Archive for April, 2017

holmes“For this [i.e. the gospel, the Christian faith] is, as I said, no earthly discovery that was committed to them, nor some mortal idea that they consider to be worth guarding so carefully, nor have they been entrusted with the administration of merely human mysteries.  On the contrary, the omnipotent Creator of all, the invisible God himself, established among men the truth and the holy, incomprehensible word from heaven and fixed it firmly in their hearts, not, as one might imagine, by sending to men some subordinate, or angel or ruler or one of those who manage earthly matters, or one of those entrusted with the administration of things in heaven, but the Designer and Creator of the universe himself, by whom he created the heavens, by whom he enclosed the sea within its proper bounds, whose mysteries all the elements faithfully observe, from whom the sun has received the measure of the daily courses to keep ,whom the moon obeys as he commands it to shine by night, whom the stars obey as they follow the course of the moon, by whom all things have been ordered and determined and placed in subjection, including the heavens and the things in the heavens, the earth and the things in the earth, the sea and the things in the sea, fire, air, abyss, the things in the heights, the things in the depths, the things in between–this one he sent to them.

But perhaps he sent him, as a man might suppose, to rule by tyranny, fear, and terror?  Certainly not.  On the contrary, he sent him in gentleness and meekness, as a king might send his son who is a king; he sent him as God; he sent him as a man to men.  When he sent him, he did so as one who saves by persuasion not compulsion, for compulsion is no attribute of God.  When he sent him, he did so as one calling, not pursuing [lit. persecuting]; when he sent him, he did so as one loving, not judging…These things do not look like the works of man; they are the power of God, they are proofs of his presence…

By loving him you will be an imitator of his goodness.  And do not be surprised that a person can become an imitator of God; he can, if God is willing.  For happiness is not a matter of lording it over one’s neighbors, or desiring to have more than weaker men, or possessing wealth and using force against one’s inferiors.  No one is able to imitate God in these matters; on the contrary, these things are alien to his greatness.  But whoever takes upon himself his neighbor’s burden, whoever wishes to benefit another who is worse off in something in which he himself is better off, whoever provides to those in need things he has received from God, and thus becomes a god to those who receive them, this one is an imitator of God.” (Epistle to Diognetus 7:1-9, 10:4-6, circa 150-225 AD, from The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, ed. and rev. by Michael W. Holmes, p. 545)


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“Christians are not distinguished from the rest of humanity by country, language, or custom.  For nowhere do they live in cities of their own, nor do they speak some unusual dialect, nor do they practice an eccentric lifestyle.  This teaching of theirs has not been discovered by the thought and reflection of ingenious men, nor do they promote any human doctrine, as some do.  But while they live in both Greek and barbarian cities, as each one’s lot was cast, and follow the local customs in dress and food and other aspects of life, at the same time they demonstrate the remarkable and admittedly unusual [thaumasten kai homologoumenos paradoxon] character of their own citizenship [politeias].  They live in their own countries, but only as aliens [paroikoi]; they participate in everything as citizens [politai], and endure everything as foreigners [xenoi].  Every foreign country is their fatherland, and every fatherland is foreign.  They marry like everyone else, and have children, but they do not expose their offspring.  They share their food but not their wives.  They are ‘in the flesh,’ but they do not live ‘according to the flesh.’  They live on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven.  They obey the established laws; indeed in their private lives they transcend the laws.  They love everyone, and by everyone they are persecuted…They are dishonored, yet they are glorified in their dishonor…When they do good, they are punished as evildoers…Yet those who hate them are unable to give a reason for their hostility.  In a word, what the soul is to the body, Christians are to the world.  The soul is dispersed through all the members of the body, and Christians throughout the cities of the world.  The soul dwells in the body, but is not of the body; likewise Christians dwell in the world, but are not of the world.” (Epistle to Diognetus 5:1-6:3, circa 150-225 AD, from The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, ed. and rev. by Michael W. Holmes, p. 541)

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Galatians 1:10–“For am I now seeking the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please [aresko] human beings? If I were still trying to please [aresko] human beings, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

1 Thessalonians 2:3-4–“For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive,  but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please [aresko] human beings, but to please [aresko] God who tests our hearts.”

1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1–“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please [aresko] everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.  Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

Romans 15:1-3–“We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please [aresko] ourselves.  Let each of us please [aresko] his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please [aresko] himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.””

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Bauckham“In Jesus’ praxis the characteristics of God’s rule could be identified.  In summary, the rule of God as Jesus’ praxis embodied it was the sovereignty of God’s gracious and fatherly love…

The key to the way that Jesus actualized God’s rule is his loving identification with people…But this could not happen in a purely generalizing way, by preaching an indiscriminate message of God’s benevolence towards everyone.  God’s love through Jesus reached people in their actual, very different life-situations, because Jesus in love identified with people, understood and felt their problems and needs.  Only so could God’s love reach into and change their lives.  While he practiced God’s universal love for all people, Jesus could do so only by constantly particularizing it as God’s love for this or that person in his or her particular situation.

This means that, on the one hand, Jesus’ loving identification with people knew no limits, but, on the other hand, he did not identify with everyone in the same way.  It is important to keep these two sides of the coin in mind.  In the first place, Jesus’ love excluded no one.  He held aloof neither from the outcasts of society nor from the respectable people who were scandalized by the company he kept.  He dined with tax-collectors and sinners, but also with Pharisees…Even Jesus’ highly critical confrontations with religious leaders do not fall outside his loving solidarity with all people: they were the only way he could bring home to such people the character and demands of God’s love as it impinged on their particular situation…

However, it is equally important to notice, secondly, that Jesus did not identify with all these people in the same way.  He met their actual, very different needs for God’s solidarity with them as they themselves were…Jesus particularized God’s love in different ways for different people…

It is in this context of Jesus’ loving identification with all in different ways that we must consider the claim that Jesus’ praxis displayed a preferential concern for the poor.  It would be better to speak of Jesus’ special concern for the marginalized, those who were excluded from society to a greater or lesser degree, since by no means all these people were economically poor.  Tax-collectors most certainly were not, and indeed their despised position in society was partly because they had grown rich, by dubious means, at others’ expense.  Yet they were prominent among those with whom Jesus was notorious for associating.  The key to Jesus’ ‘preference’ for various groups must be their relative exclusion, for social, economic and religious reasons, from the society of God’s people…In his deliberate attempt to reach those who were shunned and forgotten by everyone else, he sought out the most hopeless cases of all: the lepers, whom society treated as more or less already corpses, and the demoniacs, whose condition seemed virtually to exclude them from humanity altogether.

Jesus’ special concern for the marginalized was not a neglect of others.  Rather, Jesus’ mission was to reach all with God’s loving solidarity and thereby create loving solidarity among all.  But for this purpose his special concern had to be the inclusion of those who were excluded from human solidarity and those who felt excluded from God’s solidarity.  Those who excluded others from the solidarity of God’s people could properly learn God’s solidarity with themselves only along with his solidarity with the people they excluded.  Not only for the sake of the tax-collectors and sinners, then, but actually also for the sake of the Pharisees, Jesus identified himself with tax-collectors and sinners.

Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom of God, provisionally present in a fragmentary way through his ministry, was of a society without the privilege and status which favor some and exclude others.  Thus those who had no status in society as it was then constituted were given a conspicuous place in society as God’s rule was reconstituting it through Jesus.  This ensured that the rich and the privileged could find their place only alongside the poor and the underprivileged.  The last became first and the first became last so that there should be no status or privilege at all…

Finally, Jesus, who loved children, make a small child his model of citizenship in God’s Kingdom, because children had no social status.  To enter the Kingdom, all must become like the little child.  Like his preference for children, Jesus’ preference for the tax-collectors and the beggars was not against the others, but for them.  The others must abandon status in order with Jesus to enter the solidarity of the unrighteous, the poor and the children.  There was no other route to the Kingdom of God in which no one is less than or thinks himself more than a neighbor to all others.” (Richard BauckhamThe Bible in Politics: How to Read the Bible Politically, 2nd ed., pp. 142-47)

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Hauerwas“I am in fact challenging the very idea that Christian social ethics is primarily an attempt to make the world more peaceable or just.  Put starkly, the first social ethical task of the church is to be the church–the servant community.  Such a claim may well sound self-serving until we remember that what makes the church the church is its faithful manifestation of the peaceable kingdom in the world.  As such the church does not have a social ethic; the church is a social ethic.

The church is where the stories of Israel and Jesus are told, enacted, and heard, and it is our conviction that as a Christian people there is literally nothing more important we can do…The church does not let the world set its agenda about what constitutes a ‘social ethic,’ but a church of peace and justice must set its own agenda…By being that kind of community we see that the church helps the world understand what it means to be the world.  For the world has no way of knowing it is world without the church pointing to the reality of God’s kingdom…The scandal of the disunity of the church is even more painful when we recognize this social task.  For we who have been called to be the foretaste of the peaceable kingdom cannot, it seems, maintain unity among ourselves.  As a result we abandon the world to its own devices…

Therefore the first social task of the church–the people capable of remembering and telling the story of God we find in Jesus–is to be the church and thus help the world understand itself as world…For the church to be the church, therefore, is not anti-world, but rather an attempt to show what the world is meant to be as God’s good creation…

Therefore calling for the church to be the church is not a formula for a withdrawal ethic; nor is it a self-righteous attempt to flee from the world’s problems; rather it is a call for the church to be a community which tries to develop the resources to stand within the world witnessing to the peaceable kingdom and thus rightly understanding the world.  The gospel is a political gospel.  Christians are engaged in politics, but it is a politics of the kingdom that reveals the insufficiency of all politics based on coercion and falsehood and finds the true source of power in servanthood rather than dominion…The church therefore is a polity like any other, but it is also unlike any other insofar as it is formed by a people who have no reason to fear the truth.  They are able to exist in the world without resorting to coercion to maintain their presence…

Christians are the community of a new age which must continue to exist in the old age…The church must learn time and time again that its task is not to make the world the kingdom, but to be faithful to the kingdom by showing to the world what it means to be a community of peace.  Thus we are required to be patient and never lose hope…[For] God does not rule creation through coercion, but through a cross.  As Christians, therefore, we seek not so much to effective as to be faithful–we, thus, cannot do that which promises ‘results’ when the means are unjust…There are some things we cannot do, no matter what good might accrue.” (Stanley HauerwasThe Peaceable Kingdom: A Primer in Christian Ethics, pp. 99-104)

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Newbigin“When the old classical worldview lost its confidence and disintegrated, it was perhaps inevitable that the ruling power [i.e. Rome] should turn to the Church as the integrating power for a new social order.  That had enormous consequences for good over the succeeding millennium.  It created the Christian civilization of Europe.  But it also led the Church into the fatal temptation to use the secular power to enforce conformity to Christian teaching…

What could it mean for the Church to make once again the claim which it made in its earliest centuries, the claim to provide the public truth by which society can be given coherence and direction?  Certainly it cannot mean a return to the use of coercion to impose belief.  That is, in any case, impossible.  Assent to the claim of Christ has to be given in freedom…

The question of power is inescapable…There is no ‘secular’ neutrality.  Christians cannot evade the responsibility which a democratic society gives to every citizen to seek access to the levers of power.  But the issue has never confronted the Church in this way before; we are in a radically new situation and cannot dream either of a Constantinian authority or of a pre-Constantinian innocence.  What is to be done?  How is it possible that the one who was nailed helpless to a cross should be seen by society as the ultimate source of power?…

In a necessary reaction against the idea of a Church which acts as God’s viceroy on earth, a triumphalist Church, we have in recent years emphasized the servant role of the Church.  We are here rightly seeking to follow the example of Jesus, who defined his role as that of a servant (for example, Mark 10:45).  But this servant role can be misunderstood.  Jesus did not allow himself to be simply at the disposal of others.  The temptations at the outset of his ministry were temptations to do what people wanted the Messiah to do…In serving human need, Jesus remains master.  The servant who washes the feet of his disciples is their master and lord, and it is in serving that he exercises his lordship (John 13:13-14)…

How is it possible for the Church truly to represent the reign of God in the world in the way Jesus did?…I confess that I have come to feel that the primary reality of which we have to take account in seeking for a Christian impact on public life in the Christian congregation.  How is it possible that the gospel should be credible, that people should come to believe that the power which has the last word in human affairs is represented by a man hanging on a cross?  I am suggesting that the only answer, the only hermeneutic of the gospel, is a congregation of men and women who believe it and live by it.  I am, of course, not denying the importance of the many activities by which we seek to challenge public life with the gospel–evangelistic campaigns, distribution of Bibles and Christian literature, conferences, and even books such as this one.  But I am saying that these are all secondary, and that they have power to accomplish their purpose only as they are rooted in and lead back to a believing community.

Jesus, as I said earlier. did not write a book but formed a community…It exists in and for him.  He is the center of its life.  Its character is given to it, when it is true to its nature, not by the characters of its members but by his character.  Insofar as it is true to its calling, it becomes the place where men and women and children find that the gospel gives them the framework of understanding, the ‘lenses’ through which they are able to understand and cope with the world.” (Lesslie NewbiginThe Gospel in a Pluralist Society, pp. 223-27)

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Stott“William Temple used to illustrate the point [that Christians are capable of living like Christ through the indwelling Spirit] in this way:

‘It is no good giving me a play like Hamlet or King Lear, and telling me to write a play like that.  Shakespeare could do it; I can’t.

And it is no good showing me a life like the life of Jesus and telling me to live a life like that.  Jesus could do it; I can’t.

But if the genius of Shakespeare could come and live in me, then I could write plays like his.

And if the Spirit of Jesus could come and live in me, then I could live a life his his.’

God’s purpose is to make us like Christ, and God’s way is to fill us with his Holy Spirit.” (John StottRadical Disciple, p. 37)

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