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On the First Article of Religion

Friday, June 29, 2007 • 9:09 am

The Article moves next to affirm that God is the “Maker and Preserver of all things visible and invisible.” God, in other words, is not the famous “Watchmaker” imagined by the Deists. He did not create the universe and then walk away to let it run by itself. God actively “preserves” or sustains everything in existence. If, for one moment, God were to withdraw his sustaining hand, the universe would come undone in the twinkling of an eye. God provides the breath of life to all who live and the power of existence to all things that exist, moment by moment, hour by hour, year by year….


This is an article on the first Article of the Articles of Religion I wrote for my parish this week. It is the first in a series of, as I am sure you can guess, 39 articles. I thought it might be helpful to post it here as well.

Who is God?: Part 1 of a series of essays on the Articles of Religion
Article 1: Of Faith in the Holy Trinity

The first Article of the 39 Articles of Religion has to do with the character and nature of God:

ARTICLE I: There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the Maker, and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

The origin of every cult, error, or heresy might be traced to a distortion of the God’s self-revelation as the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

* Mormons, for example, teach that there are many gods; Jesus and the Father being two separate divinities.

* Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that there is only one God, Jehovah, but reject the biblical claim that God is revealed in three Persons.

* The ancient heretic Marcion believed in two separate gods: a harsh Creator God revealed in the Old Testament and a loving Redeemer God revealed in the New Testament.

* In the 1950’s an Episcopalian bishop named James Pike, denied the Trinity and rejected the concept of a personal God.

Every distortion of God’s self-revealed nature, and the above illustrations represent only a small sample, is potentially lethal.

The scriptures teach that all human beings stand guilty of rebellion against God (see Romans 3:10 -18). And on that basis, we are all subject to eternal judgment.

But God loved you and I so much that he became man in Jesus Christ in order to live the holy life we failed to live and then to bear the eternal punishment that we deserve so that in and through the Person and Work of Jesus, God might offer salvation and eternal life to everyone.

The promise of God is that whosoever comes to faith in Christ will be saved.

In fact, the bible teaches that salvation can be found in no other name, no other Person, but in Christ alone.

Jesus said:

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

And Peter and John proclaimed before the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem that:

“Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:11-12)

In order, then, to receive the salvation God offers, you must surrender your life to Jesus Christ.

But what if the Jesus to whom you surrender is not the real Jesus? What if the God you worship is not the true God?

This is the danger and cruelty of heresy and the deadly pitfall posed by cults. The salvation offered by God comes through faith in Jesus Christ alone. But the Christ that heretics and cults proclaim is a false one and the God they serve is not the true God as he has revealed himself in the scriptures.

This is why it is so important to be diligent and careful in your study of the bible; to know God as he reveals himself in the scriptures so that you can be confident that the Jesus whom you seek and serve and in whom you place your full trust is the true Jesus.

This is why the Articles of Religion begin with a positive affirmation of the self-revealed nature of God. Anglicans, like all Christians, ground our faith in the living God as he has made himself known.

The first Article affirms that there is but one living and true God. This is in keeping with the proclamation of the prophets, priests and kings throughout the Old Testament.

In Deuteronomy 6 we read that God is One :

“Hear O Israel the Lord Your God, the Lord is One.” (Deuteronomy 6:4)

Earlier, in the same book we read that there is only One God:

“The LORD, He is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other.” (Deuteronomy 4:35)

The first Article moves on to describe God as “everlasting”. God is the only God and there was never a time when he was not; nor will there ever be a time when he will not be. God, in other words, is"eternal”. He has no beginning. He has no end. He exists outside of time and space.

This is a difficult concept to understand. Indeed, many new believers ask, “Who created God?” But the question is a category error. The material universe, and all that exists within it, requires a cause because it does not possess, within itself, the power of self-existence.

The universe, indeed, had a beginning, a point of origin. Contemporary astronomers identify the Big Bang as that point of origin. But this does not resolve the problem. What caused the Big Bang? How did that infintesimally dense “singularity” that astronomers suggest existed prior to the Big Bang come into being? What caused it to explode? Nothing can “be” before it “is”, so the singularity could not have created itself. Out of nothing, nothing comes. And since the singularity was both material (or “physical”) and subject to change, it could not have been eternal or infinite in nature. It also must have had a beginning and a Cause.

But how, some may ask, can we know that there was not and is not an infinite series of material causes? This is a complex question so I will answer it as briefly and succinctly as possible. We can know that there was no infinite regress of material causes because the very passage of time and the moment by moment continuation of the cycleof causes in our present demonstrates that the material universe is a “potential” but not an “actual” infinite. An actually infinite line is one that has no beginning and no end. A potentially infinite line’s length is constantly extending. Time, for example, is a potential infinite. We cannot necessarily see its absolute beginning but we see that it has an end, moment by moment, in the present. The line of time is constantly extending but it is not infinite, just potentially so. The same is true for the cycle of causes that exists within time and space. The existence of an end point in the causal cycle, the present, means that the cycle of material causes cannot be an acually infinite cycle. In other words, since the cycle of causes ends in the present, we can assume that it must have had a beginning in the past.

In the world of real material things, an absolute infinite is an impossibility. Dr. Norman Geisler illustrated this point well in his book, “Christian Apologetics” using the hypothetical illustration of a hotel with an absolute infinite number of rooms. Imagine that an absolute infinite set of guests check-in to the hotel. They are assigned to rooms [...-3,-1, 1,3,5,...] But then another absolute infinite number of guests arrives. The first set of guests are moved from the odd numbered rooms to the even numbered rooms an the new set of guests are giveb the odd rooms.

Questions: How many guests were in the hotel after the first set checked in? How many were there after the second arrived? How many would be there when the first set checks out (assuming the second set of guests remains)? The answer, and it is absurd, to all these questions is the same. Infinity. This illustration demonstrates the purely theoretical nature of an absolute infinite set. There is no such thing and there can be no such thing as an absolute infinite set of material causes or anything else in the world of real things.

If all of this makes your head spin, simply remember the classic law: the whole cannot exceed the sum of its parts. If the universe is made up if finite material causes and effects (i.e. things that come into being and then cease to be) and it is, then the material universe as a whole cannot be infinite.

We are left with the following proposition. Since the material universe is not an absolute infinite and since it could not have come into being through its own power or force, there must be another Cause beyond the material universe, beyond time and space, without beginning or end that possess the power of life or existence within itself.

This “Cause”, the scriptures teach and the first Article affirms is not just another thing but the everlasting God who has revealed himself to us in Jesus Christ. God is spirit. He is beyond time and space. While he took on human nature in Jesus Christ, he is not, substantially a part of the universe but distinct from it. Therefore, he has no cause or Creator. God simply is.

The first Article goes on to affirm that God is “simple” without “body” or “parts”. God did, as noted above, take on a human body at the Incarnation of Christ, but he is not human or “bodily” by nature. He is Spirit.

To say that God is “simple” or without “parts” does not mean that he is “easy” to understand.

Indeed, while we can know those aspects of his nature and his character that God chooses to reveal and make known, his nature in its fullness is far beyond our comprehension. For all eternity we will be grasping and glorying in new (to us) and different aspects of God’s nature, but we will never comprehend the whole of him. God is not simple in the sense that he is easy to understand.

Rather, to say that he is “simple” means that he is not made up of different portions or parts that required assembly. He is One Whole Being, not partitioned. If God were made up of different parts then we would necessarily have to posit another Power to piece him together. That power would supercede God and God would, in that case, not be God. He would be a creature and the assembling Power would be his Creator. The first Cause of all creation cannot have parts if he is to be the first Cause…and, as we have seen, the universe could not have come into existence without a first Cause.

One quick note before moving on. We must be careful when speaking of God’s simplicity. To say God does not have “parts” is not to say that he does not have multiple “Persons” as we will see below.

The Article continues with the affirmation God does not have “passions.” God does not change his mind nor is he subject to fluctuating emotions. While from the human perspective it may seem that God goes from anger to sadness; from longing for his people to punishing them; the fact is that is it not God who changes or shifts. We do.

God is eternally and unchangeably displeased with sin. He is eternally and unchangeably pleased with faithfulness. He is eternally and unchangeably sorrowful when people reject him and eternally and unchangeably pleased when they repent.

When we sin God is displeased. But he has not changed. We have. We have gone from a state of faithfulness to a state of disobedience. We have moved from the sphere of God’s eternal pleasure to the sphere of his eternal displeasure.

God does experience emotion, infinitely perfect and glorious emotion. But his emotions are eternal. They do not change nor are they contingent upon our actions. We move. God does not.

The article goes on to affirm that God is not only good and wise and powerful, but that he is infinitely so. There is, in other words, no limit to these aspects of his character.

“Good”, in fact, is not some external standard that we hold up to God to see whether he measures up. God himself is the measure. He is “the” good. Good flows from him as does power and wisdom like water from a spring.

This is why it is always foolish to disregard the commands and counsels of God. He is infinitely wise, powerful, and good. So he is infinitely more knowledgeable than you or I even when it comes to the specific circumstances of our lives.

If God says not to do something, then it is always wisest not to do it even when the proscription does not accord with our reason. If God commands that something be done, it is the wisest course to do it, even when we cannot understand why God has given the command.

Think of Noah. Noah worked for over 100 years constructing a huge boat in a region where there was no water. His neighbors must have thought he was crazy and, no doubt, some days Noah must have agreed. But he followed the commands of God even when they did not seem reasonable and he escaped the Great Flood. God’s wisdom and power and goodness so far exceed our own that his Word demands our unqualified surrender and obedience.

The Article moves next to affirm that God is the “Maker and Preserver of all things visible and invisible.” God, in other words, is not the famous “Watchmaker” imagined by the Deists. He did not create the universe and then walk away to let it run by itself. God actively “preserves” or sustains everything in existence. If, for one moment, God were to withdraw his sustaining hand, the universe would come undone in the twinkling of an eye. God provides the breath of life to all who live and the power of existence to all things that exist, moment by moment, hour by hour, year by year.

But he is not only the Maker and Preserver of the visible or “observable” universe. He is also the Maker and Preserver of the invisible or “heavenly” universe. God created Heaven and the angelic beings as well as those things that are part and parcel of our every day experience.

Nothing, then, in heaven or on earth exists apart from the sustaining preserving hand of our Maker.

Finally the Article turns to God’s Trinitarian nature. “And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”

Here I will borrow from an earlier article I wrote on the topic.

As noted above, the bible reveals that God is One without part or body. And the bible teaches that God is the only God. There is no other

But while maintaining the truth of those propositions, the bible also tells us that there are three distinct personalities within the Godhead.

The Father is God. The Son prays to the Father and worships him:

“After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” (John 17:1-5)

The Son is God . He is the “Word made flesh” in John 1:14 who, according to John 1:1, was not only “with” God in the beginning but who “was” God.

“In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)

The Holy Spirit is God. He is the Counselor or Advocate the Son promises to send to his disciples:

But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27Peace (John 14:26 -27)

And he is the Divine Spirit who reveals the heart of God to believers:

“But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God.” (1st Corinthians 2:10)

There is, then, only one God, but he is revealed to us in three distinct Person.

The Persons, moreover, are not different “modes” of being. God does not, in other words, show up as the Father and then transform into the Son and then transform into the Spirit in accordance with the circumstance.

He is always God the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit at the same time.

We see this truth especially in passages where the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all present and relating to one another. The Baptism of Jesus is a great example:

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan . As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:9-11)

All three Persons are coequal, coeternal, and of the same substance. They are distinct and separate and yet one.

This is not, as some have suggested, a contradiction. There is only One God. But within the Godhead, there are three distinct Persons of that same substance. So there is a categorical distinction between the substance of God, his Being, and the Persons that prevents a logical contradiction. That having been said, the Trinity is certainly a mystery.

One of my theology professors in seminary advised us to keep our discussions of the Trinity as brief as possible because, he said, the longer we talk the more likely we will fall into some major heresy. He was right. This is why the Creeds which condense and codify the teachings of the bible are so crucial to a correct understanding of the nature of God. The Nicene Creed and the Chalcedonian Creed help us to articulate of the Christian faith. They help us to affirm all that the scriptures reveal about God.

And this, ultimately, is where cults and heresies fall short. They fail to acknowledge and affirm all that God reveals about himself in the scriptures. All are willing to uphold certain parts of the biblical revelation. None are willing to affirm all of it. And for that reason, they all end in idolatry and spiritual death.

The first Article of Religion affirms all that God reveals about himself in his Word.

May we, faithfully and fearlessly, by God’s grace, do the same.

 


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Comments:

Amen! Preach it brother! 

(Oh, that was not very Anglican of me red face ... Great article Matt+).

[1] Posted by Hosea6:6 on 06-29-2007 at 09:42 AM • top

“The Word of God is quick, powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword…” Heb. 4:12

Fa. Matt- as my pentecostal friends might say, “Shandala, you got the anointing my brother!”

[2] Posted by ama-anglican on 06-29-2007 at 10:02 AM • top

Matt, might I recommend you publish these in a book when you’re done?  There really is no good overview of the Articles for lay people that explains them and then applies them.  I think this is truly marvelous.  Only 38 more to go!

[3] Posted by VaAnglican on 06-29-2007 at 10:25 AM • top

As the Article says, the three Persons exist in the unity of the Godhead. 
Two of the most offensive, heretical things to come out of TEC IMO:
1) “New thing of the Spirit” - the Spirit as revealed in Scripture and affirmed in our Creeds cannot be a crossed purposes with the revealed will of the Father and the work of the Son.

2) “More gracious strand” - this is the worst thing Schori has opined.  “Mother Jesus” was just clumsy but it was understandable if you knew the source - but “more gracious strand” is to say that she or some other religious figures have more to offer than the revealed work of the Son as atoning sacrifice.  “MGS” implies that the death of the Son was inconsequential to the Father’s plan for the creation.

[4] Posted by Timothy Fountain on 06-29-2007 at 11:30 AM • top

Teaching Solid Doctrine is Always a Loving Thing to Do for an Undershepherd.  Extremely Well-Done Matt.  Bravo!

[5] Posted by Truth Unites... and Divides on 06-29-2007 at 11:33 AM • top

I totally agree with VAanglican!  We know you are busy, BUT, so many people (and some of them do not read SF) need to hear and know, and be taught..

Think on this Fr. Matt!

Grannie Gloria

[6] Posted by Grandmother on 06-29-2007 at 01:00 PM • top

Excellent! Fr. Kennedy, you are very generous with your time to post it and so be available for the teaching oppourtunities with this o/l community. Certainly your parish is blessed with the work you are doing. Thanks.

[7] Posted by southernvirginia1 on 06-29-2007 at 01:23 PM • top

BRAVO! Fr. Matt+

Finally a priest that is willing to touch finger to keyboard and help us lay people understand the Articles without having to roam through them ourselves and then go ...“Uh?”  confused

I agree with VaAnglican since I haven’t heard of a priest in my diocese that would go neara study group with the Articles…...I’d buy one for sure!!!!!!!!!!

[8] Posted by TLDillon on 06-29-2007 at 04:50 PM • top

Great stuff, +Matt.  I’d buy the “omnibus edition” when it comes out.

[9] Posted by Invicta on 06-29-2007 at 05:40 PM • top

Father Kennedy:

“We can know that there was no infinite regress of material causes because the very passage of time and the moment by moment continuation of the cycleof causes in our present demonstrates that the material universe is a “potential” but not an “actual” infinite. An actually infinite line is one that has no beginning and no end. A potentially infinite line is one to which at least one end is constantly extending. Time, for example, is a potential infinite. We cannot necessarily see its absolute beginning but we see that it has an end, moment by moment, in the present. The line of time is constantly extending but it is not infinite, just potentially so. The same is true for the cycle of causes that exists within time and space. But the existence of an end point in the causal cycle, the present, means that there is also, potentially a beginning point. And, given the proposed absolute infinite number of years, that potential would, necessarily have been reached. In other words, since the cycle of causes ends in the present, we can know that it must have had a beginning in the past. Otherwise, nothing could exist.”

I am intrigued by this, and I think I understand the distinction you are making between “potential” and “actual” where infinite sets are concerned.  My questions have to do with the difference between the creation of the universe “ex nihilo” (“no infinite regress of material causes”) and the bringing into being by God of the entire cosmos itself.

As Christians we understand that nothing is truly infinite apart from God Himself, and all else depends upon Him for its continued existence.  But we engage the concept of infinity apart from God in ordinary discussion and when involved in dialogue with non-believers.  Some of them raise objections to the Kalam cosmological argument and seek to refute the idea that traversal of the infinite is not possible.  (You are probably more familiar with that than I am.)

Upon reading your essay, I thought about the “young earth creationists” (although I am not one of them) and the answer they give when asked why radiometric dating indicates that the rocks and mountains of the earth are billions of years old, if they were in fact created instantaneously only a few thousand years ago.  I believe the standard reply is that of course they would appear to be much older than they are because they were created in a fully formed condition, and human instruments of measurement have no way of detecting that.

By way of (very) rough analogy, I am left to wonder if the appearance of infinity (in terms of time and space, in both directions) is not part of the very warp and woof of the cosmos itself as God brought it into being, so that it must look that way conceptually to the unaided human observer.  As yet, we have no idea of what being completely outside of space and time must be like.  But, barring divine intervention at either end of the spectrum, would it not be theoretically possible to move as far back in time as it would be to move forward?  (Heavy emphasis on “theoretically” since we would obviously have to be discarnate spirits to move backward past the point of our own creation, or forward past our own demise.)  Surely, our time travel would still look like an “eternal now” to God, no matter how infinite and endless it looked to us.

I am thinking in apologetic terms for those who have difficulty with traditional cosmological arguments, and sorry if it sounds sophomoric.

[10] Posted by episcopalienated on 06-29-2007 at 07:56 PM • top

episcopalianated,

I actually think I made a mistake in the paragraph you quote. The third to the last and the last sentence are extraneous and perhaps in error.

It is true that in the world of real things potential infinites are everywhere but absolute infinites are impossible. One way of illustrating this, from Dr. Norman Geisler, is to think of a hotel with an absolute infinite number of rooms. An absolute infinite set of guests check. You put them in rooms ...-3,-1, 1,3,5,...But then another absolute infinite number of guests arrives. So you move the first set from the odd numbered rooms to the even numbered rooms and fit the new set into the odd rooms.

Question: how many guests were in the hotel after the first set checked in?

How many were there after the second?

How many would be there when the first set checks out (assuming the second set remains)?

The answer, and it is absurd, to all these questions is the same. Infinity.

Thus the problem. There is no such thing as an absolute infinite set of causes or anything else in the world of real things.

I think I am going to have to do some work on my paragraph. I made some errors in articulation now that I read back over it.

[11] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 06-29-2007 at 08:58 PM • top

“Thus the problem. There is no such thing as an absolute infinite set of causes or anything else in the world of real things.”

Well, OK, but there are definitely those who do make a distinction between the potential and the actual where infinites are concerned, so what you wrote didn’t surprise me.

What about this example?  Mathematics, even simple arithmetic, takes place at a certain level of abstraction, but both have “real world” applications.  The set of positive integers is an infinite set—but does it represent a potential or an actual “infinity”?   

As for the Hilbert Hotel illustration:

“That’s the strangeness of infinity, where a part can be as large as the whole and there’s always room for one more.”

With full credit to “Science News For Kids”  tongue wink

[12] Posted by episcopalienated on 06-29-2007 at 10:40 PM • top

God actively “preserves” or sustains everything in existence. If, for one moment, God were to withdraw his sustaining hand, the universe would come undone in the twinkling of an eye.

Matt I agree.  But it is not just the universe that God sustains.  I believe very strongly that should God stop thinking of and loving us we would cease to exist. 

Thanks also for your wonderful writing on the Trinity.  An affirmation of the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation are necessary to answer the issues that have caused a crisis in the church.  The rejections of these doctrines are at the heart of the heresies and change in moral standards with which we struggle.

[13] Posted by Paula Loughlin on 06-30-2007 at 12:19 AM • top

From Chesterton:  It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again,” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again,” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike: it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.

[14] Posted by Going Home on 06-30-2007 at 12:26 AM • top

I completely agree with VaAnglican about getting this series published as a book.  In researching problems of faith in TEC I wanted to cite conflict with the Articles of Religion that has been spewed by the TEC leaders.  There is very little available that explains what the Articles say in understandable modern language.  It is difficult ot explain to people that the church has strayed from the AoR when they don’t understand.  I have gotten peoples’ attention about the change in the baptismal vows and the Catechism.

Thank you this study and I look forward to the compilation.

[15] Posted by jane4re on 06-30-2007 at 12:28 AM • top

Yikes, this is great!  As a relatively new Christian, I soak this up!

Thank you!

[16] Posted by ElaineF. on 06-30-2007 at 08:51 AM • top

john4woman’s post was the best I’ve ever seen at StandFirm!

2 things:

There’s only 37 essays left, Article XXI being omitted in the US :p

Also, Sam Pascoe has a book on the Articles which is also useful: http://www.latimerpress.com/booklist.html

[17] Posted by James Manley on 06-30-2007 at 09:54 AM • top

The flaw in this article is that it does not follow the creedal pattern.  It starts out correctly: “There is but one living and true God…” but it should continue thus, “...the Father almighty,” as do the catholic creeds.  It thus falls short of a truly catholic (ecumenical) articulation, as many western articulations do, for it could be taken to imply that there is a “God” or “Godhead” or some kind of supra-personal “God-stuff” that is above the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit who are subsumed beneath It (or Him).  The Father is the hypostasis of unity.  The Son and the Spirit derive from Him, for the Father is the source of their essence.  This is the faith of the Church Catholic.

[18] Posted by Third Mill Catholic on 06-30-2007 at 11:24 AM • top

Third Mill, have you read Article 2 and Article 5?

[19] Posted by Brien on 06-30-2007 at 01:49 PM • top

Indeed, Skeptical.  And, apart from the filioque, these two articles follow the creedal pattern, which begs the question as to why the framers did not follow suit on the first article.  In other words, why no article on the Father?  Because the framers, following Augustine, define God in terms of divine simplicity, and subsume the hypostases within the essence.

[20] Posted by Third Mill Catholic on 06-30-2007 at 03:50 PM • top

Paula Loughlin: “An affirmation of the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation are necessary to answer the issues that have caused a crisis in the church.  The rejections of these doctrines are at the heart of the heresies and change in moral standards with which we struggle. “

How does the rejection of the false and unscriptural doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation lead to moral decay as you suggest?

One could argue precisely the opposite…doctrines teaching that Jesus of Nazareth was not a normal man render his sacrifice null and void and create a false differentiation between him and the rest of us thereby providing a convenient excuse not to emulate his virtues… if Jesus of Nazareth were not one of us, how could he serve as an example?

“For hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that ye should follow his steps:” (1 Peter 2:21)

[21] Posted by vynette on 06-30-2007 at 03:54 PM • top

doctrines teaching that Jesus of Nazareth was not a normal man

What orthodox doctrine teaches that Jesus was not a normal man?  Orthodox Christianity holds to precisely that.

[22] Posted by James Manley on 06-30-2007 at 04:03 PM • top

Vynette,
I have 2000 years of Christian teaching to back my belief in the Incarnation and the Trinity.  Since you do not believe in these doctrines how would I be able to defend their importance in the moral life of the church?  No matter the answer I gave you would reject it as being grounded in a falsehood.  But I will risk that rejection and give you an explanation of my statement.  I admit I have written this before so I hope others will forgive me for the repeat.

An affirmation of the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation are necessary to answer the issues that have caused a crisis in the church.  The rejections of these doctrines are at the heart of the heresies and change in moral standards with which we struggle.
Chief amongst these are the following:

Belief that Christ is just another way to God:  rejecting the uniqueness of Christ is possible only if we are willing to say that He is not God, one in being with the Father.  The second person of the Trinity who became flesh to dwell amongst us.  Without the Incarnation.  Jesus is indeed no more or less than a very sage teacher, wise and loving with a very personal and spiritual understanding of the will of God..  He is a prophet of no small consequence but only a human being.  His resurrection then by logic must be no more than a emotional and psychological response of the Apostles to his death.  A way of them to affirm the timelessness of His message and carry on His work.

Advocation for same sex relations and life damaging behaviors.  The nature of man and woman and their union with one another begins in the story of Creation.  This story is and always will be a reflection of the Trinity.  As such this union is by its very nature ( barring illness or physical problems) both unitive and procreative.  Its very love gives forth the most amazing gift of all- life.    To defend why sex between one man and one woman in life long marriage is the only sexual expression blessed by God we have to be able to defend the Trintiy.

The incarnation tells us why we must reject all behaviors that corrupt the flesh not just sexual ones.  Addictions, abuse, violence to others and to ourselves just name a few.  It gives argument to the why of fighting diseases, poverty, hunger, injustice and evil in the world.  It gives voice to why we must love one another as God as loved us.

Advocation for Abortion and euthanasia.  Belief in the incarnation is a sharp rejection of Gnosticism.    Gnostics believed that the flesh was evil and a hindrance to knowing God.  But the incarnation says not only is human life , body and soul loved by God it has now been sanctified.  By taking on flesh Jesus elevates our personhood.  He not only shows us that God truly declares it good but that God loves that very flesh so much that He will share in its agonies out of that love.  We believe God took on flesh from the very first moment of conception in the womb of Mary.  Therefore we must conclude that the human person is seen as valuable and worthy from that very moment.  God did not become incarnate at a certain stage of Fetal development.  He cloaked Himself in humanity from the very words of the Angel to Mary announcing that she should conceive by the Holy Spirit.

[23] Posted by Paula Loughlin on 06-30-2007 at 04:55 PM • top

Paula Loughlin,

Thank you for your explanation. However, the human person was seen as “valuable” and “worthy” from the very beginning. Jesus “elevated our personhood” only inasmuch as he restored us to our original standing.

The Bible teaches us that Almighty God made man in his own image and that man fell from his exalted position by choosing lies and disobedience of his own free will. It was no fault of the Creator that man decided to exchange the glory of the incorruptible God for the likeness of the image of corruptible man.

The need for a ‘messiah’ arose from issues that began in the Garden of Eden. Defined biblically, these issues may be considered as the eternal conflict between the Truth and the Lie - “because they exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator.” (Rom. 1:25)

The New Testament authors testified that Jesus of Nazareth was this long-awaited Hebrew messiah who had been ‘anointed’ with plenipotentiary powers to speak and act in the name of God, to rule the world in righteousness, and to judge the living and the dead. They taught that by subordinating the will of his own flesh, and by choosing the truth of God instead of lies, and obedience to God instead of disobedience, Jesus restored man to his position as it existed in the beginning. By this ‘atonement’ he has made it possible for godly men and women to emulate him and also become children of God.

At no time was it ever perceived that the ‘messiah’ was to be other than a normal man “born of the seed of David according to the flesh.”

[24] Posted by vynette on 06-30-2007 at 08:35 PM • top

vynette - you are ignoring John’s prologue and similar material in Colossians.  In the beginning was the Word… in him all things hold together.  He is not just a moral exemplar - we receive power to become children of God “by believing in his name” ( John 1:12-13).
Also, your theology copiously ignores the Holy Spirit’s work.  Are you suggesting some kind of “binity” in which the Father sends Jesus but the Spirit reminds us of him?
The Trinity does, in fact, express the nature, character and action of God as revealed in the whole of Scripture.

[25] Posted by Timothy Fountain on 07-01-2007 at 06:41 AM • top

At no time was it ever perceived that the ‘messiah’ was to be other than a normal man “born of the seed of David according to the flesh.”

yes…. I think you’ve missed the second half of that sentence. (Rom 1:3ff if you can’t remember).

[26] Posted by David Ould on 07-01-2007 at 07:36 AM • top

vynette:

I’m not sure why you keep coming back to affirming that Jesus was a “normal man.” 

The belief that Jesus is fully and completely and wholly human is at the core of orthodox christology.

Perhaps you came across a heretical teacher at some point who tried to convince you that Jesus was half-God and half-human, or perhaps fully God but acting human, or some such, and rightly rejected such nonsense while wrongly believing that that was a orthodox position.

As for the rest of what you offer,

The New Testament authors testified that Jesus of Nazareth was this long-awaited Hebrew messiah who had been ‘anointed’ with plenipotentiary powers to speak and act in the name of God,

you certainly can pick and choose a few verses to get to this position, but the New Testament authors as a whole did not leave us with this limited view of Jesus.

Timothy Fountain mentions John’s prologue, and that’s a good place to start.

[27] Posted by James Manley on 07-01-2007 at 11:09 AM • top

By this ‘atonement’ he has made it possible for godly men and women to emulate him and also become children of God.


vynette,
Just to put your statement in context, you are saying that the ‘atonement’ is when Jesus chose truth over lies and obedience over disobedience. The application of this atonement, in your view, is that Jesus enables us to do the same and by so doing we become children of God? This is definately not the Pauline teaching of the work of Christ or the atonement. I encourage you to carefully read and study the book of Romans again.
  I will concede to your point that the Jewish expectation was not that the Messiah would be divine. However, Jesus did and said things throughout his ministry that only Yahweh could do. For example, he forgave sins, gave life and judgment on the sabbath day and pronounced judgment upon the temple. Even the prophecy in Daniel Chapter 7 forsaw “one like a son of man” sharing the throne of Yahweh.
  I think you would enjoy N.T. Wright’s book entitled “Jesus and the Victory of God. Wright does a great job showing how the actions of Jesus in the synoptic gospels are simultaneously messianic and they witness to his divinity. Wright also shows how Jesus fits nicely with the Jewish messianic expectations of his time, but was also provocative enough in these claims to provoke hostiltiy from the Jewish leadership. Their constant complaint was “only God himself can do…” Wright says that he takes this approach to prove the divinity of Jesus because the creedal and proof-texting approach (which is valid) does not work in the current scholarly debates about Jesus.

[28] Posted by drlouis20 on 07-01-2007 at 02:27 PM • top

James and Timothy

The prologue to John’s gospel is one of the cornerstones of doctrinal apologetics so please allow me to first present an overview.

One major reason for the universal misunderstanding of certain statements in John’s gospel is a failure to discern the framework within which the work is set. Another is the practice of proof-texting to support various points of doctrine.

Being removed from the misjudgements of the moment, it represent a clear, analytical appraisal of Jesus’ life and work viewed in relationship to its impact upon accepted thought and contemporary values.

The author speaks of others besides Jesus as being ‘sent’ by God and being ‘begotten’ of God (1:6, 12). The yardstick for determining if a man is sent from God is whether he does, or does not, speak the words of God (3:34).

In the case of those ‘begotten’ of God, it is obvious the auther is speaking in spiritual strain as they were procreated by normal means. 1 John 4:7 makes it clear that the ‘begotten of God’ are those who love the brethren.

The author, along with four disciples, at least at one stage, had believed that Jesus was the son of Joseph, thus of human parentage (1:45). He did not find this thought incompatible with the Baptist’s previous identification of Jesus as “the son of God” (1:34), nor with the subsequent similar identification by Nathaniel (1:49).

“Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph…Nathanael answered him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art King of Israel.”

Being written after the resurrection, there is no anomaly in John’s reference to Jesus as the “only-begotten” son of God. The day of Jesus’ resurrection was the day he became the “only-begotten” (Acts 13:33).

When the Baptist spoke of Jesus as being “before” him, he was not referring to time but to status.

If the author of John is also the author of 1 John, he could not possibly be testifying that Jesus is actually YHVH because he states: “No man has seen God at any time; The only-begotten son, he has declared him.”

With this framework in mind, we may now examine the opening words of John’s gospel.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him; and without him was not anything made that hath been made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in the darkness; and the darkness apprehended it not.”

In this transition from Creation to his own time, John omitted one connecting link which he provides later: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only-begotten of the Father” (1:15).

This last statement puts all into perspective and we see that: the ‘Word’ existed at Creation; it was made flesh; Jesus’ life - the Word made flesh - was the light of men.

As a first step, it is necessary to determine exactly what the ‘Word’ was before it became flesh. Fortunately, John provides the answer himself in his First Epistle:

“That which was from the beginning, that which we have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes, that which we beheld, and our hands handled, concerning the Word of Life, and the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare unto you the life, the Eternal Life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us.” (1 John 1:1-2)

And again:
“And the witness is this, that God gave unto us Eternal Life, and this life is in his Son. (I John 5:11)

Paul leaves no doubt that it was the Word of Eternal Life that existed from the beginning:
“Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect, and the knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness, in hope of Eternal Life which God, who cannot lie, promised before times eternal.” (Titus 1:1-2)

It is very clear that the the “Word” is actually the “Word of Eternal Life,” and that this life is in his Son. (I John 5:11). Jesus taught love: not a weak, sentimental love, but the meek love which is the sign of a truly great character, the only kind of love whereby it is possible to ‘love your enemies’. It is the application of this teaching to the living of a Christian life that brings the reward of eternal life.

Timothy

No, I am not suggesting any sort of ‘binity.’ The two Greek words are ‘hagios’ and ‘pneuma’, words which closely approximate the Hebrew term ‘ruah ha-kodesh’ or ‘holy breath’. The ‘ruah hakodesh’ was a simply a term used to denote a power emanating from the Hebrew God YHVH, a power which could fill men, as for instance the prophets. It has no separate meaning, function, nature, substance or person.

David

You said: “I think you’ve missed the second half of that sentence. (Rom 1:3ff if you can’t remember).” Yes the very next words are indeed interesting as they tell us that the title “Son of God” had nothing to do with his birth but was bestowed upon Jesus at his resurrection “...who was declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead; even Jesus Christ our Lord.”

[29] Posted by vynette on 07-01-2007 at 03:33 PM • top

vynette says:

The two Greek words are ‘hagios’ and ‘pneuma’, words which closely approximate the Hebrew term ‘ruah ha-kodesh’ or ‘holy breath’. The ‘ruah hakodesh’ was a simply a term used to denote a power emanating from the Hebrew God YHVH a power which could fill men, as for instance the prophets. It has no separate meaning, function, nature, substance or person.

This just doesn’t make much sense after a read of I Corinthians 12.
Or Acts 8:29; 10:19; 16:7…
The early Christians clearly experienced and expressed the Holy Spirit as a distinct “person”, not a mere emanation.
I would agree with what you say about the OT presentation of the Holy Spirit, but you are trying to force that as normative on the NT.  There is an attractive simplicity and clarity to your ideas - all of which use the hermeneutic of Jesus as exemplar.  But you are forcing meanings on the NT which, while superficially consistent with some verses, must ignore other important passages to get your desired (and I would say eisegeted) outcome.

[30] Posted by Northern Plains Anglicans on 07-01-2007 at 08:59 PM • top

There was a marvelous book published in the 1950’s or 60’s titled, One… Two… Three.. Infinity, and one of the mathematic facts it pointed out was that there are three different infinities, and it can be demonstrated that the second is a larger infinity than the first, while the third is larger than the first two. Of course, these mathematic facts are in the same class as the square root of minus one, which is “imaginary.”

[31] Posted by Br_er Rabbit on 07-02-2007 at 07:17 AM • top

Northern Plains Anglican said:
“There is an attractive simplicity and clarity to your ideas - all of which use the hermeneutic of Jesus as exemplar.”

I know you’re trying to be charitable to vynette—but I can’t say that there is any attractive simplicity or clarity in her ideas. Her ideas are simply a rehash of ancient heresies which twisted God’s Word and departed from the Apostolic faith of the Church just as she has. (And although her beliefs regarding Christ appear to have some distinction from those of the Jehovah Witnesses-she shares with JW the fundamental denial of Christ’s Deity (i.e. Arianism)—so her interpretations of Sacred Scripture, made in an attempt to deny Christ’s Deity, follow generally speaking the JW (or, standard “Arian”) mis-interpretations).

God Bless,
William Scott

Gal 3:26 For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

[32] Posted by William on 07-02-2007 at 07:39 AM • top

Thank you Matt, for once again bringing up the Articles. Someone mentioned books about them at the beginning of the posts. May I recommend the following:
The Principles of Theology: An Introduction to the Thirty-Nine Articles
by W.H. Griffith Thomas. This is a full exposition of the Articles, written from an evangelical perspective. I found out about it from a book by
J.I. Packer. I’m currently about halfway through the book and although it is challenging at times for this layman it is very worthwhile. There is a paperback edition available on Amazon. Dave

[33] Posted by DavidSh on 07-02-2007 at 11:16 AM • top

Adding to DavidSh’s list—two other excellent commentaries on the 39 Articles.  Bishop Edward Harold Browne’s “An Exposition of the Thirty-Nine Articles: Historical and Doctrinal” (which does an excellent job of looking into the patristic foundations in the Articles)—it can be read here:
http://books.google.com/books?id=HioPAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA1&dq=browne+exposition+thirty+nine+articles#PPP11,M1
And “An Exposition of the Thirty-Nine Articles” by W. G. WILSON and J.H. TEMPLETON which can be read in full here at Rev. Toon’s site:
http://www.episcopalian.org/pbs1928/Articles/AnglicanTeaching/Title.htm 

God Bless,
William Scott

Gal 3:26 For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

[34] Posted by William on 07-02-2007 at 12:09 PM • top

William, you said: “so her interpretations of Sacred Scripture, made in an attempt to deny Christ’s Deity, follow generally speaking the JW (or, standard “Arian”) mis-interpretations). “

My views are derived from Scripture only and cannot be packaged up and discarded as just another of the ancient ‘heresies’. They are certainly not those of Arianism which ascribes some sort of lesser deity to a pre-existent Jesus whereas I deny both deity and pre-existence as unscriptural doctrines.

[35] Posted by vynette on 07-02-2007 at 03:10 PM • top

<blockquote>My views are derived from scripture only and cannot be packaged up and discarded as just another of the ancient ‘heresies’. They are certainly not those of Arianism which ascribes some sort of lesser deity to a pre-existent Jesus whereas I deny both deity and pre-existence as unscriptural doctrines.</blockquote>

I am aware vynette that your views differ from the exact views of Arius. Regardless, your views can still be placed under the general heading of Arianism in the sense that they are a denial of Christ’s Deity (thus, you, like Arius, claim that Christ is a created being (i.e. a creature) versus being the Creator (with the Father and the Holy Spirit in the Blessed Trinity)). As for your views being derived from Scripture—Arius, JW, and just about every other Trinitarian and Christological heresy in the past 2000 years claims the same thing.
I hope and pray vynette that you will come back again to the True faith of our Lord Jesus Christ.

William Scott

Gal 3:26 For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

[36] Posted by William on 07-02-2007 at 06:05 PM • top

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