Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Christology and the Coptic Church

The big news in Christendom as of late is the the discovery of a papyrus scrap written in 2nd century Coptic, which purportedly alludes to Jesus' wife.  Naturally, questions about authenticity, context, and meaning have been replaced with more serious theological undertones: does this undermine the person of Jesus Christ?  Does this undermine the Bible, thus working to disprove the existence of the messianic Christ?  And the list goes on.

The Bible makes no mention whatsoever of any wife or companion to Jesus other than his twelve disciples.  While there is no irrefutable text that flatly denies that He was ever married, the scriptural silence on the issue coupled with 1) prophetic allusions to His ministry and Personhood, as well as 2) the symbolism of Christ as not only the head, but the Bridegroom of the Church, is sufficient evidence for us to believe that Jesus never had a spouse.

The discovery is so-called "significant" because it offers basis for contradiction to the most widely read and discussed text in human history.  But circumstances affirming the papyrus scrap's veracity are dubious.  The Coptic writing dates the scrap back to the 2nd-century early Egyptian church, long after the completion of the Biblical canon.

Two scenarios are possible with the scrap's content-- either 1) the allusion to Jesus' wife reflects an intersection of Christological speculation in the early church (prior to the ecumenical period) over the binarial natures of Jesus as God and man, where a corporeal wife might have seemed compatible with the latter, or 2) the scrap is a translation of early Gnostic texts, which were written long after Christ's ministry and the apostolic church, and have been primarily centered on contrived reactionary doctrine countering the orthodoxy of the Biblical canon.

While the latter is more plausible, the bottom line holds that something was indeed "lost in translation."  If the Coptic scrap truly does refer to a physical wife in human form, it may be nothing more than the result of severe theological schisms and the accompanying speculation over the full nature of Christ in His Personhood.  However, the reference could just as well be an analogical portrait of Christ and the Church through the husband-wife relationship (John 3:29), thus affirming conventional orthodoxy over the relationship between Jesus and His followers as a corporate unit.

Whatever the origins are of the papyrus scrap, the infallibility of Scripture has not changed.  The papyrus discovery is just one of many countless examples used to undermine empirical basis for Christianity.  Regardless, nothing in human history has yet to prove or disprove the existence of the Lord God and His resurrected Son, leaving faith as still the central tenet to our belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The One Foundation

I have to be constantly reminded that there is One foundation of the Church-- Jesus Christ.  This applies to all bodies and fellowships, whether ministries, college groups, deacons boards, etc.  As weekly attendance in our own college group has plummeted this summer, a very human inclination had been pestering my heart early on-- why aren't more coming to enjoy fellowship with each other in Christ?

The Lord taught me a great deal over the last few years and especially the latter months.  Many of us had forgotten the "in Christ" premise of fellowship, largely that we had one purpose in meeting and that was to meet with our Lord (Matthew 18:20) As I was reminded at a conference, as long as Christ is in the midst of a gathering regardless of size, then the fellowship remains equally sweet.  The makeup of the Church is always and has always been Christ in us minus us.

As the modern church runs the risk of emphasizing numbers and charisma, this reminder is ever so important.  Only with eyes on Christ can we learn communion, obedience through suffering (Heb. 5:8), and repentance.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A theology of suffering (I)

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” ~Job 1:21

In addition to atonement, Christ also accomplished the work of the "new and living way" (Heb. 10:20) upon the cross, effectively gifting us the fullness of His life and its characteristics.  While no Christian would disagree with this doctrine, there has been an egregious falsehood perpetuated in the modern church-- that which says the life of Christ is one of blessings, riches, and rewards should the Christian devote his life to the Lord.

The summation of this false doctrine is being sold as the "prosperity gospel," which brands God as a god of blessings and prosperity for His children.  Many supporters and teachers of this "gospel" are quick to cite scriptural verses supporting the notion of God's abundant provision to His people.  But like the multitude of false doctrines out there, the prosperity gospel discounts entire portions of scripture, in effect cherry picking that which supports its cause.  Not only is the excessive and idolatrous pursuit of riches condemned (1 Tim. 6:1-10), James actually implores the rich to boast when their wealth, status, reputation, etc. is battered by trials (James 1:9-10).

With the shooting rampage in Colorado nearly two weeks ago and ongoing suffering that takes place daily in our world (much of which happens against Christians), it is a question indeed whether or not we are blessed to live abundantly and prosperously once we give our lives to Christ.  Both experience and the Lord's word tells us affirmatively "no," pointing to moments where believers are led into death (Acts 7:54-60) and severe suffering (Job 1) in accordance to God's will.

One must remember that a life lived in the fullness of Christ is one that reflects the very life that the Son Himself lived.  While that does not include the atoning work of His sacrifice on the cross (that work is complete), it does incorporate the suffering, persecution, tears, and submission to the Father that Jesus experience throughout His time on the earth.  In 1 Peter 4, the very reason for our suffering is stated as being reflective of what the Lord Himself had to go through.  Thus, the secondary work of salvation is not just to bring believers into mere belief of Christ, but also into suffering for Him (Philippians 1:29).

It is a gratifying reminder that as the Lord gives and takes away, we are at His mercy from day to day.  The fact that we still live despite our revelry in sin is an amazing testament to His grace.  Ultimately, our mind must trust in God's sovereignty and that His ways are far higher than ours.

Because of the length of this exposition on suffering, I'll include a second-part follow-up which will describe the dynamics of corporate and individual sufferings, and how we, as believers, should respond.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Changeless God

There are portions of scripture that reveal God's allowance for negotiation with Him, the most prominent example being Abraham's intercession on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18.  At first, this seems a bit troublesome-- does this mean we can barter with God?  More importantly, does it indicate that God can change His mind?  The Bible is clear that this is not the case (Mal. 3:6).

The problem is that we often compartmentalize scripture through division into the Old and New Testaments, and as a result treat God as different in each, when in fact, He is not.  Evidence that the Lord is a God of grace persists from His favor over the house of Israel during Joseph's reign in Egypt, to his intention of fulfilling his covenants with the three patriarchs.  The first and foremost of these, the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 12), is based on unconditionality, meaning no action was required from Abraham.

God, as omniscient Spirit, knows Abraham's heart and allows him to negotiate for Sodom and Gomorrah on behalf of the righteous.  As much as the negotiation sounds like a bartering deal at a flea market, a critical look at the text demands not an emphasis on numbers (v. 23-32), but the Lord's impartation of grace and love for the righteous in the two cities and more important, the establishment of His will for Abraham.  

Secularist scholars may look at this passage and infer that there are two gods here-- one of vengeance and retribution, another of reason and compassion.  The dilemma is false at best because it ignores the fundamental characteristic of God as both just and gracious and also a God of immutability; in other words He is unchanging.  The Lord's sovereignty and omniscience demands that He knows exactly what He plans to do with Sodom and Gomorrah, regardless of what Abraham pleads.  However, Abraham's intercession is ordained by God to accomplish His will.  Here's some good analysis on God-moving prayer from Ligonier Ministries:
Understanding that God knows the end from the beginning, has decreed “whatsoever comes to pass” (WCF 3.1), and is sovereign over all actually gives us hope that the Lord does indeed respond to prayer. These truths are not to make us fatalistic and keep us from praying. God has not revealed to us His sovereign decrees. According to Deuteronomy 29:29, they are hidden from us and belong to Him alone. Still, what the Lord has told us is for us to know forever, and He has revealed in Scripture that He uses our prayers to accomplish His will. Our prayers move Him to act, which is, of course, due to the fact that He ordains even our intercession. But that is not our focus in prayer. Instead, we are to implore Him to act, knowing how He delights to hear from us and to grant our requests as they align with His purposes (1 John 5:14).
Abraham's intercession sets the groundwork for our prayer to God.  Our Lord Jesus Himself prayed to the Father: "...not my will, but Yours be done" (Luke 22:42).

Saturday, May 26, 2012


The concept of repentance, as taught in modern Christian denominations, can often elicit some form of controversy or confusion, largely because it ostensibly contradicts the solas doctrine,  especially solus Christus and sola gratia.  If Jesus Christ is the sole proprietor, author, and perfector of our faith (Heb. 12:2), then it's somewhat paradoxical for the mandate of repentance to be inscribed in Christian dogma.  Many who grow up in the church will likely hear things like: "You must repent before entering the kingdom of heaven" and like phrases.  This was indeed one of the preeminent challenges to my understanding of theology-- how could we be saved wholly reliant on God's grace but still fail to enter His kingdom by omission of repentance?

I believe repentance, actually, is taught incorrectly in modern Protestant denominations.  The reason why the aforementioned paradox appears to be a contradiction is largely how repentance is framed.  It is commonly held that repentance essentially means permanently refraining from committing a sin or multiple sins that were persistent in one's life.  Indeed, when not expounded upon, it sounds like repentance essentially demands that one stops sinning entirely.  The fatal flaw is that this diminishes the value of repentance to works, an action that we ourselves can take and have control over.  When fit into the clause: "one must repent to enter the kingdom of God," then we are left with a statement that says salvation is to be earned through work.  From scripture, we know this is entirely incorrect.

Because salvation through grace is not earned from works, or earned at all in fact, it is impossible and contradictory to teach repentance both as a prerequisite for salvation and as something that constitutes a body of works.  So what is repentance?  Repentance is an entirely God-given fundamental adoption of the new and living way (Heb. 10:20), an alteration of worldview so that the operation of living is no longer done for one's selfish and sinful purposes of pleasing the flesh, but done entirely in submission to God and His glory.  In other words, you are no longer living for sin and the world (in essence, our  life out of the first Adam) but now living for His kingdom (life given by Christ, the second Adam), as an adopted child of God.

Repentance, then, is not the eradication of sin out of life but the transformation from a life enslaved by sin to a life enslaved by God (more on this later).  As a result, it should follow that a repentant heart will also yield the effect of sin being less and less apparent in his or her life.  Above all, repentance is a process completely authored by God and only possible through His grace.  We can never incline ourselves to repent without the initiation of God's love first.  As we recognize that, then can we begin to undergo the true transformation of repentance.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A long time coming

It's been more than three years since my last entry in my old politics and faith blog, and since then my worldview has evolved dramatically.  I don't treat politics as my spiritual battleground anymore, nor do I ascribe to any particular partisan ideology.  One thing that hasn't changed is my faith... though that, too, is questionable as I contemplate how my spiritual life has progressed over this time.

College has not been kind to me.  For the entirety of my tenure in university, I suffered an obsessive-compulsive academic complex that was by its nature, intrinsically focused on advancing my professional agenda.  Yes, agenda.  I say "agenda" because that's what it has been; a doctrinal subscription to normative worldly values.  All this has come at great expense to my walk and other areas in my life, which have suffered miserably.

Through it all, I've learned the value of keeping near to God.  It's unbelievable how one discovers he or she is proven wrong as life goes on.  A few years, I conceded that skipping out on my studies in Chinese school was detriment to my capacity as a bilingual speaker.  Now, I realize that not reading my Bible all these years has left me theologically stupid.

It's a challenge, but one I'm willing to overcome.  I'm reigniting blogging in this area of my life as a challenge to myself, not just for scrutiny and exegesis of the faith, but to document (in a sense) my walk as I move out of college.  As a youth ministry coordinator at church, I cannot afford to do anything less than to reach for the status of Christlikeness.

Above all, I can only look to God, who is my Shepherd.  Everything I do, the whole purpose of this, is for His glory.  As I challenge myself now, I must ascribe to His ways and let my identity be transformed by the Spirit into a disciple and bondslave of Christ.  I can only hope that these words will serve as a reminder that this is the call that awaits me, and all of us under Christ.