“So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him,’ You are my Son, today I have begotten you’; as he says also in another place, ’You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.’ In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.” — Hebrews 5:5-10 NRSV
Very often, when we consult a commentary on this passage, we get enmeshed in a long, confusing discussion about Melchizedek. Some of the old, classic commentaries go on and on about this character: who he was, what was his connection to Christ, was he some sort of mystical being, was he Christ himself, and on and on it goes. A reader can get lost in it — and end up being none the wiser for it.
But, I always figured the interpretation was simple and the commentators were making a mountain out of a mole hill.
It seems pretty simple to me.
The name Melchizedek (מַלְכִּי-צֶדֶק) means “King of Righteousness.” (Thus, it’s more likely a title rather than an actual name — but that’s neither here nor there.) (more…)
God of the covenant,
in the glory of the cross
your Son embraced the power of death
and broke its hold over your people.
In this time of repentance,
draw all people to yourself,
that we who confess Jesus as Lord
may put aside the deeds of death
and accept the life of your kingdom. Amen.
The first one relates to a theme I was trying to get at by speaking of Christian Perfection as an Ecumenical Doctrine:
The PERFECTION I hold is so far from being contrary to the doctrine of our Church that it is exactly the same which every clergyman prays for every Sunday: ‘Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may PERFECTLY LOVE THEE, and WORTHILY MAGNIFY thy holy name.’
— John Wesley, “Answer to Rowland Hill’s Tract” in “The Works of John Wesley” vol. 9, p409.
Wesley refers here to the familiar Anglican Collect for Purity. This prayer was translated by Thomas Cramner from an 11th Century Latin prayer appearing in the Leofric missal.
Almighty God, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secretes are hid: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy holy spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy name: through Christ our Lord. Amen.
The point being that the experience of faith that he taught is nothing more than the fulfillment of that prayer. And, if we are going to pray it — shouldn’t we expect it?
This second quote is crucial to Wesley’s claims about Christian Perfection:
Thursday 21st, inquiring how it was that in all these parts we had so few witnesses of full salvation [i.e., entire sanctification; Christian perfection], I constantly received one and the same answer: ‘We see now, we sought it by our WORKS. We thought it was to come GRADUALLY. We never expected it to come in a moment, by simple FAITH, in the very same manner as we received justification.’ What wonder is it then that you have been fighting all these years ‘as one that beateth the air’?
— John Wesley, “Short History of People Called Methodists” in “The Works of John Wesley” Vol. 9, p. 475.
It is by faith and not by works. Trying harder will not make us better — it is always a matter of trusting more deeply. We do not begin in the Spirit and then work out our salvation in our own energy — it is by grace through faith from beginning to end.
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It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid. When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion – its message becomes meaningless.
— Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism
HT: Fr. Ted Bobosh.
“The way to be a man of prayer, and be governed by its spirit, is not to get a book full of prayers; but the best help you can have from a book, is to read one full of such truths, instructions, and awakening informations, as force you to see and know who, and what, and where, you are; that God is your all; and that all is misery, but a heart and life devoted to him. This is the best outward prayer book you can have, as it will turn you to an inward book, and spirit of prayer in your heart, which is a continual longing desire of the heart after God, his divine life, and Holy Spirit. When, for the sake of this inward prayer, you retire at any time of the day, never begin till you know and feel, why and wherefore you are going to pray; and let this why and wherefore, form and direct everything that comes from you, whether it be in thought or in word.”
— William Law, The Spirit of Prayer 
It is amazing how self-critical the Hebrew Scriptures are. They do not glorify the nation or it’s heroes. The nation’s critics were remembered — they were remembered as prophets who told them, in advance, of the danger that lay ahead for them. The Scriptures really aren’t an exercise in glorifying the nation and it’s people and it’s leaders. It isn’t really an exercise in bragging about their greatness. One would naturally expect that it would be. It is their national literature, after all — in which they found their identity. They copied and re-copied it. They kept it safe. They recited it and memorized it.
They remembered the words of the prophets. They remembered: even though the prophets had preached a message of judgement against them, criticized the way they practiced their own religion, exposed their evil and selfish motives. (more…)
While many progressives and liberals feign incredulity, the conservative Christian objection to same-gender sex is not difficult to understand.
It is rooted in the way Christians tend to approach moral issues generally speaking — by referring to the sources of the faith and then to the traditions that followed. Traditionally, same-gender sex has been considered a sin. Why is this? (1.) Because it has generally been assumed that Jesus was pointing us to a standard of marriage that is heterosexual, monogamous, and permanent for the lifetime of the partners. If Jesus hadn’t referred back to the Genesis story of Adam and Eve in Matthew 19:3-12, Christians might not have turned to that story for a standard of sexual behavior. But, he did and we do. The traditional marriage ceremony reflects this. “The bond and covenant of marriage was established by God in creation….” (Book of Common Prayer). It has been generally believed that marriage conforms to some purpose and plan in the mind of God. It therefore reflects the notion that there can be a meaning and structure to life to which we may aspire — something has been communicated to us about God’s plan and purpose for us. Christians see the notion of marriage as resonating with Scripture in other ways as well: “…and our Lord Jesus Christ adorned this manner of life by his presence and first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. It signifies to us the mystery of the union between Christ and his Church, and Holy Scripture commends it to be honored among all people.” (Book of Common Prayer). Sexual behaviors outside of this standard of marriage have always been seen by Christians as being either wrong or, at least, suspicious. (2.) There are several specific condemnations of same-gender sex in the Bible. These are found both in the Old and New Testaments. Several of them appear in passages where context doesn’t seem to be a factor — isolated laws or lists of vices. While these (like anything else) could be related to specific practices of the time in which the Bible was written, (a.) they don’t seem to be, and (b.) they fit very well with notion of marriage as a paradigm for sexual behavior. And, then (3.) the early Christian tradition has often outspokenly condemned same-gender sex. (Though, we all recognize that Christian tradition is diverse and it can be wrong — and in need to correction in the light of new information.)
So, the conservative case is simple and seems air-tight. Conclusions have been drawn from all this to further elucidate what marriage is all about: “The union of husband and wife in heart, body, and mind is intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; and, when it is God’s will, for the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord. Therefore marriage is not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, deliberately, and in accordance with the purposes for which it was instituted by God.” (Book of Common Prayer)
So, if that is the case, what’s the problem? (more…)
I think that many times in the past I prayed for the guidance of the Holy Spirit — but without a clear expectation in my mind that I would have it in the course of the day.
But, I have learned to expect the Spirit’s guidance — if, indeed, I have prayed for it.
The great preacher F. B. Meyer expresses it well:
Expect the Holy Ghost to work in, with and for you. When a man is right with God, God will freely use him. There will rise up within him impulses and inspirations, strong strivings, strange resolves. These must be tested by Scripture and prayer, and if evidently of God they must be obeyed. But there is this perennial source of comfort: God’s commands are enablings. He will never give us a work to do without showing exactly how and when to do it, and He will give the precise strength and wisdom we need. Do not dread to enter this life because you fear that God will ask you to do something you cannot do. He will never do that. If He lays aught on your heart, He will do so uninvited; as you pray about it the impression will continue to grow, so that presently, as you look up to know what He wills you to say or do, the way will suddenly open, and you will probably have said the word or done the deed almost unconsciously. Rely on the Holy Ghost to go before you to make the crooked places straight and the rough places smooth. Do not bring the legal spirit of ‘must’ into God’s free service. ‘Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow.’ Let your life be as effortless as theirs, because your faith shall constantly hand over all difficulties and responsibilities to your ever-present Lord. There is no effort to the branch in putting forth the swelling clusters of grapes — the effort would be to keep them back.
“When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.””— John 20:19-22 (NRSV).
Jack Levison’s new book 40 Days With the Holy Spirit is filled with insights about the Holy Spirit. The book is divided into several brief meditations on the Spirit — and the language the Scriptures use to speak of the Spirit’s role. Dr. Levison holds the W. J. A. Power Chair of Biblical Hebrew and Old Testament Interpretation at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University. He has written about the Holy Spirit before: The Spirit in First Century Judaism (1997), Of Two Minds: Ecstasy and Inspired Interpretation in the New Testament World (2000), Filled with the Spirit (2009), Fresh Air: The Holy Spirit for an Inspired Life (2012).
And, in reading this new book, I came across a insight about the passage above that was new to me. I am quite familiar with the passage that reads: “When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”” Some scholars call this the Johannine Pentecost — the Gospel of John’s way of speaking of the coming of the Holy Spirit into the lives of the Christian believers. More traditional believers have had some difficulty reconciling this bestowal of the Holy Spirit with the later event of Pentecost — wondering when the Spirit really came upon the first disciples of Jesus. (more…)
By virtue of his resurrection, Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church. Christ is the supreme authority in the church. Christ is the source of our life and the basis of the connection between believers in the Church.
καὶ αὐτός ἐστιν ἡ κεφαλὴ τοῦ σώματος τῆς ἐκκλησίας· ὅς ἐστιν ἀρχή, πρωτότοκος ἐκ τῶν νεκρῶν, ἵνα γένηται ἐν πᾶσιν αὐτὸς πρωτεύων, ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ εὐδόκησεν πᾶν τὸ πλήρωμα κατοικῆσαι καὶ δι᾿ αὐτοῦ ἀποκαταλλάξαι τὰ πάντα εἰς αὐτόν, εἰρηνοποιήσας διὰ τοῦ αἵματος τοῦ σταυροῦ αὐτοῦ, [δι᾿ αὐτοῦ] εἴτε τὰ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς εἴτε τὰ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς.
“He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” (NRSV) (more…)
I am about to launch into a rather long post — and one that will not be of interest to everyone. Nevertheless, because of the nature of this site, and because of the issues I commonly address and raise here, I need to post a statement — about a problem often encountered in the literature of the holiness movement. It is common in these writings to encounter the language of eradication: the eradication of “sin” or of “inward sinfulness” or of “inbred sin” or of “the sin nature” or of “the carnal nature” — or similar language. What is to be made of these claims?
I have recently re-affirmed the purposes of this web site, saying: “I intend this as a site that is focused on the Wesleyan teachings about holy living.” I have often expressed my appreciation of the Holiness Movement and (to a lesser extent) the Pentecostal movement for the formative influence they had on shaping the earliest stages of my Christian journey.
I maintain here a growing collection of resources on the holiness movement here — and hope to have more soon. I also maintain two blogs that feature the writings of nneteenth century holiness writers Daniel Steele and Thomas C. Upham. . All of this, I am presenting “as is.” I am seeking make this material accessible, so that people can grapple with these writings on their own — without having them filtered through my own opinions and evaluations of them.
I am a retired United Methodist pastor. I realize that the message of Christian Perfection / Entire Sanctification (the main theme of the Holiness Movement) is almost completely unknown among contemporary United Methodists. Many United Methodist pastors heard of this theme for the first time in their life while attending Seminary. (And, some who did may not have been paying attention that particular day.)
It has been my intention, from the beginning of this site, to raise up this particular part of the Wesleyan tradition — I am not seeking to indoctrinate anyone in anything — I am raising an issue that (I believe) needs re-consideration and re-appropriation. My personal reasons for harping on the Christian Perfection theme of the Wesleyan tradition are given here: Sanctification as a Central Theme.
This naturally raises the question: do I agree with everything in the teachings of the 19th Century Holiness movement? And, the answer is: no, I don’t.
- Step one: Glory belongs to God and not to the nation (v. 1). (See: No Glory to Us and Glory to God’s Name.)
- Step two: Why should the nations say ‘Where is there God?’ (v.2).
- Step three: What Israel’s God is Like (v. 3). (See: The God Who Can’t Be Manipulated.)
- Step four: What the nations’ gods are like (vv. 4-8).
- Step five: A call for Israel to renew its trust in Yahweh (vv. 9-11).
So, now the Psalm turns from reflections on whatever misfortune has come upon them, to an affirmation of renewed hope in their God. (more…)
Many years ago (and for reasons I don’t entirely fathom myself) I became dissatisfied with the fact that I had little or no comprehension of the theology of Thomas Aquinas.
The few times I dipped into the Summa Theologica I found it incomprehensible. I knew that Thomas was a great and accomplished thinker, but I found his writings impenetrable. So, I started wondering if there was a way I could gain some degree of mastery of his thought. I wasn’t looking to become an expert, I just wanted a basic understanding.
I happened upon a very good path — which I highly recommend to anyone else out there who wants a basic understanding of Thomas’ thought. Here’s what I did. I searched around on the Amazon site for books on Thomas Aquinas. I was a little nervous about secondary sources (that is, books about Thomas and his theology) — I didn’t want to end up with ones that were primarily an exposition of the commentator’s bias, and I didn’t know which ones those were. I wanted to know enough to be able to dip into the Summa Theologica and understand what I was reading. Somewhere I encountered the view that Thomas is often easier to understand than his interpreters. That was part of my concern about secondary sources. So, I looked around for resources that would help me engage the primary sources. I hit upon a reading plan that I would recommend to anyone who wants to do their own short course on Thomas Aquinas. I purchased the following three books: (more…)
Certainly it is that — or it should be.
But, that is not all it is. It is also a perspective that embraces all of life. Christianity is a belief about what life is all about. It is not just about what is within us — it is about what is all around us. It is a faith in the God who is the Creator of all that is. The God to whom we pray is not just our God. Our God is the God of all people — and all things.
Notice the following verses: Colossians 1:16,17: (more…)