Blogging–1.13.4–Ambiguity is the Lifeblood of Heresy

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List

Ambiguity is the Lifeblood of Heresy

The novel use of theological terms (if you can even call it novel) becomes necessary to preserve the truth against those who try to distort it. Right now, we have way too much experience of having sound doctrine attacked. These slippery snakes escape being pinned down by their quick tongues and torturous explanations. Therefore, the early Christians had to develop terms which were very clear as to what they meant. They could not give an inch to the heretics because ambiguity is the lifeblood of heresy. For example, even Arius confessed that Christ was God and the Son of God. The Bible was just too clear on those points. He then pretended to agree with others. Meanwhile, he kept saying that Christ was created and had a beginning like other creatures did.

To drag Arius’s scheme out of hiding, the ancient Church took things a step further and declared that Christ is the eternal Son of the Father, cosubstantial with the Father (having the same “essence” or “substance,” i.e. the same “God-ness.”). Arius’ degradation of God was shown when he began disparaging the term “homousias.” If someone is sincere in his confession that Christ is God, then he won’t protest the idea that the Son is cosubstantial with the Father. Would you really criticize those ancient Christians for debating the use of the term homousios? That little word distinguished the true Christians from the blasphemous Arians!

Next, Sabellius came on the scene. He pretty much believed the names of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were non-entities. He maintained that the terms didn’t mark distinctions but were different attributes of God. When the issue was debated, he agreed that the Father was God, the Son was God, and the Holy Spirit was God. But he had his evasion from the truth ready: he argued that naming God was doing the same thing as calling Him powerful, just, and wise. He also sung a different tune. He argued that the Father was the Son, and the Holy Spirit was the Father without order or distinction. In order to defeat Sabellius’ dishonesty, the early church leaders who wanted to preserve the true worship of God proclaimed that three persons must be acknowledged in the one God.

To protect themselves from crafty scheming, they sought to simply state the truth: they affirmed that a Trinity of Persons existed in the one God.

Blogging the Institutes–1.13.3–Terms Explain Divine Mysteries

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List

Terms Explain Divine Mysteries

Heretics bark and howl over the use of the term “person.” Yet they have no ground to do so since Scripture demonstrates that three persons are named but all are perfect God. There is no plurality of gods. It’s not cool to attack a term which merely summarizes what the Bible actually teaches. The heretics argue back that it’s best to only use words found in the Bible. Otherwise, Christians keep arguing about these technical theological terms and love is lost because of it.

Now, if these heretics call the use of theological terms as being foreign to the Bible and advocate for only using Biblical terms, then they put themselves in a bind: they could propose only an interpretation of Scripture unless it used only use words found in the Bible! If they call the use of theological terms as being foreign to the Bible because they think that the terms were thought up carelessly and then become superstitiously defended, then I agree with their sober-mindedness. If theological terms offend good Christians and lead them away from the simplicity of God’s Word, we must be careful. We must speak about God with as much reverence as we think about Him! To the extent that our thoughts of Him are foolish so will our words be foolish. Still, some kind of language must be used.

The standard of truth for both thinking and speaking must come from Scripture. The Bible should test every thought we think and every words we speak. But some parts of Scripture–to our limited minds–are hard to understand. In those cases, as long as we use various terms reverentially and in submission to Scripture, I think it is ok to use them sparingly and modestly. There are many examples of this. If it is proved that the Church has used the terms “Trinity,” and “Person” as a matter of necessity will people still rail against those terms? The person who does so should be suspected at arguing against the light of truth. The only reason why he is upset is because the truth has been made plain for all to see.

Blogging the Institutes–1.13.2–God in Three Persons

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List

God in Three Persons

There is another special mark by which God designates Himself in order to give more knowledge of His nature. While God proclaims His unity, He sets it up as existing in three persons. These truths must take hold us. Otherwise, knowledge of God will only flutter on top of our brains without actually implanting itself within us. Moreover, I don’t want anyone to think that we worship three Gods. Nor do I want anyone to think that God’s united and simple essence is divided in three ways among the persons. Therefore, we must seek a brief and easy definition to guard us from error. Some people criticize the use of the term “person” in discussion of God as being a merely human invention. Let’s consider whether this is so.

When the author of Hebrews calls the Son of God “the exact imprint of His nature (hupostasis)” (Hebrews 1:3), he assigns to the Father some mode of existence (“subsistence”) in which He differs from the Son. Some interpreters argue that the term is equivalent to “essence” as if the Son represented the essence of the Father like a seal upon wax. Such an interpretation is absurd. God’s essence is simple and undivided. It is contained in Himself entirely, with full perfection, without being divided up or diminished. It is therefore ridiculous to call it His express image.

The Father can distinguished by His own particular properties. Yet, He has wholly expressed Himself in the Son. He is therefore said to have rendered His person (hupostasis) manifest in the Son. Such a statement fits perfectly with what comes next in the verse–that Christ is the “brightness of His glory.” The implication is that there is a proper subsistence (mode of existence) of the Father which is reflected by the Son. From this, it is easy to see that there is a kind of subsistence/mode of existence/person of the Son which is distinguished from the Father. The same is true for the Holy Spirit. He is God. He is also a separate subsistence/personhood from the Father. This is not a distinction of essence (“God-ness”). If we take the author of Hebrew’s words seriously, then we will come to believe that there are three persons in God.

The Latin word persona has been used in the same way that the Greek word hupostatis was used. We must not argue over these terms. The most literal translation would be “subsistence.” Many theologians have used the word “substance” to mean the same thing as “subsistence,” i.e. “person.” The person wasn’t confined only to the Latin church. The Greek church has taught that there are three “aspects” (prosopa) in God. All the churches, no matter what terms they use, are united in the same belief!

Blogging the Institutes–1.13.1–God is Immense and Spirit

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List

God is Immense and Spirit 

The teaching of Scripture about the immensity and spirituality of God’s essence should not only drive away pagan religion but also profane philosophy. One ancient thinker thought he was profound when he said that everything we see and everything we don’t see is God. He thought God was infused into every part of the world. Although God doesn’t indulge us with a lot of information about His essence, two of His attributes should suppress all of our speculations. His immensity should deter us from measuring him according to human standards, while Him being a spirit should keep us from human speculation about what He is like.

In Scripture, He frequently tells us that heaven is His dwelling-place. It is true that although He is incomprehensible, He also fills the earth. He knows our minds are sluggish and bound to the earth so He raises us up above to world to shake us free of those things. Here we have a refutation of the Manichees. The Manichees make the devil almost as great as God! They did this to restrict His immensity and destroy His unity. They twist Scripture to “prove” their points. What they actually prove is their own shameful ignorance. The Ampophromorphites, on the other hand, dream up a material God because eyes, ears, and mouth are said to describe God in the Bible. Such line of thinking is easily refuted. They are so stupid! God speaks to us in “baby babble” like mothers do to their children. Such descriptions of God do not accurately represent God’s essence. They are God’s accommodation to us so that we can understand something about Him. In doing so, He must, of course, bend down way below His proper height.

Blogging the Institutes–1.12.3–Worship is Due to God Alone

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List

Worship is Due to God Alone

The distinction between “service” and “worship” is useless. Paul speaks of the Galatians being enslaved to serve false gods (Galatians 4:8). Because Paul does not explicitly use the term “worship,” are the Galatians then excused of their former idolatry? Certainly not! He condemns “service” to idols as much as worship of them. When Christ repels Satan’s insulting proposal with the words, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve'” (Matthew 4:10), he was responding to Satan’s request for reverential respect. Thus, Christ saw respect, service, and worship all tied together. 

In a similar way, when the angel rebukes John for falling down to worship him (Revelation 19:10; 22:8-9), we should not assume that John lost his mind and intended to give worship to an angel rather than God. Because religious always seeks after the divine, John could not reverential respect to the angel without denigrating the worship of God. It is true that we read in the Bible that men were “worshipped.” But that was speaking about civil honor. It is different when religious honor is given. Whenever religious respect is given, it is joined to worship and has the potential to profane God’s name if not done correctly. The same thing may be seen in the case of Cornelius (Acts 10:25).  Cornelius had made a lot of progress in how he worships God; he still falls down at Peter’s feet. Surely, in context, it was a sign of Cornelius’ respect for Peter. Yet Peter forbids him to do so because it is easy to “cross a line” in worship and defame God’s glory.

Therefore, if we have one God, let’s remember that we cannot hold on to the smallest part of His glory without depriving Him of it. Remember Zechariah. When he spoke of the restoration of the Church, he says that there would not only be one God but also one name (Zechariah 14:9). Why? So God would have nothing to do with idols.  The way we should worship God is treated elsewhere (Book 2, chapters 7-8). But we can say this: God proscribed in the Law the right way to worship so that people would think of their own ways to worship. Since it’s helpful to be exposed to wide-variety of topics, I won’t dwell on this issue right now.

Remember: whenever you worship something else, you are committing idolatry. First, pagan religion assigned honor to the sun and the moon and to idols. Then ambition came in. Ambition to profane all that was sacred. Although in principle the worship of a supreme God was practiced, other worship practices such as making sacrifices to lesser “gods” or departed ancestors were prominent. We are so prone to idolatry!

Blogging the Institutes–1.12.2–No Real Distinction between Service and Worship

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List

No Real Distinction between Service and Worship

Catholics invented the distinct between dulia (service) and latria (worship) to permit worship to be given to angels and dead men. It’s clear that the worship given to saints is no different than the worship of God in Catholic theology. Their worship is given without distinction. Only when pressed do they try to draw the distinction between these two words so as to preserve the worship of God. According to them, since God is given latria they are in the clear from charges of idolatry.

My argument isn’t about words, however. It’s about objects of worship. We can’t let them off the hook. The only thing they can accomplish by pressing this distinction is by saying that they give worship (latria) to God and service (dulia) to others. Latria in Greek means “worship” in Latin. Doulia means “service,” but sometimes in Scripture it is used indiscriminately. Even if we grant the distinction, what is meant by these words? It’s harder to serve something than to worship it! You can revere someone but not serve them. Therefore, it’s a pointless distinction when you end up assigning the greater action to the saints and the lesser to God. They might reply, “But, several of the church father upheld this distinction!” What does that matter if such a distinction is pointless?

Little Notes on Anger

Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly. – Proverbs 14:29

Great understanding of what? I think the patient person has great understanding of himself. He knows anger only hurts himself. When you harbor anger, you can begin to have it harden to hate. It can affect even your health: you grind your teeth, put great strain on your heart, etc.

The patient person also has great understanding of his circumstances. He knows that anger will solve nothing in dealing with people. It will merely drive them away.

Most importantly, he has great understanding of God. He knows that God is “slow to anger.” To be patient and slow to anger is to exhibit the very life of God in our life.