Merry Christmas!

For a child has been born for us,
    a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
    and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.– Isaiah 9:6 NRSV

To the ancient Israelites celebrating the Passover also included joyfully watching and awaiting the coming of the Messiah. At Christmas we celebrate the incarnation, the first coming of the Messiah. We also joyfully await his second coming. May we take the words of Christ to heart when he told the disciples “you could not keep watch with me for one hour” (Matthew 26:40). May we joyfully, and prayerfully await his second coming, not only at Christmas but everyday

On another note I want to wish you and your families a very blessed and Merry Christmas.  I appreciate the encouraging messages over the past few days.  Though I don’t write or podcast for acclaim, it is always great to hear that the work is helping others.  Thank you!  Next week I will post a schedule of sorts.  It will have days when new articles will be posted, YouTube video publishing dates, and podcast episode release dates.  I’m trying to keep a set schedule going forward not only for you, but myself as well.

God bless you and remember the reason for the season.

In Christ,

William

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Guest Post: How Can God Die On The Cross?

Today’s post is a guest article written by Catholic Apologist Eric Shearer.  Eric has a blog titled On This Rock Apologetics.  He is doing great work for the church and you will be richly blessed by his writing.  So go on over and give him a follow.  Enjoy the article!

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Not long ago, I was talking with someone about how Jesus is both God and man. I explained how the Bible affirms this, especially in the beginning of John’s gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:1,14).

“Jesus cannot be God because Jesus died on the cross,” the man retorted, “and God cannot die.”

Have you ever found yourself pondering this dilemma? Something just doesn’t sound right when we say that God died. It’s as if we are saying that while Jesus was in the tomb for three days the world was without God.

But a world without God would be impossible. Existence is one of God’s attributes. Recall what God said to Moses when asked about His name: “I am who am” (Ex 3:14, Douay-Reims translation). St. Thomas Aquinas even described God as “Him who is subsisting being itself”.1 Existing isn’t just something God does, it’s something He is.

Even more, our existence depends on His. It’s in God that “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). If God stopped existing (even for a moment), creation itself would know about it. It wouldn’t be pretty…

So how do we explain that God died on the cross? We’ll need to investigate two questions: What is man? And what is death? Let’s begin.

 

What is Man?

Man is like an Oreo. An Oreo is made of chocolate cookies and white frosting. Take away one of those two components and you don’t have an Oreo anymore.

Similarly, man is composed of both body and spirit. That is, he has both a material component (his body), as well as a spiritual component (his spirit). Take one away and he isn’t complete.

Consider the second creation account in Genesis 2. We read that, “the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” And after this, “the man became a living being” (Gen 2:7). First God forms man’s body, then he infused in that body the breath of life, a spirit. And it wasn’t until both came together that the first man was complete.

So man is a fusion of both body and spirit. Commenting on this, Frank Sheed said that, “only in man spirit is united with a body, animates the body, makes it to be a living body.”2

So when Jesus took on flesh, He took on a human body, and His divine nature was coupled with a human nature. (For those of you who like big words, this union is what theologians call the Hypostatic Union).

It can be difficult to imagine the God of the universe taking on a human nature. And it can be even more tempting to reduce His humanity to a more comfortable and “bitesize” understanding. But make no mistake, He was (and is) just as much human as we are, similar in all ways except sin. He experienced anger (Matt 21:12-13), sadness (John 11:35), temptation (Matt 4:1-11), and yes, even death (Matt 27:50).

So when we say that Jesus died, we mean it. His death was as real as any other human’s death.

Now that we’ve looked at what a human is, we can move on to what death is.

 

What is Death?

When we talk about death, it’s easy to be nearsighted. We tend to think of it as “The End” (roll the credits). And understandably so, since death marks the end of our earthly lives, and it’s a tragic event for everyone. But that view of death ignores all mention of an afterlife.

As Christians, we don’t see death as the end. It’s a comma, not a period. Consider St. Paul when he said, “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain… my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Phil 1:21,23). Though it seems like the end, death only marks a transition from this life into the next.

Death is when our spirit leaves our body, ending our time on Earth. Our spirit passes into the afterlife. Our bodies, on the other hand, remain on earth, lifeless. As it is written, “the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it” (Eccl 12:7). Frank Sheed describes death in these words:

A point comes—suddenly if there is violence, or by slow wearing—when the body can no longer respond to the life-giving energy of the soul. That, precisely, is death. The body unvivified, falls away into its elements. But the soul does not die with the body. Why should it? As a spirit it does not depend for its life upon the body: matter cannot give life to spirit.3

So death isn’t the end. Though separated from the body, the spirit lives on.

Now that we’ve defined what man and death are, we’re finally ready to come back to our original dilemma.

 

Did God Die?

Yes, God did die. Jesus Christ, the second person of the Holy Trinity was tortured to death at the hands of Roman soldiers. Nailed to the wood of the cross, moments before His death, He cried out, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Then, Luke tells us, Jesus “breathed his last” (Luke 23:46).

Jesus’ death on the cross was just as real as any other human death. When His body could no longer sustain life, His spirit departed the material world, leaving His body lifeless. But does this pose any problem for a Christian? Does this sound like a dilemma?

Of course not. The world was not without God for three days. Jesus lived on, in spite of His separation from His body. Dying in no way blotted Jesus out from existence. It only separated Him from His body, causing Him to depart from this world.

So if anyone ever objects that Jesus can’t be God because Jesus died, simply explain that death only separates the spirit from the body, and that in no way poses a dilemma for a Christian. God came that He might redeem us through His death on the cross. And redeem us He did.

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Sources

[1] Summa Theologiae I, Q 4, Art 2,
www.newadvent.org/summa/

[2] Sheed, F. J. Theology for Beginners, 1981, p. 10.

[3] Sheed, F. J. “Life After Death.” Theology and Sanity,
http://www.ecatholic2000.com/sheed/untitled-31.shtml

The Heresies of Adoptionism and Docetism in the Early Church

When we think of the early days of Christianity, there is a tendency to think about our ancestors in the faith in today’s terms.  We may think they met in churches when they actually met in homes.  That every doctrine that we hold to today was laid out the same back then.  Unfortunately, this line of thinking could not be further from the truth.   The early Church dealt with many issues, and one of those issues was over Christology.

When it comes to Christology the early Church specifically had to deal with Adoptionism and Docetism.  These are two Christologies that were heretical in nature, but they were attractive to people because they answered some lingering questions that had not yet been answered.  Before those answers are discussed it is prudent to define these two terms.

Adoptionism is a Christological belief that Jesus was adopted as the son of God either after his baptism, resurrection, or ascension.  This view was seen in many parts of early Christianity, but a writer by the name of Apollinaris wrote about it extensively.  Regarding this Richard Norris writes, “The divine Logos ‘became human’ in the sense that he became embodied and thus shared the structural constitution of a human being” (Norris 22).  In the view of Adoptionism Christ only became Christ after he was adopted after spending his life doing God’s will.  In other words, the He was not born with two natures.

The other Christological view to be discussed is known as Docetism.  Docetism was an early form of Gnosticism which taught that all matter was evil.  Since all matter was evil it stands to reason that Christ was not crucified.  They saw no need for the Son to make himself involved in physical matters (Norris 13).  Many Church Fathers such as St. Irenaeus and Tertullian fought against the growth of this sect. The sect hated the flesh and taught that the divine spirit left the person of Christ before he died on the cross.  They failed to realize that man was made in God’s image, and even with all its faults the flesh is an object of God’s love and grace (Norris 13).

These two theories became popular, and even thrived, because they answered two questions.  Firstly, can a “whether a mediatorial Logos, when he becomes incarnate, can honestly be understood as God present in person” (Norris 8).  Secondly, if the idea of the incarnation is a contradiction.  There were several reasons why they were rejected.  In the case of Adoptionism it simply contradicts scripture.  Scripture teaches in many places that the Son always was and was not something that came later.  One such passage is John 1:1 which states, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (NRSV).  This shows that Christ always, and since the womb Christ was fully human and fully divine.  For his sacrifice on the cross to be redemptive it had to be a sinless offering.  Tis could not have happened if it was a man who was adopted at thirty years of age.  In the case of Docetism scripture also states that Christ willingly put on flesh.  We see this in Hebrews 2:14, “Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is the devil” (NRSV).  This shows again that if Christ was not also flesh then the cross meant nothing, and the Gospel is nullified.

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Works Cited

Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version

 

Norris, Richard.  The Christological Controversy.  Philadelphia, PA:  Fortress Press.  1980.  Print.

Two Looks at the Trinity

Gordon Fee and St. Gregory of Nazianzus both present the doctrine of the Trinity, but in different ways.  St. Gregory goes into a bit more theological depth, and this makes sense.  Just five years before St. Gregory’s birth the Council of Nicea met to discuss the Arian controversy.  During St. Gregory’s ministry Arianism was particularly strong, and as a result he used much more theological terms, and scripture to counterpoint those of his opponents.  He had to do this because his opponents were using scripture, but they were also guilty of eisegesis.  St. Gregory states in oration 31, “Look at the facts:  Christ is born, the spirit is his forerunner, Christ is baptized, the spirit bears him witness.  Is there any significant function of God, which the Spirit does not perform [1].”  Here St. Gregory is attributing, using scripture, that the Holy Spirit does perform some of the same functions as the Father and the Son.  This implies the Biblical teaching of the Trinity which states that there is one God in three persons.

Dr. Gordon Fee’s study on Paul is a very helpful resource, but a distinction must be made in regards to Paul.  When Paul was preaching and writing his letters his doctrine of the Trinity was not challenged.  In many places in his letters he mentions the Trinity, but it is never disputed.  One such passage is 2 Corinthians 13:14 which states, “May the grace and peace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”  Another is Acts 19:2 when Paul encounters believers baptizing in with John’s baptism.  They had no knowledge of the Holy Spirit, and after educating them they were properly baptized.  Gordon Fee describes Paul as expressing, “The Spirit, who reveals to us the ‘deep things of God’, does so because he alone knows the mind of God; and the Spirit is our intercessor, who prays through us in keeping with God’s own pleasure, precisely because the Spirit and the Father each knows the mind of the other [2].”

Both areas are very helpful as St. Gregory describes the Trinity via the actions of the Father, Son, and Spirit.  He vividly describes what each does.  Gordon Fee describes the Apostle Paul’s understanding of the Trinity in terms of an intricate relationship.  Each knows the mind of the other, and know how to interact because each only knows the mind of the other.  A problem of words arises as the same thing is being discussed, but there is a 1600 year gap in language.

It is very helpful to understand how Paul understood the Trinity because his words are sometimes twisted to mean something he did not mean.  From a purely theological point of view St, Gregory’s description was much more detailed.  It had to be to combat the heresy that was going on.

 

Works Cited

  1. Gregory of Nazianzus.  On God and Christ:  The Five Theological Orations and Two Letters to Cledonius.  (Crestwood, NY:  St. Vladamirs Press, 2002), 139.
  2. Gordon D. Fee. Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God. (Nashville, TN:  Baker Publishing Group, kindle locations 950-965), Kindle Edition

Brief Video: Have We Forgotten the Incarnation?

The Incarnation of the Son of God is the terminology used to describe what happened when the second person of the Trinity, the eternal Son of God, “became flesh” as he was miraculously conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary according to the Bible. In the incarnation, the divine nature of the Son was perfectly united with human nature in one divine Person. This person, Jesus Christ, was both “truly God and truly man.”

 

 

 

 

 

I did this short video after church in lieu of writing today.

 

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Light Has Dawned

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”- Isaiah 9:2

Christmas has come, but does it have to be gone?  Driving through my neighborhood last night I noticed that some decorations have been taken down.  Through all the business of the holiday did we take time to truly understand the significance of Christmas?

The 9th chapter of Isaiah is popular during Christmas because of the many Messianic verses contained within.  Today’s verse is no different and highlights what the coming of Christ is.  We have all walked in the darkness of sin, and by the miracle of the incarnation we have seen a light.  Christ came in the flesh to rescue people from their sins.  Through our faith in Jesus Christ the darkness of sin upon our souls has been taken away, and a new light has dawned.  We now have eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 6:23b).  This is the greatest of gifts that we can receive.  Christmas may be over, but in our hearts and lives it does not have to end.  I would argue that it should not end.  We must remember that by Christ becoming man we have been given the greatest gift of all.  Eternal life if we put our faith in him.  May we never forget about this awesome blessing.

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