Invited In

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Gentle Reader,

Luke and the New Testament declare that women have equal access to the blessings of grace and salvation. – Darrell Bock. Luke. 144-145

This is radical. When Jesus came, he threw open the doors to women. Many men then and, unfortunately, now, believe that women are to be seen and only heard to offer another cup of coffee, but Christ, our Lord, invited women in. No matter how hard some try (and try they do) there is nothing in the Gospel message that defines women as second-class or second-best.

It is sad to have to declare this in the context of the two-millenia old church, but I will keep doing so as long as abuse and misuse exists. Women have a role. Women have a place. Women bring something to the table. Women are given spiritual gifts. Women are commissioned to go out into the world and share the Good News, making disciples in the process. Women are declared by Jesus Himself to be His sisters and His coheirs.

My journey to faith. (15)

Sola What?: Soli Deo Gloria

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This post was edited July 16, 2014. Edits appear in red italics.

Gentle Reader,

Of the Five Solae (Five Alones) that are said to sum up the basic doctrine of the Reformers, Soli Deo Gloria is not generally listed first. In determining where to begin examining these ideas, however, I thought it best that we look to the source of all theology: God.

Soli Deo Gloria – to the glory of God alone; for God’s glory alone

“Glory” can be a difficult concept to nail down. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word kabod, derived from kabed (to be heavy), “lends itself to the idea that the one possessing glory is laden with riches (Gen. 31:1), power (Isa. 8:7), position (Gen. 45:13), etc.” (1) This certainly describes the Lord, and yet leaves out the important aspect of His “inherent majesty.” (2) God is majesty itself, unmatched in splendor, by virtue of His being. He need not do anything to achieve this glory. This idea is carried over into the New Testament, the Greek word doxa denoting “His majesty [and] perfection.” (3)

There is another sense in which “glory” may be used:

The intrinsic worth of God, His ineffable majesty, constitutes the basis of warnings not to glory in riches, wisdom or might (Jer. 9:23) but in the God who has given all these and is greater than His gifts. (4)

Here we move from description to action. When we are instructed to “glory in God,” we are being told to take great delight in Him. To find Him as the source of all our pride and pleasure. Material possessions are not our security, nor is wealth or notoriety. Our satisfaction, identity and sense of safety is to come in knowing He who is glorious.

In essence, then, every aspect of a Christian’s life is to be lived in recognition and reflection of the glory of God. We worship and honor Him because we love Him and understand our place before Him. We know who He is and know that this is what He is due.

Up to this point, orthodox Christians on both sides of the Reformation aisle agree.

The argument exists in the divide between Protestant doctrine, which does not distinguish between different sorts of glory or honor, and Catholic doctrine, which does. Catholics use three levels or degrees (for lack of better terminology) when describing the verb sort of glory. There is latria, the supreme worship reserved for God alone; dulia, the reverence (deep respect for someone or something) accorded to saints and angels; and hyperdulia, higher than dulia but less than latria, properly reserved for the Virgin Mary. These distinctions appear to be based in passages such as Exodus 20:12, where God commands children to honor their parents. Catholic authors point out that the word for “honor” here is the same one used to describe God’s glory, and thus, to their thinking, renders Soli Deo Gloria false.

I do not have time to get into each of the Marian dogmas; that will have to be reserved for another post. But let me say here that I’m thankful that Mary submitted to God. I’m thankful that she chose to cooperate with God’s plan to save humanity and set the cosmos to rights. And I certainly respect all faithful Christians who have gone before me, who can rightly all be called saints, just as we who live today can be called saints (1 Cor. 1:12). I appreciate the example of their obedience.

Here is the key question in all of this: What is the relationship between honor, glory and worship?

Yes, we are told to honor our parents. Yes, we should be thankful for and inspired by the obedience of Mary and other Christians. But the respect I owe to my parents by virtue of their position is nowhere near the same thing as the respect I owe to God by virtue of His. The language may use the same words, but the concepts are totally different. As an adult daughter, I respect my parents by seeking out their wisdom, speaking with love, doing as they ask when I am in their home (admittedly not always without a grumble) and, as they age, taking care of them. Yet I can (and do) disagree with them. Our views and habits diverge in many ways. Despite these differences, we are able to maintain relationship.

By contrast, when I disagree with God, it’s called sin and it has enormous repercussions. Certainly there is room for asking God questions, for seeking clarification of His will on this or that matter. And, to the everlasting praise of His name!, He does forgive us when we sin if we confess and ask. But, ultimately, I as a Christian will do what God wants me to do – and I’ll do it His way. Period. No exchanges or refunds.

There is a huge difference between the two cases.

Further, the fact that we are commanded to worship God (Deut. 6:13) indicates an intimate relationship between giving Him glory and worshiping Him. In fact, we might say that the two are synonymous. We thus tread very dangerous ground with the categories of latria, dulia and hyperdulia. There is no human being, no matter her outstanding qualities, who deserves greater respect than another. There are not various pedestals on which to place the people in our lives, past or present, some lower, some higher.

In short, the more we focus on another person, the more we hone in our attention upon him, the more likely we are to begin worshiping. The teaching of the Catholic Church on the “degrees” of glory paves the way to this idolatry. 

There is one pedestal, and only One who can rightly be upon it.

Nowhere in Scripture are we told that certain people are to occupy a space somewhere between ourselves and God. There are people and there is God. People below and God above. That’s it. We are to worship God alone, an idea outlined nicely here:

We worship God because he is God. Period. Our extravagant love and extreme submission to the Holy One flows out of the reality that God loved us first. It is highly appropriate to thank God for all the things he has done for us. However, true worship is shallow if it is solely an acknowledgement of God’s wealth. Psalm 96:5-6 says, “For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the LORD made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and glory are in his sanctuary.” In other words, our worship must be toward the One who is worthy simply because of His identity as the Omnipotent, Omniscient, and Omnipresent One, and not just because God is wealthy and able to meet our needs and answer our prayers. We must focus our practice of worship on the worthiness of God and not his wealthiness.

So we give glory to God alone.

The examples of Mary and the saints, past and present, should drive us to live lives that glorify God alone. These believers certainly offered respect where respect was due (to their parents, to civil authorities), but I see no evidence of anyone other than God being at the center of their existence. Consider the Magnificat, Mary’s worship song, recorded in Luke 1:46-55:

And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for He has been mindful
of the humble state of His servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is His name.

His mercy extends to those who fear Him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with His arm;
He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped His servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as He promised our ancestors.” (NKJV)

Over and over again Mary glorifies the Lord. She rejoices in Him. She is thankful for His mindfulness. She will be called blessed because of what He will accomplish through her, because of what He has done for her. He is holy, merciful, mighty. He lifts up the humble, fills the hungry, helps His servants. This is entirely about God.

The Lord fashioned this world and everything in it (Gen. 1). He knew us before we were born (Ps. 139:13). He placed a longing for eternity in our hearts (Ecc. 3:11). We were made to worship God alone (Ps. 29:1). We were made to live for His glory. Our lives only make sense when oriented around the Lord.

Best to let Him occupy the pedestal and keep every person on the same, earthly level we ourselves occupy.

My journey to faith. (15)

For all posts in the Sola What? series, go here.

 

References:

1 E. F. Harrison. “Glory,” in Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. by Walter A. Elwell. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 484.

2 Ibid., 484.

3 Ibid., 484.

4 Ibid., 484.

Defended

Gentle Reader,

When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters,were killed just as they had been. – Revelation 6:9-11 (NKJV)

The Book of Revelation isn’t a treatise that I am particularly fond of. I hate to say that about any part of the Bible, but that’s the truth of it. Reading about things like famine, destruction and death make me upset and fearful. Yet, like it or not, Revelation is an important book – not because of what it says, but because of why it is being said.

The judgments recorded in the book are the natural consequences of sin and rebellion. When we choose not to follow God’s path, then we end up separated from Him. That’s the bottom line. As one of my friends put it in class yesterday, it is as if God reverts to “Old Testament mode” in unleashing His wrath and heartbreak. Here and now, the Holy Spirit is present to comfort and guide. Then, humanity will be exposed to signs and wonders, just as they were before.

This holds my interest in light of the cry of the martyrs in chapter 6.

Stick with me.

In Hebrews 10, we read:

Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest [Jesus] had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time He waits for his enemies to be made His footstool. For by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. – vs. 11-14 (NKJV)

Jesus sits because there is no more work to be done. The final sacrifice has been made. There is nothing any of us can do to earn Heaven. Yet, in Acts 7 the first martyr has this vision:

Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to Heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see Heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” – vs. 55-56 (NKJV)

Signs and wonders, sitting and standing. What does all of this mean?

Today we are closer to the end of all things than we were yesterday. I don’t pretend to know exactly how it’s all going to play out. I also don’t hold to popular views of things like the Rapture. (That is for an entirely separate post, but I encourage you to check out the wording of Matthew 24:22 in the context of Jesus’ teaching about the end). So, I’m not buying Hal Lindsey books and I threw out all of my copies of the “Left Behind” series a long time ago.

Still, I know that things are going to get tougher for Christians, especially if you believe, as I do, that Christians are going to be around during this judgment and final wake-up call. I’m not talking about evolutionary theory being taught in schools or the occasional snide remark, either. We here in America have absolutely no idea what it is to be persecuted for our faith. None at all.

I’m talking about really suffering because of what you believe. Being imprisoned, tortured, starved and even killed.

What is intriguing to me about this is the movement of Jesus. Hebrews pictures Him sitting in triumph, and rightly so. Why, then, is He shown standing for Stephen? I think it’s because our faithfulness and obedience matters a great deal to our Savior.

Was Jesus moved to protect Stephen, but stopped by the existence of a greater plan? Was Jesus cheering Stephen on? Was Jesus preparing to welcome this man into Heaven? The answer to all of these questions, is, in my opinion, “yes.”

Why does this matter? As I said before, we have no idea what it means to face torment for what we believe. We’ve got it really easy around here. When the day comes when that reality shifts, we can be comforted and strengthened in the knowledge that we are defended. Jesus doesn’t stand because there’s something else He needs to do. He stands up with His fists balled at His sides, ready to charge into battle for us. He’s cheering us on. He’s ready to bring us Home.

I find that comforting right now, even though I’m not about to die for what I believe. If my life this side of eternity stops before the end of the world as we know it, I’ll be fine. (Did you catch that?) I am still defended. Still being cheered on. Still going to receive a special welcome.

As I grapple with the message of Revelation, that is what gives me hope. Whatever I have to face, I do not have to face it alone. Nobody does. All we have to do is reach out to the Hand extended to us in faith. Maybe that’s the point. Behind all the gloom and doom is the final call of grace and hope.

Maybe Revelation boils down to this simplicity: God hates sin, but God loves us. He’ll use whatever means He can to get our attention. First it was the covenant people of Israel. Then it was the Resurrection. Someday it will be literally earthshaking events. And in all of this, we can choose Him or not choose Him.

Defended or alone.

Called

Gentle Reader,

My pastor is currently preaching through the ministry of Christ in anticipation of the Lenten season. Today he focused on a small and oft-studied passage, the call of the first disciples in Matthew 4:18-22. Though the first two chapters of the Gospel of John reveal that Jesus had likely already met Peter, Andrew, James and John, it is here that their role in relation to Him is explicitly defined.

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed Him.Going on from there, He saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed Him. (NKJV)

Two things about this passage struck me afresh today.

First, Jesus didn’t call the creme de la creme. He didn’t go out and look for the prettiest, the best, the brightest. He searched out ordinary people. Second, these ordinary people immediately set aside what they were doing and followed Him. There was no dragging of feet and certainly no excuses.

At the end of the sermon, my pastor noted that the call is the same today as it was then. Jesus invited twelve Average Joe’s to go along with Him on the adventure of a lifetime. He took what they were good at – fishing – and translated it into a work that would ultimately glorify Him and point others toward salvation. So, today, Jesus invites each of us to do the same.

What amazes me about this is both the gracious condescension of the Lord and His creativity. Jesus did not have to have anyone come along on His ministry. He could well have done it all alone. Yet He choose to allow human beings to play a part. He sees value and ability within His children beyond that which we see for ourselves. He draws out the qualities that we assume are worth nothing and uses them for something special.

I am thinking about this today in relation to being ill. It’s quite discouraging to be shut up at home so often, having to say “no” to fun activities and events. Today I wonder if He wants to use that. Surely there are others, far sicker than I, who struggle to climb out of dark holes. There must be a way for me to minister to them, out of my own frustrations. After all, it is the holes caused by our weakness and wounding which allow His light to shine through.

We’ve got to keep our eyes open, I think. God might be willing and wanting to use us in a way we have never imagined.