Examining ancient hymns and prayers (1)

This line of posts will be somewhat different.  Normally I go on the attack towards Orthodoxy and such.  Orthodox Bridge recently posted a contrast between theosis and Reformed sanctification.  I have a detailed response to it but I will forego posting it because the author mentioned S. Wedgeworth and Derek Rishmway. Those two gentlemen are far more competent Calvin students than I am.  Secondly, when I don’t comment that site doesn’t really have many comments and gets less traffic.

Today I want to explore the ancient prayers of the church, particularly as they formed personal devotion.  My source is the Orthodox Study Bible (which as study bibles go is better than most, but with a few shortcomings).  I realize this isn’t the only source of Orthodox devotion, but it is the most accessible.

I think it is important to examine these ancient prayers because the content is richly Trinitarian and even in my tamed Americanized study bible, the language is dignified and noble.  Further, imbibing these prayers will provide the devotee with a manner of praying that avoids the tendency to end every prayer with “Lead, guide and direct us” “Lead guide and direct us.”  Etc.

And as I reviewed the OSB NT, I noticed that these prayers lack the appeals and going throughs of Mary.  With the exception of two lines in the benediction, a Protestant can say these prayers without changing anything.

Beginning

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Glory to you, O Lord, glory to you.

O heavenly King, O comforter, the Spirit of Truth who are in all places and fillest all things.  The treasury of good gifts and the giver of Life.  Come and abide in us, cleanse us from every Stain and save our souls, Amen.

The above is a rather ancient prayer and is worth incorporating into one’s spirituality.  This is only the beginning.

Reading Scripture with the Fathers (Hall, review).

Before people jump to the conclusion, “He’s just a Protestant so what does he know?” please let me finish the review then you can start throwing objections and seeing what sticks.

 

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The book turned out much better than I expected it to be. The author avoided anachronisms and the scope of the text, while very limited, skillfully outlined the Church Fathers’ (more on that elusive term later) handling of Scripture.

Christopher Hall argues that Evangelicals should make the Church Fathers routine conversation partners in our interpretation of Scripture. Not to make them the last word, since much of their exegesis is rather forced, but because a regular *re*reading of the Church Fathers provides an important epistemological service: it forces us to examine our own presuppositions and culture as we come to the text.

What is a Church Father? Admittedly, any definition of this term is somewhat arbitrary. Hall summarizes the definition along the lines of someone who has received traditional teaching (Hall 50; cf Irenaeus) and faithfully preserved conciliar conclusions. A Church father must have antiquity, holiness of life (although this can be stretched when it comes to things like temper and gentleness) and orthodox doctrine. Granted, a number of questions are begged at this point, but we must move on.

Hall then survey eight fathers: four Eastern (Athanasius, Nazianzus, Basil, and Chrysostom) and four Western (Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome, and Gregory the Great) and points the reader to certain works. Much of this section is a summary of what you would find in textbooks on the Nicene and post-Nicene period. I won’t go into it here.

He then contrasts the allegorizing of Alexandria with the more literal approach of Antioch.  And while I know that men like Chrysostom rejected the allegorizing approach, I didn’t know how widespread such a rejection was.  Hall gives the standard reasons why all allegories (possibly excluding Paul’s unique usage) are doomed to failure:  allegories by definition are impossible to falsify.

What can we take from the Church Fathers? Unlike modern academic tendencies, they did not divorce the reading of Scripture and the doing of theology from liturgy (happily, with the coming demise of the German-based post-graduate system in America, we might be approaching a period when this is possible).

Even more, the Fathers had mnemonic powers that Americans can only dream of. This allowed them to be remarkably sensitive to motifs in Scripture that a concordance might miss. While Hall doesn’t cover this, to be a bishop in the ancient church one must have memorized the entire Psalter. (And later, to be a Cossack warrior in Russia one must also have memorized the Psalter. When you get captured by Muslimists chanting the Psalter would help you endure torture).

And to be honest, if you want to memorize large chunks of Scripture, you probably need to chant it. Not recite it nor re-read it, but chant it. That’s likely why John Chrysostom had the entire Bible memorized.

As a whole the book is outstanding. Some repetition and for those who have read widely on the Nicene debates, parts of the book can be skipped. On the other hand, this is probably the best introduction to the Church Fathers.

Should the church fathers determine our conclusions about what Scripture means?  No, for a number of reasons:
  1. More often than not they are not asking the same questions–and this is a historical inevitability that cannot be helped.
  2. With the exception of Chrysostom and a few others, most did not go systematically through the Bible.  This means if you want an exposition of your favorite verse, odds are it won’t be there or it won’t be developed in any real length.
  3. I also believe that the church fathers would have rejected this quasi-infallibility that we place on them.  Yes, they themselves tended towards it in their hagiography (interesting side note:  Gregory Nazianzus called Athanasius the Pope of the entire world.   Boy, that has ecumenical ramifications! LOL).

So again, what point the church fathers?

  1. They can teach humility in reading past theology.  Of course, Orthodox interlocutors will call foul at that point since I don’t seem like the most humble person.  Fair enough, but I am only sharp when people advance theologies that attack my hope in Christ’s saving me.  If anyone denies that Yeshua gave me his Holy Spirit as a down payment and that my sacraments are graceless, well then…
  2. What I mean by the above is that we should be careful of throwing heresy charges because people don’t believe what we believe at a later date.  Be careful of calling heresy what would condemn earlier fathers of heresy.

 

Monarchy and Beards

We read in That Hideous Strength that the first time Jane Studdock looks at Ransom her world is unmade.  Why?  Because up until that moment Jane believes in a world of total egalitarianism.  Now she realizes, once again, in the depths of her soul, that hierarchy holds a deeper truth than the legal fiction of equality.  Lewis writes,

She had (or so she had believed)  disliked bearded faces except for old men with white hair.  But that was because she had long since forgotten the imagined Arthur of her childhood…for the first time in many years the bright solar blend of king and lover and magician which hangs about that name (Lewis is here referring to King Solomon) stole back upon her mind.  For the first time in all those years she had tasted the word Kingitself with all linked associations of battle, marriage, priesthood, mercy, and power.  At that moment, as her eyes first rested upon his [Ransom’s] face, Jane forgot who she was, and where…her world was unmade; she knew that.  Anything might happen now.

“With these words Lewis introduces us to the importance of monarchy.  It is vital because it reminds us that we do not live in an egalitarian world but rather a world in which hierarchy exists at all levels (144).

Will Vaus, Mere Theology

A limited appreciation of non-Jesus icons

I have to wonder:  could iconic art reinvigorate a culture?  I ask my Protestant friends:  if you take away the bowing down to images and the making of hypostases of the Logos outside of the hypostasis of the Logos, what exactly is the problem with icons?  Nothing really.  Nothing that wouldn’t apply to art in general.  Orthodox iconography is beautiful.  It is infinitely superior to Roman Catholic art.   Indeed, my favorite icon is of the Norwegian king, Olav Ogre-Bane.

St Olaf of Norway_b

Protecting Macarthurites from a bad inference

These are observations about claims Mac and Co. make.   They are not intended as a point-by-point analysis of Strange Fire.  That will come in due time, Lord willing.  My goal here is to protect John MacArthur’s admitted hero Martyn Lloyd-Jones from John Macarthur.

In chapters 3 and 4 JM relies on Edwards’ analysis of revival, and I think it is a good–if incomplete–analysis of any “spiritual” movement.

  1. Does the work exalt the true Christ?
  2. Does it oppose worldliness?
  3. Does it point people to the Scriptures?
  4. Does it elevate the truth?
  5. Does it produce love for God and others?

It is a good list.  However, I would say with the apostle Paul, “I would that you all prophesy.”  But back to the points above.  The logical danger with rhetorical questions is that if the opposition can bite the bullet and the position is logically unchanged, your entire argument, such that it is, evaporates.

Case study:  Wayne Grudem.

No one can accuse Wayne Grudem of not exalting Christ.  I don’t know him personally, though we did exchange friendly emails some months ago, but I highly doubt he is worldly.  Does he point people to the Scriptures?  Seriously?  As an inerrantist, I am certain Grudem can affirm 3 and 4.  5 is a given.

How would a Word-Faither do?  That’s a fair question, but if you lump Wayne Grudem and Sam Storms in the same camp with Copeland and Hinn, you are sinning against your brothers and violating the 9th commandment.  Only a party spirit can remain untouched by such a rebuke.

The Missing Case of Martyn Lloyd-Jones

A search engine on Strange Fire lists only seven appearances of Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

p.44 lists MLJ saying that the Spirit exalts Christ.  Presumably this is a slam against much of charismatic worship.  Fair enough.  (I do wonder if the Spirit wants us to worship like Dutch-American amillennialists).

p.261 has MLJ saying the office of prophet has ceased.  Okay, he said that.  He also said other things, and in any case I don’t think that exegesis stands up to Grudem’s scholarship.

p.117-118 say basically the same thing.

p.312 lists MLJ’s Christian Unity.

p.319 is the index.

p.281 is an endnote for Great Doctrines of the Bible.

And that’s it for MLJ.  So what’s the big deal?  Well, here is what Macarthur has to say about Martyn Lloyd-Jones:

He influenced countless preachers (myself included), and he stood steadfastly against the superficial, entertainment-oriented approach to preaching that seemed to dominate the evangelical world then as it does now. Lloyd-Jones still desperately needs to be heard today.

Again, you might ask, “What’s the big deal?  Anybody should say that about MLJ.” Macarthur elsewhere says,

There is a stream of sound teaching, sound doctrine, sound theology that runs all the way back to the apostles.  It runs through Athanasius and Augustine…and runs through the pathway of Charles Spurgeon, and David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and it keeps running.

Well, here is the problem.  Macarthur does not allow (de facto) the distinction between continuationism (myself) and charismaticism (insert favorite bad guy).  He notes

Number seven, by asserting the gift of healing has continued to be present, the continuationist position affirms the same basic premise that undergirds the fraudulent ministry of charismatic faith healers.  If you say the gift of healing is still around, and you say it whimsically, there’s no evidence it’s around, either experimentally or biblically, but if you say it’s still around, then you have just validated healers.

Who would want to do that?  Are they not the lowest of the low?  Are they not the worst of the worst?  They don’t go to hospitals.  They prey on the most desperate, the most severely ill, the most hopeless, the most destitute, very often the poorest, telling them lies and getting rich.  Who would want to do anything to aid and abet them?

Said another way:

Premise 1: If continuationists assert “the miraculous,” then they validate faith healers.
Premise 2: They assert the miraculous.
(3)Conclusion: They validate faith healers (Modus Ponens)

Prem. (4): Faith healers are the lowest of the low (agreed)
Prem. (5): If anyone validates them, they, too are the lowest of the low [4, 1]

(6) If person A asserts the miraculous, then he, too, validates faith healers [2, 5]

Of course, I challenge premises 1 and 3.  Someone could still say, “Yeah, so.  You are the lowest of the low because you believe in the miraculous.”  Fair enough.  I will now lower the boom.

Lloyd-Jones states,

Those people who say that [baptism with the Holy Spirit] happens to everybody at regeneration seem to me not only to be denying the New Testament but to be definitely quenching the Spirit” (Joy Unspeakable, p. 141).

“If the apostles were incapable of being true witnesses without unusual power, who are we to claim that we can be witnesses without such power?” (The Sovereign Spirit, p. 46.)

I think it is quite without scriptural warrant to say that all these gifts ended with the apostles or the Apostolic Era. I believe there have been undoubted miracles since then (Joy Unspeakable, p. 246.)

Was it only meant to be true of the early church? … The Scriptures never anywhere say that these things were only temporary—never! There is no such statement anywhere (The Sovereign Spirit, pp. 31-32.)

“To hold such a view,” he says, “is simply to quench the Spirit” (The Sovereign Spirit, p. 46)

Premise (7) Martyn Lloyd-Jones asserts the miraculous.

Now the Strange Fire Brigade faces a painful difficulty:  reject (1)–(6) or accept Premise (8)

(8) Martyn Lloyd-Jones validates faith-healers.  [6, 7 MP]

Conclusion

Someone could still respond, “Well, MLJ is not God. He isn’t right on everything.”  No he isn’t.  He is an amillennialist, for one.  But let’s go back to Macarthur’s claim: “anyone holding these views gives credence to faith healers and is the lowest of the low.”  He must apply that to MLJ.  The logic is impeccable (up to a point, anyway).

In analytic philosophy we call this a “defeater.”  It shows his position is either counter to the evidence or it cannot be held simultaneously with the evidence. Either his view of Martyn Lloyd-Jones is wrong and it has to be abandoned (as the evidence makes abundantly clear), or he must give the defeater to his claim that continuationists validate faith healers.

He will do neither.

His position collapses.