Sola Sola Sola

Within the reformation, there are five solas that are emphasized. What most of us are familiar with is sola scriptura – Scripture alone. In addendum to that there is sola gratia (grace alone), sola fide (faith alone), solus Christus (Christ alone), and soli Deo gloria (glory of God alone). While the “alone” might be confusing in all of these, especially considering that there are five “alones”, what was being proclaimed is that these five principles are all that are needed for sound theology, and for Christian life. Salvation is by grace alone; no one would debate this, except that there is the issue of faith and walking out your salvation. Thus, there is “faith alone”, which says that our deeds are not what save us. Our salvation is in Christ alone, and not through penance, indulgence, or righteousness. Our salvation is by grace, through faith, and faith solely within Christ.

I’m sure you can see where this is going. Each of the solas is answering a specific theological objection. So it isn’t that we operate by Scripture alone, and end of story. There is a harmony between the the solas, one that must remain in tact. When we’re dealing with the solas, what is often being combatted is Roman Catholicism. You don’t usually find a Protestant debating sola scriptura. If they do bulk against it, it is because they misunderstand it. Sola scriptura does not mean that the Bible is the sole source for all things. It means that the Scripture alone speaks to us of the issues of salvation, theology, sanctification, and all of these other things. That is not to say that we don’t use reason, tradition, or philosophy. That is to say that the other sources are not authoritative, and they are insufficient.

What is necessary to note in regard to the solas is that they are not sources for theology. They are not principles that we must strictly adhere to in order to make all things correct. They are the logical deductions of what God has said. It is plainly put in the pages of Scripture, and to debate that is more than foolish. The reason that we hold to the solas is to give us a guide, but the solas are not something to continuously remain at. There are other aspects to the Christian faith. I’m not one where the solas are always at the forefront of my mind, lest I fall into heresy or something. These aren’t “law”; they are just principles. They are a stepping stone and a foundation, and once we’ve all come to a place where we understand that, we can then move onward to discussing the details of each, and discussing the things beyond them.

Each of those solas have problems – not in the sense of being in error, but in the sense of the Scripture having two sides to every coin. Yes, it is Scripture alone that we base our understanding, but we don’t come to that understanding by the Scripture alone. No one uses only Scripture, because that would be a robotic methodology. Yes, we believe it is by grace that we are saved, and through faith. But that does not answer to the difficult questions of how faith and works go together in James, or how 1 John continuously puts emphasis upon works (specifically loving our brethren). What is important to continue to press is that our salvation is not by our own merit, but after salvation we are expected to live a certain way, and in it grace and faith are not made void, they do go together with deeds. The problems do not outweigh the whole point. Let us not lose focus in quibbling. Our study of theology is much larger than that. 

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The Unity of Sources for Theology

We all already know that there is a harmony between the sources of theology. But, practically speaking, what does this look like and mean? It is one thing for our sources to all say the same thing, but it is something else entirely when we attempt to use all sources to discover something. Should we attempt to do theology in a formula sort of way, where we examine what others have written, and then study the Scripture to see if it lines up with their thinking, and then pray about it a bit? Or is it much more natural, where in our devotion, whether reading Scripture or praying, we begin to have various thoughts and understanding enter our consciousness, and we then check tradition to see if anyone else has considered these things?

While I might be dramatizing this a bit, there is a real struggle here. Our tendency is to look for ways in which we can get the right answer quickly, and once we’ve apprehended the correct answer, we then check it off the list and expect that we can move on to the next question. Life, nor theology, works like this. God on purpose actually wants to have a relationship with us. He actually wants to speak to our hearts, work our minds into better and deeper understanding, and then to send us out to teach and disciple others. The way we mature does not allow such a process of learning. I would expect the person who has wrestled the issues of theology for decades to have greater insight than the one who is beginning their journey. Yet, this isn’t always the case, and it is because theology is not a study of a subject, but a person, and the way you study a person is by listening to them and spending time with them. That is a process that takes time and willingness to wait.

The four or five sources for theology all unite in Christ. Just like we are no longer in sin, but are now in Christ, we no longer study like the secular sciences, but now through Christ. The apostle Paul really sets the standard here in his epistles. He didn’t simply labor more than anyone else by his own merit, but through the strength of God. He didn’t come to his understanding through the other apostles, as he maps out in Galatians, but rather through spending months and years with God listening and believing. While this is difficult to then consider what it means practically, it is actually the easiest thing in the world. It takes a load off of the shoulders, because if God is not speaking about certain issues, then it is not for you to know, and you can have confidence that God has revealed these things to someone else in the Body for that purpose. What God has spoken to you, that you are entrusted with, and anything else is unnecessary baggage.

Must We Be Filled With the Spirit to Study?

In discussing limitations, we must also ask the question of whether there is a limitation in our own holiness. Every single person in Christ has had the struggle. There are always the voices and thoughts that say we cannot know God, because we aren’t good enough, aren’t smart enough, aren’t righteous enough, or any other absurd “aren’t enough”. Whether you fall into the camp of the Nazarenes, the Wesleyans, or the Charismatic denominations, you will find that there is a difficult quandary that must be overcome. How do you balance the understanding of a second work of grace, or a filling of the Holy Spirit, or a second blessing, or becoming ‘sanctified’ with theology?

Must one have the baptism of the Holy Spirit in order to do theology? Does God require that we would be filled with His Spirit in order to know Him? Should we expect that if we haven’t had a certain experience that purges the dross from our lives and causes us to live in a more attuned manner that we are somehow lack?

It is precisely here that the cessationist has every right to balk. Yet, I would suggest the cessationist has the exact same enigma, only with different words. The idea of a second work of grace is that we are all on a journey with the Lord. There comes a point in time in that journey where we decide it isn’t enough to simply be Christian. My roommate, who was an atheist, called this “being devout”. He experienced this moment in my life, when I was a Christian, but still enjoyed an occasional party, and watched the movies and shows I shouldn’t have. When the moment came that conviction wouldn’t allow me to live in that any longer, I gave it up. In that moment it wasn’t about my decision, but about the power of God releasing me from these things. I don’t need them anymore.

The Wesleyan branches of theology have termed this event in the spiritual walk of the believer. The cessationist would say that we’re filled with the Spirit from our spiritual birth, and they might agree that such a moment could or would happen in the life of the believer, but that event is not a baptism in the Spirit. This isn’t a “second work” of the Spirit, but just the work that the Spirit performs. Herein are semantics, and these semantics are pointless to discussion. The real pressing perplexity lay within every college student who went off to school to learn theology, or every layman who hasn’t yet had that momentous moment. As a pastor, as an educator, as a friend, as a brother or sister, how do you respond both biblically and lovingly to this kind of question?

Our resolve is found in the character of God. Ultimately, what we’re asking is not a question of self, but of God. If our focus is upon self, then it is little wonder why we have so hard a time feeling after answers. With God, all things are possible. The very God of the universe that was able to abide in flesh – not sanctified flesh, but everything that flesh is and represents – and dwelt in sinless perfection, not faltering at one point of the Law or commandments, revealing to us perfectly the heart, character, and expression of the Father tells us everything we need to know about whether we can truly know God. Let us not forget that it was not the apostles of Acts chapter 2, after being filled with the Spirit, that Jesus discipled and asked whether they didn’t know Him.1 These foolish, bumbling, hardened, ignorant disciples – the unsanctified, who haven’t yet had the second work of grace, or the baptism of the Spirit – are the very ones that Jesus seems to have utter confidence in. Is it because He knows they will receive the Spirit that He has this confidence, or is there something else that causes Him patience?

Just like our Christian walk itself is a journey, so is our understanding of theology. God meets us where we are, revealing Himself because He is not restricted. Is God free to reveal Himself to us, who are mere mortals? Or is God somehow constrained because we are too frail, too stupid, not this, not that, and not enough? Yes, we are dust, but we are God’s dust, and I don’t think He would appreciate the way that we talk about His dust sometimes. Is it not the accuser of the brethren to speak such? Why, then, do we use such language and violence against one another as the accuser of the brethren himself? Exactly who are we representing and working for?

In the end, we cannot deny the obvious. Certainly being further along in the journey with God helps. It is said that the ground is level at the cross, but we all know exactly how it feels to be brand new and hear that one guy who seems to have the whole Bible memorized. We all know what it’s like to look up to someone else because of their insight, and hopefully also because of their character and integrity. Something about them arrests our being, and we cannot reject the obvious in that moment. They have seen and experienced something that we know nothing of, possibly eating of a bread that we’ve never tasted. Their communion seems sweeter, and something in us has a bit of longing – hopefully not jealousy. Whatever you call it, that kind of closeness certainly has its benefit, but we cannot persist that it is necessary, nor that the lack thereof is a lack and limitation. God is the one who works with us, and not ourselves with ourselves. Let that be a comfort and rest.

1 John 14:9

The Eschatological Zenith and Paradigm

Everything within theology has eschatology as its nexus,1 zenith,2 and crux.3 With such a statement as that, I suppose each of those three need to be explained out a bit. Firstly, let us deal with the issue before those three words. Eschatology is the study of the end times, coming from the Greek word εσχατον. Why would the study of the end times be the very fulcrum of theology? And what does it mean that theology hinges in all ways upon eschatology?

When you go into the Bible, you find that there are very few passages that do not deal with the end times – especially when you see the overview of the Scriptures. Taking seriously the words of the prophets and apostles leads you to understand that even the things that happened at the beginning are mere reflections of what shall happen at the end. It’s all one giant cycle where we have patterns that happen over and over again throughout the Scripture, and every time the cycle repeats, it gets closer to the ultimate finale and consummation. Take for example the exodus story. You first have a righteous lineage from Seth through Noah, that is separate from the children of Cain. After Noah comes the tower of Babel, in which you have the great call unto Abram to “come out”, or “leave” the system and nation he is in, in order to be established as God’s nation. After Abram comes the generation of Moses, which “comes out” from Egypt, out of nations to be established as God’s nation. Hosea recounts this deliverance, and says that “out of Egypt I called my son”, and Matthew then applies that to Jesus, to show that just as Israel has gone through this, so too does messiah. And yet, it doesn’t stop there, for the prophets declare a “new exodus” at the end of the age, where Israel is again brought into the wilderness to meet with God. And, of course, there is the “come out from her my people” of Revelation 18:4. It is after the exodus of the end times that God then establishes again the nation of God forever – according to the prophets as well as the book of Revelation.

Within these patterns we see something emerge. It isn’t just that the Scripture all revolves around a final conclusion of the age. It isn’t just that all things are leading unto that epoch that includes the return of the Son of God. What we find emerge is that there is a theological foundation to all of the various dogmas, or doctrines, which begins in Genesis, and branches out unto the very last chapters of Revelation. When we discuss soteriology, we’re discussing an end time salvation. When we discuss anthropology, we’re not only discussing the nature of man from the Garden, and after the fall, but we’re also discussing humanity in the bodily resurrection. God’s perspective and view is ever and always upon that eschaton. For our view to consistently be upon the here and now, wanting to expound the depths of the Scripture and theology according to current experience falls short of the glory of God.

Therefore, theology has eschatology as its nexus. Everything links and comes together when the key of eschatology has been put into place. That isn’t to say we cannot understand without first going to eschatology, but to say that if we have been negligent to understanding God’s paradigm and cosmic, apocalyptic, and eternal purposes, then we have been even more negligent within every other branch of theology. The very culmination and aggregation of the great dogmas is rooted and grounded, even the foundation being laid, within the eternal purposes of God. What is the Church, and what is the Church’s purpose if it does not have an end time orientation? What is salvation, and what is the purpose of salvation, if it does not have an end time conclusion?

Eschatology, though it seem to be a study of the end time events, is much more than that. If we are trying to graph and chart things out, imparting a knowledge of how things will take place, but we have not yet seen the pertinence upon daily life, and the constrains that the eschaton brings into practice, then we have not truly studied, nor understood, nor desired to understand, the end of the age. It is not the heart of God that we are looking for, but rather a pristine theology, and sound doctrine. To ask the question of the end is to ask the question of God Himself. What we claim to believe about God is put to the test in what we believe about the end. Nothing shows forth the grace, mercy, severity, love, and anger of God like the end of the age, the conclusion of all things.

Therefore the eschaton is the zenith of theology. To do theology apart from an apocalyptic expectancy, and a blessed hope in which Messiah shall come, and raise a banner for the nations, that all might see His glory, and Israel might be joined under her brethren, and we might enter Zion together with an eternal inheritance, with everlasting joy upon our heads, and tears being wiped away, the Spirit of grace and supplication being poured out on the House of David, and the Spirit being poured out on all flesh – that kind of theology that refuses to consider this eternal bliss in all things is a prime example of ministerial malpractice. It doesn’t prepare the congregation for the glory that is coming, if they shall truly be found faithful unto that glorious appearing. Rather, it teaches a dullness, and a malaise, in which every Sunday is like the other, new messages with the same message, and all of the hearers are lulled into thinking that what we have is all we’ll ever have in this life.

Such a theology does not know God, nor the power of God. God Himself has made this one statement at the end of the age, the epochal drama and saga of Israel and the saints, to be the very testimony and witness of a King who rules forever. Where eschatology has classically been the end cap of theology, and almost an addendum of interesting discussion, I would persist that it is actually the foremost consideration in God’s heart. This isn’t one doctrine among many, in which we can come to whatever conclusions we want, because it doesn’t really matter. What you say of the end of the age will result in the life or death of countless masses. Martin Luther must have rolled in his grave to behold Nazi Germany willingly using his material to woo the anemic church into antisemitism and violence. And this is modern history, after the enlightenment, when Germany was the motherland of theology, and the place of immaculate culture. We aren’t dealing with primitives, nor with uneducated or uncultured Middle Eastern Muslims. The atrocities of Auschwitz and Birkinau were performed by a nation of civilized and cultured jewels, who willingly forfeited their humanity to become automatons under the coercion of the principalities and powers of darkness, who have only too gladly held their place of honor and rule over the German people from before the Reformation, and even through the Reformation with the giddy condemnation and slaughter of the anabaptists.

Would such a mass murder and condemnation of the reformers been allotted if the so-called church held to a view that God would kill all the sinners of His people? Would it have been conceivable for Martin Luther to call the anabaptists demon possessed, simply because of their exemplary holiness and godly living, if he took seriously that the Church is to be a demonstration of the manifest wisdom of God unto the principalities and powers of the air – a demonstration that is quite obviously of unity, not just between brethren, but even an impossible humility to accepting that we as Gentiles have been brought into the commonwealth of Israel? And how does that demonstration manifest? Is it not explained in Ephesians as well? Is it not that in the dispensation of the fullness of time that God would bring together under in one all things in Christ? When is that dispensation? At the formation of the church in Acts 2? Never for a minute consider that Paul had such a thought, for he continues in pointing out that we have obtained an inheritance, “εις απολυτρωσιν της περιποιησεως”.4 Here it is mentioned “to the praise of His glory”, which goes back to verse 12, in which Paul speaks of “we who first trusted”, which is not the Gentiles addressed in verse 13, but the Jewish believers that are a part of that “purchased possession”.

If we are willing to hear God’s heart, I think we would be flabbergasted. All of us would be on our faces to consider the things that He has spoken, but we have not been willing to heart it. Our thoughts are too high, and our ways are too high – far higher than the meek and lowly road that God has endured. The proud won’t understand, because God hides Himself from them. The meek, however, who shall inherit the earth, stand in God’s counsel, willingly hearing the hard things, and willingly embracing even the statements of an Israel that God still loves, who are currently “not my people”, but shall in that day be called “my people”. The Bride of Christ is Israel, the congregation (εκκλεσια) is Israel, the election is Israel, and even the promises, covenants, prophecies, blessings, and inheritance are all for Israel. Any part that you or I have, if we are not a Jew by birth, is not because we are somehow a superstructure in Christ called “the church”, but because we have been grafted in, and are now a part of the commonwealth of Israel.

A theology that does not embrace the things that God has declared about the end of the age, and has made light of His very heart and vexation, is an arrogant theology. That arrogance is not something to take lightly, considering that Ezekiel 28 tells us that Satan himself corrupted his wisdom, and his heart boasted over – exalted itself – because of his beauty. The arrogance of Romans 11:18 is not about high mindedness, which is found in verse 20, but rather an exaltation and “boasting over of”. Do not boast against the branches, being arrogant, exalting yourself like the ancient serpent, and corrupting your wisdom in the process. Rather, remain pure, lay down your life as a living sacrifice, be not conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, and all these statements come after the explanation that we as Gentiles have been grafted in so that they might be driven to jealousy – a statement straight out of Deuteronomy 32 for the end of the age.

The arrogant theology parades as God’s view, exalting itself against and above the branches, not believing that the root supports it. Any branch that is grafted in that does not take dies, and is good for nothing but firewood. To not take seriously the eschaton, and to expect that you don’t need to see the mystery that Paul emphatically declares in Ephesians 3, is to willingly, and arrogantly, believe that there are more important things than the eternal purposes of God. Such a slap in the face desecrates all of the teachings of Jesus, and it certainly doesn’t take seriously the call that Paul lays forth for “the Church”. Whatever he was expressing as this mystery, which will demonstrate the manifest wisdom of God unto the powers of darkness, is the very thing that brings the conclusion, “αθτω η δοξα εν τη εκκλεσια”.5 That glory is not a seasonal glory, but “εις πασας τας γενεας του αεωνος των αεωνων”.6

1 A connection or series of connections linking two or more things.

2 The time at which something is most powerful or successful.

3 The decisive or most important point at issue.

4 To the redemption of the obtained, or acquired, or purchased possession

5 To him be glory in the church…

6 To all generations forever and ever.

Requirements of Studying Theology

There are a lot of things that can be said to be requirements of study, especially in regard to systematic theology – or theology in general. In consulting sources, both personal and books, the general consideration is that a theology scholar should have a disciplined mind, a Bible, a knowledge of the original languages, reverence, teachableness, and other such things. While I can rejoice in some effort to get to the heart of it in things like reverence and teachableness, I also have cried multiple times in prayer over the absence of one key thing.

The requirement of studying any type or branch of theology is, and not simply should be, a hunger and thirst after righteousness. We need to have a thorough and incorrigible pursuit of knowing God, and not merely knowing about God, and knowing God as He in fact is. Anyone can get on a microphone and proclaim some ideas they have concerning God, concerning the Bible, and concerning theology. Anyone can publish a book. Anyone can go through school and now have a platform from which to speak and preach. The question is not about whether they are studious, nor about whether they are open to criticism, nor whether they have solid argumentation and reasoning, but rather whether what they are saying is conveying the truth and nothing but the truth. Are you actually speaking about God, or is this some idea that you have intellectually attained, simply because you were unwilling, or unable, to know God as He says of Himself?

When I was brand new to the faith, not even yet familiar with much of the Scripture, I went to multiple Bible studies a week, a couple prayer meetings a week, listened to multiple sermons everyday, prayed for 4-8 hours a day, and read mass amounts of Scripture. I literally had something within the realm of church or christianity that I was attending every day of the week, and I also made sure to pray and read the Bible for hours everyday whether I had school or not. My whole reason for such devotion was that I wanted to know God as He is. I wanted to know Him. I wanted to be with Him. I wanted to share all things with Him.

As an atheist, I knew nothing of God. I knew nothing of the Bible. When I was converted, I had, and still have, nothing but unreasonable desire to know Him, love Him, honor Him, and glorify Him. Because of this, I study theology – God Himself and His relationships with all things. I hunger and thirst after righteousness. I pant as the deer to see God, to know Him, and not simply know things about Him, my soul longing with fervor. I make haste to drink deeply from the wells of salvation.

This is the requirement of study – wanting to know God as He is, and to know His view, His thoughts, His opinions, His heart, and His mind. It isn’t about what I can get out of the Scripture, seeking blessings and promises for me and my daily life. Truly, I don’t care what the Bible says is mine if it is only for the sake of my benefit. What matters to me is what benefit and glory it brings to God, and whether it is according to His purposes and cosmic plan. What matters to me is seeing Him, and His plans, and His purposes, and to rejoice that He has given me opportunity to be a part of all of this.

We’re also not interested in new understanding that have been hidden in the past, and now we’ve come across the true way of perceiving. While I believe that as the Day draws near that God will continue to pour out understanding, it is not something that is altogether new or different. Even the prophets of the Old Testament built upon Leviticus and Deuteronomy (not to mention the stories of Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, and Joshua through Job). The apostles likewise didn’t declare a new thing, but rather expounded the interpretation of what was previously unknown, or misunderstood. The prophets and apostles have built upon the previous prophets and apostles – not to write something new that wasn’t before seen or comprehended, but to continue to further explain and express the details that have not until this time been revealed by the Father.

Such fads, conspiracies, and “secret things” that parade around in Christianity as if they are the new way of perceiving are anathema. When you find someone that continues to speak or preach, and you can’t understand plainly what they proclaim without buying their books, listening to all of their material, and learning new ways of thinking, you’re listening to a false teacher – or worse. Theology is not to be confused to “secret things”, and so called “deep secrets”.1 I understand the hidden things belong to the Lord,2 but these are not the same as what is expressed through much of the fads and fables of modern Christianity.

1 Revelation 2:24

2 Deuteronomy 29:29

Limitations of Theology

Within study, we understand that there are limitations. No matter how we attempt to know and understand theology, we will always be limited in our understanding. Some things are self-inflicted. I have met many who pray that God would give them wisdom and increase their understanding, and then spend less than a few hours a week in the Bible. How do you expect to learn if you won’t even devote yourself to reading Scripture? That is self-inflicted limitation. Likewise, when we spend incredible amounts of time and energy reading what people have written, and even weighing it against the Scripture, but we don’t pray and commune with God, we still inflict upon self a limitation. Prayer isn’t about petition. It is about humility before God. It is about remaining in His presence, whether you hear something or not, feel something or not.

There are limitations that are not self-inflicted. One would be the very fact that we perceive through a dark glass. While Paul had many more insights than this author, and has experienced much more than many of the the saints throughout church history, he still was able to confess that he saw through a glass darkly. Our comprehension cannot be full, because revelation itself has not fully been unveiled. We’re at a bizarre time in history, where Messiah has come, and therefore we expect to be able to perceive all things. Yet, Messiah has yet to come again, for in the same way that He went He shall return. We aren’t at the end of the age. This isn’t the new heaven and new earth, no matter what preterists would proclaim.

It isn’t until that final unveiling has come – the great apocalypse – when Jesus rules from Zion on the throne of David, and vision and prophecy cease, knowledge passes away, that we finally know as we are known. For right now we know in part, and in that partial knowledge we prophesy in part. Until the completion comes, with all the fullness of everything, we stand limited in our capacity to comprehend.

Where Scripture is silent, we don’t have witness to speak authoritatively. Scripture simply does not give theological arguments for the existence of God. The Scripture presupposes that. So when you come to theology proper, and begin to read or listen to another man’s work, and the first thing they do is give evidence for God’s existence, they are speaking something beyond what the Bible proclaims. It isn’t that this is bad, or wrong, but we should understand that our theology is limited in this area. And I would suggest that the reason Scripture is silent in many of these sorts of things, even much of science being absolutely ignored within Scripture, is because what God is more concerned with is the witness of the Light. John bore that witness, and so does the Scripture, declaring that the Word of God was with God, and was God, and came before the witnesses of that Word and Light, the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world.

Our chief authority is the Scripture. Yet, that Scripture is declaring a tangible thing – even a Person. The question for me is not whether we can fully know and understand that Person, but rather whether we are truly “persons”, and therefore able to commune with He that is community. Textbooks and theological writings should not be a masterful piecing together of Scripture, as if ingenious expositive interplay replaces apostolic and prophetic perception. The prophets and apostles actually saw something. Even Isaiah 2 begins with the “word” of the Lord that Isaiah “saw”. Jeremiah begins with “What do you see?”, and not with “Go tell the people…” God doesn’t care about our cleverness. He isn’t interested in our intellectual ability to put the pieces together, as if we’re just trying to figure out which pieces of the puzzle fit where. Our intelligence only matters after we’ve seen, beheld the face of God, heard the voice of Him who loves and calls us, and has sent us with that message and perception.

Every time that God interacts with a human being it is an unveiling and revealing of Himself. It is to honor the God who calls that we should be about. Our limitation within theology is not one of a lack of material, nor a lack of comprehensibility. The only limitation, outside of self-inflicted limitation, is the fact that God has not yet been manifest upon the earth in that final enactment that is the conclusion of the age. An egregious error has been committed by the theologians who brush off their insufficient work by simply saying, “We’re only human, and the Scripture is silent in many areas!” Silence is silence, but what happened to the living God? Why tell your people that the Scripture is the prime authoritative source for theology, and then combat the Scripture as if it is inadequate? Either we’re honest enough to say that where the Scripture is silent we ought not to venture, because we are theologians and not scientists or philosophers, or we need to be honest enough to admit that theology is not our task, but rather knowledge and philosophy rapture our hearts.

Finally, we must admit that language itself is insufficient. We know far too well the limitations put upon us when we try to express a deep feeling of emotion, and we are at a loss for how exactly to word it without being misunderstood. How do I explain to someone who is not a believer what the love of God is like, considering that there is no other love in heaven or on earth that I can use as an example? Paul even remarks about the man who saw the third heaven, saying that he saw things that cannot, and should not, be communicated. Isaiah saw the throne and He who was lifted up, and his reaction was not to express every detail, but to cry out, “Woe is me!”

Thus, we see that there are limitations to us when we attempt to “do theology”. Yet, these limitations are only that: limitations. They are not hindrances. They are not unbearable obstacles. God has revealed Himself to us, and in revealing Himself has given us ultimate truth. It is our job, despite the limitations, to uncover and discover that truth. Ultimacy is our goal, together with intimacy. Our limitations are only small in comparison to the God who desires to be known by us.

Two Kinds of Righteousness

Martin Luther taught that there are two kinds of righteousness. He says, “There are two kinds of righteousness, just as man’s sin is of two kinds.”1 The idea is that God works in two dimensions. The vertical dimension is about our relationship with God. It would involve anything from God teaching me His ways, or God convicting me of my sin, to me praying and interceding to God. When most people think of being devout, this is what they think of. The consideration of monks and nuns is often at the forefront of the mind, in both religious and secular society, when talking about someone who has given themselves fully to the purposes of God. Yet, the second dimension, which is equally as important, is the horizontal dimension. This is my relationship with other people.

Luther continues, “The first is alien righteousness, that is the righteousness of another… This righteousness, then, is given to men in baptism and whenever they are truly repentant.”2 Our vertical relationship unto God is the first kind of righteousness that he speaks of. This is the one of ‘instilled’ righteousness, or imputed righteousness. “This is an infinite righteousness, and one that swallows up all sins in a moment, for it is impossible that sin should exist in Christ. On the contrary, he who trusts in Christ exists in Christ; he is one with Christ, having the same righteousness as he. It is therefore impossible that sin should remain in him. This righteousness is primary; it is the basis, the cause, the source of all our own actual righteousness. For this is the righteousness given in place of the original righteousness lost in Adam. It accomplishes the same as that original righteousness would have accomplished; rather, it accomplishes more.”3

In this, what is expressed is that righteousness is something that God has, and Luther even points out later in this writing that this is what Paul was speaking of when he says the Gospel reveals the righteousness of God. This is not our own righteousness, but rather the righteousness of another – thus “alien righteousness”.

The second kind of righteousness we could call horizontal righteousness. This is how we act, react, and interact with others. Luther expresses, “The second kind of righteousness is our proper righteousness…” He says it is “in the first place, in slaying the flesh and crucifying the desires with respect to the self,” and “in the second place, this righteousness consists in love to one’s neighbor, and in the third place, in meekness and fear toward God.” The two righteousnesses are not something to separate, but the second is “the product of the righteousness of the first type.”4

For many, righteousness is about doing the right thing. It seems like most of us have considered that the word “right” is in the word “righteousness”, and therefore it must have something to do with being “right” before God, and/or doing that which is “right”. Luther had shown that even a passage like Matthew 5:49 needs distinctions. We love our enemies as God loves the wicked, and therefore are perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. We must have intimate relationship with God to know what it means and looks like for God our Father to love His enemies. Then, the second righteousness involves that understanding flowing outward and unto the people all around me.

It seems like what Luther was getting at was the very words of James. Faith and works must go hand-in-hand together. Righteousness apart from righteousness is no longer righteousness. You can’t be “right before God”, and then treat those around you in a manner that God condemns. Likewise, you can’t treat people around you in a manner that pleases God without that first kind of righteousness that is developed when the heart turns to the Lord. The new birth and the heart circumcision are together in the same event. Righteousness that does not first stem from God’s righteousness is a ‘righteousness from man’, to use Reggie Kelly’s favorite phrase.

While I disagree with Luther in many respects regarding his understanding of righteousness, sin, and what personal, or ‘proper’, righteousness looks like, what I do agree with is that there is a distinction between righteousness and righteousness. Righteousness from God demands that we are first and foremost righteous before God, and that our dwelling is with God and in God. It is from that communication and deference unto God that we find the second dimension working out, even when we ourselves have little or no comprehension of that outworking. Our dissecting what exactly it means to “be perfect” or to “love our enemies” does not grant us the ability to be obedient to that command.

Justification is not about God seeing Christ’s righteousness when He looks upon us. It might well be that we’ve been made “right” before Him, but that statement is not a statement of business. It is a personal statement, and one that God has rejoiced in. The justification that Paul speaks of is of an eschatological perception. It is rooted and grounded in the fact that we have been raised with Christ, and therefore the man who was a sinner, and who loved the darkness, and was filled with the deeds of death and darkness has died. He was buried as Christ was physically buried. But now, through God’s mighty power, and through the resurrection of the Son of God, we have been raised also. The reason that the judgment of God does not rest upon us is because the old man who deserved only condemnation has already been judged. Just as Jesus died upon the cross, that old man, and the sinful nature and the power of sin with him, has died and been buried.

What is justification? It is the fact that the old man, the one who was filled with sin and corrupt from birth, has died, and has been judged, and is no longer. You are no longer that sinner, but have been made into a new creation. Therefore, you’re justified, because the old man who was worthy of death has died. At the same time, you’re waiting for the day that you will physically be resurrected, and this body of death, which is filled with weakness and frailty, shall be resurrected and justified yet again.

This is the very Gospel. In what way is the righteousness of God revealed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ? It is through the very fact that God goes to those who are unworthy, the sinners, and they who have rejected Him, and He justified them, regenerated them, and has now made you who were ‘not My people’ into His people.5 Because you have been made new, the heart of stone taken out and replaced by the heart of flesh, and the law written upon that heart, and you have been given a new nature, you no longer are to walk according to your old nature. The old nature was contrary to God, and opposed to the things of God. Now your heart has been made tender, and has been made to observe the things of God and walk in the light as God is Light. Because of this, it isn’t about making sure to be devoted to God and attempt to live in accordance with that. Rather, it is to simply be what you have already been remade to be.

When God transforms you through salvation into someone who is righteous, why would you then act unrighteously? Your righteousness before God translates outwardly unto other people. This is the logic of salvation. The righteous are not righteous because of what they do. They are righteous because God has made them righteous. The deeds that the righteous do are righteous, not because they simply obey what God has declared for them to do, but because the righteous cannot do anything other than be righteous. This is where the two dimensions come together. False righteousness attempts to be righteous before God through study, through prayer, through devotion, and through other ‘spiritual’ means. Or, they attempt to be righteous through outward actions that seem good. This is where the Pharisees fall. There was one or the other, but the two were not mingled together. In this, Luther missed the mark in telling us to “slay the flesh and crucify the desires with respect to the self”, because that is no longer alive within they who are regenerate.

Is it by works or by faith? What is one without the other? The faith that brings salvation and repentance is the faith that changes the heart. The heart that is changed is the heart that performs good deeds. What is now our obligation is to learn to live from that new nature, that new heart, and no longer live according to the carnal habits and tendencies that we’ve bound ourselves with. Righteousness is that simple. The man in right relation with God is righteous, and therefore acts righteously. Their heart grieves when they don’t. The two dimensions branch out, but they come together in the individual. Let us not forget that the claim of the Gospel is not simply that Jesus was God in the flesh, but that God shall dwell within your flesh. Can that truly happen without some sort of change in lifestyle, mentality, and emotional response?

1Luther, Martin. Luther’s Works: American Edition. Vol. 31, pg 297-306, Concordia Pub. House

2Ibid.

3Ibid.

4Ibid.

5 Within eschatology, I am not advocating a replacement theology, but rather making the point that we are no longer the thing that was at enmity with God. This is the point of Ephesians 2. Even the Jews in Christ can read this and rejoice, knowing in their own lives that they reflected something less glorious than “Israel”, but have now been grafted in, and have been made one new man together with the Gentiles.

The Church Fathers and Orthopraxy

There are men we call “church fathers”. We call them such, because they “fathered” the faith, or bore it along throughout their own generation. Many of these are considered saints by the Catholics. After the reformation, these men are heralded by Protestants as being giants who progressed us out of darkness and back to God. Yet, when you study the lives of these men, and also their teaching in many parts, you find a glaring contradiction. The same ones who are heralded as being giants of the faith are some of the ones who wrote and acted the worst crimes against humanity possible. Put shortly, if our Gospel is a doctrine, and our love is “truths”, then we are candidates to annihilate the heretics. They who disagree, or who stand to potentially discredit our beliefs are seen as enemies, and often in history this has resulted in the slaughter of masses. In many cases, but not all cases, it was condoned, or even stirred, by the very ones we call “church fathers”.

Our Gospel has a Subject, and our love should be of a Person. To love factual statements more than what the factual statement is conveying is not a love of the truth, but a love of self. We see self as being correct, and therefore love that which agrees with us. It is something altogether different to then love your brother, even when they are not in agreement. Without this we are left bankrupt of the orthopraxy, and therefore show ourselves to ultimately be much less spiritual than our “doctrine” and intellect portrays us. We might think ourselves quite spiritual by the depths we comprehend, but how spiritual can we truly be when we are inflamed with rage at they who simply say they aren’t calvinist, or dispensational, or they don’t believe penal substitution, or they claim that the King James Bible isn’t the inspired word?

As early as the second and third century, we have a struggle arise within the early church. They were tested by the gnostics. The title comes from the Greek γνωσις, which means knowledge. They believed that we hold a hidden knowledge, and that this mysterious knowledge is something that causes us to have connection with God. One of the essential teachings that came from the gnostics was that everything happened within the mind. Your salvation, your faith, your Christian walk, and everything within you spiritual life was all in the mind. It is embraced as heresy today, and the gnostic teachers and writers are shunned, but I believe that this specific teaching has infiltrated and infected much of Christianity – especially within the realm of orthopraxy.

The way this bleed into what we practice is simple, if not obvious. It all comes down to what we believe, and our heart. If we believe the correct doctrines, then we have believed the Gospel. The Gospel is then robbed of its cogency, and replaced by a set of creeds or a “mission statement”. Suddenly instead of it being about the Gospel, it is about Gospel according to Luther, or Calvin, or Wesley, or some other person. Suddenly instead of it being about the God who saves, it is about the correctness of understanding that God who saves. The difference is frightening. No longer is the care to know God, but rather to know about God. And as long as our heart is right before God, then we only need confess and repent.

Marcion wasn’t specifically a gnostic, but did have a lot of dabbling within that mindset. He was convinced that the world was evil, and that the creator of this world was a lesser and evil god. He reasoned that the god of the Old Testament was an evil being, but the God of the New Testament was a merciful and loving God. The same kind of dichotomy happens today. In the end, Jesus would forgive everyone, and therefore there would be universal salvation. It was actually this man’s errors that the church fathers began to make creeds and lists of inspired Scriptures. In many ways, this was beneficial, but in other ways, this also led Christianity into a negative. It isn’t specifically everyone, however, there is a general broken link between orthodoxy and orthopraxy in the so-called church fathers.

Maybe it should be pointed out that simply believing in something doesn’t mean that you understand it, and even understanding something doesn’t demand that you apprehend it. I can understand that salvation is of grace through faith. That doesn’t mean that I’m saved. Salvation is an actual thing, an event, a moment when God breaks in upon the heart of a sinner, and that sinner is converted. The heart no longer longs for wickedness, but now is striving for righteousness. The heart is no longer indifferent to the things that God cares for, but now seeks to know God’s thoughts and ways.

With that being said, we can then ask the question of what anabaptists call the pilgrim church. There are indeed cases of people who believed the words of Jesus, desired to live it, and who believed that they were a part of a Kingdom on earth. They were severely persecuted by those who also claim Christianity, but don’t believe in the Kingdom on earth, and don’t believe that it is possible to live the words of Jesus. Even within the first few centuries of Christianity you have men like Augustine, who condoned the slaughter of heretics as long as your heart is right before God when you do it. Mass murder took place in the name of Jesus Christ, condoned by some of the greatest names within Christianity, simply because they believed that their hearts were right before God.

The anabaptists in the time of the reformation were horrendously persecuted. The Catholics preferred to burn them at the stake, calling them heretics for not believing in infant baptism. The Protestants, however, took a much more merciful means of murder: beheading or drowning. If you have the chance to read The Martyr’s Mirror, you will read of story after story of they who were killed for their faith, often by people claiming to be Christian, simply because they lived differently, thought differently, or threatened the institution. No one in church history has ever been killed for feeding the poor, taking care of orphans and widows, loving their enemies, and living like Jesus tells us to. Murder and genocide of denominations has come through the guise of heresy.

Simply claim that a certain teaching is heretical, and you have the power and authority to kill off anything that might threaten your way of life. While this might not be true today, or at least not fully true, it has classically and historically been the case. What I find to be more than coincidence is that the very moments in history when the pilgrim church and the anabaptists were being hunted down the most intensely are the exact moments in history that the Jews were also being killed by these same ‘Christians’.

Martin Luther claimed that the anabaptists were demon possessed. It wasn’t their teaching that led him to believe so. Rather, his opinion was influenced by their lifestyle. He reasoned that their lives were too holy, and that no one was able to truly live in that manner of righteousness and holiness. Therefore, they must have that lifestyle by the means of demon possession. Calvin wrote a treatise against the anabaptists and the libertines, where he condemns them as heretics. He also sat on a counsel and judged for a man to be put to death. Although, it wasn’t as bad as it sounds, because Calvin voted for the more merciful death.

These kinds of statements shouldn’t exist within so-called Christian giants. The majority of people don’t know this, even educated and studied people, because these are embarrassing to admit. How could a man like Luther call the anabaptists demon possessed, and write that the synagogues should be burned with the writings of the Jews? How could someone like Calvin, who was the prince of the reformation, vote for someone to be put to death? Certainly of all men he has read and known of a Jesus who does not condone violence. And yet, these are the very facts of history. There are many more examples, but what is more important is the emphasis not be lost.

Orthodoxy only goes so far. It might be true that Luther contributed a lot of great theology to Protestantism. It might be true that Augustine wrote and spoke quite boldly for God. It might be true that Calvin quite openly denounced the atrocious acts of the Catholic church. Yet, with these, and with the many other examples that could be added on, is it truly enough to say that they contributed to doctrine? Or, is there something more important than doctrine and dogma? Orthodoxy cannot remain alone. It must also be coupled with orthopraxy. Even the modern world proclaims that we should “practice what we preach”. Are they who’ve gone before us required less of because of the age they lived?

Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy Kiss

Orthodoxy is what we believe. Orthopraxy is what we practice. You can almost see (or hear) the word “practice” in orthopraxy. The two meet, whether we want them to or not. If our orthodoxy is in error, it will somewhere create a wrong practice, or a laxness. At the same time, if our orthopraxy is wrong, it will establish, somewhere, a wrong dogma. The two are one, though we can see an obvious difference. Though I wouldn’t teach it as dogma, I do believe that if we do the will of God, we shall know the truth. There is, of course, a way to push this too far.

When we do what is right, what is just, the very things that God approves of, we find ourselves being open to hearing the voice of the Spirit. If we do not hear the Shepherd’s voice, it is because something is blocking or muffling it. Either we simply aren’t saved, and that is why we cannot hear, or we have willfully abandoned God by our sin, and therefore care not to discern His voice. Sin, of course, cannot simply be our wrong actions. We can have a wrong mentality and attitude, and therefore be in sin. I saw a comic strip that had a sheep with headphones blaring, playing video games, with the A/C blowing onto him, while he ate junk food, and the shepherd was screaming at the top of his lungs in the background. The text under the picture read, “I wonder why the shepherd never calls me anymore…” We isolate ourselves from the shepherd through multiple means every day, and then we wonder why we cannot hear his voice.

It is for this that we seek to know and understand. What good is it if we memorize the whole of Scripture, and yet don’t obey it? And what good is it if we seek to obey the Scripture, but we don’t understand God’s heart? In either case, can we truly know the Bible and obey the Scripture if we don’t have them both together? What good is obedience without knowledge? What good is knowledge without obedience? To paraphrase, this is as James says, “Faith without works is dead, and works without faith is dead.”1 All that God desires is acknowledgment. Yet, that acknowledgment takes root in a multiplicity of manifestations. We cannot acknowledge Him without doing His will. We cannot do His will without acknowledging Him. To even acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord requires the Spirit of God. It takes regeneration to even obey. For this reason, it takes the Spirit itself for us to have any meaningful understanding of the Scripture.

Our search of knowing aright is deeply embedded in our obedience. We will not be able to further dialogue about theology unless our understanding comes from devotion. Our study of Scripture, our considering theology, is deeply interwoven with our adoration of the person of Jesus Christ. Without adoration, as Jeremiah implies,2 we will be overcome with wickedness, and we will forsake the Lord our God. For this reason, all systematic theology is practical theology. If it doesn’t bring you closer to Jesus, it is probably a lie. If it doesn’t cause you to walk in righteousness, it is false.

Theology is at its very core the study of God, but is at its very core the outworking of being the Church. Theology leads you to loving your brother and being the light of the world. If that is not true, then you are either studying theology wrongly, or you have made an idol of worship rather than the one true God. It is Christ alone that captures our hearts. It is the Spirit of God alone that will move us from glory to glory, and that motion is only found in the beholding of one another’s faces.

1 James 2:14-26

2 Jeremiah 2:19

The Eternal Moment

Something lost to the consciousness of modern Christianity is eternality. We can define it for theology, and we can speak of it in regard to God being eternal, but that experiential reality is not awakened in the lives of the majority. The eternal moment is not a moment at all. It is a position. We have been seated with Christ in heavenly places, as ambassadors of heaven, who are in the world but not of the world. The mindset and perception of the believer is to be one of that dimension. Eternality is not something we toy with theologically, but rather something we’re apprehended by, and something that we progressively come deeper and deeper into an awareness of.

Faith itself is something of eternality. Faith is not defined as a belief. We can have a checklist of doctrines that we can “believe”, but do we have the actual substance of those doctrines? There is a substance that we have ingested if we are truly saints indeed. Salvation itself is not something that we believe in, but rather something that has actually happened in our life. In this way, the faith itself is not something that is “static” or “developing” in these rigid sorts of ways. There is a faith once and for all given, with a sacrifice once and for all made, and a today once and for all heralded, by which we might enter a rest once and for all given. With all of these “once and for alls” we might begin to comprehend that we can develop our thoughts and opinions, but the goal should ever and always be to hit closer and closer to what God has actually established.

The eternal moment is a position of eternality with the believer. They are no longer subject to the parameters of time and space, but have stepped out and into a dimension of apostolic and prophetic comprehension. God is eternal, which doesn’t mean outside of time, but rather transcending time. While in the midst of time itself, He is not restricted by the bonds of time that they who dwell on the earth are. As an eternal people, being unified with God Himself, we also are not bound to time, though we are within time and space. We can obviously experience the effects of time, and indeed we know it all too well, but we are a part of something beyond time itself. We are of an eternal people, who are connected to an eternal God, with an eternal purpose, which is the eternal Gospel itself.

Jesus is the Lamb slain before the foundation of the earth. There is a continuum, of which we are prophetically a part of, that from the beginning unto the end we are ever and always effecting time and eternity. The way we act, react, and interact now effects both this history of that great cloud of witnesses that has gone on before us (for they are not made perfect without us) and the future set before us. Peter speaks of “hastening the Day”, as if it is up to the people of God as to when Jesus returns. While I categorically reject that we somehow determine when the close of the age shall come, I want you to focus upon the reality of such a statement.

Our witness is not simply to the world, nor to the Jews, but beyond both it is to the principalities and powers of the air. These beings that are unseen are the ones unto which God has made display, disarming them through the cross, and He now calls upon us to make that same display. In this, and especially considering the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world, the cross was retroactive. It is isn’t that the people of the Old Testament had to look forward to Jesus in order to be saved, but that time itself was not restricting such an eternal act. The crucifixion of Jesus was something that reverberates through all of time, all ages without end, because it was not a man that died, but an eternal Man. For we who are connected to that eternal Man, who enter into the work of Christ by laying our own lives down, taking up our own cross and following Him, we are also able to touch history and time.

Bearing our own cross, and enduring with patience the sufferings of Christ with Him, loving not our lives even unto the death, we are able to witness that these afflictions are momentary and light. The prophetic and apostolic people of every generation has always been the persecuted and oppressed. It is always the glee of Amalek to attack Israel, and the desire of Saul to pursue David. Yet it is always the glory of God to through death defeat death. This is what works in us an eternal weight of glory, seeing and focusing upon that which is unseen, knowing that it shall not fade or blemish. This is the faith once and for all given, the theology of all of the saints forever. It is the beauty of holiness, seen by those who are spiritual, and loved by those who love not their lives, but rather lay down their life as a ransom for many.