Thursday, October 28, 2010

Holiness of God III

Two chapters in, we are given the definition of holy. It has three different uses - all of which are true of God:
  • Purity - free from stain, perfect
  • Separate - apart, cut
  • Transcendent  - above and beyond  
 The focus is on God being separate.
When the Bible calls God holy, it means primarily that God is transcendentally separate. He is so far above and beyond us that He seems almost totally foreign to us. 
 I like the illustration of the various items that God separated apart from common use for special use to draw out the idea. One example was the Sabbath day - which we have looked at recently in Sunday school. The Sabbath was a special day set apart as holy, where no work was to be done. This is what made it different from the other 6 days of the week. It was also a day to remember our Creator (Ex 20:8-11) and Liberator (Deut 5:12-15). Sproul made sure to call to our attention the fact that nothing is holy unless God imparts holiness to it because nothing is Holy except God. 

Since most people attribute purity with the word holy, Sproul pulls this together really well:
Where does purity come in? We are so accustomed to equating holiness with purity or ethical perfection that we look for the idea when the word holy appears. When things are made holy, when they are consecrated, they are set apart unto purity. They are to be used in a pure way. They are to reflect purity as well as simple apartness. Purity is not excluded from the idea of the holy; it is contained within it. But the point we must remember is that the idea of the holy is never exhausted by the idea of purity. It includes purity but is much more than that.

When something is holy it is being separated from other somethings and from its common use so that it can be used in a special and pure way. This working definition of holy fits well for the temple implements and even the Sabbath day but I am struggling with tying that back to understanding the Holiness of God. Perhaps I need to keep in mind that nothing is Holy in and of itself except God.

When the Bible calls God holy, it means primarily that God is transcendentally separate. He is so far above and beyond us that He seems almost totally foreign to us.

Check in here for other thoughts.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Happy Reformation Day (Three Walls)

On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther (1483–1546) posted the 95 Theses protesting among many things the sale of indulgences.
#27 There is no divine authority for preaching that the soul flies out of the purgatory immediately the money clinks in the bottom of the chest.
His goal was to reform the Roman Catholic Church. The result was the Protestant Reformation.

95 Theses

As we celebrate this important day in history we turn to another of Luther's writings, the Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation Respecting the Reformation of the Christian Estate, which was written in 1520 after determining that reform of the RCC was not likely. Here he addressed the issues that prevented reform from occurring. 
The Romanists have, with great adroitness, drawn three walls round themselves, with which they have hitherto protected themselves, so that no one could reform them, whereby all Christendom has fallen terribly.
  • Firstly, if pressed by the temporal power, they have affirmed and maintained that the temporal power has no jurisdiction over them, but on the contrary that the spiritual power is above the temporal.
  • Secondly, if it were proposed to admonish them with the Scriptures, they objected that no one may interpret the Scriptures but the Pope.
  • Thirdly, if they are threatened with a Council, they pretend that no one may call a Council but the Pope.
... Now may God help us, and give us one of those trumpets, that overthrew the walls of Jericho, so that we may blow down these walls of straw and paper, and that we may set free our Christian rods, for the chastisement of sin, and expose the craft and deceit of the devil, so that we may amend ourselves by punishment and again obtain God’s favour.
The rest of this part of the work is dedicated to dismantling these walls. On the first wall the temporal and spiritual powers mentioned are the false divisions setup between clergy (Spiritual Estate) and laity (Temporal Estate). Luther correctly argues that no such division exists because a person is not more spiritual than another because of the office they hold. Each person that is in Christ is both a priest and a member of the body of Christ. Therefore those holding offices in the church are not exempt from being rebuked and corrected by those who do not hold offices within the church.
It has been devised, that the Pope, bishops, priests and monks are called the Spiritual Estate; Princes, lords, artificers and peasants, are the Temporal Estate; which is a very fine, hypocritical device. But let no one be made afraid by it; and that for this reason: That all Christians are truly of the Spiritual Estate, and there is no difference among them, save of office alone. As St. Paul says (1 Cor. xii.), we are all one body, though each member does its own work, to serve the others. This is because we have one baptism, one gospel, one faith, and are all Christians alike; for baptism, gospel and faith, these alone make Spiritual and Christian people. ... Thus we are all consecrated as priests by baptism, as St. Peter says: “Ye are a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (1 Peter ii. 9); and in the book of Revelations: “and hast made us unto our God, kings and priests.” (Rev. v. 10.)
From this Luther will argue that all Christians have the liberty to interpret the Scriptures.
Therefore it is a wickedly devised fable, and they cannot quote a single letter to confirm it, that it is for the Pope alone to interpret the Scriptures or to confirm the interpretation of them: they have assumed the authority of their own selves. ... Besides that, we are all priests, as I have said, and have all one faith, one gospel, one sacrament; how then should we not have the power of discerning and judging what is right or wrong in matters of faith? What becomes of St. Paul’s words: “But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man” (1 Cor. ii. 15); and also, “we having the same spirit of faith.” (2 Cor. iv. 13.) Why then should we not perceive as well as an unbelieving Pope, what agrees, or disagrees with our faith? ... Therefore it behooves every Christian to aid the faith by understanding and defending it, and by condemning all errors.
Luther than concludes that
[t]he third wall falls of itself, as soon as the first two have fallen; for if the Pope acts contrary to the Scriptures, we are bound to stand by the Scriptures, to punish and to constrain him, according to Christ’s commandment; ... But as for their boasts of their authority, that no one must oppose it, this is idle talk. No one in Christendom has any authority to do harm, or to forbid others to prevent harm being done.

Luther wisely pointed out three walls that prevented reform in the RCC. However we should not just read these in recognition of the Reformation and ignore the fact that these walls need to be seen as warnings for us today as well. We should all take the spirit of the Reformation to heart and guard against them in our ministry.

Those who hold positions of leadership in the church should be careful to avoid building these walls as the serve those they lead thus falling into the error of the Pope and bishops.
  • The first wall we must guard against is thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought (Rom 12:3; Phil 2:3) or believing that we are more spiritual than others (Luke 18:9-14). We are all sinners in need of grace and we are all members of the body of Christ through faith with different gifts (1 Cor 12:11-12).  
  • The second  wall we must guard against is having both the courage to contend earnestly for the faith while also being humble in our approach to the Scriptures being willing to listen and engage in honest discussion over our differences in interpretations.
  • The third wall  we must guard against is the pride and stubbornness that refuses correction when we sin or go astray (Prov 13:18). We must be willing to grow from the often difficult process of being sharpened by others (Prov 27:17).
Members of the body of Christ who do not hold an office of leadership are also prone to all these temptations and must be on guard against them in their own lives as well. We must recognize that we are to obey our leaders who are in authority (Heb 13:17) but we also must be willing to be reformers making sure we have good accountability for our local church leaders, we are acting as good Bereans studying the Scriptures (Acts 17:11), and are willing to confront error and sin as needed in a Biblical manner (1 Tim 5:19; Matt 18:15-17).

Thursday, October 21, 2010

RCT: Holiness of God (II)

Chapter 2 of Sproul's Holiness of God dives into Isaiah 6 and with powerful writing invites the reader to experience the prophet's initial encounter with God. He moves through the familiar passage describing the terror of being before a Holy, Holy, Holy God as a sinner and moving to the conclusion where we find a man who has been cleansed and is ready and willing to go forth and serve His God.

As I read through this chapter I was struck by the two concepts that have been introduced in the book which are incomprehensible - the first was nothing. In chapter 1 Sproul explains that we cannot comprehend what nothing is - what it was like before the universe, time, space, energy, and matter all came into existence - because as created beings we exist in something. The second is holiness. Specifically the holiness of God. How can we? We cannot fathom what holiness is because we are not!

The Israelites trembled when they experienced God at Mt. Sinai and stood at a distance. They could not stand to be in the very presence of God. Like Isaiah they knew they were ruined, unclean and that they deserved to die. In this experience Moses tells us that we are not to be afraid but to have an awe of God's Holiness (Ex 20:18-20). Moses however was willing to go back up the mountain on behalf of the people and talk with God and be in His presence. But as amazing as this must have been...
[Moses] craved the ultimate spiritual experience. He inquired of the Lord on the mountain, "Let me see your face. Show me your glory." The request was denied
Denied because no one can behold the face of God and live. But we will not always be denied this request - when Jesus comes again we will actually see God as He is. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face (1 Cor 13:12). Revelation describes that encounter this way (Rev 22:3-4): 
No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
Can we imagine what that will be like when there is nothing around us that is cursed and His name - which is Holy - will be written upon us? Nothing can be in the face to face presence of God unless it is holy. And we can only be holy when we have been cleansed like Isaiah (but more so). Jesus has made us holy and blameless so that we can look forward to that day with hope and anticipation rather than dread it (Heb 9:28).

My kids are so excited about going to Disney World that they are counting down the days and ask about going every day. I thought of that as I read this passage and reflected on the things I eagerly wait for. I can only pray that God will help me hallow His name and fill me with eager anticipation of seeing Him face to face.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

RCT: Holiness of God (chapter 1)

Tim Challies has a program he calls Reading the Classics Together (RCT). Here is how it works - every week read a chapter and post a comment on the blog on Thursday and join the discussion. This go round the classic is the Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul. This will be my initial foray into joining the program. I will be reading along with the Kindle edition.

Here is how Tim Challies described the book:

I am convinced that this is destined to be a classic in its own right—one that will be read 50 and 100 years from now. James Montgomery Boice agreed saying, “It may be a bit early to call R.C. Sproul’s The Holiness of God one of the classic theological works of our time. But if it does not have that status yet, it is well on the way to achieving it.”

Since I am a week behind I will be posting today on chapter 1, and tomorrow (hopefully) on chapter 2.

Sproul lays out his case that the key to a proper understanding of God is the concept of "Holiness". This is foundational (says Sproul) to understanding the God who creates out of nothing, issues decrees we find shocking, and allows a world filled with evil to continue.

The one concept, the central idea I kept meeting in Scripture, was the idea that God is holy. The word was foreign to me. I wasn't sure what it meant. I made the question a matter of diligent and persistent search.  ... It is basic to our whole understanding of God and of Christianity.

An interesting insight from this chapter was made regarding the Lord's Prayer. In Matthew 6:9 (KJV) it reads "Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name". Sproul points out that we often take "hallowed be thy name" as a statement of fact. As in Holy is your name. This is true (Luke 1:49) but it is not how the verb "hallow" should be read. It is in the imperative mood (a command) and passive voice therefore God's name is acted upon and is to be set apart and honored.

But that is not how Jesus said it. He uttered it as a petition, as the first petition. We should be praying that God's name be hallowed, that God be regarded as holy.
The NIV, NASB, and ESV all translate the verse similar to the KJV, but the NET Bible translation actually makes this more clear with the following:

Our Father in heaven, may your name be honored
Do I set apart God' name and honor it? Do I pray that I and others will do this? What does that even mean? Thought provoking questions that leave me convicted that I do not pray for, meditate on or grapple with God's Holiness nearly enough.