Church

Gregory of Nazianzus

Gregory of Nazianzus was one of the early church fathers. Here are a few thoughts of his for your encouragement.

We are not made for ourselves alone, we are made for the good of all our fellow creatures.

I cannot think on the one without quickly being encircled by the splendor of the three; nor can I discern the three without being straightway carried back to the one.

That which He has not assumed He has not healed.

Worship the Trinity, which I call the only true devotion and saving doctrine.

Let us quake before the great Spirit, Who is my God, Who has made me know God, Who is God there above, and Who forms God here: almighty, imparting manifold gifts, Him Whom the holy choir hymns, Who brings life to those in heaven and on earth, and is enthroned on high, coming from the Father, the divine force, self-commandeered; He is not a Child (for there is one worthy Child of the One who is best), nor is He outside the unseen Godhead, but of identical honor.

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The Beauty of God’s People

The Scriptures tell us that the created world is one of the most eloquent heralds of God’s beauty and glory (Ps 19:1, Rom 1:19-20). The reason creation is a testimony to the beauty of God is because it mirrors its Creator. This is especially true of humanity. If the heavens declare the glory of God then human beings shout it.

The creation account clearly climaxes in the formation of man and woman. They alone are fashioned in the image of God (Gen 1:26-28) and therefore invested with great value and purpose. If God is beautiful it follows that something created in his likeness would reflect that beauty. Human beings therefore mirror the beauty of God both individually and corporately.

There are a few texts that make this point explicit. God looks upon humanity and declares it “very good” (Gen 1:31). The Psalmist tells us that God created man “a little lower than the angels and crowned him with glory and honor” (Ps 8:5, cf. Heb 2:6-8). Paul tells us that man is the “image and glory of God” (1 Cor 11:7). This text clearly ties the image of God in man to the reflection of God’s beauty and glory.

The image of God in man suffered severe damage from the fall into sin. Individually and relationally human beings no longer function the way intended and therefore do not properly reflect the beauty of God. It is the rupture of the garden disobedience that introduces ugliness to the planet. All distortion of beauty is rooted in Genesis 3. Our confusion and misunderstanding of beauty begins here.

Ironically, the heart of the first transgression was the rejection of God’s definition of what was good and desirable. Eve dismissed God’s word and established her own word as the final authority. God declared the tree “not good” or desirable. Eve determined the tree to be “good for food and a delight to the eyes” (Gen 3:6).[1]

In essence Eve said: “That definition you have about what is good and desirable is interesting, but I believe I am more capable of determining what is really desirable and good for me. Thanks for the recommendation. I will be just fine ruling the universe, determining right from wrong, and defining reality.”

The knowledge of good and evil was not intended for creatures. The vocation of the creature is to submit to and obey God’s knowledge and determination of what is good and evil. By partaking of this tree, humanity grasped for moral autonomy and self-legislation.[2] By reaching after forbidden fruit Adam and Eve were grasping for divinity.

They rejected their place as creatures and joined Satan in his heavenly coup. This one act of rebellion rippled through the whole of the human race. We have all been guilty of the vain pursuit of becoming deity. Since the fall we’ve been trying to determine for ourselves what’s right and wrong, good and bad, beautiful and ugly. Rather than reflecting our Creator, we attempt to annihilate him and usurp his throne.[3]

One cannot overstate the devastating consequences of our sin and rebellion. We are deeply fractured people. Though the residue of original beauty and glory is still with us the dark cloak of sin has greatly covered its luster. We stand in need of mending and restoration. Just as we were dependent upon God to create us in his image so we are dependent upon him to restore that image within us.

Implications   

  • The image of God is one of the most important doctrines and themes running through Scripture for thinking about the issue of beauty in mankind. It is like a roadmap on the journey toward beauty. It points us back to the Triune God as the source of beauty. It directs us to understand the original intention, design, and beauty of humanity. It shows us the true north of being human and thus reveals how far we’ve gone astray. It leads us forward to the Triune project for restoring the image in us and takes us all the way home to our final glorification. The image of God is a doctrinal workhorse for constructing a theology of beauty.
  • Beauty is extrinsic to human beings. That is, our beauty does not originate from within us, it is not intrinsic to us, but it comes to us from outside. Our beauty is located in the one true Beauty whom we reflect.[4] Our beauty is therefore secondary, it comes from and points back to the primary beauty, which belongs to God alone. To put it another way, our beauty is a borrowed beauty. It does not belong to us and we cannot take credit for it.
  • Beauty is a gift from God that cannot be earned or attained. God created humans and he created them in his image thus endowing them with beauty and glory. The ability, power, and determination to create something or someone beautiful belong to God alone. Determining and attaining beauty is beyond the capacity of a human being. We are simply recipients of God’s initiative in this regard.
  • The image of God in man is an all-encompassing human reality. Many theologians have attempted to locate the image of God in certain parts or actions of man.[5] I believe there is little warrant for trying to define the image of God by dividing up man into different parts or actions. The whole of man in his being, relationships, and activity is a reflection of God.[6] If this is the case, we must affirm that our body and physical makeup are included in the image of God.[7] Internal and external beauty are therefore linked to the image of God in man. The upshot of all this is that the image of God is not only concerned with the internal character and unseen beauty of an individual. It also has something to say to external appearance.
  • If the essence of beauty is found in the sum total of God’s perfections expressed in his eternal tri-unity and his action in the world, then ugliness finds its definition in that which is contrary to this beauty. Sin, which is a falling short of the glory and beauty of God, must therefore stand at the center of our thinking on ugliness. If God has the final word on beauty, he also has the final word on ugliness.
  • The narrative of the fall instructs us that rejecting God’s word and living our own way is characteristic of sin. Like Eve, we attempt to establish our own standard of right and wrong, good and evil, beautiful and ugly. Freedom in the area of beauty comes only through rejecting every standard of man for beauty and embracing God’s standard as the final word on the matter. This includes repentance for our failure to believe his word.

 


[1] Throughout the creation narrative it is very clear that God alone holds the prerogative to determine what is good and what is not. Seven times he declares the creation to be good (Gen 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). One time he declares what is not good: a solitary existence for man (Gen 2:18). God makes it clear that it is not a good thing to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because death will ensue (Gen 2:17). When you follow the narrative the audacity of Eve to state what is good is shocking. She is essentially assuming the authority of God to assess and determine reality. She is making an authoritative declaration that is outside of her capacity and role.

[2] William J. Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel: A Theological Survey of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker House Academic, 2002), 23.

[3] Luther argued that at the root of all sin is the “Annihilatio Dei,” the attempt to annihilate God. Mark Seifrid, “Justified by Faith and Judged by Works: A Biblical Paradox and Its Significance,” SBJT 5:4 (Winter, 2001), 91.

[4] F. Duane Lindsey, “Essays Toward a Theology of Beauty,” 125. Augustine was one of the first theologians to use “Beauty” as a proper name for God. A smattering of theologians has followed his example throughout church history.

[5] Bruce Ware, “Male and Female Complementarity and the Image of God,” JBMW 7:1 (Spring 2002), 15-16. Ware traces the history of interpretation and discusses the various ways the image of God has been understood. He summarizes the various interpretations under three views. 1) Structural views- proponents of this position argue that the image of God is found in some aspect of our human nature that distinguishes us from animals. The image of God from this perspective was often located in the will, mind, intellect, or soul. 2) Relational views- proponents of this view argue that the image of God is seen in relationships. Arguing from a Trinitarian base this position believes that community is the key to understanding the image. 3) Functional views- proponents of this view argue that the image of God is located in the various functions and responsibilities of man. Since the discussion of the image of God is in the context of Adam ruling and subduing those holding this view argue that this is the primary significance of the image.

[6] Ibid, 16-17. Ware calls this position “functional holism.” It integrates the structural, functional, and relational viewpoints and argues that the entirety of human existence contributes to our understanding of the image of God.

[7] John Frame, “Men and Women in the Image of God” in Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, eds. John Piper & Wayne Grudem (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1991), 227. Frame says, “Our fundamental principle, that everything human images God, requires us to hold that the human body, also images God.” He goes further to defend how the body is integral to human existence and therefore necessary for understanding the image of God.

A Biblical Framework for Encouragement: Church

The presence of the church in the world is intended to be a tremendous source of encouragement. It is for encouragement that we gather and it is encouragement that we are called to bring to the world.

The book of Hebrews tells us that encouragement is an important means of safeguarding one another and developing perseverance in the faith.

“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But encourage one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb 3:13).

Daily encouragement is the remedy for the slippery slope of unbelief, hardness of heart and falling away from God. This slope is a reality for everyone one of us. I cannot count the number of times I have come to church on a Sunday morning with a rock for a heart. I have felt the slippery slope—the slide into unbelief and callousness. I have also felt the softening touch of God’s Spirit as brothers and sisters encourage me. We need each other. Encouragement is designed to smashScreen Shot 2016-08-01 at 6.03.45 PM the rock heart that can so easily overtake us.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:14, Paul says to “encourage the fainthearted.” The word translated fainthearted means “little souled.” The idea is that our circumstances, pain, suffering and discouragements can deflate us, they can press in on us to such a degree that our capacity for hope dwindles.

Encouragement infuses hope into our hearts, it expands the walls of our soul again. It increases our capacity for hope once again. When we gather, when we encourage one another, when we communicate the gospel promises to each other again and again—this is what happens.

We need each other. This life of faith thing is a community endeavor.

 

An Unexpected Lesson on Humility

Tabletalk is a book that captures conversations between Martin Luther and his students. Many of these conversations were said to take place around Luther’s dinner table. In a section from Tabletalk below, Luther teaches a profound and unexpected lesson on humility. He argues that the angels are a living lesson in humility, one that should be emulated.

The acknowledgment of angels is needful in the church. Therefore godly preachers should teach them logically. First, they should show what angels are, namely, spiritual creatures without bodies. Secondly, what manner of spirits they are, namely, good spirits and not evil; and here evil spirits must also be spoken of, not created evil by God, but made so by their rebellion against God, and their consequent fall; this hatred began in Paradise, and will continue and remain against Christ and his church to the world’s end. Thirdly, they must speak touching their function, which, as the epistle to the Hebrews (chap. i. v. 14–“Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?”) shows, is to present a mirror of humility to godly Christians, in that such pure and perfect creatures as the angels do minister unto us, poor and wretched people, in household and temporal policy, and in religion. They are our true and trusty servants, performing offices and works that one poor miserable mendicant would be ashamed to do for another. In this sort ought we to teach with care, method, and attention, touching the sweet and loving angels. Whoso speaks of them not in the order prescribed by logic, may speak of many irrelevant things, but little or nothing to edification.

The Nicene Creed

The Nicene creed was written around A.D. 325. It was adopted in the face of the Arian controversy. Arius, a Libyan presbyter in Alexandria, had declared that although the Son was divine, he was a created being and therefore not equal with the Father. He made the statement “there was when he was not.” This belief made Jesus less than the Father, which posed challenges to the doctrine of the Trinity and the doctrine of salvation. The Nicene creed was a response to this challenge and a correction to his error.

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth,
and all that is seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he was born of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered, died, and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in fulfillment of the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead,
and His kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son
he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

The Nicene creed builds on and elaborates the Apostle’s Creed. Paramount in this creed is the explanation of the person of Christ and his relation to the father. The creed also elaborates on the saving work of the Son, the person and role of the Spirit, and things pertaining to the church. I will highlight a few of these key areas.

  • The Son of God is unique in his dependence on the Father– He is “eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God.” This creedal statement has created a lot of discussion and debate throughout church history. The doctrine here described has been called “eternal generation.” A.A. Hodge attempts to put this mystery into words. Eternal generation is “an eternal personal act of the Father wherein, by necessity of nature, not by choice of will, He generates the person (not the essence) of the Son, by communicating to Him the whole indivisible substance of the Godhead, without division, alienation, or change, so that the Son is the express image of His Father’s person, and eternally continues, not from the Father, but in the Father, and the Father in the Son.”
  • The Son of God is unique in his equality with the Father– The creed clarifies and balances the previous statement when it says that the Son was “begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father.” The doctrine of “eternal generation” does not call into question the absolute equality of the Father and Son. They share the identical nature and essence. The Son knows no beginning, he has always been. He has always shared everything with the Father.
  • The Son of God is unique in his role as Creator– The creed specifies the Son’s key role in creation: “Through him all things were made.” This is a new and important addition to the Apostle’s creed that further establishes the deity of the Son.
  • The Son of God in his unique role as Redeemer– The creed frames the saving work of Christ in a fresh way. “For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man.” The humility of the incarnation and the empowering of the Holy Spirit are center stage in this description of Christ’s mighty work.
  • The Holy Spirit is unique in his role as Life-Giver– The creed identifies the Spirit as the “Lord,” equal to the Father and Son. As the Lord, he is the “giver of life.” It is the Spirit’s vocation to breathe life and sustain it. We see this in both creation and new creation.
  • The Holy Spirit is unique in his relationship to the Father and Son– The Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son.” This is another phrase that has produced a lot of discussion, debate and significant conflict. The doctrine here has been called the “procession of the Holy Spirit.” A.A. Hodge explains the teaching. Procession refers to “the relation which the third person sustains to the first and second, wherein by an eternal and necessary, i.e., not voluntary, act of the Father and the Son, their whole identical divine essence, without alienation, division, or change, is communicated to the Holy Spirit.”
  • The Holy Spirit is a proper object of our worship– The creed recognizes that worship necessarily follows the affirmation of deity. The Spirit is worthy of worship alongside the Father and Son.“With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.”
  • The Holy Spirit inspired the prophets– The creed affirms the Spirit’s role in the speech of the prophets and by extension the inspiration of Scripture. “He has spoken through the Prophets.”
  • The link between baptism and forgiveness– This creed, unlike any previous, addresses baptism. It also draws a link between forgiveness and baptism. “We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.”

The Apostle’s Creed

The Apostle’s Creed is one of the earliest creeds. Some have suggested that it was originally written around 170 A.D. It is widely used today in many denominations as a statement of faith. The simplicity of the creed points to the fact that it was written before many of the doctrinal debates that served as a catalyst for the other statements.

(1) I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth,

(2) And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried. The third day he rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From there he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

(3) I believe in the Holy Spirit, I believe in the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

Martin Luther provides some helpful commentary on the creed. He encouraged those in his flock to memorize the creed along with the ten commandments and the Lord’s prayer. He admonished his flock to verbalize the creed every day to strengthen their faith.

(1) What does this mean? I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true.

(2) What does this mean? I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord. Who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.

(3) What does this mean? I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.