anyone having this perception will never do less good on this account, but will be spurred to a greater and wholehearted activity, both in body and soul. This may be one reason why some people strain and torture their unhappy bodies with harsh penance all their lives, and are constantly reciting prayers, psalms, and other devotions, but never come to feel the love of God in their souls, while others seem to do so in a short time and with less strain. The reason is that the former lack this humility of which I speak.

On the other hand, a person who takes no action at all cannot experience this grace. The idle man thinks to himself, ‘Why should I bother? Why should I pray or meditate, watch or fast? Why should I undertake bodily penance in order to win this grace when it cannot be obtained except by the free gift of grace? I shall continue as I am, a man of the world, and I shall not adopt any of these bodily or spiritual exercises until God gives it. For if He is willing to give it, He does not require me to do anything; and however much or little I do, He will give it me. And if He does not will to give it, I shall never obtain it however hard I try.’

But anyone who adopts this attitude can never be fully reformed, because he deliberately chooses worldly idleness, and renders himself incapable of receiving the gift of grace. He refuses to rouse himself either spiritually to a lasting desire and longing for Jesus, or physically to perform his exterior duties. So he cannot receive this grace.

Therefore one who has no real humility and will not bestir himself either inwardly alone, through deep fervour, lasting desire, and regular prayer and meditation, or else through both inward and outward activities, cannot be spiritually reformed to the likeness of God.

-Walter Hilton, The Ladder of Perfection, ii.21, (Late 14th century spiritual teacher)