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Posts Tagged ‘forgiveness’

Some born-again Christians of my acquaintance remind me of “Agent Smith.”

They can tell me the date and place of their conversion.  But I get the feeling they have been simply born again in a form which is just a replication of their old self – plus a self-righteous smile or a judgmental frown.

American psychologist of religious education, George Albert Coe (1862-1951) wrote of the distinction between being born again and being born from above in his 1902 book, Religion of a Mature Mind.

The simplicity of the Christian life-principle has been obscured by … the employment of “born again” to represent Greek terms whose plain, literal meaning is “born from above” (John 3:3).  The disciple of Christ is one who is born from above.  That which is of the flesh is flesh, and that which is of the spirit is spirit.  The root-contrast here is not between what is before and what is after, but between a higher and a lower…  Our English “born again” has promoted and kept alive a misunderstanding closely parallel to that of Nicodemus (John 3:9).

The merely ‘born again’ date everything from an heroic past effort to throw off some single ‘secret sin’ or gross vice.  Their old victory has left them relieved but basically unbroken.  Unbroken because they interpret their moment of truth as a trade-off of sin-for-salvation. With this kind of trade-off the principle transaction is complete, and there is no pressure to seek a relation to the life that is from above until the life here below is over.  Instead of relation to God in Christ the merely born-again begin a relation to doctrine.  Doctrines like election and predestination, for example, which offer rationales for a low-octane religion supported by a poorly conceived idea of ‘perseverance’ unto salvation.

We have been looking for events and disputing about processes.  We have caused men to ask themselves, “Have I been born again? Am I sure that an event has taken place?” whereas, we should have pressed home to them the sharp contrast between a spiritual and an unspiritual content or quality of life.   What am I, qualitatively considered? Am I living the life that is from above, or that which is from below?  In the absence of the heavenly quality in the life, no experience of internal wonders is valid evidence of the birth from above. On the other hand, if I am really on the side of Christ, I am born from above, however this comes to be the state of my mind. (Ibid)

The Christian who finds no birth from above in the moment of grace gets a heart ‘born again’ as a carbon copy of his old heart, the old self, the old man – except with an urge to convince others of its own self-justifying theology (instead of the gospel of Jesus).

The habit of looking for newness instead of for heavenly quality works confusion in two directions.

First, persons who are able to answer the question of dates to their own satisfaction, meet the temptation to substitute a “has been” for an “is.” They estimate themselves by something other than the present fact; they would turn the mill with the water that is past. Something of vital power must always be lost when the spiritual life is measured by anything whatever except its own content and its fruits.

Persons of a different make-up suffer from the opposite error. Desiring to dedicate themselves to the Master, yet unable to put their experience of spiritual realities into the forms of book-keeping, they hesitate, postpone action, are harassed by doubts of their personal status. They, too, ask themselves “Have I been?” when they should rather ask “Am I?” They need to be told that whosoever prefers above all things that for which God gave us his Son, and Jesus gave his life, is born from above. The fundamental preference is decisive as to the inner quality, and the fruits are decisive as to the vigor of the inner life.

These mere born-agains will go to church often and be watching out for the 10 commandments in everybody’s life, but underneath they haven’t changed much.  As if they have the idea that living faithfully is just staying ‘judgmental’ toward themselves and others.  They may smile more often than before, but you can catch them in a big frown just as easily.

Professor George Albert Coe was born in Mendon, NY, March 26 1862 ; educated at the University of Rochester (A. B.), Boston University (S. T. B., Ph. D.) studied at University of Berlin, 1890-1891; professor at Northwestern University 1893-1909, Union Theol. Seminary, 1909-22, Columbia 1922-27.  Dr. Coe retired in 1927 and died November 9, 1951.

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Is God so unaware of things, is he so ignorant of the human heart, that he has to discover a man’s character by testing it? By no means. But he acts in this way in order that a man may discover his own character…Therefore, dearly beloved, you have learned that God does not engage in tempting in order that he might learn something that he did not know earlier, but that by tempting (that is testing) he might make manifest what is hidden in a man. After all, a man is not so known to himself as he is to his Creator, nor is an ill person so known to himself as he is to his physician. Man is ill. He suffers. The physician does not suffer. And man expects to learn what he suffers from him who does not suffer.

-Augustine, De Scripturis, Homily 2, on Abraham, When He Was Tempted by God

Saw this superb thought today at a site new to me, called Absorption , during a wordpress tag search.

I thought it might be nice to grab some authority from Augustine for some recent thoughts on the difference between temptation and sin and the parts they each play in the economy of repentence and new birth.  I like Augustine’s thinking here because it suggests to me that tempation alone can accomplish quite a bit in the whole area of salvation and redemption without the necessity of actual sin.  

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While Moses briefs the Divine Son in the Empyrean prior to the Incarnation, the subject turns to the difficulties inherent in the Incarnation Mandate, and the possibility of rejection by Israel.

MOSES:  All the saints pray for Israel’s acceptance of your mission, Sire, but anyone can see Father’s mandate for your incarnation is bad news as far as priesthood and temple are concerned.

THE SON:  No question.  Father wants me to feature nothing less than the whole truth about his divine forgiveness.

MOSES:  So he’s clearly talking about a complete de-authorization of the temple system of atonement – both ritual and sacrifice.

THE SON:  You know yourself it wasn’t Father’s idea in the first place.

MOSES:  We had no temple – nor any of the current sacrifices – during the 40 years in the wilderness, Sire.

THE SON:  Right.  But what is left of the sacred record of such truths?

MOSES:  The Book of Amos, Sire.  End of Chapter 5.

THE SON:  Yeah great.  It’s going to be front-paged when I’m finished.

MOSES:  Don’t be too sure.  Sacrifice is an ancient meme.  What if they spin you as the new sacrifice?

THE SON:  Oh God.

MOSES:   I’m just sayin’.  Never mind.

THE SON:  We know it won’t be popular with the priests and scribes.

MOSES:  But the temple sacrifices are a lucrative business for some of the biggest names, Sire.  They can invoke the highest sanctions against you and could really hurt your overall numbers.

THE SON:  And it’s not just the temple, Mo.  Father wants a new Sabbath as well.

MOSES:  I saw that.  So the temple gets common cause with the synagogues against you.  Terrific.

THE SON:  A perfect storm.

MOSES:  But I understand why He’s upset about how that day of rest turned out – we set that day aside for the people in order to free them from man-made taboos, not to bind them.

THE SON:  Well He’s calling it all in.

MOSES:  Clearly.  This is the big one.  The saints are in awe of Father’s new dispensation. It looks like He’s preparing to shake both the highlands and the low places.

THE SON:  Even the very foundations of Jerusalem.  Nevertheless I’m getting one more chance to gather her under his wing.

MOSES:  Nice, except she believes she’s already there.

THE SON:  Yes, but I find this very real and present trust in God an irresistible quality in this people Israel.

MOSES:  It can’t be denied – even in the face of all their historic failures.

THE SON:  Their sublime trust in Father’s faithfulness has surpassed in power all human intellectual assent to beliefs about Him and His Anointed.

MOSES:  And always will.

THE SON:  In fact, the hope inspired by such trust is what forbids my knowing their final decision until they make it.

MOSES:  Sire, everybody here is thrilled by your sworn faithfulness and hopes you will be preaching forgiveness in the temple right down to the elders’ last possible moment of decision.

THE SON:  Count on it.

MOSES:  It’s just … You may never be able to convince them.  I know this people.

THE SON:  Nothing is impossible with God.

MOSES:  Maybe not, but I think Father is showing a lot of wisdom in featuring both an acceptance scenario and a rejection scenario.

THE SON:  The thing with that is either one of Father’s scenarios manifests His will for man in full.

MOSES:  Believe me, I think you’ll get a pretty good idea which one is in play before the end of your first year in public.

(to be continued)

Empyrean Dialogues:

1 – Annunciation

2 – Of Times and Seasons

3 – The Forerunner

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When Jimmy Carter confessed to adultery-of-the-heart in 1976 he uttered a commonplace (and false) assumption that an unexpressed desire is equivalent with actual sin:

Carter:  “I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times [cites Matthew 5:27-28].  This is something that God recognizes that I will do and have done, and God forgives me for it… Because I’m just human and I’m tempted and Christ set some almost impossible standards for us.”

Impossible standards? Well yes, if Carter seriously believes that the profound teaching of Jesus at Mt. 5:27-28 applies to unexpressed desires, or to feelings of attraction or arousal in the act of looking at a woman. A little exegesis, however, should show that Carter has allowed a widespread misinterpretation of the Bible to create the illusion of impossible standards – and the illusion of sin.

I say give Jesus a break! Look for the true point of his teaching by seeking a true moral principle in connection with the true Biblical meaning, and not in a ridiculous evangelical can of corn like ‘psychological sin.’

In Mt. 5:28 Jesus’ meaning comes to us on the back of two Greek words: blepon, watching or looking on; and epithymesai, evil desire, lust, covetousness.  But these two words possess a common meaning tone that make it impossible to equate adultery with every feeling of desire at the sight of a woman’s beauty.

First, look at the scripture meanings generally conveyed by forms of the Greek word epithymesai:

Epithymesai is rarely used of a merely passive desire – it always gets or seeks its fill of its object – it’s not just an empty wish that you had something that was someone else’s – it’s the way the wicked covet other people’s fields before they seize them, as in Micah 2:2, cf. Ex 15:9, where we read, “My desire shall have its fill”

Not only does Epithymesai enthrall the subject, it finds ways of testing its object to see if it will deliver its craving unto it, as in Ps 78:18, “demanding the food they craved” (as a test)

It requires the hands to reach out and get a hold on its object, implied in Prov 21:25-26, “desires kill the sluggard, for his hands do not choose to do anything”

The key to understanding this kind of desire is that it is not random or unconscious or accidental but is headstrong and has a selfish plan of conquest, like the “stubborn hearts” in Ps 81:12, “which follow their own counsel” (see also Ex. 20:17; Ps. 10:3; Acts 20:33; Col. 3:5; 1Tim 6:9-10; Jas.  1:14-15; 2 Pet 1:4).

Now look at the second word, blepon.

In three significant places in the Greek Old Testament, the word used by Jesus is not used to signify ‘looking upon’ nakedness:

Gen 3:7 – blepon is not used where there is a need to express the way Adam and Eve ‘look upon’ each other’s nakedness after the fall.

Gen 9:22-23 – blepon is not used to express the way Ham ‘looked upon’ the nakedness of his father Noah.

2 Sam 11:2 – blepon is not used to express the way David ‘looked upon’ the nakedness of Bathsheeba.

Check it out. The word family chosen by ‘the 70’ wise translators was idein and not blepon.

Why?  Because blepon is used in OT and NT not so much for a ‘seeing’ of things in front of you in space but more often for a foreseeing of things, a looking ahead to a situation that is not yet realized in time, such as things seen in a vision – or in a wicked plan (like a seduction).

So Jesus was indeed talking about a sin that is committed in the heart before it has been enacted, but it involves the kind of looking forward with wicked desire to possess that implies overt action with intent to seduce or allure someone, and not simply the childish indulgence of ‘a look.’

But beware, because Jesus has chosen his words so well that they clearly imply that this flirtatious action with intent to seduce is ‘adultery’ even in cases when it is unsuccessful.  If the targeted partner rejects your tacit invitation, or if your aims are frustrated by the least miscellaneous condition or event – Jesus is saying that is still adultery.  You’re liable even if you failed in your aim.

I think this is quite a serious and godly warning against sin, and doubly effective, since it applies to women as well as to men.

What about pornography?  Well there are issues of involvement that make it sin, but I would argue it is not mortal sin on the level of adultery.  Comments about that?

(to be continued)

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“The Kingdom of God is within you.”

Commentators on these words of Jesus in Luke 17:21 are almost unanimous in expressing their disbelief that Jesus intended the literal meaning of his words “within you” to apply to the small group of Pharisees to whom he was speaking.  But since when did a commentator’s incredulity alone constitute adequate exegesis?  It sounds to me more like they are refusing to hear what Jesus is saying.  And as I reported in an earlier post, variant translations for this particular Greek phrase which render the English as ‘in your midst’ or ‘among you’ are not found in any other Biblical text whatsoever.  By contrast, “within you, in your hearts” has the authority of Ps. 38:4, 108:22, 103:1, Isa 16:11, Dan 10:16, Ecclus. 19:23.

Yesterday I commented on a post by a Christian blogger who was trying to mount an argument against the literal meaning of this text from Luke.  I’ve seen this kind of attack before on Luke 17:21, and it happens to be a matter of prime importance to me, so I’m taking a stand for its literal meaning.

But what makes it so hard for my fellow Christians to accept a teaching of Jesus which extends the blessings of God’s presence even to his enemies?  Are they really listening to Jesus?  And anyway, which of Jesus’ so-called friends has completely escaped temptation and rebellion?  If we find that the spirit of God dwells with patient love in all such men and women, even in the face of their misunderstanding and antipathy, it is not impossible, I think, to have faith that this patient spirit also waits within all mankind.

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The discussion of 13 theses on the church and the world, posted by Nathan Kerr et al, at Inhabitatio Dei, got my attention yesterday and today. I want to put something up here at home to keep me in mind of issues which seem compelling to me. One is the work of Johannes Christiaan Hoekendijk, whose book, Church Inside Out (ET 1965) is, I see, waiting for me at the seminary library. Kerr cites Hoekendijk as follows:

“World (kosmos/oikoumene) and Kingdom are correlated to each other; the world is conceived as a unity, the scene of God’s great acts: it is the world which has been reconciled (II Cor. 5:19), the world which God loves (John 3:16) and which he has overcome in his love (John (16:33); the world is the field in which the seeds of the Kingdom are sown (Matt. 13:38)—the world is consequently the scene for the proclamation of the Kingdom.” (pg. 41)

I have been looking for a chance to develop an idea of church and mission under categories of diplomacy – a divine embassy – wholly in the kingdom of this world, but here in the name of ‘he who reigns’ in the next or higher kingdom.  The ‘mission’ is that of being envoys of peace to the whole world and everyone in it.  The rationale is that, since Pentecost, every human being may (through faith) access the protection and ‘good offices’ of the Spirit as citizens and subjects of a spiritually transcendent realm.  Hmm.

True, it’s a bit of a stretch from Hoekendijk – not to mention from Kerr and his friends.  I’m just jotting some notes here.  But here in Kerr’s “Thesis 2,” for example, I think I may find something to hang my hat on:

The church’s primary task is apostolic. The church exists as a function of Christ’s own singular apostolicity; that is, its existence is a matter of its participation in Christ as the “sent one” (Heb 3:1). “The church has no other existence than in actu Christi, that is, in actu Apostoli” (Hoekendijk). The church thereby exists to serve the ministerium Verbi incarnati (Barth)—the church’s share in the apostolicity of Christ consists in its being sent out by the power of the Spirit to proclaim the euangelion of Jesus Christ to the world. In this sense, the church’s “priority” with regards to the world is that of a distinctively apostolic precedence.

Apostles, ambassadors, messengers, envoys, heralds, missions, embassies – all these concepts I find applicable to the vocabularies of both the Church’s mission and to diplomatic endeavors.  Whereas they do not resonate at all with the vocabularies of temple, army, school, cult, recruitment, confession, etc., etc.

To be continued.

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This weekend my wife traveled out of state with members of her family for a niece’s graduation. I have avoided these graduation trips from the start, and this year I successfully dodged my obligation once again (though not without blame – and a little guilt).

The 48 hours alone were fine except for one thing. I cannot abide eating alone.

Breakfast? No problem.  I’m the early riser in the family, and I am long accustomed to a quick solo breakfast, with a book to read.  The emptiness of a solo lunch or dinner, however, I cannot stand. How do other people stand it? Both of our widower fathers admit to leaving their TV sets on at meals – to fill the air with human conversation during their lonely repasts.  For me it always comes down to a book or a good magazine – at one solo meal this weekend I tried music. Not bad.

But the fact that I have access to distractions does not change the fact that without them I feel very raggedly disconnected with my higher self when dining alone.  Eating is an act I find to be a very desolate, very mechanical, almost senseless affair – almost like a force-feeding – when I do it unaccompanied by another human being.

Not to prolong this – I think there is something interesting lying at the root of this feeling of desolation I get when dining alone. I can feel in my angst a primal anthropological fact about our humanity and about the interesting rites which surround our human institutions of table fellowship.

Less feasible – but no less interesting – is the possibility that the Son, in his varied table ministry (i.e. both before and after the Passion meal), consciously utilized the power latent in the feast of fellowship to convey to us the communal bedrock of his good news of forgiveness and fellowship with God.  If Jesus was himself cognizant of the anthropological fact, it makes sense that he decided to spend so much time eating and drinking with sinners while on mission. As I suggested in a previous post, maybe that was the mission.

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