Results tagged “Early Church” from Reformation21 Blog

Learning from the Early Church

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I recently finished a sermon series on the book of Acts at our church. I have been deeply blessed by working through this book. In fact, as I completed the last sermon, I was in tears. I told my wife, "It might seem silly, but I'm going to miss spending this much time with Paul."

It has been very impactful to my own soul, and my own congregation, to see not only the growth of the early church, but also the growing pains, the imperfections, the difficulties, the conflict and opposition that the early church experienced.

After spending more than a year in the book of Acts I have four major takeaways that I would briefly mention.

  1. Grace Teaches Us to Prayer for our Enemies

As I preached through Acts one of the ideas I kept reflecting on was just what a turning point the murder of Stephen was. I thought about Paul's own culpability in Stephen's murder and how that must have stayed with Paul for the rest of his Christian life.

Chapter 7 of Acts contains the sermon that got Stephen killed, but it also contains his subsequent murder by the crowd, including Paul. Back when I preached on this passage I missed something very precious: the prayer of Stephen as he was dying.

And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

Our instinct when we read this prayer is to say, "What a godly man!" Stephen's cry is certainly pious and loving to his enemies, but have you considered that Stephen actually prayed for Paul?

Here we have a beautiful illustration of the grace of God that not only did Stephen pray for his persecutors to know the forgiveness of Christ, but even more, that God actually answered that in Acts 9 by converting Paul! It's exactly what Stephen prayed for; it's what he wanted most in his dying moments - for his enemies to know the same forgiveness that God had shown him.

I can't help but feel that it should motivate us to pray more for our enemies - for those we think are too far gone. Who knows - maybe God will show his grace and save the one we're praying for!?

  1. Diversity is Baked Into the Church

One of the truly frustrating things for me is people who say, "Well my friends and I are the church. We don't need to be part of an organized church." And whenever someone says that to me I frequently will encourage them to look at their circle of friends - what they will usually find is a group that is not very diverse. It's usually very like-minded people from similar backgrounds that are around the same age and same stage in life. People who self-select their own "church" tend to have a very homogenous "church" of people who are just like them.

And yet one of the realities of the church is that the church is a very diverse place.

Today if someone says "diversity," folks limit it to only one category; they think of racial diversity. However, the church should be a diverse place in lots of ways; age diversity, income diversity, career diversity, geographic diversity, educational diversity, and yes, racial diversity.

We see this diversity most especially in the conflict of the church in Acts 6. The whole reason the diaconate of the church needed to be created was because of the friction that came from racial diversity in the early church.

If it wasn't for Jesus Christ, these Jews and Greeks would have had zero reason to ever be together in the same place! And so diversity is one of the many beautiful designs of God in establishing his church.

Any given Sunday just look around and ask yourself this question: "If it weren't for the Gospel, would I ever be around most of these folks?" I think the honest answer in most of our cases is "no," and that's not a bad thing - it's actually a wonderful testimony to the centrality of Jesus to all our relationships and to the Church itself. Being around people you wouldn't otherwise be around if it wasn't for Jesus is one of the happy realities of a diverse and Gospel-centered church.

  1. Jesus Started an Organized Religion

The age we live in is deeply suspicious of "organized religion." I know countless folks who have generally Christian values and worldview who nonetheless really don't think they need the church, or a church, or any church because they say "I can have church at home alone with just me and my Bible." But church isn't exclusively just about a sermon or Bible reading. Church is the entire experience of being with God's people together, hearing the same Scripture read and preached together, receiving the sacraments together, and being under the oversight of the elders of the church together.

This isn't just one of my ideas. One of the things the book of Acts shows us is that Jesus loves the church, he loves his people, and he actually wants the church to be organized even in a kind of formal structure. Under the guidance of the Spirit, the Apostles "appointed elders for them in every church" (Acts 14:23). In Acts 6, which we saw above, the Spirit moved the Apostles to appoint deacons in the church. If you have "church" at home alone or with just a self-selected group of friends you don't have elders or deacons or sacraments - you are living with a self-selected group of pals. And even more, you're missing out on the intentionally organized religion that Jesus established.

  1. Telling Our Neighbors About Jesus isn't Optional

Finally, the book of Acts repeatedly stands out as a deeply evangelistic book. This is a given, of course. It begins and ends with a mission statement of sorts. In Acts 1:8 Jesus says "You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." And the book ends with Paul living in Rome and the "end of the earth" under house arrest, preaching to the Jews and Gentiles of the city.

Acts begins with a command to evangelize, a promise of evangelistic success, it is filled examples of those successes, and it ends with a triumphant self-sacrificial example of the continuing work of evangelism.

In Acts we see Christians tell all sorts of people about Jesus! They witness to homeless beggars (3:6); to religious leaders (4:1-12); to hostile crowds (7:1-53); to complete strangers when they see them traveling (8:29-40); to Jewish crowds; to soldiers (10:1-8); to people living on islands; to wealthy business people (16:11-15) to fellow prisoners (16:25); to their jailers (16:31); to philosophers (17:22-34); to Jewish royalty (26:1-29); and even to rough and tough sailors at sea (27:25).

The book of Acts has built into it a theme and a trajectory of showing and telling us that it should be in our DNA as Christians to tell people what God has done for us, how he's done it for us, and why we know he can do the same for any person we meet.

 

Adam Parker is the pastor of Pearl Presbyterian Church (http://www.pearlpres.com). He is a graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, and a husband and father of four.

The Mechanics of Neo-Apollinarian Christology

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I have been, and in many respects always will be, a fan and student of William Lane Craig. Any kid who was into apologetics and contemporary philosophy of religion had to be.

That said, like others, I've recently had to come to grips with some of the odder aspects of his theology proper and Christology, which appear to be less than orthodox. Nick Batzig calls attention to one element which has been raising eyebrows in some circles, of late: his "Neo-Apollinarian" Christology.

Now, I'd heard something about it before, but never looked deep into it until now. He goes into it an clarifies his position in this podcast transcript. In a nutshell:

1. We agree with the Council of Chalcedon that in Christ we have one person with two natures - human and divine.

2. The soul of the human nature of Christ is the second person of the Trinity, the Logos. The human nature of Christ is composed of the Logos and a human body.

3. The divine aspects of the Logos are largely concealed in Christ's subconsciousness so that he had a waking conscious life that would be typical of any human being and that like the mass of an iceberg submerged beneath the surface so in his divine subconsciousness there lay the fullness of divinity. The waking consciousness was typically human.

The aim is to affirm the two natures of Christ, but avoid the possible Nestorianism (in his view) of the Chalcedonian definition. So he takes the heretic Apollinaris and gives him a tune-up:

"Apollinarius' original view was that Christ didn't have a complete human nature. He had a human body but he didn't have a human soul. He didn't have a human nature. As a result he wasn't really truly human. That calls into question the reality of the incarnation and also the effectiveness of Christ's death on our behalf since he did not share our nature.

What I argue in my Neo-Apollinarian proposal is that the Logos brought to the human body just those properties which would make it a complete human nature - things like rationality, self-consciousness, freedom of the will, and so forth. Christ already possessed those in his divine nature, and it is in virtue of those that we are created in the image of God. So when he brought those properties to the animal body - the human body - it completes it and makes it a human nature. Against Apollinarius, I want to say that Christ did have a complete human nature. He was truly God and truly man. Therefore his death on our behalf as our representative before God was efficacious."

So what you end up having, as I understand it, is a sort of overlapping Venn diagram of two sets of properties. The first circle represents the divine nature and its properties, and the second the human nature. Though, here, instead of merging two complete circles so that you get a doubling up on the overlap on those components that make up the human soul (two wills, two minds, etc.), you instead add a circle with a chunk shaved off (the human nature) that happens to fit the outline of the divine nature, sort of like a perfectly-fitted puzzle piece. Put them together and both natures have all the sets of properties they need.

Now, it seems there are several problems with this, but the first one that struck me is the issue of Jesus's consciousness. He says, "The divine aspects of the Logos are largely concealed in Christ's subconsciousness so that he had a waking conscious life that would be typical of any human being and that like the mass of an iceberg submerged beneath the surface so in his divine subconsciousness there lay the fullness of divinity."

What I want to know is how is that supposed to work? Absent a distinct human soul, a human mind that interacts/supervenes on a human brain, etc. how are we arriving at this split-level consciousness? If all we have is a divine Person with an infinite, divine mind and a divine will, rationality, freedom, etc. plus a human body, are we saying that the Son's divine consciousness takes on dimensions and levels it did not have before in its interaction with a human body? Does that represent change in the divine nature, then? Or are these levels of consciousness now possible because of the interaction between the Logos and the "meat" of the human brain, so to speak?

I looked up the discussion of the problem in Craig and Moreland's Philosophical Foundations of a Christian Worldview (1st Ed.) and I have to say, that while expanded, the discussion wasn't much clearer at this point. Pardon the large block-quote:

"We postulate that the divine aspects of Jesus' personality were largely subliminal during his state of humiliation. We suggest that what William James called the "subliminal self" is the primary locus of the superhuman elements in the consciousness of the incarnate Logos. Thus Jesus possessed a normal human conscious experience. But the human consciousness of Jesus was underlain, as it were, by a divine subconsciousness. This understanding of Christ's personal experience draws on the insight of depth psychology that there is vastly more to a person than waking consciousness. The whole project of psychoanalysis is based on the conviction that some of our behaviors have deep springs of action of which we are only dimly, if at all, aware. Multiple personality disorders furnish a particularly striking example of the eruption of subliminal facets of a single person's mind into distinct conscious personalities. In some cases there is even a dominant personality who is aware of all the others and who knows what each of them knows but who remains unknown by them. Hypnotism also furnishes a vivid demonstration of the reality of the subliminal. As Charles Harris explains,

a person under hypnosis may be informed of certain facts and then instructed to forget them when he "awakens," but the knowledge is truly in his mind, and shows itself in unmistakable ways, especially by causing him to perform . . . certain actions, which, but for the possession of this knowledge, he would not have performed. . . . What is still more extraordinary, a sensitive hypnotic subject may be made both to see and not to see the same object at the same moment. For example, he may be told not to see a lamp-post, whereupon he becomes (in the ordinary sense) quite unable to see it. Nevertheless, he does see it, because he avoids it and cannot be induced to precipitate himself against it.

Similarly, in the Incarnation--at least during his state of humiliation--the Logos allowed only those facets of his person to be part of Christ's waking consciousness which were compatible with typical human experience, while the bulk of his knowledge and other cognitive perfections, like an iceberg beneath the water's surface, lay submerged in his subconscious. On the model we propose, Christ is thus one person, but in that person conscious and subconscious elements are differentiated in a theologically significant way. Unlike Nestorianism our view does not imply that there are two persons, anymore than the conscious aspects of one's life and the subconscious aspects of one's life constitute two persons." (610-611)

Leave aside the propriety of appealing to split personalities as a suitable analogy for the mental life of our Lord, depth psychology could really be helpful in considering these issues in Christology more generally. But what I'm failing to see is the way this works out in Craig's formulation.

Because on Craig's view, it seems there is only the one, divine mind which is now, somehow, also the site of the distinctions and levels and subliminal layers which form Christ's human, conscious life. Now, I know they reject, or at least propose to modify divine simplicity (Craig and Moreland, 526), but even in that discussion, they seem sympathetic to William Alston's view that at least the divine knowledge is simple.

Has there been a change to the divine nature such that what was once simple, now becomes complex in the act of the incarnation? Craig describes the incarnation as a matter of addition, rather than subtraction-which is right:

"Rather it is a matter of addition - taking on in addition to the divine nature he already had a human nature with all of its essential properties. So we should think of the incarnation not as a matter of subtraction but of addition."

But the addition of layers of consciousness to the divine mind is not the logic of addition which the Fathers at Chalcedon had in mind. They saw the Logos assuming humanity to himself leaving the divine nature unchanged. But it is hard to see the Logos remaining unchanged in his becoming the soul of the body of Christ, if this is now adding layers of self-consciousness to the single mind he has/is.

If so, then along with the rejection of the assumption of a human soul, this would be to contradict Chalcedon at another point. For it would seem to be a denial of divine immutability. But I don't see them wanting to do that.

Now, for myself, I don't think the Chalcedonian definition and classical Christology of the Church is Nestorian. But even if I did, contrary to solving any questions, Craig's un-Orthodox Christology just seems to leave us with more.

Soli Deo Gloria