Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Providence Permits Many Heretics

“Divine Providence permits many heretics with their differing errors so that at least, when they insult us and ask us what we do not know, we may shake off our sluggishness and long to know the divine Scriptures. This is why the Apostle says [in 1 Corinthians 11:19], ‘It is necessary that there be heresies in order that those who are approved among you might become manifest.’ For those are approved before God who can teach well, but they can only become manifest to men when they teach. They are, however, willing to teach only those who seek to be taught. Yet many are slow to seek if they are not aroused as if from sleep by the troublesomeness and insults of the heretics. Then, embarrassed over their ignorance, they perceive that they are in danger because of that ignorance. If these are men of solid faith, they do not give in to the heretics, but carefully seek what response they should make to them. God does not abandon them. When they ask, they receive, and when they seek, they find, and when they knock, the door will be opened for them” (Augustine, On Genesis, Against the Manichees, I.1.2).[1]

God allows false teaching to motivate true believers to seek the truth and to manifest teachers whom Christ has given His Church.

There is plenty of false teaching, and it is extremely popular. Our small groups shouldn’t be so small, our Sunday Schools should be bursting with students desirous for God’s truth, our Bible studies ought to be crowded, our Bibles should be wearing out faster than our phones, our prayer meetings’ requests should be for knowledge of God above all, our services filled with humble hunger for a Word from the Lord, and the local church should be the vital seed-bed (the meaning of the word “seminary”) for teachers manifested by God to confront the staggering amount of falseness being marketed to Christians. Teachers should be showing their legitimacy as manifestations of God’s provision to His Church by ever honing their craft, their art, their passion, their accuracy, their communication, and their Spirit-wrought authoritative power.

“Should be.” “Ought.”

The heresies are plentiful, Lord. Please, please, please manifest those approved in the teaching and learning ministry of Your precious Church.

“I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).

[1] Augustine is meditating on 1 Corinthians 11:19, “there must also be factions [αἱρέσεις] among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you.” Αἵρεσις is translated “heresy” (its English cognate) by Wycliffe, and in the Geneva Bible and King James Version.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Love Songs of Nature and Architecture

I’ve been teaching through Revelation 21-22 on Wednesday evenings for several months. The “holy city, new Jerusalem,” is compared to “a bride adorned for her husband” (21:2). An angel tells the apostle, “Come here, and I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb” (21:9). It is the Church that alone is “the wife of the Lamb” in the New Testament (Matthew 9:15//Mark 2:19,20//Luke 5:34,35; John 3:29; 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:22-33), but we are immediately shown “the holy city, Jerusalem” (21:10), along with an elaborate and incredible architectural description (21:11-22:5). It seems odd when you think about it; how many of you men wooed your sweetheart by comparing her to a well-designed structure with exalted aesthetics? Probably not many. Yet the New Testament often uses the language of temple to describe God’s people in Christ (1 Corinthians 3:16,17; 6:19,20; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Peter 2:5). Christian men, we probably shouldn’t start a trend of using architectural language to describe our beloved, but hear me out – when, at the close of the Revelation of Jesus Christ, a description of His Bride is given using this sort of language, she is more majestic, beautiful, and other-worldly than anything in this world (either Herod’s grand Temple in Jerusalem or the many incredible structures of other religions, whose grand remains are still tourist visiting points)! It may not be Shakespeare, but God the Son is saying to His Bride, “I’m preparing you by My Spirit like a master builder; no one in this world can construct anything close to you, My Beloved.”

Now, with this elaborate love-speech in mind, let’s read something that came earlier in the Bible:
“How beautiful you are, my darling,
How beautiful you are!
Your eyes are like doves behind your veil;
Your hair is like a flock of goats
That have descended from Mount Gilead.
Your teeth are like a flock of newly shorn ewes
Which have come up from their washing,
All of which bear twins,
And not one among them has lost her young.
Your lips are like a scarlet thread,
And your mouth is lovely.
Your temples are like a slice of a pomegranate
Behind your veil.
Your neck is like the tower of David,
Built with rows of stones
On which are hung a thousand shields,
All the round shields of the mighty men.
Your two breasts are like two fawns,
Twins of a gazelle
Which feed among the lilies…
…how beautiful are your feet in sandals,
O prince’s daughter!
The curves of your hips are like jewels,
The work of the hands of an artist.
Your navel is like a round goblet
Which never lacks mixed wine;
Your belly is like a heap of wheat
Fenced about with lilies.
Your two breasts are like two fawns,
Twins of a gazelle.
Your neck is like a tower of ivory,
Your eyes like the pools in Heshbon
By the gate of Bath-rabbim;
Your nose is like the tower of Lebanon,
Which faces toward Damascus.
Your head crowns you like Carmel,
And the flowing locks of your head are like purple threads;
The king is captivated by your tresses.
How beautiful and how delightful you are,
My love, with all your charms!
Your stature is like a palm tree,
And your breasts are like its clusters”
(Song of songs, 4:1-5; 7:1-7).

We wouldn’t use this language (well, much of it) to describe our wives, would we, men? Do you notice the similarity in principle, though, between the Song of songs’ description of the King’s Beloved and the Revelation’s description of the Bride? One says, “you are more beautiful than the most breath-taking natural wonders and wealth of our land.” The other says, “all the man-made wonders of the world are poorly-made sand castles compared to you.”

Both of these extended metaphors, odd as they are to our cultural expressions, say one thing: the King loves His Bride, and thinks her more beautiful than anything in this world.

Remember that today, Church.

And if you’re not part of His Church, hear me: all of us, as descendants of that first man Adam, share in both his rebellious nature against God and the penalty for that rebellion. We are born in this world fighting the purpose for which we were created, which is to give God glory in our worshipful obedience and reflection of His image. This is the only true love, peace, and joy for the human being. We spend our brief lives here trying to fulfill that purpose with counterfeits in vain, and leave this world to spend an eternity separated from the only One Who can satisfy. But He, in His infinite love and mercy, came to earth as one of us to do what we could not: live a human life of perfect obedience to God (the condition for spending an eternity with God in bliss) and to take the just punishment for our disobedience upon Himself in death. He lived and died in His Bride’s place, and rose again on the third day. He ascended into heaven, where He reigns over all heaven and earth until the time comes for the defeat of all rebels to come to an end. The Bible tells us to confess Jesus as Lord, and that in Him we find forgiveness for our sin, adoption into the family of God, and we are granted access to our Creator (the Source of all we’ve ever needed and desired) forever and ever. The Bible uses the bridegroom and bride metaphor to describe Jesus’ relationship to His people, the Church. He loves His Church, and treasures Her above all else in Creation. Repent of your sins, trust Jesus alone for your right standing before God now and forever, and be added by Jesus to those whom He considers His Beloved.

Do this, and the love song’s for you.