Article 3: Descended into Hell

Article 3: As Christ died for us, and was buried, so also is it to be believed, that he went down into Hell.

During a Sunday School class on the 39 Articles, the seminarian teaching the class said that he was surprised when he first learned that some Christian ministers emphatically state that Christ did not go to hell. This generated some conversation, which the seminarian handled confidently until the church’s curate quoted Luke 23:43, And he said to [the thief], “Truly I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”” This stumped the seminarian, but should it have? Jesus Christ going down into hell is in the Apostles Creed, the official doctrinal statement for the Anglican church, and in Peter’s first letter. While Jesus told the thief that they will be in Paradise that day, the notion of Jesus descending into hell cannot be easily dismissed.

Looking at the promise to the thief on the cross, Leo the Great points out that even in the midst of punishment, Jesus Christ displayed his divinity. The promise that he made to the thief “surpasses the human condition, because it did not come so much from the wood of a cross as from a throne of power.” (Sermon 53.1.2)

John Chrysostom and Origen contrasted the flaming sword that guarded the entry into Eden (Paradise) with the cross opening the way for the saints to enter Paradise. The promise made on the cross was fulfilled that same day because through His death, the temple curtain was ripped and the entry into Paradise was opened. When our Lord told the thief, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise,” this was not just a promise for one person but for all the saints, past and future, and it was accomplished in Christ that day by the God who is over time and creation. It was not so much a statement of a physical place where Christ would be at a certain time, and it would be a mistake to read such a banal understanding into a triumphant declaration of freedom and eternal communion with God. After all, Christ is divine and is omnipresent.

Augustine wrote, “You believe I am going to come, but even before I come, I am everywhere. That is why, I am about to descend into hell, I have you with me in Paradise today. You are with me and not entrusted to someone else. You see, my humility has come down to mortal human beings and to the dead, but my divinity has never departed from Paradise.” (Sermon 285.2)

Hopefully this puts to rest the curate’s objection, so we can now turn to I Peter 3:19, “in which he also went and made proclamation to the spirits in prison.” According to Tertullian, “Christ descended into hell in order to acquaint the patriarchs and prophets with his redeeming mission.” (On the Soul 55.2) Christ went down into what we call hell not to suffer, as some claim, but to pronounce his victory over hell and death. While the Bible says very little about the afterlife of the saints who died prior to the momentous event on the cross, there is a hint that they too were barred from Paradise, though they did not suffer like the wicked. If so, then Christ went down to where they were and freed them, releasing them into Paradise.

While there is much that has not been revealed to us, the Bible shows us enough to know that we can recite the creed without deceit, and we know that Christ’s descension into hell was a victory march, storming the gates of hell to pronounce freedom and eternal life in Paradise for all those who belong to God.

The Procession

The following was written by Jake Worley, the rector for Saint Andrews Episcopal Church. I found this to be a beautiful and theological explanation of the procession and why the bishop is last, so I requested permission to repost with attribution.

“As Anglicans, we can get pretty used to things that to the uninitiated seem at best odd, and at worst a bit weird. The traditions and liturgy are increasingly unfamiliar for most people who aren’t around them all the time. Traditions and liturgy often have obscure beginnings. I have a book on my shelf entitled, The Shape of the Liturgy by Dom Gregory Dix. The book itself is obscure, and I wouldn’t recommend Dix to many people. But this book is good because it traces the historical roots of what we do in our liturgy. And, it’s extensive. 


One of the things we do that gets very little attention is our procession. In particular how our processions in the liturgy are arranged. If you’ve ever had the privilege of watching diocesan clergy try to decide how to line up for an all-diocese procession, it can be a bit comical and often somewhat maddening. It’s more than just trying to herd cats. Who goes first? How about second? And why is the bishop last? Even writing those sentences reminds me of the old Abbot and Costello baseball gag! But there is a method to the madness and a very profound theological reason for it.


“In Second Corinthians, chapter two, Paul writes these amazing words:
“When I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ, even though a door was opened for me in the Lord, my spirit was not at rest because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I took leave of them and went on to Macedonia. But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2.12-16)It seems that the Apostle Paul was at a loss for what to do. He had been hoping that Titus would be at Troas waiting for him. But he wasn’t there. And Paul describes his response to Titus’ absence as his spirit was not at rest. He was troubled, maybe even discouraged. In Acts 16 we see this moment described further. In the middle of his troubled heart, God gave him a vision – “a man of Macedonia was standing there and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’” (Acts 16.9)


“In other words, the Apostle didn’t know what to do, and he needed God to tell him. He needed Christ to lead him. Then he writes these profound words as a way of explanation, ‘But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.’


“The image he is employing is that of a Roman general’s triumphant procession in Rome after conquering his enemies. The order of the procession was important. The victorious general was at the head of the procession followed by all the captives he had gotten in the campaign and the slaves. The most important people went first. The least important people went last. Paul envisions himself among the captives and slaves in the order of importance in the procession of Christ as the Lord conquers the enemy territories of the devil. Macedonia was next!


“Back to our weekly procession in our liturgy. Who goes first? Who goes last? The most important people go first and then in descending order of importance those who are considered the slave or servants. The cross of Christ leads us in procession followed by the laity in the Choir. Then comes those who are called on to minister in some way: the chalice bearers, then our seminarian, then our priest associate, then the rector. And if the bishop is there, finally the bishop. In other words, slaves go last and the laity go first. It’s a misunderstanding to presume that the most important people go last. It’s just the opposite. The servants always go last. Remember the words of Jesus in this parable found in Luke 17, “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”


“My ordaining bishop, the Rt. Rev. Terrence Kelshaw, told me early on before I was made a presbyter how I was to view my upcoming ordination. To paraphrase, he told me that the church is not to be viewed like we view the ranking in the military, with the lowly private on the bottom and the multi-starred general at the top, as though the lay are the privates and the bishops and priests are the generals. In fact, it is the opposite. We serve Christ first and then the people. When we are ordained, we kneel before the bishop and he presses us down into service. We take our marching orders from Jesus. Obey Him first no matter what opposition and trouble from people may come. In all things we answer to our Master always. The more ordinations you have, the farther down we are pressed. And the bishop is the servant of the servants of Christ.


“This is how the Apostle Paul saw it. And this is how the Church has seen it for millennia. And this is why we process the way we do.”

Article 2: The Son of God

From the earliest beginnings of the church, Christian writers have recognized a close connection between Christology and soteriology. Building on St. Cyril of Alexandria’s understanding of two prosopon in one hypostatic union, Maximus the Confessor argues that for mankind to be saved from their sins, humanity and deity must reside in the incarnate God. This is the idea I will explore in my discussion on the 2nd Article of the 39 Articles of Religion. To start from the beginning of this series, please click here.

II. Of the Word or Son of God, which was made very Man.
The Son, which is the Word of the Father, begotten from everlasting of the Father, the very and eternal God, and of one substance with the Father, took Man’s nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin, of her substance: so that two whole and perfect Natures, that is to say, the Godhead and Manhood, were joined together in one Person, never to be divided, whereof is one Christ, very God, and very Man; who truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried, to reconcile his Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for actual sins of men.

Prior to Christ’s death, the presence of God dwelt in the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctuary of the temple that only the high priest could enter once a year when making an atonement for the sins of Israel. After the veil over the Holy of Holies ripped in two through Christ’s atoning sacrifice, God’s presence has been made known to the whole world. St. Cyril draws out this point when he writes, “Although the Word tabernacled among us, it is also said that in Christ ‘dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily’; but we understand that he became flesh, not just as he is said to dwell in the saints, but we define that that tabernacling in him was according to equality.” (Epistle of Cyril to Nestorius)

What Cyril means by “according to equality” is at the heart of his Christology. Christ, as the incarnate Logos, united within himself God and man—two natures, one person. He denies the argument that the two natures are an equality of honor only, pointing out that Peter and John were equal in honor yet two separate persons. In Christ, one nature is fully man, the other fully God, yet they are united as one person and not two. When Christ came to earth through the virgin womb of Mary, he did not just put on a skin suit. He became man by taking on the nature and reasonable soul of man.

Nestorius argues against Cyril’s equality of two natures and attacks the idea of a passable God. He rejects the idea that God could be born or suffer “as though what belonged to God the Word by nature had been destroyed by his conjunction with his temple or as though people considered it not enough that the sinless temple, which is inseparable from the divine nature, should have endured birth and death for sinners.” (Nestorius’ Second Letter to Cyril)

Maximus the Confessor confronts Nestorius’s separation of natures with regards to salvation. If the Logos is not human, then he cannot be the first fruits of our race. If he is not the first fruits of our race, then he cannot redeem our race. “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.” (I Cor. 15:20) First fruits were the earliest gathered grains of crops. Moses instructed the Israelites to offer their first fruits on the day after the Sabbath following the Passover. (Hint: this was the same day that Jesus Christ was resurrected.) The term first fruits signifies that the first sheaf of the forthcoming grains will be followed by the rest of the sheaves, “unifying by grace the whole lump.” (Maximus, Opuscule 7) Also, if the Logos is not God, then we unite ourselves to a man only and not to the divine, and the sacrifice was of a man only and not the one with the divine power to save humans. By being both human and divine, united into one, the Logos bridged humanity and divinity.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus said to Nathanael, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (Jn 1:51) These words call to mind Jacob’s ladder in Genesis 28:12. In Genesis, the angels ascended and descended on the ladder in Jacob’s dream. As Cyril notes, in John, the angels ascended and descended on the Christ, the ladder between heaven and earth. He did this by assuming flesh and blood while remaining as he is—God. When Jacob woke from his dream, he called the place Bethel and set up a stone on which he prophesied would be God’s house—the corner stone for the temple that, for the Israelites, was the temporary gateway between heaven and earth to meet God, just as Christ is the permanent corner stone and gateway between heaven and earth where God resides.

Article 1: The Trinity

Friday, I started a new series on the 39 Articles of Religion. It’s a concise set of articles stating the official beliefs of the Anglican church. I introduced the first part of the first article, which you can read here. Today, I will explain the last half: “And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”

A few well-known passages of Scripture which supports the notion that God is one and three Persons are: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (Jn. 1:1) “For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.” (I Jn. 5:7-8) “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” (Matt. 28:19)

The Matthew 28 passage is an important passage on the Great Commission and its association with baptism. But for our purposes, I will focus on whose name people are baptized into. Notice the singular—one name, not the plural names. God is One. Then it lists the Persons who bear the name God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Being baptized “in the name of” indicates being brought into a relationship with the One who bears the name. Other places in the book of Matthew mentions God’s name and those who represent it. Matthew 6:9 says the Father bears the name. Matthew 7:22 says the Son bears the name. Matthew 12:18-21 mentions again that it is Jesus who bears the name, but it is in connection with the Father who sent Him and the Spirit put upon Him, a theme we see in Christ’s baptism in Matthew 3:16-17.

In the second century, a baptismal confession using the structure of the verse in Matthew 28 emerged. While the exact wording of this original baptismal confession is not known, we do know that this creed (Apostles Creed) has been recited through the past 19 centuries, quoted by Irenaeus, and holds to the Trinitarian formula:

“I believe in God the Father…

“I believe in Jesus Christ His only Son, our Lord…

“I believe in the Holy Spirit…”

Some have said that there was no concept of a Trinity prior to the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. This is simply not true as evidenced in the Apostles Creed. It is also in the writings of Ignatius: “Since, also, there is but one unbegotten Being, God, even the Father; and one only-begotten Son, God, the Word and man; and one Comforter, the Spirit of truth; and also one preaching, and one faith, and one baptism.”

While Trinitarian ideals were taught in scripture and by other presbyters and bishops during the patristic period, Tertullian was the first to create a systematic treatment of this important doctrine, “arguing that there is one divine ‘substance’ which is articulated or ‘administered’ into three distinct but continuous ‘persons’: Father, Logos/Son, and Spirit.” (Walker, A History of the Christian Church)

While debates developed early on and settled at the Council of Nicaea, it does not mean that the doctrine of the Trinity was created in the 4th century. The council assembled in May 325 and after lengthy discussions, which relied on the Scriptures and accepted baptismal creeds, the council adopted a new creed. “In the text itself, they inserted the significant expressions ‘true God from true God,” “begotten not made,” “from the substance [ousia] of the Father,” and—most important—“of one substance [homoousios] with the Father.” (Walker) This asserts that the Logos/Son is not a created being but that He is eternally generated and is ontologically the same being as God.

There is also the criticism that the Trinity is contradictory. How can one God be three Persons? First, let’s look at what a contradiction is. Aristotle defined the Law of Noncontradiction when he wrote, “The same attribute cannot at the same time belong and not belong to the same subject in the same respect.” The law does not say that A cannot be A and B at the same time, otherwise a woman could not be both a woman and a wife or a mother could not be a philosopher. We can also say that an object is both circular and wooden. There is no contradiction in predicating both. However, a circle cannot be a circle and not a circle at the same time and in the same relationship. For example, a piece of round wood today could be shaped into a square tabletop next week, but at no time could it be a square circle. It’s also important to note the phrase “in the same relationship.” An object could have a side that is square and another side that is round, like a table with a round top and the bottom of the legs are supported by a square piece of wood. This is an object that is both square and round at the same time, but it is not both in the same relationship or respect.

For the doctrine of the Trinity to be contradictory, it would have to say God is one God and God is three Gods. However, that is not what the doctrine teaches. Looking at Aristotle’s definition, God cannot be the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit in the same respect. In other words, the Father cannot be both a Spirit listening to the prayers of His Son in the flesh while at the same time being the Son in the flesh. However, God can be the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit at the same time and in different respects/relationships. Being God and being three Persons are two different aspects of the same substance. Be careful. When I use the word “aspect,” I am only using it in relation to Aristotle’s definition. I am not saying that there are three aspects of one God. I am saying that there are three Persons of one eternal substance. This is not a contradiction. It is the mystery of God as the Trinity.

In my next post, I will discuss the incarnate God-man.

Articles of Religion: Article 1, Part 1

Barron Von Strauss, who runs a theological FaceBook group that I admin, challenged any of the senior admins to write explanations of the Anglican 39 Articles of Religion. Being one of the least qualified to undertake the challenge and with the blessing of the primary Anglican minister in the group, I will write a brief explanation of each Article as time permits.

  1. Of Faith in the Holy Trinity.
    There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the Maker, and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

The first several articles apply universally to all Christians who affirm the three Ecumenical Creeds (more on the creeds in a later post). Christians affirm that God is one. Deuteronomy 6:4-5 commands us to listen and believe these words, “Hear, Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” We know that there are no other gods before Him because there are no other living and true gods that are “everlasting, without body, parts, or passions.”

We affirm that God is everlasting because He created all things, including this world, time, and space. Isaiah 40 describes the greatness of God. “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is unsearchable.” (Isa. 40:28) Isaiah tells us that there is none equal to God, that “he sits above the circle of the earth,” and that He has the power to govern all that is in the earth and in the heavens. The immensity of God’s power and eternity is too much for finite minds to grasp, yet He chose prophets to make Himself known to us. (More on another more significant way He made Himself known to us in a later post.)

God is “without body, parts, or passions.” He does not change. For much of church history, Christians have affirmed the simplicity and impassibility of God to establish the Creator/creature distinction, which is so clearly laid out in Isaiah 40. Creatures are given existence, yet God is His own existence, which is not derived from any causes. God is that which is uncaused. In His five proofs for the existence of God, Thomas Aquinas presented an argument from efficient cause, which states that efficient cause is the primary source of change, like the knowledge a carpenter has when creating a table. Just like a table is unable to be its own cause, the world came into existence through a primary efficient cause. Since efficient causes do not extend ad infinitum into the past, it is necessary to admit a first efficient cause, which we call God.

Since God is His own existence and not derived from other causes, He cannot be put together with parts, which can add or subtract from His eternal essence. This is the fundamental understanding of Divine Simplicity. To say that God is simple might seem wrong to our modern ears, which often equates simplicity as something that is basic and easy to understand. But when we say that God is simple, what is meant is that God has no parts or passions. He is not a composite being that is subjected to emotional whims. He is who He is. He is the I Am. Compound beings require parts with some parts greater than others. But God is God in all. He is not made of love, wisdom, holiness, truth, and justice. God is love, wisdom, holiness, truth, and justice. He does not add or take away these attributes. He is the perfection of these attributes, which are His essence.

Even Plato, the pagan philosopher, understood this. In his dialogue Phaedo, Socrates speaks of the divine character as “pure, ever existing, immortal and unchanging.” (79 d) Since, according to Plato’s account of Socrates, the divine is pure and unchanging, it cannot invite its opposites. Since the Forms of justice and piety are the divine nature, the divine appeals to nothing other than its own character for the standard of what is good, just, and pious.

The doctrine of Divine Simplicity is not the same as the doctrine of Impassibility, but the two are closely related since it takes a complexity of parts to undergo change, and God emphatically declares the He does not change. (Cf. Malachi 3:6) The writer of Hebrews reminds us that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, and forever.” (Heb. 13:8)

I’m ending this post on the “one living and true God” with a reference to Jesus Christ, showing His same impassible attribute with the Father. This leads to the second part of Article 1, which I will address in my next post.

A Christless Review

Sometimes random conversations or some other small things like a phrase, a scent, or a picture will trigger a memory. That happened with me yesterday when speaking to an artist about children’s books. On rare occasions over the years, I had a vague memory of a book that captured me when I was a small child. I was an avid reader, so it’s doubtful that I remember ten percent of what I read in my formative years. But this one kept popping back in my mind. I just couldn’t remember the name of it until it popped into my head during an online conversation. Shoeshine Girl by Clyde Robert Bulla

Excited that I finally remembered the name of the book, I looked it up and found a review from a father who read it with his children. His review prompted this blog post not because of the book itself. After all, I haven’t read it in over 40 years. I am writing this blog because of the theology presented in the review. In talking about the lessons Shoeshine Girl teaches about hard work and selflessness through a protagonist who is at first selfish and believes happiness comes through money, the reviewer writes, “I don’t really think he chose the best way to teach it, at least from my own biblical-worldview perspective.”

Worldview

I won’t spend much time criticizing his use of the word “worldview” because it’s become such a common term that most use it without understanding its philosophical implications. But to touch on it quickly before moving onto the most problematic issue of his theology, a worldview is a system built around a single idea and has its origins in Darwinism. Born out of postmodern philosophy, a worldview is a single point of focus with which to view the natural world. Each person having their own worldview rather than examining the natural world through senses and reason leads to relativism—a concept Christians reject. But, as I said, the word has become part of common parlance, so I’ll move on to how he uses his worldview lens to understand Scripture.

The Criticism

The reviewer’s criticism of the book is that the protagonist, 10yo Sarah, learns to give respect only after receiving it herself. This is how children learn—by the examples of the adults in their lives, so why does the reviewer take issue with a normal part of childrearing? He said because according to Jesus, the book got it backwards. According to him, Jesus does not teach that we give only after receiving it ourselves. To avoid caricature, I’ll provide the quote:

“Jesus taught a whole lot about servant leadership, and some of the most famous lessons are these: “Many of the first will be last, and the last will be first” (Mark 10:31); “The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:11-12); and “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you” (John 13:14-15).”

I want to focus on the passage from John because it contradicts the reviewer’s “worldview.” Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, saying, “I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” Before the disciples learned to serve, Christ served them first. Not only that, but the reviewer ignores the Gospel and presents a theology that is antithetical to the Gospel.

The Gospel

The Gospel tells us God is holy, and we are not. All of our sins condemn us before our righteous creator. At the end of our lives, we will stand before God who will judge us against His own perfect righteousness, and none of us are able to meet that high bar on the basis of our own works. 

The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus, who is God come in the flesh, lived a life of perfect righteousness. Not only did He live a life of perfect obedience to the law of God, He offered Himself as a perfect sacrifice for our sins to satisfy the justice and righteousness of God. Three days later, He rose from the dead, which is how we can be assured that Jesus is who He says He is. Because of His sacrifice, all those who put their trust in Jesus Christ receive the full benefit of His life and death and will forever enjoy the blessings of living in God’s kingdom because our sins are forgiven.

We love God and each other because God first loved us. We sacrificially serve others because God sacrificially served us first. The reviewer of Shoeshine Girl teaches a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps theology because he teaches that we are to serve others solely on the basis of our own merits and not because we were shown grace first.

Christless Christianity

In his penultimate paragraph, the reviewer mentions that Sarah disrespected her aunt until her aunt respected Sarah for her hard work, and then Sarah learned how to respect others. To this the reviewer writes, “I suppose this twist of Scripture towards the supposed virtue of self-love-above-all-else is why The Shoeshine Girl ranks among Bulla’s best-loved stories with modern readers. He panders to the Christ-less belief in the individual’s self-value, first-and-foremost, and the world eats that crap up.”

The irony is the reviewer’s stated “worldview” is the one that is Christ-less because it removes Christ’s atoning sacrifice and our response of gratitude towards Christ’s salvation.

No to Gay Identity, Yes to Identity in Christ

An international controversy has blown up in the Anglican church over an ACNA Bishop’s Statement published in January. The topic of the Bishop’s Statement was regarding the use of language on sexual identity. The statement recognized the reality of our fallen nature and the effects of sin. The statement also upholds the Biblical categories of men and women, particularly with regards to marriage. Another important point the Statement acknowledged is the understanding that faithful Christians struggle with sin and that we need to show compassion to our brothers and sisters who struggle with same-sex attraction. Those within the Anglican communion who have reacted harshly to the Bishop’s Statement recognize these basic Biblical truths as well. So, what is the controversy?

Much has been written on the controversy, which you can read here, so I won’t spend much time rehashing the points of debate. Instead, my purpose is to bring a theological aspect to this social debate. That’s not to say others have not been theological. In fact, the Bishop’s Statement displayed both the pastoral care and the theological understanding of sin and our union in Christ in a way that is to be applauded. Still, others have reacted negatively to ACNA’s admonishing against redefining “the image of God in humanity as predominantly one of sexual orientation and behavior.” In other words, our identity is in Christ, not in our sins, which is ultimately the problem with the term “gay Christian.”

There are those who say that it is not a sin for a “gay Christian” to be celibate.  However, the Bible tells us that our very nature is corrupt. Any desire that goes against God’s purpose for humans is a result of our sinful flesh. As one who finds the form of a woman’s body to be desirable, I empathize with my fellow brothers and sisters who struggle with this particular sin. I also do not wish to see them trapped in their identity with their sinful flesh any more than I would want someone who struggles with the sin of lying to identify themselves as a “lying Christian.”

Paul says, “For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death.” (Rom. 7:5) According to Dutch theologian Herman Ridderbos, “To be ‘in the flesh,’ to be ‘carnal,’ and the like mean to sin, indeed to be under the power of sin.” If to be “in the flesh” means to be “in sin,” then flesh and sin are tautologies when the word “sin” is used as a noun. Therefore, identifying with sin, even if one chooses to not actively sin, is in itself sin because it’s a recognition of union with the flesh and our fleshly desires. What this notion of flesh as sin also points to is the universality of sin in all people, which brings us to our first father Adam, the headship of all creation. Paul writes of this Adam in his letter to the Romans. “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.” (Rom. 5:12) What Paul is showing is the imputation of sin from one man to all of his posterity. Our federal headship sinned, corrupting the human nature of all who came from Adam. Yet, this superficial view is an inadequate expression of the truth Paul is stressing in his letter. When Paul writes “through one man sin entered the world,” he is saying that the entire human race is included in Adam. When Adam sinned, all sinned. Like a page that is placed inside a book, whatever happens to the book happens to the page. By being in Adam, all of humanity is like a page placed in a book. What happens to Adam, happens to us. One who is born in the flesh has his identity with Adam.

However, Christ’s resurrection and death forms the basis of the believer’s union with Christ and all the benefits associated with that union. “Even when we were dead in our wrongdoings, [God] made us alive together with Christ …and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” (Eph. 2:5, 6) This shows, as many other passages in Paul’s writings, a sudden death to life in union with Christ. It also shows that what is future to human chronology is now in Christ. In contrast to our identity with Adam as the federal head of all creation, Christ as the second Adam is the federal head of all those who are united in Him. Paul in I Corinthians 15:20 ff. speaks of Christ as being the first fruits of the dead. “First fruits” in this sense are not temporal. First fruits imply a whole. If something is first, it must be prior to a whole or a continuity of a whole. Since Christ resurrected as the first of the fruits from the dead as the federal head, it is a necessary consequence that those who are part of that whole share in his resurrection.

Because Christ died to sin, those united in Christ have also died to sin. Because Christ was raised from the dead, those united in Christ and share in his resurrection are also raised from the dead. There is a solidarity between Christ and believers, an inseparability of a shared experience. Since this is true, the Christian identity is not found in our flesh, which we were once slaves to (cf. Rom. 7), but because we are new creatures in Christ, it grieves my heart to see my brothers and sisters fighting to be identified with the flesh instead of recognizing the richness of their unity with the God who created us and redeemed us from our identity with Adam through Christ’s own blood. Yes, Christians still sin. Yes, we still struggle with sin. These are realities of living in our corrupt bodies. However, the Bible tells us that’s not our identity. Our identity is in the love and freedom of Christ.

Full disclosure: I am a deaconess candidate in the United Episcopal Church of North America, but because of geography I regularly and happily attend a church in the ACNA Diocese of Fort Worth.

Future Endeavor

I just received word that I have been accepted into University of Nottingham’s MA Systematic and Philosophical Theology programme!

There’s not much to this post, just wanted to share my good news. Also, the picture is a cheesecake I made when I graduated with a BA in philosophy. It’s supposed to say “Congrats.” It’s a good thing I study philosophy and theology and not cake decorating.

Paradigm Shift Behind the 8th Day Sabbath

Recently, I spoke with a Messianic regarding the Sabbath. It was in this conversation in which I realized why I left Messianic Judaism seventeen years ago. That seems like a strange thing to say because surely, I knew seventeen years ago. Yes, I did, but there was a paradigmatic shift that I didn’t recognize then but do now.

I have discussed paradigms in this blog several times. It’s even in the name. So, I won’t go into details here except to say that all our beliefs are shaped by something else, whether it be a philosophical concept, background knowledge, or a paradigm. I contend that in most cases, it’s probably all three, at least in part.

Understanding of the 8th Day Sabbath

Just as with many things in the OT, the 7th day Sabbath was a type and shadow of what was to come. It was the picture of the true rest we would have in Christ. God established the pattern in Genesis 2 of working for six days and resting on the 7th  because God Himself rested, and the first Adam was to continue this practice, which establishes the Sabbath as a creation mandate and part of the moral law. This was reiterated in the Mosaic covenant to teach God’s people that they couldn’t fulfill this obligation and to look forward to grace and rest in the coming Messiah. In addition to the 7th day Sabbath, God, on special occasions, gave the Israelites an 8th day rest.

One example is First Fruits, which is the day after the Sabbath after Passover. This is the day Jesus rose from the grave. Another example is Shavuot, which starts after Passover and lasts for 50 days (seven weeks plus an 8th day) and ends at the day of Pentecost, which was when we were given the Holy Spirit and the Millennial reign began. Because God gave us the 8th day of rest in Jesus Christ, people who worship on Saturday instead of Sunday symbolically (though maybe not literally) put themselves under the first Adam rather than recognize their liberty and rest in the second Adam.

Further, working first and resting after exemplifies working for righteousness, while resting before working (resting on the first day and working the rest of the week) testifies to the doctrine of salvation because we don’t earn our rest.  

Also, because the 1st (or 8th) day Sabbath is a reflection of salvation, the focus should not be legalistic rules of what should and should not be done on the Sabbath. Rather, it should be a joyful rest and a glimpse into the kingdom of heaven because after everything is complete and this world falls away, we will rest with God forever in the everlasting 8th day.

Cyprian wrote, “For because the eighth day, that is, the first day after the Sabbath, was to be that on which the Lord should rise again, and should quicken us, and give us circumcision of the spirit, the eighth day, that is, the first day after the Sabbath, and the Lord’s day, went before in the figure; which figure ceased when by and by the truth came, and spiritual circumcision was given to us.”
(Epistle LVIII.2 To Fidus, on the Baptism of Infants. 4)

Paradigm Shift

The Messianic gave me a confused look and called it mental gymnastics. Since he is familiar with the feasts and the importance of the 8th day, I couldn’t figure out how he viewed the coming of the Lord of the Sabbath bringing a fulfillment to the Law and establishing His rest to be mental gymnastics. After all, Hebrews 4 talks about our entering into God’s Sabbath rest through our high priest, Jesus Christ.

Then I remembered. Messianics are dispensationalists. They don’t recognize that the Kingdom of God is now and that we are in the Millennial reign. As a new convert to Christianity with a dispensational background (I grew up in a Charismatic mega church), the rabbi’s discussion of covenants within a dispensational framework made sense to me. But two years into my Christian faith, God guided me to the understanding that Christ reigns now, that His kingdom is now, and that the thousand-year Millennium is symbolic for a long period of time. Through this paradigm shift, I read the Bible in a covenantal structure rather than a dispensational one, and I saw that my rabbi’s continual discussion of covenants to be correct in many ways but completely incompatible with the dispensational hermeneutic.

No wonder this gentleman I spoke with was confused and believed I swung through some mental gymnastics! If Christ’s reign and His Kingdom is future, then the understanding of the 8th day Sabbath I laid out would be incomprehensible. Further, if Christ’s Kingdom is future, the Sabbath should never have been changed to Sunday.

It is not within the purview of this post to lay out the biblical understanding of amillennialism. Doing so would make a single post way too long. However, I use this conversation I had as an example of the importance of understanding one another’s philosophical assumptions. It is nearly impossible to convince anyone of your viewpoint if the argument is over a surface-level topic. Understand their background assumptions and philosophical structures first. This takes time and work, but any attempt to change another’s mind is fruitless otherwise.

We Found God

I’ve been too anxious over waiting to hear back from a school I’ve applied at to write a post today. Instead, I’m brushing off a parody I wrote last year. The tune is from Rihanna’s “We Found Love.”

Cranmer’s doctrine in the light
And we're kneeling side by side
A priest's shadow crosses mine
What it takes to come alive


It’s the Supper that I just can’t deny
And it has to heal me
 
 
We found God in a popeless place
We found God in a popeless place
We found God in a popeless place
We found God in a popeless place
 
 
Shine a light through the stained glass
Baptism and salvation I won’t divide
Absolve my sins ‘cause I need my priest
Feel the wafer on my tongue
 
 
It’s the Supper that I just can’t deny
And it has to heal me
 
 
We found God in a popeless place
We found God in a popeless place
We found God in a popeless place
We found God in a popeless place
 
Cranmer’s doctrine in the light
And we’re kneeling side by side
As priest’s shadow crosses mine
 
 
We found God in a popeless place
We found God in a popeless place
We found God in a popeless place
We found God in a popeless place