Majesty of God in Creation
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[Delivered 12/7.]
Read aloud just Psalm 8:1 - "O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!"

This is also 8:9. The words are possibly repeated for the sake of emphasis. In considering the wonders of creation, our thoughts should consider above all the greatness of the Creator.

Those who hold high office are sometimes called "excellency" or "majesty". So in the works of creation we have a revelation of God as "His Majesty", the great King.
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How to Grow in Wisdom
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[Delivered 12/5.]
Read Luke 2:52 - this is one of the few details we are told about Jesus' early days. Jesus Christ grew in wisdom as He grew in height.

This was not something that Jesus could do only because of being God, the Son of God who became a man. Because, the same sort of thing is said about young Samuel in 1 Samuel 2:26.

Proverbs 3:1-4 explains how Jesus and Samuel grew in wisdom - resulting in increasing favor with God and man. The key thing is explained in verse 3, which speaks of mercy and truth as character traits, attitudes. Now by mercy is meant a forgiving attitude - we hope to be forgiven by God, shouldn't we be forgiving to others? And truth here is faithfulness, being reliable and keeping to what you say you will do for others. We hope that God will be faithful to His promises, shouldn't we be faithful to ours?

Pray that we also may be characterized by these attitudes, and so grow in wisdom, and in favor with God and man.

Watchfulness is Needed
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[Delivered 12/4.]
Read 2 John 8, but mainly read aloud Revelation 3:1-3. Hearing the word of God requires watchfulness - watchfulness is looking out for things.

What is it we are called to look out for? Think about it a little. It says "Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die...". Look out for where you are growing weak. We've had a Christian life in the past, but now are we getting weaker (for example) in prayer? In praising God and being thankful?

Where we have grown weak, we need God's help through Christ to grow strong again: "... be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might." (Ephesians 6:10).

Pray for God's help in being watchful about where we've grown weak, and to grow strong again.

Bible Books
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This post is not a particular family worship study that I presented. Instead, here is an idea in general that you may find helpful: Do one (or at most two) night introductions to Bible books. That's at least 66 topics for family worship.

But you need to do this in such a way that it is not boring. Perhaps you have experienced (as I have) that the first in a sequence of sermons/lessons on a Bible book (in church or Sunday School) can be incredibly boring. The teacher forgets (in introducing a specific book of the Bible) that his audience is not ministerial students; but the people of God, hungry for the word of life. (At family worship, I am not in danger of falling into of this mistake. If either of my children announced they were headed for seminary to study for the ministry, I would likely die of shock.)

To introduce a Bible book in family worship: put the book of the Bible you choose into its historical context with just a few remarks: who wrote it (if known) and when; why it was written; what sort of teaching you can find in it.

Then go right to a characteristic passage, a verse or a few verses from the particular book that helps introduce what the book is like. So, your presentation is much like your usual ones for family worship - but by the characteristic passage you are introducing your family to a specific Bible book, and showing how they could find the book helpful for their walk with Christ.

In the future, some blog posts will be tagged "introducing book" (as this one is) if they are a Bible book introduction used in our family worship.

Daniel Approved by God
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[Delivered 12/3.]
Read Daniel 6. This is a somewhat long chapter and children already know the story "Daniel in the Lions' Den", so just read aloud about half the chapter and briefly summarize the rest. But for this time, be sure what you read aloud includes 6:6-9 and 6:19-23. A future blog post or two will return to this chapter for additional spiritual food.

This is a well-known Bible passage, full of danger and adventure. But tonight we will go into a detail that might be skipped when this is told to little children.

Do you see the point of 6:9? What Daniel did, in worshiping the one true God, was illegal according to the highest law of the land. But he obeyed God rather than man.

Now 6:22 is striking. Although men said Daniel was a guilty criminal and would put him to death, God said Daniel was innocent (or, "blameless"); and Daniel had done nothing wrong even against his earthly ruler. Make no mistake - in today's world if you confess that your highest loyalty is to the Lord Jesus Christ, worldly men will reject you, as they rejected Daniel. But it is better to be accepted by God.

Let's pray that we would learn from the example of this servant of God, Daniel. May the Lord give us the grace to serve Him continually (like Daniel); and be blameless in His sight in Jesus' name.

How Gods Are Made
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[Delivered 12/2.]
Read Isaiah 44:9-19. Strangely enough, this passage explains how gods are made. Not the one true God - He can't be made, because He has always existed. This is how false gods are made out of metal or wood.

Pause when we have read as far as verse 17. Isn't there something wrong with this picture? Isn't it silly to burn half the wood, and worship the other half? That's what verses 18-19 point out. How foolish they are, who make gods to worship! Let us pray to be delivered from such foolishness. We are no better than these pagans apart from the grace of God. Pray that God would deliver us from blindly falling into errors of false religion that would be just as bad.
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Church History Class Notes: Doctrine of the Divinity of Christ
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Earlier this year I taught about the early history of that great Christian doctrine, the Divinity of Christ. In the rest of this post you can find my notes covering this topic.

THE CHURCH DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY - 9/15/13 (Introducing the Council of Nicea (325) and its Theology.)

Prologue. As long as there have been Christians, they have worshiped Christ (as in the letter of Pliny the younger to Emperor Trajan, for example, dated about 112 AD: Christians in Bythinia then, where Pliny served as governor, "were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god"). Yet, there were years of controversy before the church came to an understanding of what this means - to worship Christ.

Why did Constantine become a Christian? Causes known to history:
1. The piety of his mother, Helena. Helena later as dowager empress was a great patron of Christian shrines in the Holy Land.
2. God answered Constantine's prayer for victory just before the battle of Milvian Bridge, 312, at which he defeated a rival contestant for the imperial throne.

The Arian heresy appeared in history first at a 4th century meeting of church leaders in Alexandria. Bishop Alexander asked the clerics assembled for their opinion on certain points of doctrine. It soon became obvious that Arius, a prominent presbyter, favored the idea that Christ was merely a creature, and thus, cannot properly be called "God". But the bishop's right-hand man, the deacon Athanasius, favored the proper divinity of Christ (and this, indeed, was also the confession of Bishop Alexander). This became a dispute threatening the unity of the church throughout the Empire - thus, Constantine convened a council to settle the dispute.

From tertullian.org: Some people seem to think that the council,... [now considered the First Ecumenical Council]  either invented the New Testament, or edited it to remove references to reincarnation (or whatever) or burned large numbers of heretical works, or whatever.  These are in error.

It was not a council of all the Bishops of the Christian Church. It was council of the Eastern half of the Empire (the term "Oikoumenee" connoted the Empire) - Christians beyond the Empire were mostly not represented - and Christians of the Western Empire were represented by just a few delegates. The creed of Nicea is ecumenical in the current sense of the word, not because all Christians were represented there, but due to the general subsequent acceptance of the creed by all Christians.

Yet all of the Empire's bishops were invited, and those who came had their expenses paid. Constantine himself opened the council with imperial splendor - and words of comfort and peace. For the bishops, this was an astounding reversal of fortune, like a dream come true. In that province (Bythinia), about 2 centuries before, Christians had been put to death if discovered. Among the assembled bishops were some who still bore the wounds and scars inflicted upon them by imperial tormentors during the great persecution under Diocletian. Yet here was the heir of all the Caesars, appearing not as their enemy, but their friend and patron. But as the Bible says, "Put no confidence in princes..." (Ps. 146). Bishops would soon learn that a professedly Christian emperor might well not support the true religion, but rather, heresy.

The largest party at the Council of Nicea were "moderates", semi-Arians - who disliked the irreverence of Arius against Christ, but likewise disliked the idea that the Christian faith had to be defined using a term not found in Scripture. Yet, the Emperor Constantine, having heard both sides, favored the Orthodox solution to the dispute. (Orthodox and moderates were clearly the 2 largest parties at the council. The emperor, although no theologian, correctly discerned that the moderate party (with a little imperial pressure) would sign on to the crucial formula that the Son is "of one substance" with the Father.) Thus, the Council seemed to end with Arius' utter humiliation. Only he, and 2 sympathetic bishops out of more than 300 at Nicea, would not sign the document stating the consubstantiality of the Son with the Father. These 3 were banished (secular punishment) and excommunicated (the church's ultimate sanction).

After the council, the Nicene party lost the Emperor's favor and the support of most moderates. Orthodox leaders were often themselves banished, anti-Nicene figures rehabilitated. Fairly soon Constantine even recalled Arius from banishment. In his anti-Nicene bias, some time later Constantine ordered the relevant bishop to receive Arius back into the communion of the church. (Significantly, Arius himself died the night before he was to be received.) It did not help matters that Marcellus of Ancyra, on the Nicene side, proved to be unsound on the distinction of persons in the Trinity. Of this period Jerome wrote: "the world groaned to find itself Arian".

Yet, in the decades after Constantine, the moderate party gradually came to support the Nicene cause. True, the Nicenes used a term not found in Scripture - but so did the Arians, in stating their views. The objection to figures like Marcellus was overcome by a younger generation of Nicene theologians (such as the Cappodocian fathers: Basil and the two Gregories) who stressed the distinctness of the persons of the Trinity as well as the divine unity. Indeed, these younger theologians often had originally been of the moderate party, but in time progressed toward a fully Orthodox position.

Key terms:
"Trinity" - Does not distinguish Orthodoxy from heresy in this era. Every church teacher back then had a doctrine of the Trinity - but many of them taught a doctrine of the Trinity that was heretical.
"of one substance" (consubstantial; Greek, homo-ousios). Against any idea that the Son of God is not really one with the Father.
"begotten, not made". The Arians would only admit a divine sonship that made the Logos (Word) of John 1 merely the first thing God created. Thus, Arians could not agree with this phrase.
"person" (hypostasis). Not used to define the Trinity in the Nicene creed, but used by the fathers of that era to teach that the divinity of Christ, for example, does not mean that every scripture statement about God applies to the person of the Son. The concept here is somewhat analogous to, but not equivalent to, human personality (see next term).
"circumincession" (perichoresis). Used by the fathers of that era to teach that unlike human persons for example, the Persons of the Trinity are not separate individuals. They exist only in union with each other; they are One Being.
"economic" versus "ontological" Trinity - in the economy of redemption, the Father sends the Son to be incarnate and die for sinners, to whom redemption is applied by the mission of the Spirit. Now one could ask: is it ONLY in the economy of redemption that there is this distinction of the divine Persons? It is heretical to answer, "yes". Such would be the heresy Sabellianism, for example (as we find in Marcellus of Ancyra) - the view that as revealed in redemption, the divine Persons are merely like alternate roles that the One Being plays - that before creation and redemption, before time, no distinction of persons is possible in the One Divine Being. The Nicene Creed (and scripture) teaches not only the unity of Father and Son (they are One Being, consubstantial) but also the eternal divine sonship of the John 1 Logos or Word - not a divine sonship that only begins in time. Thus, Marcellus erred in confessing an "economic" but not an "ontological" Trinity of Divine Persons.

The creed as approved by Nicea is like that found in the hymnbook, altered as follows.
Put a period after "Holy Spirit" and omit the rest (added by a later council). After that, add:
"But those who say: 'There was when he was not;' and 'He was not before he was made;' and 'He was made out of nothing,' or 'He is of another substance' or 'essence,' or 'The Son of God is created,' or 'changeable,' or 'alterable' - they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic church." (The condemned phrases are all statements that Arius or his followers had made, expressing their heresy.)

The creed as we use it includes the final paragraph ("and in the Holy Spirit, the Lord (literally 'Lordly'), and giver of life...") added by the Second Council (380) to oppose denying the deity of the Holy Spirit - and amended later (Toledo, 581) to assert the Spirit proceeds from Father AND Son. Almost 500 years later the Eastern Orthodox (who had not amended the creed in this way) and Western Catholicism separated on several grounds, including this "and the Son" clause. But it is a fair question to ask whether this difference was more of a pretext to justify schism, rather than the efficient cause (as the two sides had more or less gotten along for several centuries in spite of the difference).

Imperial Politics to the time of Constantine and his successors.
1. There had been more than a century of weak emperors and thus, chronic wars between contenders for the throne. The empire needed a statesman who would fix this problem.
2. Policies of Diocletian, Constantine's great predecessor.
A. unleashed the greatest persecution of the church - saw Christians as endangering the unity of empire. (Note: eventually under Christian emperors, paganism and heresy would be persecuted for similar reasons.)
B. saw the emperorship as too big a job for one man any longer. Split the empire east and west (amicably).
C. attempted to have each emperor succeeded by an apprentice, chosen according to ability not heredity.
D. remaining liberties of the Roman citizenry were more and more eroded. Heavy taxation to support strong defense.
3. Constantine the Great.
A. saw the church as needed to unify the empire (unfortunately, also the reverse).
B. He became sole emperor. With few exceptions, nobody after Constantine could rule both Eastern and Western halves of the Empire - Diocletian was wiser in seeing the need for more than one emperor. But, Constantine agreed to the idea of splitting the Empire into Eastern and Western halves - and founded Constantinople as new Eastern capital.
C. the succession to the emperorship became mostly hereditary (interrupted by occasional coups).
D. in religion the settlement of doctrine at Nicea was his policy; but later in his reign he disapproved of the pro-Nicene creed party as too independent, favored semi-Arianism. Exiled Athanasius.
4. Constantine's sons as his successors usually favored semi-Arianism. By the time of Gregory Nazianus (about 380's), Arians occupied most of the Constantinople city churches. Gregory, although bishop of the city then, had to start with just 1 church for the pro-Nicene party. Constantine's sons exiled Athanasius repeatedly. They also repeatedly convened church councils in their unsuccessful quest to replace the Nicene Creed with a creed according to their policies which the church as a whole would adopt.
5. Julian the Apostate (361-363) was the last pagan emperor, although of course at the time it was not certain he was the last. Would the empire even remain Christian? (It did; public opinion by then was generally unsympathetic to Julian's pagan fanaticism). In keeping with tradition, he exiled Athanasius.
6. Valens (364-378) was the last Arian emperor (he reigned in the East). As the cause of Christianity was helped by Constantine's military victories, so the cause of Arianism in the East suffered a perhaps fatal political blow when Valens lead the Roman legions to annihilation by barbarians at the battle of Adrianople - the worst defeat for the Roman army in centuries. Considering this crushing defeat, it certainly looked like God did not bless Arianism.
7. Valens' successor Theodosius was Orthodox. His policy gave us the final form of the Nicene creed as settled by the Second Ecumenical Council of the church.

How can we say for example that the Father "is not identical to" the Son; yet both the Father "is" God, and the Son "is" God? Isn't this a contradiction?
Answer 1: the Father "is not identical to" the Son because each has a personal property not shared by the other. Only the Son is begotten - obviously not true of the Father, who begets the Son. By contrast, when we say that the Father "is" God, and the Son "is" God - this is "predication", similar to our saying that a chair is mauve-colored. Predication ("the chair is mauve", "the Son is God") states what sort of being we are talking about. In the Trinity 3 Persons each have unique properties, yet they are One Being. (No 3 human persons are so related.)
Answer 2: it is true that even some theologians have thought the Trinity is a contradiction - with the idea that noncontradiction is only a law of creation which does not bind God. Yet there are certainly sound Reformed theologians who dissent. (One example is from William Green of Old Princeton in his "Christian Doctrine", page 17: "Yet they" [i.e. the facts composing the Doctrine of the Trinity] "involve no contradiction...") This is the sound view to hold, because (a) any supposed contradiction in the scripture doctrine of the Trinity would be a contradiction in scripture - which is impossible. The enemies of the faith have for thousands of years attempted to show that there are contradictions in scripture - in vain. And (b) the purpose of Christian revelation is not to reveal God as unreasonable (a-logos), but on the contrary reasonable ("In the beginning was the Word (logos)", John 1:1a).

Possible criticisms of the church doctrine of the Trinity.
1. Unreasonable. Answer: see the previous section, to which I add: really this objection is an attack on the Christian faith itself. Christian faith requires looking to Christ for the salvation which only God can provide. The Nicene creed is really more reasonable than what unreflective Christians are easily tempted to do - apply to Jesus every statement about God found in scripture.
2. A capitulation to Greek philosophy. Answer: it is obvious that the Arian side in the controversy was the one that was compromised by Greek philosophy - like the Gnostics before them, seeing God as too absolute to directly save the world, the Arians invented the unscriptural notion of a demigod who could do the job.
3. Uses terms that go beyond scripture. Answer: in terms of literal terminology it is true, for example, one cannot find "of one substance" in scripture. But the sense of the term is found in the scripture texts that prove the doctrine of the Trinity. And as with the ancient Arians, it appears that one cannot deny the church doctrine of the Trinity without using terms that go beyond scripture.

And yet: "All synods or councils since the apostles' times, whether general or particular, may err, and many have erred; therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith or practice, but to be used as a help in both." (WCF 31.4) While the creed of Nicea is scriptural, the way in which the fathers of that era defended the faith was not necessarily ideal.
A. Perhaps for some figures of that era, the doctrine believed was too much a matter of (secular) politics.
B. A high Christology is in practice most firmly adhered to because of sound soteriological convictions. (Analogy to our dialog with cults today.) Some of the fathers (such as Athanasius) understood this, but I think some did not.
C. As the church doctrine of the Trinity developed in history, it must be noted that we see an increasing reliance upon church tradition - as opposed to the sole authority of scripture - to prove all the points involved. The classic reference illustrating this tendency is Basil of Caesarea "On the Holy Spirit", dated near the time of the Second Council. Look at the 380 creedal paragraph on the Spirit and ask yourself: how can I prove that the Spirit is to be "worshiped and glorified"? That's a tough question, right? Well, evidently St Basil thought so too, because to clinch this point in his book, he refers the reader to what the liturgy of the church of that era said. (These were phrases similar to what are now found in our "Gloria Patri"). I hope it is pretty obvious to Protestants that relying on the tradition of the church to prove doctrinal points is unsound. If the church happens to be right on the points in question, faith is not harmed. But if not, this is a recipe for establishing false, rather than true, religion (Matthew 15:9) - as centuries of medieval error attest.

Delighting in Evil Versus Hating Evil - and I Am Now Blogging Once More
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Read Prov. 2:11-15. Those of the evil way are described (verse 14) as delighting in the perverseness of evil. These people are headed for destruction (2 Thess. 2:12).

By contrast, Christ and His people hate evil (Psalm 45:7, Prov. 8:13).

Appendix. Readers will perhaps notice that there has been a hiatus of more than 2 years between now and my preceding post. Family worship has continued here during that time. I feel able to post more frequently now than I have in the past couple years.

Herod Entrapped By His Oath
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Read the Bible passage in the previous post.

Note Mark 6:26 . Actually one reason Herod killed John the Baptist was "for his oath's sake".

Having sworn an oath that he never should, he felt in his darkened heart that he had to do it - even though he felt very sorry about the matter.

Scripture says in Proverbs 15:8 :
The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD: but the prayer of the upright is his delight.

Let this Biblical text about Herod help show us we must really be devoted to God in heart. If not, even a warped sense of right and wrong, even such religious feeling as we have, are likely to lead us astray.

Even Jephthah, who was a man of God, fell away from true devotion to God's will so that he too was led into sin due to a rash vow he made - Judges 11:30-40 .

Herodias' Daughter's Sin
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Reading from Mark 6 :
 21 And when a convenient day was come, that Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee;

 22 And when the daughter of the said Herodias came in, and danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him, the king said unto the damsel, Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee.

 23 And he sware unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom.

 24 And she went forth, and said unto her mother, What shall I ask? And she said, The head of John the Baptist.

 25 And she came in straightway with haste unto the king, and asked, saying, I will that thou give me by and by in a charger the head of John the Baptist.

 26 And the king was exceeding sorry; yet for his oath's sake, and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her

This is a short presentation that was done in February 2011 on Herodias' daughter as a woman to watch out for. She was only a girl. Even a girl not of age can be sinful, as in this incident.

She enticed Herod through her dancing, to further her hidden agenda - to enable her mother to strike down John the Baptist. Surely this was not dancing to honor God as David did, 2 Samuel 6:14
And David danced before the LORD with all his might ..

You may meet someone whom you think is only trying to please you. Beware - that person may just be using you.

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