Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Name That is Above Everything

I will worship toward Your holy temple,
    And praise Your name
For Your lovingkindness and Your truth;
    For You have magnified Your word above all Your name.
(Psalm 138:2)
A few years back, I wrote about this verse and how different versions handle it. Some have the Lord’s name exalted above His word. Others have His word exalted above His name. Yet others have them exalted equally.

Recently, a friend pointed out something interesting about this verse in the Septuagint (LXX), which is a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures and dates back to the 2nd century BC. I had not thought to check this passage out in that translation. But checking out Old Testament Scriptures in the Septuagint is something I do more of these days, especially considering that the New Testament leans heavily on that version — it was the Bible of the early Church.

A simple translation of Alfred Rahlfs’ text of this verse in the LXX is: “For You magnified Your word over every name.” Another translation (Brenton’s), apparently using a text of the LXX that is a bit different, puts it this way: “For thou hast magnified thy holy name above every thing.” When I saw these, I was immediately put in mind of two New Testament passages:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)

Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)
What put itself together in my mind was this: Jesus, the Word who was in the beginning with God — and is God — has been highly exalted and given “the name which is above every name.” In other words, God has exalted His Word above every name, and the name of Jesus above everything!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Grace That Transforms Us

Whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. (Romans 8:29)

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (Romans 12:1)

The mystery … is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:26-27)

For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (Philippians 2:13 NIV)
The grace of God leads us neither to legalism nor lawlessness. What this grace does do is change us, not from the outside but from the inside. God, in His grace, not only justifies us, He also sanctifies us, and is constantly at work in us, conforming us to the image of His Son. It is not about rules and regulations, which could never produce the life of Christ in us, but about relationship — God dwelling in us by His own Spirit.

A grace that does not change us, from the inside out, is not a grace that comes from God. This change is not a transformation we effect in ourselves in response to God’s grace but a transformation God effects in us by His grace. Our only response is faith — entrusting ourselves into His hands.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Reading Scripture With the Church

The body of Christ, though it has many parts, is one. So we never really read the Scriptures on our own but with the rest of the Church. We read with the Church as it has existed through the centuries, as well as with local church community we are part of today. If we think of ourselves as though we were alone on some little desert island, reading the Scriptures by ourselves, we are in danger of becoming our own little cult. But reading the Scriptures together with the Church, as it is found in all times and places throughout history, can keep us from falling into that trap.

How the Church has read and understood and talked about Scripture is actually what Church tradition is about. When Jude wrote his letter to warn believers about false teachers, he appealed to the faith that had been “delivered to the saints.”
Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. (Jude 3)
The Greek word for “delivered” is paradidomi and refers to what has been given into the hands of another — that is, handed down. That is exactly what tradition is, something that has been handed down. The Latin translation of paradidomi in Jude 3 is traditae, which is where we get our English word “tradition.” The faith that Jude had in mind was the teaching that was handed down from the apostles. That tradition of apostolic teaching is preserved for us in the Scriptures.

Over time, the Church’s understanding of that tradition developed as Christians continued to explore what it means and how to explain it for their generations. In the first few centuries, for example, the Church was not altogether clear about how to talk about the relationship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, or about how the humanity of the Lord Jesus relates to His divinity. It was not until the AD 4th century that the Church came together and articulated some important understandings about these things. These conclusions were based on the Scriptures but also on the tradition of how the Church understood the Scriptures from the beginning.

This means that, although the elements concerning the Trinity have always been present in Scripture, we can now identify them more easily and see how Scripture supports the doctrine of the Trinity, because the early Church Fathers labored diligently to help us understand what was handed down from the beginning. Could we have figured it all out on our own? Perhaps. However, I am not confident that we would have. So I am thankful for the tradition that has brought it out clearly for us.

We should each read the Scriptures for ourselves, of course, but the truth is that we never read the them by ourselves. First, we have the Holy Spirit with us to illuminate the Scriptures to us. But God has also given us the rest of the body of Christ, to read the Scriptures together with us. That body, the Church, has been reading the Scriptures for the past 2,000 years — long before you and I arrived on the scene — and our own reading of the Scriptures today has largely been shaped by how the Church has understood them from the beginning.

Of course, we are each bound to follow our conscience and convictions. That, too, has been always been an important value in the Church. However, it is not only individual conscience and conviction that is important but also the sensus fidelium, the “sense of the faithful” — how the body of Christ as a whole has read the Scriptures and understood the Christian faith.

Though it is possible that God may use the conscience and convictions of one to correct the understanding of everyone else, it is more likely that God uses the sensus fidelium, the convictions of the body of Christ as a whole, to help guide the understanding of the individual. Each individual believer has the Holy Spirit who teaches us, but the Holy Spirit often works through means, and one of those means is the gift of teachers He has given to the Church.

So, although we are obliged to follow what we believe to be the leading and enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, we do well to pay attention to how the rest of the body of Christ has understood the Scriptures and the Christian faith. It is wisdom to consider carefully how the Church in the early centuries read and understood and talked about the Word in its own context, as well as how later generations read and understood and talked about the Word in their own contexts. It is all part of the larger conversation that has brought the Church, and us with it, to where we are today in our little piece of the conversation, and it will help us understand and talk about the Word in our own contexts.

When we, as part of the body of Christ, do theology or read and interpret the Scriptures, we are always in conversation with tradition. It is not a question of whether we need tradition. The truth is that we cannot get away from it. And I am very thankful for that — I have more confidence in the tradition of the Church that has gone before me for 2,000 years than in my own ability to figure the Christian faith out for myself. If I stray very from what the historic Christian church has long considered orthodox, I should think I had taken a wrong turn somewhere.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Random Thoughts

Some thoughts culled from my random file. Some have occurred to me in moments of quiet reflection, some in interaction with others. Some are aphoristic and avuncular. I didn’t know what else to do with them, so I put them here. For your edification, inspiration and/or motivation — or your money cheerfully refunded.
  • Paul tells us to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). He did not leave us the option of just one or the other, truth or love. We must do both. We must speak the truth, but we must do it in love. Truth and love are, first and most importantly, personal — that is, they are about a person. For God is love and Jesus is the Truth (1 John 4:9; John 14:6). So if our communication fails to reflect truth or love, it fails to reflect the Lord Jesus, and we come short of the glory of God.
  • Because we’ve been given the sword of the Spirit (the Word of God), the temptation is for us to think that we are supposed to hack away at people with it.
  • God is love. He who abandons love abandons God.
  • God is love. He who has faith in God has faith in love.
  • Jesus saves us with a salvation that truly changes us.
  • The cross is the intersection of heaven and earth, of time and eternity, of creation and the Creator.
  • When Jacob wrestled with God, who prevailed? Jacob won a blessing … but that was always what God wanted to do for him.
  • The world looks for someone to exercise authority and be the “tie-breaker.” Christ looks for those who will submit to each other. Big difference.
  • The way of Christ always turns the world on its head. And the world always fights hard against it. Christians often do, too.
  • The closer we know the Lord, the more guidance will take care of itself. The better we know His heart, the more we will know what to do.
  • We tend to know what we like and like what we know are. Then we are uncomfortable with what we don’t know, and fearful of anyone who knows something we don’t.
  • I learned about Christ from the Church and from the Book. But it is because I have met Christ that I have realized that the Church and the Book are true.
  • Everyone is a heretic to someone.
  • Salvation by grace through faith is a relationship, not a contract. Which means no loopholes, just friendship.
More random thoughts …