Archive for the 'Sean’s Articles' Category

The following was inspired by Romans 12.11

τῇ σπουδῇ μὴ ὀκνηροί   not holding back in zeal
τῷ πνεύματι ζέοντες   burning with the spirit

Just imagine visiting an old church
partly filled with pallid attendees
who would much rather do something else,
anything else, than linger on there.

Because of some invisible force,
a kind of inescapable pull,
they find themselves week after dull week
repeating the same dead exercise

None of them enjoys the tedium
nor do they have the courage to leave.
They are not sinners, nor are they saints.
They risk little, they suffer little.

We have just started up our Final Words: A Study of Revelation class again. Revelation contains much insight into the spiritual realm, living obediently, and the end times. However, it also includes a large cache of praise ammunition. From the magisterial vision of God’s throne room in chapter four to the description of New Jerusalem in the last two chapters, a variety of beings offer praise to God repeatedly. What follows is a compendium of these texts, slightly revised to enrich your own prayer life. (All references are from Revelation.)

Did Jesus have a beginning or has he always existed? This simple question was at the heart of the controversy that broke out between Christians in Egypt in the early fourth century. Alexander, the powerful bishop of Alexandria, began teaching Jesus was eternal like the Father while a number of his clergy strongly disagreed with him, arguing that the Son was begotten, and thus had a beginning. Before long, the dispute in Egypt spilled over into the surrounding regions of the eastern half of the Roman Empire and continued to escalate until the Roman government officially endorsed one perspective while outlawing all others in A.D. 381. Although most informed Christians are taught that it was Arius that caused all the trouble, in fact, the historical record reveals a quite different perspective. To better understand what happened back then, we need to acquaint ourselves with Arius and the early years of the struggle, before the emperors started getting involved.

Humble Beginnings

Unlike many of the most influential heroes of history, Jesus was not born to wealthy parents with a silver spoon in his mouth. He wasn’t born in a hospital or even at home, but in an indoor barn or cave. In fact, the best Joseph and Mary could do for a cradle was a feeding trough (Luke 2:7). When the time came to offer the firstborn sacrifice at the temple, they could not afford the standard lamb but instead had to offer the alternative poor man’s sacrifice of two turtle doves (Luke 2:24; Lev 12:8). It is one thing for someone who has every advantage—an expensive education, access to power, and every comfort—to succeed in life, but for someone born to an obscure couple, from an obscure hamlet, in an obscure province without any of the advantages money and status could provide to change the world in a mere thirty years of life—now that is impressive! Jesus’ life is so significant that thousands of years later we count dates from him forward (A.D.) and from him backward (B.C.). He is the hinge, the one at whom the calendar resets, the one who changed everything.

The stereotype of pious, respectful theologians working together to understand and articulate the doctrine of the Trinity looms large in the collective imagination of countless Christians. However, the truth is that defenders of the Trinity doctrine in the fourth and fifth centuries were guilty of hypocrisy, embezzlement, slander, hatred, beatings, kidnappings, and even murder in their herculean effort to force others, content with simpler ideas about God, to believe that Jesus really was on the same level as the almighty, supreme God and that he really was both divine and human at the same time. In the course of this series of articles, we will see bishops and priests act like children, vying for the attention of their emperor in an effort to use their privileged position as their patron’s favorite to undermine, discredit, and exile their theological opponents. As we journey through the historical record, we will look on as myth after myth evaporate like mirages on a desert trek that are convincing illusions when viewed from a distance, but suddenly disappear when one draws near. We will discover why many church history textbooks omit the juicy stories of chicanery, politicking, and megalomania in an effort to cloak this formative period in a conspiracy of silence rather than tell the whole story, warts and all.

“When modern readers are introduced to the theological debates of the fourth and fifth centuries, they are sometimes shocked by the atmosphere in which they took place. Those debates were not carried on by calm scholars sitting in their manuscript-lined studies. From one perspective, the story is one of misunderstandings, vicious personal attacks, distortions, violence, bribes, mutual excommunication, intervention by emperors, and the deposition and exile of bishops and others who lost in the struggle. From another perspective, the story is one of theological creativity that has shaped Christian beliefs for about fifteen centuries.” –Joseph H. Lynch, Early Christianity: A Brief History (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2010), 161.

We will begin our investigation in the early days of the conflict between Alexander and Arius in A.D. 318 at Alexandria, and end in A.D. 451 when the dual-natures’ doctrine was set in stone at Chalcedon. Along the way, I will not be able to cover every important person engaging in the various issues that arose during the time, but will instead focus my attention on the players who most flagrantly flouted Christ’s command to love their enemies in an effort to bolster and impose their own belief on others. I intend to restore some balance to the current, one-sided version of the events students of church history are typically spoon fed. I contend much of what is out there represents only the most digestible chunk of a very fatty piece of meat, which is often pre-chewed and partially digested. So, rather than focusing on the good, what follows will expose the bad and the ugly so that truth-seekers may find themselves better equipped to make informed decisions about the Trinity idea.

From a biblical perspective, the notion that God will one day establish His kingdom on earth is extremely well-attested, enjoying support from both Old and New Testaments, from both historical books and the prophets, from Paul’s epistles and the Gospels, and especially from the Bible’s last book. God’s plan is to make everything wrong with the world right, to restore creation back to its original Edenic glory, to defeat evil and death once and for all, and to usher in an eternal age of peace and joy on earth. Rather than exploding, nuking, or dissolving the earth, God wants to fix it up—like an antique car—until it shines with its original glory.

Recently, I was asked by an inquirer how I understand the text where Jesus seems to say he will raise himself from the dead.

John 2.19-22
Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it.” Then the Jews said, “This temple was built for forty-six years, and will you raise it in three days?” But that one spoke concerning the temple of his body. Therefore when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he said this, and they believed the scripture and the word which Jesus spoke.

Here are a few observations about this text:

Countless hospitals across the nation bear the name “Good Samaritan,” all a tribute to Jesus’ masterful parable about the injured traveler. So ubiquitous is this story that it has become a cliché to call someone who helps another “a good Samaritan.” Yet, as with so many sayings of Jesus, the more popular it became, the more it was domesticated and dulled so as to no longer present a challenge. Like cereal left sitting in milk too long, the good Samaritan today communicates the soggy, tepid truth that we should occasionally help the needy if it is not too much trouble. Furthermore, the command of Jesus to love ones’ neighbor as oneself remains divorced from the story, as if the two were unrelated. We forget that Jesus’ little story is intended to illustrate and set a standard for how his followers neighbor others. In what follows, we will make our way through the parable, paying careful attention to the historical context in order to recalibrate our senses and learn how best to live this out today.

Only Human

What does the phrase, “I’m only human,” mean? We use these words when someone has just made a foolish mistake. For example, a husband who has forgotten to leave the toilet seat down is awakened in the middle of the night by a rather indignant wife in a fury over such an inconsideration. He replies groggily, “I’m sorry; I forgot; I’m only human.” The phrase is used to express something we feel deeply about humanity in its present condition. We are flawed creatures who often forget, make mistakes, and act selfishly. “I’m only human” means others should not expect too much from me since I am limited and “prone to wander” as the hymn put it. This sentiment is reinforced by the narrative in Genesis 3 about our fall. Through an act of rebellious disobedience, our first parents fell short of the glory of God and in so doing contaminated our species. By noting how the lifespans in Scripture show a decidedly downward trend, we gain the impression that over time humankind has continued its descent as it continues to degenerate from generation to generation. We are sons of Adam and daughters of Eve who tend towards selfishness and rebellion. Holiness and self-sacrificial love are not “natural” for us; we have to work hard to resist our “flesh.” Even with maximal effort, we are complete failures without external help from God through His spirit. Ungodliness, however, comes without effort as if intertwined in our very DNA. When we think of being human, we think of our current fallen state.

Sometimes Trinitarian apologists interpret Zechariah 12:10 as a reference to God being crucified. Here is the text as it appears in the New American Standard Bible (NASB):

Zechariah 12.10 (NASB)
I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn.

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