Posts Tagged ‘Colossians

04
Apr
12

christ and true spirituality

What do visualization (Ignatian Examen or kataphatic prayer), silence, solitude, lectio divina, labyrinth prayers, Stations of the Cross, chanting, induced visions, centering prayer, centering down, and astral projection all have in common?  The answer is they are all forms of mysticism (spirituality) that has been flooding the evangelical world over recent years.  I can pretty well guarantee that if  you have not yet encountered these you soon will.

Now let me say up front that spirituality, or Christian experience of God, is very much part of what it means to be a Christian.  I am appalled by some today (such as Old Life Presbyterians) who have little or no time for Christian experience and dismiss it as mere emotionalism or pietism.  In fact, the pietistic movement in Germany in the C17 began as a healthy biblical reaction to the rigid dogma-driven orthodoxy of the Lutheran church married to a high ecclesiology that, not unlike modern old-lifers, discouraged devotional fervour in the faith of believers.

We must not dismiss Christian experience.  We are converted that we may know God, not merely know about him.  Salvation brings us not only into union with Christ but into communion with him.  We enjoy his presence.  We know what is to ‘dwell in God’.    We are called into the fellowship of the Father and Son, for all who love Christ and keep his word know what it is for the Father and Son to come and make their home in them (Jn 14:22).  Christian experience is abiding in God and God abiding in us (1 Jn 4:15,16).  This is much more than a proper standing, or a theological system, it is relationship and intimacy that brings us into all that God is.  Where the affections are not engaged Christianity is not realized.

However, while communion with God in Christ is what we are called to as Christians, like every other aspect of Christianity Satan is only too ready to corrupt and distort it.  C17 Pietism began well but in time was enticed into various spiritual experiences that had no roots in the gospel and belonged more  to mere mysticism with its emphasis on ecstatic visions of the soul and altered states of consciousness created by ‘spiritual techniques’ rather than beholding the glory of God in Jesus Christ (2 Cor 3).

Such mysticism did not originate in the C17.  It plagued the church from its inception.  We have been focussing in recent posts on various aspects of the heresy that harried the Colossian church.  We noted that this heresy was a hydran mixture of philosophy (human wisdom trumping revealed truth), Judaism (human religiosity and laws for holiness becoming a substitute for grasping what it means to have died with Christ to this world), and finally mysticism.  This mysticism was false and dangerous because it offered spiritual experience detached from a singular focus on the revealed Christ.

This danger Paul addresses in the Colossian church when he writes:

Col 2:18-19 (ESV)
Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

Some, it appears, were advocating religious experience through intermediaries (angels) and visionary states of consciousness, perhaps induced through bodily deprivation, that had nothing to do with looking at Christ.  However, these are man-made spiritualities.  They appear wise  but are really self-made religion (Col 2:23) for they are not about the simplicity of holding on by faith to the risen and reigning Christ.

The simple reality is, not all spiritualities are authentically spiritual.   Nowadays the desire for a Christian spirituality is leading some into rather strange places.  Modern mystics like Dallas Willard and Richard Foster promote forms of spirituality that have a lot more to do with Roman Catholic mysticism than genuine biblical faith.  Classic medieval mysticism was virtually unknown in Evangelicalism until popularised by Foster in his ‘Celebration of Discipline, the Path of Spiritual Growth‘.  Voted by Christianity Today as one of the ten best books of the C20, Foster introduced all kinds of dubious mystical techniques into the evangelical consciousness.

How do we stop genuine pursuit of God being corrupted by a false kind of mysticism?  Let me try to answer this question in terms of a few propositions.

true spirituality never divorces itself from objective truth

The Christian gospel is objective truth we are called to believe (Jn 20:31).  Indeed, we grow in the knowledge of God only as he has revealed himself in Jesus Christ (Jn 17:3).  There is a tendency in Christian mysticism to pay only lip-service to revealed truth.  As one writer observes,

The essence of mysticism lies in this, that the seat of authority is transferred in the mind of the mystic from the external Word of God to the spiritual consciousness — the “spiritual man” — internal to themselves. Homage of quite an orthodox kind may be verbally rendered to the Scriptures, and yet they may be largely displaced.  It has little or no restraining effect upon the flights of his imagination. He quotes it of course, but only as supporting or illustrating or adorning his own conceptions of truth. His conceptions become the primary thing on which the main emphasis must be laid. Scripture must be interpreted in the light of those conceptions, and its words become of secondary importance.

Evelyn Underhill, a leading Anglo-Catholic mystic of the early C20  confirms the truth of this criticism in saying,

“Mysticism, according to its historical and psychological definitions, is the direct intuition or experience of God; and a mystic is a person who has, to a greater or less degree, such a direct experience — one whose religion and life are centered, not merely on an accepted belief or practice, but on that which the person regards as first hand personal knowledge.”

Where quests to know God are not founded on what the God who has made himself known has objectively revealed for faith to grasp they soon wind-up as merely fanciful experiences. The subjective trumps the objective and the mystic becomes ‘puffed up with their sensuous mind‘ (Col 2).  The Quakers (or Society of Friends) are a classic example of where for many ‘inner light’ has replaced revealed truth; connection with the head is lost.

true spirituality focusses on an exalted Christ outside of self and not on Christ within

It is true, and wonderfully so, that Christ dwells in the heart of every believer by faith.  Yet it is equally true that we are told to focus on the exalted Christ outside of ourselves and not the Christ within.   The gospel does not encourage pre-occupation with what is happening inside of us.  Instead Paul exhorts,

Col 3:1-4 (ESV)
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

It is the risen and exalted Christ in glory who is the object of faith and adoration.  We look to Jesus who has triumphantly completed the life of faith and is now seated at the right hand of God. (Hebs 12:2).  Looking within merely leads to self-absorption the very opposite to the self-forgetfulness that the gospel creates.  The kind of mysticism that calls for navel-gazing is not biblical spirituality.

true spirituality has Christ as its object and not spiritual experience itself

The inclination of fallen humanity is to be self-absorbed.  Our human tendency is to make much of ourselves.  We like to be the centre of everything.  If we give in to this everything becomes false.  The flesh loves its own reasoning, its religious observance, and its own religious consciousness. The gospel, however, always takes the focus away from us and on places it on Christ.

False mysticism is interested in religious experience rather than Christ.  It deals largely with ourselves, and our own state and apprehension of the truth. It is occupied not with divine realities themselves, but with how we become conscious of those realities, and of the way they work out certain results in us.

Lectio Divina, meaning “sacred reading,” is a technique that moves beyond the normal reading the Bible. It aims at going beyond the objective meaning of the words  to that which transcends normal awareness.  One writer instructs,

‘As you attend to those deeper meanings, begin to meditate on the feelings and emotions conjured up in your inner self.’

Notice how the technique subtly turns us in on ourselves and our consciousness. It is not about God, it is about us.

Mysticism has about it an apparent profundity of thought and utterance. It promises a far greater depth of understanding, which is alluring, and especially to minds of a certain contemplative type, fundamentally disposed towards introspection and self-occupation.  We can be sure such self-occupation is not biblical spirituality.  As even the Roman Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton writes

‘If I were to say that Christianity came into the world specially to destroy the doctrine of the Inner Light, that would be an exaggeration. But it would be very much nearer to the truth… Of all conceivable forms of enlightenment the worst is what these people call the Inner Light. Of all horrible religions the most horrible is the worship of the god within. Any one who knows any body knows how it would work; anyone who knows anyone from the Higher Thought Centre knows how it does work. That Jones shall worship the god within him turns out ultimately to mean that Jones shall worship Jones… Christianity came into the world firstly in order to assert with violence that a man had not only to look inwards, but to look outwards, to behold with astonishment and enthusiasm a divine company and a divine captain. The only fun of being a Christian was that a man was not left alone with the Inner Light, but definitely recognised an outer light, fair as the sun, clear as the moon, terrible as an army with banners’.

true spirituality is not merely aspirations after God in Christ but present enjoyment of him

A feature of much false mysticism is that it is about un-realised desire.  It pants for God but never seems to find him. It longs to know love but never experiences it.  Now we must be careful here for there is always that which is aspirational in faith.  Paul wishes to ‘know Christ’ and reaches out to what he has not yet attained, HOWEVER,  this is within the context of already knowing and enjoying Christ.  The love of God is already shed abroad in his heart (Roms 5).  He already ‘knows the love of Christ which is beyond knowing’ (Eph 3:19).  Yes we wish to be filled with all the fulness of God (Eph 3:20) but we are already ‘filled’ in Christ, the one in whom the fulness of the Godhead dwells (Col 2:9).

We not only desire Christ, we have Christ.  He is the present satisfying object of our love and adoration.  We delight in him, enjoy him, and are complete in him.  In the Spirit he is already for us a spring of water springing up to eternal life, eternally satisfying.

John 4:13-14 (ESV)
Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Desire and love are not exactly the same.  Desire is never satisfied.  It does not possess the object of desire, but love does.  Love supposes that we have full possession of the object of our desires.  Love does not so much desire as delight in the one loved.  Mysticism, absorbed as it is with self and feelings, never gets beyond desire; while simple Christianity, giving the knowledge of salvation, puts us into full possession of the love of God.  I know that I am loved and I know the one I love.  Indeed, my very love is self-forgetful, for that is what true love is. Desire turns one in on oneself while love takes one out of oneself and rests on the object loved.

In Christianity, I dwell in love, divine love.  In peace, I contemplate this love, and I adore it in Christ. I dwell in Him and He in me.  In God, and contemplation of him, I am deeply and completely filled and satisfied.  He satisfies the longing soul and fills the hungry with good things (Ps 107:9).  Love, peace, joy and unspeakable glory are not elusive but enjoyed realities in Christ.  Yes, I long for more, but I do so from one who is satisfied.  He has already filled the hungry with good things (Lk 1:53).  This biblical tension is important to maintain.

true spirituality is not technique-driven but simply adores God in the risen Christ

A criticism that can be rightly levelled at many spiritualities ancient and modern (for the modern are only the ancient resuscitated) is the degree to which they are technique-driven.  All involve processes to create transcendence.  Now this immediately rings alarm bells, firstly because there is something contrived and manipulated about such techniques, and, secondly, because these ‘techniques’ are hard to find in Scripture.  Sometimes verses are cited in support but often these are asked to deliver much more than they are able.  We have to ask of many of these ‘techniques’ why they are not plainly exhorted in Scripture.

On so-called ‘centering prayer’ (focussing on a single word like ‘love’ or ‘God’ to clear the mind of other thoughts) Tony Campolo comments,

‘In my case intimacy with Christ has developed gradually over the years, primarily through what Catholic mystics call ‘centering prayer.’ Each morning, as soon as I wake up, I take time-sometimes as much as a half hour-to center myself on Jesus. I say his name over and over again to drive back the 101 things that begin to clutter up my mind the minute I open my eyes. Jesus is my mantra, as some would say.’

Letters to a Young Evangelical Pg 20

Henri Nouwen the late Roman Catholic mystic popular in Evangelical circles explains,

“The quiet repetition of a single word can help us to descend with the mind into the heart … This way of simple prayer … opens us to God’s active presence” (The Way of the Heart, p. 81)

Yet we are obliged to ask where such a technique is commended in Scripture?  Notice too, Nouwen, is taking us into ourselves rather than outside ourselves.  This is deadly, for immediately we ‘lose connection with the head’ (Col 2).

True spirituality or Christian mysticism is that which contemplates the truth of God revealed in the gospel of Christ.  It is firmly anchored in objective truth and arises from it.  It recognises that in holding fast to the head is the way of spiritual experience and reality.  Faith and love look without and not within.

More observations could be made.  We could consider the suspect role of spiritual directors in mysticism.  However, I hope what has been said so far gives cause for caution and reflection before buying into the ‘spiritualities’ on offer in the evangelical world at the moment.  Never fail to ask what is the central concern and focus – religious consciousness or the revealed and reigning Christ?

I suggest for further reading an article by D A Carson written some years ago.  Below are his opening paragraphs.

The current interest in spirituality is both salutary and frightening.
It is salutary because in its best forms it is infinitely to be preferred over the assumed philosophical materialism that governs many people, not only in the western world but in many other parts as well. It is salutary wherever it represents a self-conscious rebellion against the profound sense of unreality that afflicts many churches. We speak of “knowing” and “meeting with” and “worshiping” the living God, but many feel that the corporate exercises are perfunctory and inauthentic, and in their quietest moments they wonder what has gone wrong.

 
It is frightening because “spirituality” has become such an ill-defined, amorphous entity that it covers all kinds of phenomena an earlier generation of Christians, more given to robust thought than is the present generation, would have dismissed as error, or even as “paganism” or “heathenism.” Today “spirituality” is an applause-word—that is, the kind of word that is no sooner uttered than everyone breaks out in applause. In many circles it functions in the spiritual realm the way “apple pie” functions in the culinary realm: Who is bold enough to offer a caution, let alone a critique?

Carson is just the man to do so.

22
Mar
12

philosophy and christian faith

It was the Church Father Tertullian who famously asked, ‘What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?’  He meant that human philosophy has nothing in common with the revealed faith of Christianity.  In this he merely echoed the sentiments of the apostle Paul some 150 years previously.

The Colossian church was plagued by a heresy that was a hydran mixture of philosophy (human wisdom) mysticism (human spirituality) and Judaism (human religiosity).  Paul writes to the church to attack this hydra’s three malevolent heads.  The first of these is philosophy.  Paul is adamant that human philosophy has no place in Christian faith.

Col 2:8-10 (ESV)
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.

This is the only direct reference to philosophy in Scripture and it is hardly positive.  Elsewhere Paul speaks pejoratively of the ‘wisdom of this world’ which presumably includes philosophy, especially as the wisdom he refers to is specifically Greek.

I find it strange that some commentators (by no means all) claim that Paul’s disparaging of ‘philosophy’ has no reference to Greek philosophy or philosophy generally, but merely to ideas current in C1 cults and mystery religions.   It may well be to these cults that Paul refers (though this is by no means certain), however, even if this is so, the ideas current in these cults were simply drawn from the wider philosophical milieu.  The theosophic (gnostic) speculation Paul denounces, that matter was intrinsically evil and therefore the body should be denied in aspiring to spiritual enlightenment,  has a clear straight line to the major Greek platonic philosophies that denigrated the material world associating it with lesser gods or demiurge.  Paul pulls the feet from this Hellenistic dualism when he says of Christ, ‘in him dwelt the fulness of the Godhead bodily‘; incarnation makes a mockery of platonic wisdom.

We should not doubt that Scripture does not look on human philosophies benignly.  They are part of the world that crucified Christ.  Pilate’s plaque above the cross was in Greek, as well as Latin and Aramaic; the cross is the moral measure of human wisdom.  Had the rulers of this world  true wisdom they would not have crucified the Lord of glory (1 Cor 2:8).   God, in the cross, destroyed the wisdom of the wise (1 Cor 1:19).  He exposed it for the empty vain thing it is.  The Lord knows that the wisdom of the wise is futile (1 Cor 3:20). He revealed too its intrinsic animosity to himself since it indicts God’s wisdom in the cross as foolishness (1 Cor 1:22,23).  Human learning (in itself a good thing) is corrupt because it is the product of  a world hostile to God and blinded by the god of this world; can a bad tree produce good fruit?  Human wisdom springs from death and can only produce death; it arises from darkness and can only result in darkness.  It is little different from false religion.  It has no route to God and sheds no light on God.

Nowhere is the mind independent of God more obvious than in philosophical pursuit.  Philosophy is the pursuit of understanding (wisdom) apart from divine revelation.  The venture is from the outset rebellious folly destined to fail.  It assumes the capability of autonomous reason to arrive at truth and does not submit to God’s truth.   It is intellectual hubris.  Little wonder Paul associates philosophy with ‘vain deceit’.

And it is vain in both senses of the word (futile and self-regarding).  Ancient Greece with its extolling of human reason is considered the cradle of civilization.   The humanism that tells us ‘man is the centre of all things’  finds its philosophical roots there.  In human reason the ascent of man was believed to lie.  Philosophy and learning was and is considered refining and elevating.  Philosophy, it was claimed, enabled one to rise above the moral degeneracy of the age.  The trouble is the philosophers themselves all too often gave the lie to this.  They judged the morality of others yet did the same things themselves (Roms 2:1).  Moreover the philosophical assumption that matter was evil produced all kinds of lascivious behaviour.  Education makes clever people, not good people, and certainly not holy people.

Paul is clear, the only wisdom that elevates the human spirit above itself and empowers for godliness is the risen reigning Christ.  In him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (not in philosophy).  We are elevated and enriched when we set our minds on things above where Christ is (Col 3:1,2).  Neither Pythagoras,  Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Nietzsche, Hume, Voltaire, Camus, nor whoever, is the wisdom of God: Christ alone is the wisdom of God.  None of these add a whit to him nor to what believers have in him: we are complete in Christ.  Philosophy does not commend, compliment or complete Christ; it corrupts Christ.  It flows from a different stream altogether.

This truth, however, is not  universally recognised.  Over the centuries Christians have argued whether philosophy and the Christian faith were friends or enemies.  Some like Tertullian rightly saw it as an enemy, others, like Augustine of Hippo, as a friend.  Where philosophy was treated as a friend syncretism and confusion  soon followed (Augustine tried to synthesize Greek and Hebrew thought). Why not make the scandal of the cross more agreeable to  the wise and great?  Why not engraft to the Galilean faith the common sense of Aristotle or the wisdom of Plato?  The Middle Ages show what a disaster such a venture was. Soon philosophy buried the gospel; human reasoning and biblical faith have nothing in common around which to unite so one must occlude the other.  Philosophy caters to human pride while the message of the cross crushes it.  Faith repudiates philosophy, not only as a rival but as an ally; it rests only on God’s Word; it accepts that Word as absolute and exclusive.  Yet today, our universities again side with Augustine and indeed go further.  Theology and philosophy are often the same faculty.  The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy writes in 2002,

In the last forty years, however, philosophers of religion have returned to the business of theorizing about many of the traditional doctrines of Christianity and have begun to apply the tools of contemporary philosophy in ways that are somewhat more eclectic than what was envisioned under the Augustinian or Thomistic models. In keeping with the recent academic trend, contemporary philosophers of religion have been unwilling to maintain hard and fast distinctions between the two disciplines. As a result, it is often difficult in reading recent work to distinguish what the philosophers are doing from what the theologians (and philosophers) of past centuries regarded as strictly within the theological domain. Indeed, philosophers and theologians alike are now coming to use the term “analytic theology” to refer to theological work that aims to explore and unpack theological doctrines in a way that draws on the resources, methods, and relevant literature of contemporary analytic philosophy. The use of this term reflects the heretofore largely unacknowledged reality that the sort of work now being done under the label “philosophical theology” is as much theology as it is philosophical.

This is profoundly worrying for the future.  It means all Christian theology is approached from a humanistic perspective and not as divine revelation; Athens has captured Jerusalem.  What kind of theological training will our best evangelical minds receive in our universities?  How far will evangelical colleges and seminaries eager for academic recognition and accreditation capitulate to this paradigm?  Does Evangelical theology (a theology submissive to revelation) have a future? I fear the collapse of faith will be profound. (See comment by John Frame here.)

Alongside this marriage, aiding and abetting, is the popular evangelical slogan that ‘all truth is God’s truth’.  Its roots are Augustinian though it was popularised in a book of the same title by Christian philosopher Arthur F Holmes.  As someone wrote of Holmes,

Throughout his writings and career, Holmes emphasized that, indeed, “all truth is God’s truth.” His desire was for Christians to not shy away from the difficult questions that may arise from whatever subject of academic study they choose. With a firm belief that any truth they find can be reconciled with their faith, Holmes challenged educators and Christians in academia to grapple with what they are interested in, noting that a strong faith can handle some turbulence while coming to a better understanding of God’s creation.’

However, Holmes’ statement, while from a philosophical perspective true is from a biblical perspective untrue.  It is untrue for its definition of truth is not biblical.  We should be clear that Scripture views truth as EXCLUSIVELY special revelation. God’s Word alone is truth.  Indeed, Christ alone is the truth.  He is not part of the truth but the whole.  There is no truth missing in Christ that needs supplemented by philosophy.

Further, truth, biblically considered, is unitary.  It is a whole.  Truth is either ‘truth’ or ‘the truth’, it is never ‘a truth’.  It is a revelation of things as they really are and as they are in relation to each other.  Thus Christ reveals God as he really is.  He reveals humanity as it really is (humanity’s true state is exposed at the cross).   But Scripture never calls the wisdom of the world ‘truth’, far less ‘the truth’.  Rather the wisdom of the world (whatever it may be) and the wisdom of God always stand in opposition.    In fact, the world is opposed to truth in its biblical sense.  In hatred, it crucified the one who spoke truth and was the embodiment of truth.  Jesus said,

John 8:42-47 (ESV)
Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” 

The whole world lies in the evil one who is the father of lies; it loves lies and hates the truth.  It will not come to the light because its deeds are evil (Jn 3:19).  It cannot receive the Spirit because he is the ‘Spirit of truth’ (Jn 14:17).  Truth in Scripture is ever a spiritual reality, revealed to spiritual people by the Spirit.

1Cor 2:2-14 (ESV)
For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.  Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”- these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.  The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

It is blasphemy to suggest that those who hate the truth can complete the truth that God himself declares He has already revealed in its completion in Christ through his Spirit.   The natural man receives not the things of God.  Only he that is of God hears God’s words (John 8:47). Philosophy and human learning give no spiritual insight, they cannot, they are ‘of the world not the Father’.  Mere factual knowledge that is true is not truth in any biblical sense of the word.  Holmes, in his bid to marry philosophy and faith deferred to a philosophical definition of truth rather than a biblical one.  This is a parable in itself; when united, philosophy will always trump revelation.

I understand why Holmes argued as he did.  He wished to make it easier for Christians to engage positively in the various disciplines of learning.  However, by adopting this ‘philosophical’ definition of truth (opposed to the revelatory definition) he fostered (unwittingly) an engagement with learning which is not nearly critical and suspicious enough.  I am by no means suggesting that Christians must not engage in the learning process or that they ought not study philosophy (see here for helpful advice for those who do).  Daniel was skilled in all the learning of Babylon. Paul was clearly well-educated.  Providentially, God in his goodness has allowed knowledge to flourish.  Developing human knowledge was always part of his creational intent (Prov 25:2). Thankfully, conscience prevents human reasoning and thinking degenerating as far as it may otherwise do (although fallen reason is always trying to neutralise conscience).     Human learning is valuable in many ways but only when we know its limits and its nature.  I am not suggesting that we despise knowledge.

What I am suggesting is that we must engage in education convinced of a clear divide between human learning and biblical truth.  We ought not to attempt to marry the two or blur distinctions. Nor should we consider human learning innocuous and value-free.  Its source insists otherwise.  We should approach it with our antennae well-attuned.  We should never be enthralled by it, beguiled by it, or in love with it; a critical mind and vigilance is vital. Christ, not human learning, is the object of the Christian’s love and captivation.  Christ, who is foolishness to the world, for the believer is the truth that elevates, frees, feeds, matures and thralls.

If our faith is philosophically-focussed rather than Christ-focussed we are losing touch with the head.  I have known a number of people who love Christian philosophy and apologetics  They enjoy debate, reflection, reasoning, and speculation.  They love Augustine or Thomas or Kierkegaard or Tillich or Lewis or Ellul or Schaeffer but sometimes it’s not clear they love Christ and what Paul calls ‘the truth as it is in Jesus’ (Eph 4:21).  Philosophy is not Christ and to love abstractions is not to love Christ; Christ is a person seated in heaven on whom the eyes of faith are fixed.

In conclusion, philosophically (wisdom-perspective-wise) our world aind its learnng is opposed to God and cannot be otherwise.  If anyone  thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.  Our faith is at every point an affront to human wisdom, is spiritually independent of it, and complete in Christ without it.   Philosophy belongs to the world not Christ.  Let Paul’s words, quoted at the commencement of this post, be the final word.

Col 2:8 (ESV)
See to it that no one takes you captive [kidnaps you] by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

03
Mar
12

lent…or the ashes of judaism that deface christianity

intro

Lent is the forty days before Easter in the Christian liturgical Calendar.  It starts with Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Thursday.  It is traditionally celebrated in the West by Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Anglicans.  Until fairly recently, for most evangelicals, the very hint of liturgical calendars and days like ‘Ash Wednesday’ and ‘Holy Thursday’ would have been enough for them to run a million miles.  No longer.  Liturgical calendars are de rigueur.  Evangelicals are outing as ‘liturgy-men’ and proud of it.  Celebrating Lent is where it is at in modern spirituality.  A cursory glance at many evangelical websites will make this plain.   Goodness, even Michael Horton has jumped on the bandwagon.  Everyone’s loving lent.

Have conservative evangelicals got it wrong all these years?  Have they been too strict, too stuffy, and too legalistic (an ironic claim in this context if ever there was one)?  Do we need to invest in the ‘Big Tradition’ and rediscover these disciplines?  I guess, my tone in writing so far will reveal where I stand on this issue.  I am appalled at how casually evangelicals are buying into traditions that are essentially Judaistic and sub-Christian.  At best these are a pointless distraction but the reality is much worse; they are actually an indulgence of ‘fleshly’ religion which draws away from Christ.  Strong words, I know.  Not likely to please many.  Such sentiments will be castigated as intolerant and narrow-minded for sure.

Let me say, at the outset, I don’t mean to be unkind or harsh.  As Brian McLaren would protest, how can a mild-mannered guy like me ever be misunderstood in this kind of way?  In fact, if Lenten-men were simply those who have observed it for centuries then I probably would have said nothing.  However, when those who were traditionally free from this kind of childishness (a word I shall later justify), even slavery (another word I shall endeavour to defend), begin to lapse into religious shadows that in Christ are fulfilled and abandoned, I feel compelled to protest.  I am jealous that Christ is being lost in the paraphernalia of human religiosity.  Indeed, all who grasp what it is to be a believer who has died and risen with Christ ought to be jealous for Christ’s glory and care deeply when they see believers submitting to what Scripture calls ‘weak and worthless elements‘  and being enslaved by them (Gals 4:8).

Paul writes, in a context closely allied to the matter in question (rites, rituals and regulations),

Gal 3:1-5 (ESV)
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain-if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith.

The Galatian Judaizers were advocating Christ plus the Mosaic Law, and especially its emphasis on rites (Gals 5:2, 6:12), purity laws (Gal 2: 11), and liturgical calendars (Gal 4:10).  For Paul, the whole methodology and minutiae of the Law, symbolised in circumcision, was addressed to man in the flesh and not the Spirit; it is a methodology (a religion) for flesh (Gals 3:3, 4:21-31; 6:12) that is fulfilled and finished in Christ.  It is my conviction that adopting liturgical calendars, special festivals, dietary laws, symbols of penance and self-humiliation, and bodily self-denial rites as an end in themselves or as part of a religious calendar is to embrace the old covenant of law as a means of relationship with God and is seriously regressive in our walk with God (whatever protests are made to the contrary).  When the Christians of Galatia are tempted to do this, Paul says, ‘I am afraid I have laboured over you in vain‘ (Gals 4:11).  In accepting these principles of law ‘Christ will be no advantage to them‘ (Gals 5:2).  Thus the Galatians are urged,

Gal 5:1 (ESV)
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery

Of course, those evangelicals who advocate Christian Calendars are at pains to point out that liturgical observances do not save.  They do not affect our justification or standing before God.  Nor are they to be imposed as a rule upon the church, but are a matter of Christian freedom.  Indeed, the legalist, it seems, is someone like me who opposes rites and rituals, certainly any promotion of them. I am apparently denying freedom in Christ to those who wish to worship and serve as they wish.  The irony is rich.  For, of course, it is precisely those who promote such practices that Paul regards as legalists.  Indeed it must be so, for they are promoting OT law not NT gospel; if you promote law you are ipso facto a legalist.

no nt mandate

Show me one text from the NT epistles teaching that Christians should live by religious calendars, or dietary laws, or observe special feasts, or abstain from foods, and so on.  It cannot be done.  Such rules and regulations in the NT are conspicuous by their absence, which is singularly odd because one would expect that if such disciplines are so helpful  the NT would be replete with exhortations to pursue them.  But it is not, for they are not (helpful).  The silence of Scripture here is deafening.

They do not ‘save’, their evangelical protagonists agree.  Yet, if this is so, and it is, why commend them?  If I can grow in my Christian life fully without religious rules and rituals, and I clearly can since the NT never advocates them, then what is their purpose?  Moreover, we should not be so confident that these ‘disciplines’ will remain a matter of ‘freedom’ in the consciences of those who embrace them.  The witness of history and Scripture is against this.  What begins as voluntary soon becomes established tradition and finally binding truth.  Whatever we give ourselves to we become slaves to (Roms 6:16).

It is little wonder Paul is so opposed.  He has great patience and sympathy with people who have been converted from legalistic religion.  He bears with weak consciences in Jewish converts who cannot feel free to eat certain meats etc.  He knows it can take time for these consciences to find their full freedom in the gospel (Roms 14,15).  Yet he is in no doubt that these consciences are ‘weak’.  They are not gospel-trained consciences fully aware of their freedom (from religious legalistic observances) in Christ.  However, while he bears with weak consciences, he has no patience for those who promote and teach the value of ritualism to others.  He is opposed to this root and branch and challenges any teaching that suggests or imposes such practices.  There is simply no freedom given in the NT to promote and champion Judaistic practices however ‘Christianized’.  The reality is, that there is no such thing as ‘Christianized’ Judaism (or at least the only version is its fulfilment and finish in Christ) only ‘Judaized’ Christianity.

Some of the above is contention I have not yet proved.  Let me regroup before engaging.

I am opposing religious calendars, man-made rules, and religious rites for holiness for two reasons:

  • because the NT nowhere recommends or suggests them for the life of godliness.
  • because the NT actually opposes them and suggests they deflect us from Christ.

I have made the case for my first contention, follow me as I now make the case more fully for my second contention: the NT actually opposes them and suggests they deflect from Christ.

colossians 2:1-3:4

The key NT text refuting calendars and man-made religious disciplines for holiness is Colossians 2/3.  I urge you to read this text carefully and prayerfully.  It is a clear and powerful criticism of all attempts to introduce religious ritualism into Christianity.  Below, I want to outline its main thrust and thesis.

christianity is christ

Paul’s central and vital point in this chapter  (and in Colossians as a whole) is that Christianity is essentially a relationship with Christ by faith.  Everything that matters is found in Christ alone.  Christ is supreme (Col 1:15-21).  God’s great revealed secret, hidden in the past (in OT events, figures etc) is Christ (2:2).  In Him, lie all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (2:3).  Further this revealed secret is that Christ lives in God’s people (1:27).  This union between Christ and his people is the sum of what the gospel and Christianity is all about.  As Paul writes,

Col 2:6-7 (ESV)
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught…

Living in our union with Christ is the be-all-and-end-all of Christianity.  We are ‘filled’  or ‘complete’ in Him, the one in whom God’s fullness dwells (2:9,10).  We have no more than Christ and need no more than Christ.  Indeed there is no more than Christ (Col 1:15-19).  Paul reminds us too that this union is a union of death and resurrection.  That is, to be united to Christ is to participate (by faith and through the Spirit) in the death and resurrection of Christ (2:8-11).  Like Christ we have died to this world (and so, as we shall see, to all its religious observances) and live in resurrection life to God.  Our ‘life is hid with Christ in God’ (Cols 3:3).  This means that Christ in heaven is the source, story and raison d’etre of our life.  We find and enjoy life as we set our affections on Christ in heaven.  As we put to death what is earthly (living for the things of this world as well as the sins of this world) and set our minds and hearts on the invisible world perceived only by faith we triumph in faith.  This, and this alone, enables us to grow in grace.  In this way alone ( looking to Christ in heaven and putting to death what is earthly) are we, ‘filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,  so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.’ (Col 1:9,10).

This is what it means to be ‘connected to the head’ (Cf 2:19).  To live other than by the faith union that puts to death what is earthy and lives by a heart absorbed with Christ in heaven is to fail to ‘hold fast to the head’ (2:19) and results in being ‘disqualified’ (2:8); or, in Galatian language,in being ‘severed from Christ’ (Gals 5:4).  It should be obvious that if we look elsewhere other than to Christ as the source of our life and power we are cutting the link of faith.   Only by a conscious living in, looking at, and living for Christ can we become ‘mature in Christ’ (Col 1:28).

false routes

Paul does not urge that the Colossians live in Christ in a vacuüm.  He writes because some were teaching otherwise.

Col 2:4 (ESV)
I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments...

syncretism

What precisely the Colossian heresy was need not concern us here.  Scholars delight in discussing such matters but rarely reach final conclusions.  In any case, the main components are clear and it is these that interest us.  It was a mixture of philosophy (2:8), mysticism (2:18) and Judaism (2:8, 11, 14, 16,17).  Singly, and as a whole Paul is opposed to these influences on Christian life and practice.  He says they ‘delude’ (2:4) for they are based on ‘plausible arguments’ (2:4).  They appear to promote sanctity (2:23) yet are merely ‘empty deceit… human tradition… elemental spirits of the world… having an appearance of wisdom… self-made religion… things on earth… not according to Christ’ and more  (Col 2:8, 20-23, 3:2).  Paul will have no syncretism of Christ and anything else.

Now, we should underline that what Paul is dismissing is not merely philosophy (what has Athens to do with Jerusalem) and mysticism (what has Eleusis to do with Jerusalem) but also Judaism or the Law (what has Sinai to do with Jerusalem, or better, the New Jerusalem ).  For many this dismissal of Law in Christianity is a bridge too far.  I confess, I do not really understand why.  Paul is consistent and clear in his proclamation that Christians are not ‘under law’ (Roms 6:15; 7:1-6; Gals 4:21; 5:18; 1 Cor 9:20).  While Christians can learn from the Old Covenant as we see how it points to Christ, we are in no way obligated to it.  It has no rights over us or claims upon us.  We are not called to obey it, nor to adopt it in any way.  In fact, we are told that there is a basic incompatibility between the forms of Judaistic Law and Gospel Christianity.  Jesus makes it clear that the gospel cannot be contained in the old forms of religion that belonged to law.

Mark 2:21-22 (ESV)
No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins-and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.” 

passé

This is vital to grasp.  Paul tells us the difference is profound; the law belongs to the old age and old world while the church belongs to the new age and new world.  It is those ‘alive in this world’ to whom the rules and regulations of law (moral, religious or otherwise) are of any relevance (Col 2:20). But Christians are not ‘alive’ in this world they have ‘died’ (2:11, 3:3) and they live in an age beyond this age and a world beyond this world.  They ought not to ‘submit’ (whether voluntarily or involuntarily) to regulations that belong to human religion (2:20) for they belong to an age which is passé.

earthly

This temporal distinction between the present and the future is tied into a spacial distinction between what is ‘earthly’ and what is ‘heavenly’ in Scripture.  This latter distinction is one that many modern evangelicals are reluctant to admit.  Yet it is clear and vital.  It is part of the distinction between the old and the new, the law and the gospel.  Jesus is ‘from above‘ and brings in a reality that is ‘from above’ (Jn 3:31; 8:23).  ‘Earthly’ things were revealed in the OT but as the one from heaven he reveals ‘heavenly things‘ (Jn 3:12).  Because he is from heaven he returns to heaven and on his return unites his people to him there.  We find our identity not in the earthly Adam but the heavenly Christ, not in the natural but the spiritual (1 Cor 15:45-49).  As a result we are a ‘heavenly people’ (Eph 1:20; 2:6) and our interests are to do with the realm where Christ our life is found (Gals 4:26; Col 3:1,2; Hebs 3:1; 11:6; 12:2).  The Law and its forms are ‘earthly’ and part of the elementary principles of ‘this world’.  They are merely an earthly copy or shadow of heavenly things (Hebs 8:5; 9:23). Thus they have nothing to do with the believer who is not ‘alive in this world’ but shares the resurrection life of Christ, a spiritual and heavenly life (Col 2:8-11).  This distinction is wrongly dismissed as dualistic and gnostic by some who should know better.  It is not.  It is the plain teaching of Scripture.  Ritual and rite are not merely passé but also unable to lift the soul above this world.  They cannot remove us from the realm of ‘flesh’.

fleshly, childish, enslaving, and inadequate

The law is Judaism. It belongs to the first creation, the earthly, the natural, this world.  It is called by Paul ‘the elemental spirits of the world’ (2:8).  Paul similarly describes the law in Galatians. He writes,

Gal 4:1-5 (ESV)

I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

His point is that Law, as a religion, functions much like a ‘disciplinarian’ or ‘nanny’.  These are hired to oversee children and in the past were expected to do so with firm discipline; they did not so much teach as control.  Law as the above text points out treated those under it as infants, as childish.

Although God-given, it was given to man in the ‘flesh’ (Roms 7:1-6; Gals 3:3; Cf Hebs 7:16; 9:13,14).  It was a ‘religion’ that attempted to curtail and curb human behaviour by external rules and religious regulations but it could dig no deeper.  It could not change hearts.  It could not give life (though it promised it for obedience) and it could not produce holiness.  When Israel was exiled the failure of law to influence flesh was proved.  This is why Paul says of law and all religion that is about undertaking rules, regulations, ritualistic restrictions that it are ‘of no value in preventing the indulgence of the flesh‘.  Mark these words well for they are very important.  However, holy and virtuously self-denying many rites and rituals seem to be THEY ARE OF NO VALUE IN PREVENTING THE INDULGENCE OF THE FLESH.   They may deny the body but they could not curb ‘the flesh’, that Adamic nature we have so opposed to God.  This is true of the rites not only of the law or Judaism but of every other religion.  In fact, from this perspective, Paul puts the Law or Judaism on the same level playing field as all other religions.  They all are elementary or rudimentary.  Paul tells the gentile Galatian believers who are being encouraged by Judaizers to embrace the Jewish Law that they would be as well going back to their old pagan religions for the law was no more effectual than they.

Gal 4:8-11 (ESV)
Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain. 

Let the force of this sink in.  In Galatians, Paul uses two plural pronoun groups, ‘we’ and ‘you’.  ‘We’ applies to Jewish believers and ‘you’ to gentile believers.  In Ch 4:1-5 he speaks of ‘we’.  We Jews, he observes, were enslaved to the law (the elemental principles of the world). In 4-8-11 the gentiles were enslaved to their false religions; however, if having being freed from these they now embrace the Law then this is tantamount to a return to their old religions; they are turning back to ‘weak and worthless elementary principles of the world’ and to slavery once again.  Paul’s comparison shocks and is intended so to do.

It is impossible to read Gals 3:21 – 4-11 and avoid the conclusion that those who submit (freely or otherwise) to the law and its ordinances are regressing to what is childish and enslaving.  They believe they are embracing something new and exciting, something progressive and fresh, something that may help them to be holy and godly, but actually they are embracing what is weak, worthless and inferior.  Satan’s sardonic irony as he deludes is keen.

Neither human philosophy nor religious mysticism, nor rites, nor ascetic practices enable us to grow in grace.  None enables us to know God.  It’s no good claiming that these regulations were Jewish rather than Christian rules and regulations.  Jewish regulations and rites were God-ordained religious observances (indeed the only God-ordained ones) and pointed to Christ but they were merely shadows not the substance (2:17).  The substance was Christ.  If we want shadows of the gospel rather than the substance then Jewish ceremonies is the way to go.  None we invent improves on those God gave.  But Paul’s criticism is not of this or that particular liturgical calendar.  It is not specific Jewish days, months and sabbaths to which he objects (though sabbaths clearly shows these were law-based since none but Jews had sabbaths).  It is not certain diets and ascetic techniques he objected to.  He objects to the whole methodology per se.  The methodology was passé, earth-bound, childish,enslaving and inadequate.  Methodologically these rituals were of no value in preventing the indulgence of the flesh.  Indeed, they did the very thing that was the problem – they focussed on the flesh.  Law in any shape or form does not deny flesh, it excites it and promotes it (Roms 7).

Law and all human religion focus on the flesh and have confidence in it (Phil 3:3,4)  This is Paul’s constant criticism of the Judaizers.  They focussed on flesh, whether its status (Phil 3:2-5) or its performance (Phil 3:6).  Circumcision (the symbol of the Judaizers) was all about the flesh (Phil 3:2; Gals 6:12).  For Paul, circumcision epitomised the flesh because it was circumcision of the body and not the heart.  It is what a man did to himself and for himself.  In this circumcision was an appropriate symbol of law which was essentially a covenant of works, of human achieving.  The gospel, by contrast, is ‘circumcision without hands‘ that is, it is by and of God not man (Col 2:11).  The circumcision of the gospel happens at the cross when we die with Christ to the law and its ordinances (Col 2:14).   It is an act of God that removes all human involvement and so all human boasting.

We need to see that self-denial programmes of ‘touch not, taste not and handle not’ are fusty and futile.  The Law and Judaism was full of such prohibitions at certain times in the religious calendar yet they did no good whatever; the nation that had the law crucified its Messiah.  Indeed, Messiah himself teaches that it is not what goes into a man (the food he chooses to eat or not to eat) that defiles but what comes out of his heart (Matt 15:1-20).

Artificially imposed times and programmes of repentance and ascetic self-denial and the like all focus on self.   If we succeed they puff us up with pride and if we fail we feel defeated.   Nowadays they tend to be about giving up chocolates or alcohol or some other luxury related to the body.  For those more serious about their faith they may mean self-imposed severe bodily deprivation.  But whether the dilettante denials of the modern evangelical or the more serious denials of the older ascetics the result is the same – no effect in restraining the indulgence of the flesh, merely a means of focus on it (Cols 2:23).  Flesh (fallen human nature) loves to act piously (and to be seen to do so either by others or self).  It loves to appear humble and focus on its achievements, religious or otherwise. So rather than subduing the flesh these ‘ordinances’ satisfy the flesh. Thus they are not merely passé, earth-bound, infantile and futile, but counter-productive.  In addition,and perhaps most damning of all, they utterly fail to come to terms with the position of a believer in Christ.   Those who promote them have not grasped that growth in holiness is not by looking at self and undertaking various ascetic disciplines but by looking away from self and focussing on an exalted reigning Christ.

christianity is christ

What draws me away from the world and focus on self is not my body on earth but Christ in heaven.  As I love him, look at him, live in him (and he in me) then I have the power to put to death what is earthly.  It is the expulsive power of a new affection.  Christ, and only Christ, is our wisdom, justification, sanctification, and redemption (1 Cor 1:29).  Holding fast to the head is the only means of grace (Col 2:19).  The moment I put something else between, whatever shape this may assume, I am not holding fast to the head.  The hallmark of the ‘true circumcision’ is simply this- ‘it rejoices in Jesus Christ and makes no provision for the flesh‘ (Phil 3:3).  The question for all of us is simply, is Christ all?.  If Christ is not all then there is no maturity, only flesh.  Fathers in the faith (the spiritually mature) are recognised by this – they ‘know him who is from the beginning’ (1 John 2:14).  Paul’s cry of spiritual maturity is for Christ and yet more of Christ (Phil 3:8-16).  He did not want types and shadows, rules and religious observances; he wanted Christ.  He recognised in Christ he had everything and without him he had nothing.  The heart of a believer is satisfied and enraptured only by Christ.  In him, we have, ‘all things that pertain to life and godliness‘ (2 Pet 1:3).  Toplady is one among many who has expressed this in hymn.

Compared with CHRIST, in all beside
No comeliness I see;
The one thing needful, dearest LORD,
Is to be one with Thee.
Whatever else Thy will withholds,
Here grant me to succeed!
O let Thyself my portion be,
And I am blest indeed!
 
Loved of my GOD, for Him again
With love intense I burn;
Chosen of Thee ere time began,
I choose Thee in return!
Less than Thyself will not suffice
My comfort to restore;
More than Thyself I cannot have;
And Thou canst give no more.

to summarise

Allow me to once again briefly regroup.

Liturgical calendars with their special seasons and ceremonies are not progress but regress.  They represent a spiritual nose-dive.  Far from maturing, they are a regression to the childish and enslaving.  They do not lead to Christ but detract from Christ.  They are for those in the flesh and not life in the Spirit.  They limit our horizon to earth and do not raise our gaze to heaven.  I have every sympathy for believers raised in churches where Judaistic rites and rituals are taught.  Their consciences should be sensitively considered.  However, I have little sympathy with those who should know better.  I have little patience for evangelicals who have been free of such bondage yet now in the conceit of what they fondly call Christian freedom wish to promote and encourage what is weak and enslaving.  Such teaching receives stiff opposition from Paul (Col 2) and ought to be opposed by all who love freedom in Christ.

Let me say again that freedom in Christ does not mean freedom to worship as we please. Freedom in Christ is freedom to worship in spirit and truth.  It is freedom to live in Christ not shadows. There are forms of worship that are neither helpful nor appropriate for they lead us away from Christ; they disconnect us with the head.  They do not lead us into freedom in Christ but into slavery.  Such forms are neither commanded, commended nor condoned by the NT (Col 2).  That some who profess to be teachers of God’s people do not see this is culpably irresponsible.  We may rightly ask them as Jesus did Nicodemus: are you a teacher in Israel and do not know this?

My heart-felt appeal to my brothers and sisters in Christ is – do not be ‘bewitched’ by them.

a final comment

What then are we to make of fasting?  Doesn’t the NT promote fasting?  And for that matter, what about baptism and the Lord’s Supper?  Are not these ordinances?  These are good questions and I hope to address them.  But not in this post.  This post is already far too long.  I will try to address these questions in the next post.  For the moment, let me say simply this: whatever our questions, don’t allow these to undermine or relativize the plain NT teaching we have explored so far.  To exhort in a specific context: do not choke the living flame of the gospel with the Lenten ashes of Judaism.




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The Cave promotes the Christian Gospel by interacting with Christian faith and practice from a conservative evangelical perspective.

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