Evangelical


Evangelical Essentials (Part Eight)

So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

2 Cor 5:9-10 (ESV)

No man ever said, at the end of his days, ‘I have read my Bible too much, I have thought of God too much, I have prayed too much, I have been too careful with my soul.’

J.C. Ryle

HT: J.C. Ryle Quotes

Evangelicals believe in a final judgment because scripture frequently affirms the fact that there will be a verdict by God in which he decides the eternal destiny of believers and unbelievers. All will stand before the great judgment seat of Christ in resurrected bodies and hear the Lord’s declaration of their unending fate.

If we have given our lives to Christ, then we can be assured that Christ’s righteousness has covered our guilty stains and that we will be delivered from condemnation.

It is important to realize that this judgment of believers will be a judgment to evaluate and bestow various degrees of reward, but the fact that they will face such a judgment should never cause believers to fear that they will be eternally condemned. Jesus says, “He who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24). Here “judgment” must be understood in the sense of eternal condemnation and death, since it is contrasted with passing from death into life. At the day of final judgment more than at any other time, it is of utmost importance that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1).

[Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 1143.]

As Christians, we begin understanding the final judgment by acknowledging that we are accountable to God: we will be judged for our faithfulness to the gospel, behavior in his name, and the quality of our ministries. We must give an account to God for the gifts, opportunities, and abilities that God granted us in this life (1 Cor. 3:10-15). We will have to explain how we used God’s gifts for his glory. This reverential awe is a sure cure for our carelessness. It is dangerous to claim a relationship with Jesus, while no genuine fruit is manifesting in our lives. We want to be diligent that we are actually walking in the “works that have been prepared for us to do” (Eph. 2:10).

When God asks what we did with our lives, will we be able to say, “I invested in people, served the church, reached out to the world, and advance the kingdom to the best of my ability?” Or  will we have to admit, “I wasted my life playing all hundred levels of Warcraft, watched every S.E.C. football game since 1985, and alienated everyone around me.”

As Evangelicals, the doctrine of final judgment grants us a a healthy fear of God and a determination to be faithful with our limited time on this earth.

Evangelical Essentials (Part Seven)

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Cor 5:21 (ESV)

Man of Sorrows! what a name

For the Son of God, who came

Ruined sinners to reclaim.

Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,

In my place condemned He stood;

Sealed my pardon with His blood.

Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Guilty, vile, and helpless we;

Spotless Lamb of God was He;

“Full atonement!” can it be?

Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Lifted up was He to die;

“It is finished!” was His cry;

Now in Heav’n exalted high.

Hallelujah! What a Savior!

When He comes, our glorious King,

All His ransomed home to bring,

Then anew His song we’ll sing:

Hallelujah! What a Savior!

-Philip P. Bliss, 1875

Evangelicals believe in the doctrine of penal substitution: a belief that captures the heart and transforms us from self-centered jerks to Christ-following desirers of holiness. Penal substitution teaches that Jesus bore our iniquities-took our place and became our substitute-so that the terrible results of sin no longer come upon us (Gal. 1:4, Eph. 5:2, Heb. 9:28). When we trust that Christ’s death is our death, we gloriously recognize that the ultimate consequences of our sin has been borne by Christ.

The fact is that I am the one who should have been betrayed, not Jesus, for I have betrayed many. I am the one who should have been spit upon because I mistreated others. I am the one who should have hung there exposed because of my selfishness and sin. The spit, mockery, and blows to Jesus’ face should have been my punishment. The whip and crown of thorns should have been my sentence. The weight of the Cross and the nails in Jesus’ feet and hands should have been my chastisement. The crown of nails that Jesus wore should have been my headdress. Yet, our precious Lord Jesus Christ took our place, paid our debt, redeemed us from slavery. In addition, Jesus brought us the victory and declared us righteous in that great heavenly court of law. God incarnate in human flesh became my substitute.

And what is the boast of the Cross? That Christ for my sake took on Him the form of a slave, and bore His sufferings for me the slave, the enemy, the unfeeling one; yea He so loved me as to give Himself up to a curse for me. What can be comparable to this!

St. John Chrysostom

Who is Christ for us today? He is the one who took our place at Calvary. In his great love, he bore our punishment and pain on that tree. The Scriptures declare that, “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree (Gal. 3:13, KJV). All the penalty of the broken law has now been borne by Christ on the Cross. The entire penalty for my past, present, and future sin was placed on Jesus. “But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins” (Isa. 53:5). He has taken our place, he has suffered our purgatory, and he has taken on himself all the wrath of the Father (Rom. 1:18, 5:9). The Holy Trinity’s great love for you and me has brought about Bethlehem for the purpose of Calvary.

As for my sake he [Jesus] was called a curse, Who destroyed my curse; and sin, who taketh away the sin of the world; and became a new Adam to take the place of the old, just so He makes my disobedience His own as Head of the whole body. As long then as I am disobedient and rebellious, both by denial of God and by my passions, so long Christ also is called disobedient on my account.

St. Gregory of Nazianzen, The Fourth Theological Oration, V.

There is not enough words of praise and expressions of thanks invented that could give to God the worship that he deserves for the sending of his Son to die in our place and to raise us again to new life.

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Evangelical Essentials (Part Six)

Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.

Phil. 3:8-9 (NKJV)

Many criticize the Reformation’s understanding of forensic/imputed righteousness because of the law court metaphor. The law court metaphor was used by the Apostle Paul frequently in the letters to the Romans and the Galatians.

What God does for us in justification is similar to what the judge does in a law court: He does not change the defendant by turning him or her into a new kind of person; rather, he declares the defendant innocent of the charges brought against him or her . . . Justification reminds us that our standing with God is by grace and that thankfulness should be the hallmark in all our dealings with him.

[Douglas Moo, Romans: The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), 56-57.

A law court seems impersonal and abstract–too judicial. Imputed, or forensic righteousness, seems to teach a declaration in heaven of righteousness for the believer without the corresponding transformation of character on earth. The problem with rejecting this understanding is that this is the exact image that the Apostle Paul uses in Romans 1:16-17 and in Romans 3:21-26.

The phrase the “righteousness of God” (dikaiosune theou) means that an individual is vindicated in a divine law court because of the work of Christ. The term signifies that people who are still sinners stand not guilty before God because of the gift of righteousness. This righteousness from God is truly a gift (Rom. 5.17), it is from God (1 Cor. 1.30), it is received by faith (Gal. 2.20, Rom 9.30-31), it is reckoned therefore making it a status (Rom. 4:3, 5, 6, 9, 11; 6.11) and it has as it’s source the very nature of God therefore making this gift what Martin Luther called an “alien righteousness” (Phil. 3.9). Church Father, Clement of Alexandria, agreed when he stated, “Justification means both the discharging of the debt of sin, and the crediting (imputation) of Christ’s righteousness” (Stromata V:5).

The problem that I, or anyone of you, would have with the doctrine of imputed righteousness is when a believer claims to have a righteous standing before God and yet lives inconsistent with the holy standards of the New Testament. This inconsistency occurs when Evangelical preachers neglect to recognize that the righteousness of God (dikaiosune theou) also means transformation. That is, the righteousness of God is the saving power of God to change an individual’s life and transform them into the Christ-like character.

The righteousness of God is not only a status, but is the very power that transforms us into righteous people. Romans 1:16-17 (RSV) is emphatic concerning this truth:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’

In other words, the declared righteousness of God is an effective righteousness in that it transforms an individual’s life.  Romans 8:1-4 teaches that Christ died destroying the power of sin which enables us to live the righteous life God demands.”Justification, whose sole condition is penitent faith, is never lacking in fruits of faith, by which the believer is assured that the Spirit is working within.”

[Thomas Oden, John Wesley’s Scriptural Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 206.

Therefore, the righteousness of God (dikaiosune theou) declares us righteous in the Father’s court of law while simultaneously transforming us into the likeness of Christ.

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Evangelical Essentials (Part Five)

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

Romans 5:1-2 (NKJV)

Justification by faith is God’s acceptance of me to be in right standing by the righteousness of Jesus Christ being accounted to me, a sinner. Justification is an immediate legal work of God in which he forgives our sins, counts Christ’s righteousness as our own, and declares us righteous in his sight.

[Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 723.]

Evangelicals believe in the imputed (i.e., Lutheran, Reformed, Wesleyan,etc.) and imparted righteousness (i.e., Wesleyan) of Christ, this phrase and these terms can be confusing and intimidating. The imputed righteousness of Christ is summarized by a sentence in the Lake George blessing: “God was in Christ Jesus reconciling the world to himself not counting men’s sins against them.” Imputation is the crediting of Christ’s righteousness to my account. This imputation is twofold: we receive Christ’s holiness and forgiveness and Christ takes upon himself our guilt and judgment.

Impartation is Christ releasing within us his very life so that moment-by-moment we may experience his presence enabling us to make righteous choices. In summary, Christ’s righteousness is a gift which can be described as a wedding garment—a white robe of righteousness—completely covering us in Christ enabling us to spend a lifetime of communion with the Father (Isa. 61:10). This same righteousness is imparted to us on a constant basis enabling us to display of the fruit of the Spirit, as we trust Christ in our weaknesses and struggles.

[Bob Mumford, The Agape Road: Journey to Intimacy with the Father (Nashville, Tenn: Lifeway Press, 2000), 57-59.]

This declaration is forensic in that the legal charges against us have been dropped and we have been declared righteous. To be credited as righteous is to be conferred a legal standing of being forgiven and no longer liable to punishment. This new status declares me righteous in God’s sight; free from the condemnation of sin, the fear of death, and accusations of the devil. The imputed righteousness of Christ is a gift; it cannot be earned. This gift can only be received from a grateful heart by faith alone (Rom. 3:26, 28; 4:5; 5:1, Gal. 2:15-16). Christ’s righteousness is not only declared to be my righteousness in heaven, but this righteousness also transforms my life here on earth.

John Wesley concurs that the righteousness of Christ is both imputed and imparted (his word is implanted):

That Christ’s righteousness is imputed means that ‘all believers are forgiven and accepted, not for the sake of anything in them, or of anything that ever was, that is, or ever can be done by them, or ever can be done by them, but wholly and solely for the sake of what Christ hath done and suffered for them.'”

I believe that God implants righteousness in everyone to whom He has imputed it. Implanting is a lively horticultural metaphor, as distinguished from a declarative, juridical metaphor. It requires daily nurturing, not a simple bang of a gavel.It is the fruit of our acceptance with God, not the ground of it.

[Thomas Oden, John Wesley’s Scriptural Christianity:A Plain Exposition of His Teaching on Christian Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 207, 208.]

In brief, Christ’s righteousness is a transformative righteousness in that it effectively changes those who have been declared righteous by God.

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Evangelical Essentials (Part Three)

We are hard. We are selfish. We are blind. We are self-absorbed. What hope do we have for real change in our character, choices, and lives? Can someone or something really change me? Yes, we can change, but not by our own power and ability. God can and will change us from bad people to good. Not only does God desire this change in our lives, he requires that we undergo a complete re-creation of our hearts.

How does God change us? How can God take a bad person like me and change me into good person?  He gives us new hearts (Ezek. 36:24-28, Jer. 31:33-34, 32:40-41). The Cross melts our hearts by his great love, his grace pours out a salvation we do not deserve and his Spirit transforms us by making us new creations (2 Cor. 5:17).

Do we really believe that the Cross can change lives? Do we believe that the crucified Christ can meet anyone in their sin, selfishness, and pride and conquer their hearts by his great grace, mercy, and love? The answer must be yes. The Apostle Paul declares,”For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16 NJKV). The Cross can change any heart, transform any life, break any addiction, and heal any pain.

As we look to Christ in faith, how does the Cross deliver us from our selfishness? Evangelicals appeal to the words of Jesus, “You must be born-again” (John 3:7). To be born-again is to receive a heart-change by the power of the Holy Spirit: a motivation transformation from selfishness to Christ-centeredness. This regenerative work is a ministry of the Holy Spirit:

In the new birth, the Holy Spirit unites us to Christ in a living union. Christ is life. Christ is the vine where life flows. We are the branches (John 15:1–17). What happens in the new birth is the supernatural creation of new spiritual life, and it is created through union with Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit brings us into vital connection with Christ who is the way, the truth, and the life.

[John Piper, Finally Alive: What Happens When We Are Born Again (Geanies House, Fearn, Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2009), 32.]

He has washed us and given us new hearts: ones that hunger to love, serve, and please God. As a result, we are children of God; we are made new creations; cleansed, transformed, and regenerated by the Holy Spirit.

What happens in the new birth is not the improvement of your old human nature but the creation of a new human nature—a nature that is really you, forgiven and cleansed; and a nature that is really new, being formed in you by the indwelling Spirit of God.

[John Piper, Finally Alive, 37]

Our motivation is changed so that all we want to do is to please him (2 Cor. 5:9, Song 4:9, Zeph. 3:17). We do not want to say or do anything that will break God’s heart or cause his Holy Spirit to be grieved. The Cross has done this work in our hearts: we are now free from sin-consciousness, self-consciousness, and performance-consciousness. Regeneration occurs when we “confess with our mouths and believe in our hearts that God raised Christ from the dead” then and only then are we “justified” and “saved” (Rom. 10:9-10). This heart change occurs when we repent of our past sins and look to Christ to be our saviour. (Repentance and faith are the conditions of salvation and baptism is a condition of obedience.)

Repentance is is simple, but not easy; a change of mind and heart which affects my attitude and alters my conduct. Repentance is not turning inward, but turning around. It is the recognition that God is right and that I am wrong. I am wrong because I have broken God’s law; as a result, my selfish actions have wounded God’s heart and hurt others.

Faith is directed towards a person, Jesus. It is in fact a complete commitment to Jesus Christ involving not only an acceptance of what is offered, salvation and forgiveness, but a humble surrender to what is or may be demanded, his Lordship. The bent knee is as much a part of saving faith as the open hand. Faith is receiving what Christ for us on the Cross in the past and submitting to what Christ will do in our lives in the future.

Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”

Acts 2:38-39 NKJV

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Evangelical Essentials (Part Two)

The Cross is the great act of Jesus in dying for our sins, being buried in the tomb and rising from the dead, baptizing with the Holy Spirit, and ascending to the Father. All grace flows from the Cross as its source and all grace leads back to the Cross as its crown and triumph. The Cross of Christ is our victory, our repentance, our hope, and our call. The Cross was not a defeat, but the astonishing victory of God over the world, the flesh, sin, death, and the devil.

We are not to regard the Cross as defeat and the resurrection as victory. rather, the Cross was the victory won, and the resurrection the victory endorsed, proclaimed, and demonstrated.

[John Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1986), 235.]

A number of metaphors are used in scripture to describe the finished work of Christ on the Cross: victory over the oppression and enslavement of sin (1 Cor. 15:57), justification that satisfies the penalty of sin (Rom. 4:25), adoption which grants us the legal status of a son of God and an heir of the kingdom (Rom. 8:17, 23), reconciliation which restores our broken relationship with God (2 Cor. 5:19), forgiveness of our offenses as a result of his pain and suffering on Calvary, redemption and ransom paid to free us from the captivity of sin (1 Cor. 6:19), healing from brokenness created by our sin (Isa. 53:5), representative bringing us all the privileges of the new covenant (Rom. 5:17), participation in all the benefits of his death, burial, and resurrection (Rom. 6:1-4), and substitution for he took upon himself our punishment, guilt, and shame (Rom. 4:25). “How marvelous the power of the cross; how great beyond all telling the glory of the passion: here is the judgment-seat of the Lord, the condemnation of the world, the supremacy of Christ crucified (Leo the Great).”

[St. Leo the Great, Sermon LIX (On the Passion, VIII. on Wednesday in Holy Week.)]

The work of the Cross is not just about our immediate justification, but also the triumph of the Cross is our calling, our sanctification, and our glorification (1 Cor. 1:30, Rom. 8:29-30). As Jerry Bridges notes:

So I learned that Christians need to hear the gospel all of their lives because it is the gospel that continues to remind us that our day-to-day acceptance with the Father is not based on what we do for God but upon what Christ did for us in his sinless life and sin-bearing death. I began to see that we stand before God today as righteous as we ever will be, even in heaven, because he has clothed us with the righteousness of his Son. Therefore, I don’t have to perform to be accepted by God. Now I am free to obey him and serve him because I am already accepted in Christ (see Rom. 8:1). My driving motivation now is not guilt but gratitude.

[Jerry Bridges, “Gospel-Driven Sanctification” Modern Reformation Magazine (May/June, Vol. 12, No. 3, 2003), 13-16.]

Everything that the Son of God did and taught for the reconciliation of the world, we know not only as an historical account of things now past, but we also experience them in the power of the works that are present.

[Leo the Great, Sermon LXIII:VI: 3 (On the Passion, XII. preached on Wednesday of Holy Week)]

For the Evangelical, the Cross is not just an event in the historical past or an event in their personal past, but the Cross is a daily comfort that brings grace in failure, freedom from performance pressure, intimacy with God, and power for serving their Lord.

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Evangelical Essentials (Introduction)

For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.

2 Corinthians 5:14-15 (NKJV)

The Evangelical impulse is a vital, Spirit-motivated, joyful hunger to declare the saving, unmerited grace of Christ by calling all sinners to the bloodied Hill of Calvary for forgiveness and mercy. The Evangelical impulse proclaims this message of Good News to the least, lost, and the lonely while simultaneously working to reform the Church according to the Scriptures. This impulse began with the New Testament, continued in the Patristic period, renewed during the Reformation, and revived during the Great Awakenings of the 18th and 19th century.

[Richard Lovelace, “A Call to Historic Roots and Continuity,” in The Orthodox Evangelicals, eds. Robert Webber and Donald Bloesch (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1978), 47.]

The Evangelical impulse is birthed in the Scriptures, empowered by the Holy Spirit, centered in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and compelled by the story of Christ’s saving acts throughout the world.

Church historian, Stephen Nichols elaborates:

Luther spawned more than a singular alternative to the Roman Catholic Church. Yet, while there are alternatives, to be sure, at the heart of these various Protestant groups who remain faithful to the gospel there is a common core: a theological center that consists of the authority of Scripture alone and insists that salvation comes by faith alone through God’s grace alone—and that this salvation comes through the work of Christ alone. This is the lasting legacy of the Reformation—not the discovery of truths, but their recovery and their return to the heart and center of the church.

[Stephen Nichols, Pages From Church History: A Guided Tour of Christian Classics (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2006), 35. ]

At the heart of the Evangelical impulse is the abiding concern for the salvation of every person and that salvation in grounded in the phrase, “The truth of the gospel is salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.” Our deliverance from sin is not based on our performance, but based on Christ’s performance on the Cross—it is all grace. The Evangelical impulse is motivated by God’s very gracious grace:

No one can understand the message of Scripture who does not know the meaning of grace.  The God of the Bible is ‘the God of all grace’ (1 Pet. 5:10).  Grace is love, but love of a special sort.  It is love, which stoops and sacrifices and serves, love which is kind to the unkind, and generous to the ungrateful and undeserving.  Grace is God’s free and unmerited favour, loving the unlovable, seeking the fugitive, rescuing the hopeless, and lifting the beggar from the dunghill to make him sit among princes.

[John Stott, Understanding the Bible, Revised (London: Scripture Union, 1984), 127.]

For the Evangelical, God’s grace draws us saying, “Trust Christ’s finished work on the Cross as your own, know that his death paid your penalty, and that his obedient life is now your righteousness.” The Evangelical experience of conversion is typified by these elements: conviction of sin, power of preached Word, call to faith, focus on Jesus Christ and his saving work on the Cross, and personal heart change.

Scholar, David Bebbington, identifies four key elements of the Evangelical impulse:

1) Life-change: the belief that hearts need conversion.

2) Bible priority: all spiritual truth is found in sacred scripture.

3) Evangelism: all Christ-followers are engaged in spreading the knowledge of Christ’s life, death, burial, and resurrection.

4) Crucicentrism: Christ’s death and resurrection is the central event for our salvation providing reconciliation with God.

[David Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s (London: Unwin Hyman, 1989), 2. ]

The Evangelical impulse focuses on changing lives by changing hearts one-by-one by the power of the Cross. Evangelicals trust the transforming work of the Holy Spirit, he applies Christ’s finished work on the Cross to the lives of individual sinners setting them free from themselves by converting their hearts from self-absorption to love of God and others.

God’s love is his holiness reaching out to sinners; grace is but the price that his love pays to his holiness; the cross is but its victory over sin and death; and faith is but the way in which we bring our worship to him who is holy.

David F. Wells, The Courage to be Protestant (Grand Rapids, Mi.: Eerdmans, 2008), 130.

blogging

“The Glorious Deeds of Christ” Blog is back after a brief hiatus due to St. Michael’s Seminary preparation, Southeast Province Convocation, a brief vacation to Savannah, GA., and a WordPress update. (I could not sign onto the blog for a few days and my Sitemeter widget stopped working.)

Also, I converted to the Apple kingdom. My wife and son bought me a Mac Book Pro for Father’s Day and I have been busy moving my Bible software over to Windows Parallels. I love the speed, functionality and ease of use of the Mac.

In the coming days and weeks, I will be posting my thoughts and insights on the “Evangelical Essentials” of the Christian faith. This spring and summer, I have been writing on the Charismatic stream and a discussion of the Sacramental stream will come later in the year. But for the rest of the summer, the great truths taught and expressed in scripture regarding sin, justification by faith, penal substitution, the finished work of Christ on the Cross, etc. will be reviewed and discussed. I pray that my writing will cause these great truths to become fresh and new for you. The goal of this blog is bring you, the reader, into a deeper, more intimate relationship with Christ. I pray that the Lord will continue to use this blog for his glory.

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“Because I Am Committed to Key Distinctives of the Protestant Evangelical Tradition.”

Daniel Clendenin puts into words from his experience my own commitment to Evangelical truth: original sin, penal substitution, imputed righteousness, justification by faith, and sola scriptura, etc.

While Protestant evangelicals have never agreed on the precise meaning or mode of the sacraments, they have historically emphasized two related truths that diverge from the Orthodox understanding of the sacraments. Evangelicals urge the necessity of personal conversion through the faith and repentance of the individual believer, as opposed to the Orthodox idea of regeneration by the sacraments.

Also, while evangelicals wholeheartedly embrace the full-orbed New Testament descriptions of the work of Christ (reconciliation, ransom, redemption, forgiveness, adoption, etc.), since the Reformation, justification by faith and substitutionary atonement have enjoyed pride of place in our understanding of the doctrines of sin and salvation. Luther urged that Christianity would stand or fall with this doctrine; Calvin called it “the hinge upon which all true religion turns.”

In the history and theology of Orthodoxy it is startling to observe the nearly complete absence of any mention of the doctrine of justification by faith. Rather, “theosis” (literally, “deification”), or the progressive transformation of people into full likeness to God, in soul and body, takes center stage. (2 Pet. 1:4). Further, the Orthodox reject the idea of inherited guilt; we are guilty only for our own sins rather than for the inborn consequences of Adam’s fall. Conversely, evangelicals argue that this forensic framework for sin and salvation is not merely a historical and unduly negative carryover from Augustine and Anselm, but rather is the clear teaching of Paul in his Letters to the Romans and Galatians.

Read Daniel Clendenin’s entire essay entitled, “Why I’m Not Orthodox: An Evangelical Explores the Ancient and Alien World of the Eastern Church” originally published in Christianity Today (January 6, 1997): 33.

HT: Journey with Jesus

My communion is the Charismatic Episcopal Church (C.E.C.), a convergence movement denomination that attracts clergy and lay people from various Evangelical, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox backgrounds. We love one another and have as a common goal the knowledge and love of Christ. However, our different backgrounds bring differing perspectives about various theological truths. Mainly truths and issues that have been debated since the Reformation. (Please note that the Historic Church has been in substantial agreement on major doctrines like the Trinity since its beginning.) Therefore, when I attended seminary at Beeson Divinity School, I choose essay topics that would examine these various “problems.” One of my goals in studying at this fine institution was to research and examine these “controversial” theological questions: questions that came up during our many clergy gatherings and friendly poolside debates. One such discussion involved the Blessed Virgin Mary: Was she sinless? Was she assumed into heaven? Did she contribute to our salvation? Was she a model of the church?

My essay, “What Did the Church Fathers Believe About the Blessed Virgin Mary?”, examines these questions in light of the literature of the first six hundred years of church history. I tackle these questions and attempt to draw conclusions about the Patristic period’s understanding of Mary: Did they believe the same as present day Evangelicals, or Roman Catholics, or did the Fathers hold to a different understanding that neither group possesses? Check out my essay and conclude for yourself.

What Did the Church Fathers Believe About the Blessed Virgin Mary?

Rev. Canon Glenn E. Davis

Introduction

No subject stirs passionate emotion between members of the Roman Catholic Church and adherents of Evangelical Protestantism then a discussion about Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Recently, this theological controversy was brought to the forefront again by an article featured in Newsweek magazine. This essay pointed out the vast amount of lay support in the Roman Catholic Church for declaring Mary co-Redemptrix and co-Mediatrix with the Lord Jesus Christ:

This week a large box shipped from California and addressed to “His Holiness, John Paul II” will arrive at the Vatican. The shipping label lists a dozen countries–from every continent but Antarctica–plus a number, 40,383, indicating the quantity of signatures inside. Each signature is attached to a petition asking the pope to exercise the power of papal infallibility to proclaim a new dogma of the Roman Catholic faith: that the Virgin Mary is “Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix of All Graces and Advocate for the People of God.[1]

The Evangelical world was aghast for it had hoped that the Roman Catholic Church was moderating its position about Mary. Recent ecumenical dialogues with the Roman Catholic theologians had resulted in warm and responsive discussions; Evangelicals looked forward to continued rapprochement. However, Evangelicals were not only grieved that Mary would be elevated to a redeemer status, but also that the doctrine of Papal Infallibility could be invoked in order to establish Mary as a co-Redemptrix and co-Mediatrix with Christ. The mere mention of the concept of infallible Papal authority renewed many old theological anxieties for Evangelicals: tensions, debates, and antagonisms of the Reformation period were renewed. The reaction was immediate and strong from the Billy Graham founded magazine, Christianity Today.

The possibility, however remote, of the pope’s responding to the grassroots groundswell by giving Mary titles that blur the New Testament’s clear vision of Jesus’ unique role in our salvation endangers this uncompromising achievement of clarity [the Evangelicals and Catholics Together Joint Statement on Salvation]. All of which prompts us to say, Don’t. Don’t give to Mary that which belongs to Jesus. Do keep on the road established at Vatican II. [2]

The Roman Catholic Church already has such an official high view of Mary that many Evangelicals feel such that a belief diminishes the centrality of Christ. The Roman Catholic Church presents Mary as the ever-virgin, sinless handmaid, and heavenly intercessor. Rome encourages the faithful in their devotion to Mary:

Mary is the perfect Orans (prayer), a figure of the Church. When we pray to her, we are adhering with her to the plan of the Father, who sends his Son to save all men. Like the beloved disciple we welcome Jesus’ mother into our homes, for she has become the mother of all the living. We can pray with and to her. The prayer of the Church is sustained by the prayer of Mary and united with it in hope.[3]

This statement, and others like it, upset many Evangelicals fearing that the Roman Catholic understanding of Mary distracts from the Lord Jesus Christ’s finished work on the cross, his unique mediatorial position, and his ministry of heavenly intercession. Therefore, the question needs to be asked, “What did the Fathers of the Church believe about Mary, the Mother of Jesus? Did they lay the groundwork for present Roman Catholic doctrine? On the other hand, did the Fathers simply affirm what modern Evangelicals believe today? The purpose of this essay is to answer that question.


[1] Kenneth L. Woodward, “Mary: A Growing Movement in the Roman Catholic Church Wants the Pope to Proclaim a New, Controversial Dogma: That Mary is a Co-Redeemer. Will He Do It, Maybe in Time for the Millennium? Should He?” Newsweek, July 25, 1997 [article-on-line].

[2] David Neff, “Let Mary Be: Why the Pope Shouldn’t Give Mary that which Belongs to Her Son.” Christianity Today, Vol.41, No.14 (December 8, 1997), 14.

[3] Catechism of the Catholic Church, St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church web site, (http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/para/2679.htm) 2679.

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