Saturday, May 29, 2010

Leaving to form a new church?

Here's an interesting quote I came across from Calvin on whether to keep going in existing non-ideal churches or start your own. It's worth pointing out that this doesn't address the issue of starting new churches for missional reasons, or congregations leaving an existing denomination because they persecute true believers.

Dreadful are those descriptions in which Isaiah, Jeremiah, Joel, Habakkuk, and others, deplore the disorders of the Church of Jerusalem. There was such general and extreme corruption in the people, in the magistrates, and in the priests, that Isaiah does not hesitate to compare Jerusalem to Sodom and Gomorrah. Religion was partly despised, partly corrupted. Their manners were generally disgraced by thefts, robberies, treacheries, murders, and similar crimes. Nevertheless, the prophets on this account neither raised themselves new churches, nor built new altars for the oblation of separate sacrifices; but whatever were the characters of the people, yet because they considered that God had deposited his word among that nation, and instituted the ceremonies in which he was there worshipped, they lifted up pure hands to him even in the congregation of the impious. If they had thought that they contracted any contagion from these services, surely they would have suffered a hundred deaths rather than have permitted themselves to be dragged to them. There was nothing therefore to prevent their departure from them, but the desire of preserving the unity of the Church. But if the holy prophets were restrained by a sense of duty from forsaking the Church on account of the numerous and enormous crimes which were practised, not by a few individuals, but almost by the whole nation,--it is extreme arrogance in us, if we presume immediately to withdraw from the communion of a Church where the conduct of all the members is not compatible either with our judgment, or even with the Christian profession.

John Calvin, Institutes 4.1.18


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

"God is love" as primary?

There seems to be a common assumption in an awful lot of modern theology that the primary truth about God is that he is love. "God is love" is at least Biblical as a statement (1 John 4:8, 16), and there's a lot of important stuff that can be said about the Trinity from that statement.

But of course, people often load the word "love" with a lot of baggage it wasn't meant to carry, and interpret "God is love" in a way that contradicts large chunks of the rest of the Bible.

But why should "God is love" be primary at all? Why not "God is light; in him there is no darkness at all." (1 John 1:5). After all, it's in the same book. But I don't think either "God is love" or "God is light" is the number one candidate for a three word description beginning "God is...". Nor is "Truth", "Life" or "Wisdom", though there may be something to be said for each of those.

I think there are two possibilities much stronger than either. After all, we're never told that "God is love, love, love", but we are told that he is "holy, holy, holy." Actually, we're told that as many times as we are told that God is love (Isaiah 6:3, Rev 4:8), and we're told that God is holy quite a lot more (Lev 11:44, Lev 11:45; Josh 24:19; 1 Sam 6:20; Ps 22:3; 99:9; Isaiah 5:16; 1 Pe 1:16 for starters). So I'd say "God is holy" is much closer to being his primary attribute that "God is love" on the basis of the Biblical evidence.

The other possibility of course is "God is Jesus".

Now imagine what modern theology would be like if we started with the truth that God is holy rather than the truth that he is love.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Steve Jobs, Apple, Porn and Freedom

I'm not normally a great fan of Apple. I think their products are over-hyped, over-priced and too hard to tinker with. I think in some sections of society (and that includes a fair few friends of mine from theological college), they've reached the status of a pseudo-religion. I remember one of my best friends had an apple laptop. It fell off the sofa and stopped working, necessitating a long drive to the nearest Apple franchise shop then cost a lot to repair. My PC cost half as much, as the same sort of performance, is a lot harder to break and a lot easier to fix.

But then this comes along. I've deliberately linked to Albert Mohler rather than the original story because I think his analysis of this is good. I've got to say, I agree with Steve Jobs on this. Freedom from is often far more important than freedom to.

Of course, I think that freedom is actually meaningless unless we specify "freedom from something" or "freedom to something". We are never free to do whatever we want - we can't fly to the moon unaided, for example. And as a Christian, I think the freedom that really matters is freedom to follow God, a freedom which only comes through slavery to Christ. But that's a different story...