Mystic Mondays – The Centrality of Faith (St. Irenaeus of Lyons)

“Mystic Mondays” is a series done here at the Christian Watershed in the hopes of keeping us grounded. While we support the rational defense of the faith, we must ultimately concede that our faith is beyond reason; Christianity contains reason, but reason doesn’t contain Christianity. This is because our foundation is not in a system, but in a Person. 

From On Apostolic Preaching:

St. Irenaeus of Lyons

“Therefore, lest we suffer any such thing, we must keep the rule of faith unswervingly, and perform the commandments of God, believing in God and fearing Him, for He is Lord, and loving Him, for He is Father. Action, then, comes by faith, as ‘if you do not believe,’ Isaias says, ‘you will not understand’; and truth brings about faith, for faith is established upon things truly real, that we may believe what really is, as it is, and believing what really is, as it is, we may always keep our conviction of it firm. Since, then, the conserver of our salvation is faith, it is necessary to take great care of it, that we may have a true comprehension of what is.”

It seems that one of the central debates for Christians today is whether we should believe like Christians or live like Christians. One side is adamant that our beliefs are what save us while the other side argues that our works save us, while beliefs don’t really matter (or at least don’t hold that much importance).

For early Christians the distinction between believing and actions simply didn’t exist. To have “faith” meant that we believed what had been handed down to us and then lived according to those beliefs. As Irenaeus elucidates, action comes from faith and faith is established on things that are real. Our faith is in God, who is real, so then we should act on this belief.

We shouldn’t have a dichotomy between how we live and what we believe. Turning to the highly respected 20th century theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, we read,

“And when we exalt orthopraxy, right action, which is demanded clearly enough by Jesus himself…do we have to lose all sense of what the New Testament equally emphatically calls right belief, orthodoxy?” (Truth is Symphonic: Aspects of Christian Pluralism, 13)

It certainly seems like von Balthasar is simply echoing the sentiments of Irenaeus, both of whom seem to point back to St. James (the Less or the Great, depending on who you believe), who wrote,

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

It would appear that even James faced this dichotomy where people were more concerned about works or about belief. To James, there is no difference. If you believe then it will show in your works, and your works will aid in your belief. Thus, faith is both a belief based upon reality, or Ultimate Reality, but because this is the case, faith requires us to act.

One can think of God’s Word, who is Truth (John 14:6) coming down and dying for His creation. Certainly He believed that He loved us, certainly Christ has beliefs about Himself. But He acted on those beliefs. The same God who baffles the greatest theologians and makes them less than children in knowledge came down to lift up the broken of this world so they might not only hear about His love, but experience His love. God cannot be divided, so while He is Truth, He is also action; we cannot merely believe in Him as a purely intellectual object to be studied, because when we gain true knowledge of Him we are moved to action.

This is part of the mysticism of Christianity, that it is a belief, it has propositional truths, it is rational, but it extends beyond these things. It has good actions, it is concerned with the poor, it serves the widows and orphans, but all of these actions are based upon its beliefs. Faith, true faith, is a faith based on reality and one that changes the whole of man.


Random Thoughts for October 26, 2010

* The problem with liberation theology (of any sort) is that it pits the oppressed against the oppressor. It calls for the liberation of person from person. All the while it ignores the Biblical teaching that all men are oppressed by sin and all need liberation from sin, regardless of skin color, culture, or economic status.

* When it comes to social justice, we must remember that the Gospel is the highest good. While we are called to help people regardless of their beliefs, all our actions should point to Christ.

* If there is no justice in the afterlife, then is God really a God of love? If your eldest son continually punches your younger son and shows no remorse, do you really show love to your younger son by giving your oldest son a new room with an Xbox 360?

* People have lost faith in the government because the government lost faith in morality. A government ruled by pragmatism and not virtue is a government that will inevitably oppress its people.

* God is not an idea, but a Being. It would be appropriate to treat Him as such.

* The Church is failing because we don’t understand the Trinity. If we were to approach the Trinity as the Trinity – and not as a means to a theological end – we would truly begin to understand Christianity and how we should live.

Random Thoughts for 9/28

* There is a ‘See You at the Pole’ event, but why not a ‘See You at the Homeless Man’s Corner’ event? Or a ‘See You at the Corner Where the Young Pregnant Mother-to-be Looks for a Place to Live Because Her Pastor Father Kicked Her out of the House’ event? Praying for the recovery of our nation is useless unless we work at it too; God will not wave a magic wand and turn everything into a Christian Utopia.

* Why is it when Christians – liberal or conservative – describe what Jesus would do or how Jesus was, it’s eerily similar to how the person is? Could it be that we’ve ceased to be challenged by Christ? Could it be that rather than conforming to the image of Christ, we’ve conformed Christ to our image?

* How do we know that we’re being challenged by Christ? Easy – we are uncomfortable in our beliefs and convicted in what we do (or don’t do). If we feel at ease in all that we believe and all that we do, then we are worshiping an idol and not Christ.

* What is government to Christians if not a foreign agency? Why do we swear allegiance to a flag when we would turn against the nation if God required it? We must pray for our leaders, but realize they are not our true rulers. We must submit to the government, insofar as their laws coincide with God’s laws.

* As Christ is so shall we be; is there a more comforting reality?

* Christianity is losing it’s absolutism, most likely because of cultural shifts in our society. Thus, we see the danger in tying Christianity to culture; as culture changes, so does Christianity. Christianity is supposed to be the absolute foundation that the sand shifts around, the one stable element that adapts to the culture, but does not reflect or assimilate into the culture. Instead, it has become an aspect of the culture and is subject to major trends.

* People don’t like the idea of God judging us, but if He is loving, won’t He judge? If there are not ultimate consequences in life, how are victims vindicated? How are the oppressed justified? If no justice comes to those who perpetuate evil acts in this world, then how can we say that God loves the victims?

* We like the story of the Good Samaritan, but we miss the impact it had on the audience because of the original audience. Change the Samaritan to an illegal immigrant or an Afghan and you’ll have a similar feeling the original audience have (and the meaning will stay the same).

* Since when did we begin to label things as “White” whenever we see them as evil or wrong? Colonialism is a “White” ideology. A church is evil if the membership is all white (but not if they’re all Asian, black, or Latino). Rather than eradicating racism, we’ve simply changed the target of racism.

* America is losing her influence in the world and within the next few decades will no longer be a superpower. This will enrage quite a few Americans, but if they are Christians it should mean little to them. Christianity has survived the collapse of empires and kingdoms before; cling to Christ, not your flag, and you will be okay.

Random Thoughts for 9/24

* The world doesn’t need more Christians who are self-made martyr’s, Christians who shove abrasive placards in the faces of those who don’t know Christ and then claim martyrdom when arrested. The world needs Christians who sacrifice their lives for the world and who, on dreadful and wonderful occasions, are killed for refusing to abandon their love in Christ, not for displaying their hatred for mankind.

* Just as when Christ came down in a raging fire to Moses, but did not destroy the bush, so too did He come down and burn away the sin of human flesh without destroying human flesh.

* Prison should be a place of reform for those we can reform. Yes, the inmates have done horrible things, but they are still made in the image of God and therefore deserve to be treated humanly; after all, aren’t we better than them?

* Before we judge inmates too quickly for their crimes and ship them off to never be seen again, understand that the only difference between an inmate and most other people is the inmate got caught. Prisons are full of criminals who are bad at their vocation of being a criminal. The world is full of people who are simply very good at it.

* Everything in the Bible points to Christ – from the Spirit hovering over the void we learn that the Spirit hovered over the spiritual void; just as God spoke through His Word to create the world, God then sent His Word into the world to redeem creation; just as God gave Adam and Eve animal skins to cover their shame, He became slaughtered and gave Himself for our own shame; just as humanity’s demise was found in the Garden of Eden, humanity’s salvation was found in the Garden of Gethsemane; truly everything in Scripture has a literal truth and an allegorical truth, with one of the two pointing to Christ.

* Why would Christians deny the resurrection? It is our one hope. It is not pie-in-the-sky thinking nor is it an excuse to ignore the plight of today; rather, it is the justification for helping the poor and lame today, while also giving them hope that paradise awaits them.

* Death is bittersweet for the Christian. We are sad to lose companionship, but happy the person now lives without pain; we are happy for the person’s rewards of Heaven, but jealous that we are still here. For the community, death is bittersweet. For the individuals, it releases them from this occupied earth into the loving arms of their Liberator.

* Growing up the Christian community was worried about losing Generation X. I regret to inform this old generation that Generation X is gone. I now point you to teenagers who are in high school and to young adults in college and tell you that you are losing them now. Not because we are not creative enough, not because we lack proper music for them, not because people wear suits and ties to church; we are losing this generation for two reasons and two reasons alone: first, we lack substance in our teaching and secondly, we lack substance in our living. Should we teach a substantial lesson and live substantial lives, this generation will turn to Christ like no other generation before them.

* Is there anything more ugly and more perverse in this world than one who knows the truth of Christ and who stands fast to the truthful tenets of the Christian faith, but lacks love? Telling Muslims, homosexuals, and others that they are going to hell unless they repent might be true, but the truth is not heard over the perceived hatred. It is easier to hear about Christ when Christ is sitting at your dinner table or laying by your hospital bed than when he is at your event protesting your presence.

* Truth is absolute in most cases. While some truth is contingent and therefore created, the importance truths in life are not created and instead are discovered. The most important Truth is not of our creation, is not a matter of perspective, and is not discovered through contemplation; the ultimate Truth is discovered through a relationship, for Truth is a man.

Random Thoughts for 9/18/2010

* Can we escape rationality? In order to recognize something as non-rational or irrational, don’t we first have to be rational?

* If Christ’s death on the cross was as a victim and not as a Savior, then what is our ultimate hope? If Christ as the God-man could not bring a revolution to full fruition, what hope do we have?

* To deny that sin exists is to only multiply the oppression of the unfortunate. For not only are the unfortunate kept in physical chains, we force them to remain in their spiritual chains as well. At least under the old view of Christianity the slave could hope for freedom in death; under the new Christianity he is not even granted that pardon.

* Abortion is an important issue because it deals with eradicating the innocent human person. But what about human trafficking, which rips away the dignity of the innocent human person? Both are evil and both should be pushed against by Christians.

* If a hemophiliac suffered a cut in front of us, would we chastise him for bleeding in excess to the normal person? If a woman with cancer undergoing treatment showed us she was bald, would we condemn her for having no hair? Then why do we condemn and protest agains the person suffering from the disease of sin? If they lack the cure who is Christ, then should we not expect to see such symptoms?

* It is better, if the church finds itself in an either/or situation, to give money to the poor of the church body and the community before building a new sanctuary. Cramped conditions can always find an easy solution without the procurement of money. Poverty can never be cured through a bigger sanctuary.

* The success of the Church depends on how faithful the congregation is to the doctrines of God and how faithful they are to each other. A church that would seek to deny the deity or human nature of Christ, the inspiration of Scripture, would be a failure. Likewise, a church that has a member who is on welfare or a single mother who looks for food stamps is equally a failure.

* Among those who are rich with the world’s wealth, there is great disparity, but all our souls are equally impoverished because of sin. At the foot of the Cross, all souls become equally rich. If God can do this with our souls, why can we not do this with our checkbooks, even with believers?

* Christ is a liberator, but did more than liberate us from earthly tyranny, but rather liberated us from the source of tyranny, which is sin.

Random Thoughts: 9/9/2010

* Saying embryonic stem cell research is justifiable because of the medical advances it might bring is equivalent to saying that Dr. Eduard Wirths was justified in his experiments because of the medical advances he brought about.

* I can’t imagine Paul walking into a pagan temple and taking a hammer to the idols placed within; I can’t imagine he would support burning the holy book of another religion, even if the religion is false.

* A church’s success isn’t measured by how controversial they are or by how big their congregation happens to be. True success in a church is found in the following; fidelity to the truth of God and service to the unfortunate. Should a preacher ever utter a word of heresy from the pulpit or a member ever want for life’s necessities, only then can the church truly be called a failure.

* The world wants nothing to do with Christ for one of two reasons. Either they want nothing to do with Christ because His pure light has exposed their sins or the only image of Christ they’ve seen has been from His followers who’s sins have hidden the pure light of Christ. We should never be an excuse for unbelief.

* Would abortion exist if those who went to picket abortion clinics also chose to take in an unwed mother during her pregnancy and handle her medical woes?

* If Christians were to act in pure love towards each other and towards the world starting tomorrow we would all be committed to the hospital for insanity because the world does not know how to handle true love. But we should not placate the world for fear of our insanity, rather we should desire to live more fully in the insanity of God’s love.

* Christ gained nothing out of dying for us and redeeming us. His glory is infinite, so He did not increase His glory or add to it. His act of death was a pure sacrifice, one where He gained nothing in the process. Let us follow His example.

* War is a hell of a thing – it requires men to kill other men. It requires the human nature to be at combat with human nature. To kill a man is in effect to kill oneself, no matter how justified the action may be. Is there anything in this world more unnatural than warfare?

* “Christianity is a crutch to handle the trials of this world” isn’t an argument against Christianity; it’s an argument against the world.

Random Thoughts – July 11

* If Obama is supposed to be the antichrist, and the typical Christian/Tim Lahaye Antichrist™ and such a person is supposed to bring in peace, prosperity, and is supposed to be cunning, wouldn’t this automatically disqualify President Obama from being the antichrist? (or any other president prior to him for that matter…many have experienced prosperity, none have experienced peace)

* I’ve noticed many churches cry out that they are authentic, but isn’t authenticity something that is seen in our actions and not something we declare verbally?

* What is the essence of Christianity? Christ crucified and raised from the dead on our behalf. If we reject any of that, then we do not embrace Christianity. If we change the meaning of any of those words, then we fall out of fellowship with 2,000 years of Christians who agree on what those words mean, with that agreement spreading from Orthodox to Roman Catholics to traditional Protestants.

* I believe Muhammad existed. I believe he said many wise things. I do not believe him to be a prophet. I do not believe him to speak the truth in all things. Thus, I am not a Muslim. If you believe Jesus existed, but was not the Son of God, was not correct in all things, and did not die and raise from the grave on our behalf, then at least be honest and do not call yourself a Christian.

* When people say they don’t find Christ compelling, that says more about their understanding of Christ than it does about Christ himself.

* It is better to yearn for the crucifixion of Christ than to present a tamed Jesus. It is better to side with Richard Dawkins than to side with a culturally acceptable Jesus.

* Jesus is not American. He is not African. He is not Latino. He is not black. He is not white. We cannot place Jesus in a culture, not because he is naturally rebellious against culture, but because culture is naturally rebellious against him.

* If you’ve ever said, “If Jesus were alive today, he’d treat [insert group here] like he did the Pharisees,” then you are the Pharisee. Who are you to be so arrogant as to think he wouldn’t come after you first?

* The passionate wear their t-shirts displaying their concern for the poor, the enslaved, and the broken down. The ethically minded buy free trade coffee and tea. The revolutionary creates websites and Facebook pages to enlighten us of the plight of the truly poor around the world. Yet the poor still suffer and are oppressed. The reason is not apathy or governments. The reason is Christ’s body is slow in bringing them hope; it is only through Christ that the poor can find riches. It is only in Christ that the hungry can find food. It is only in Christ that the sick can find healing. Do not take this saying to refer to physical things.

* What use is it to help the physical needs of the poor, but fail to tell them about Christ? What use is it to tell the poor about Christ, but neglect their physical needs? In the first instance, we help their body, but not their soul. In the second instance, we help their soul, but not their body. Either way, the whole of man, who is in the image of God and who has been sanctified in the Incarnation, is neglected.

* It is unpopular for conservatives to speak of overconsumption, mostly because the discussion of overconsumption comes with the idea of government regulations. But what about virtuous regulations? Though we should be against government intrusion, shouldn’t we look at the idea ethically? After all, do you really need to consume as much as you do?

* Overconsumption simply betrays the deeper problem of materialism. Materialism simply betrays the deeper problem of not relying on God. Not relying on God simply betrays the deeper problem of not trusting God. Not trusting God betrays the bigger problem of our desire for autonomy. Autonomy is the root of all sin. Overconsumption is the symptom of a sin.

* The god of the Emergent movement must experience an identity crisis. On one hand, they say he is immanent, but never show how. Rather, they speak of a god who cannot communicate to his people, who may or may not have created the world, who may or may not have come in human form, or who may or may not be. If we cannot know God as he has revealed himself, then what is the object of our faith if not ourselves?