Dr. Russell Moore of the Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission responds to today’s ruling on same sex marriage.

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A wedding charge in Stillman ValleyTogether — as one — make your marriage a more magnificent mirror so that together you more fully reflect the beauty of Christ and the loveliness of the gospel.

I didn’t officiate for either the vows or declaration of intent at my daughter’s wedding. I did give the charge / mini-sermon. When the time came, I asked the ushers (my two sons) to position a full-length mirror on the platform. It was one we borrowed for the bride to use while getting ready.

*          *          *          *          *

To begin with, let me tell you about a conversation I had with this mirror last night. It was just the mirror and I alone and we had a nice chat.

It may surprise Alex’s family and guests– who do not know me as well– to hear that I talk to mirrors. I suppose it could possibly even concern some – – but my people are from rural Iowa. It’s a solitary life out there on the prairie and we learn to hold conversations when we’re by ourselves that those from more populated areas might find strange.

Yesterday we had a house full of bride’s maids. The place was positively buzzing with energy. But eventually everyone went to bed and I was left alone with this full-length mirror we borrowed to use while our bride is getting ready.

I had never met this mirror before, person to mirror, so as the host of my home I made polite introductions. I gave my name and said, “Welcome. You’re a fine looking mirror.”

The mirror thanked me and expressed appreciation for our hospitality.

Making conversation I said to the mirror, “It seems like a beautiful thing, to be a mirror.”

He liked the question. He responded expansively, “You know, it really is. You participate in the best occasions in life: Children starting to school. Mothers face painting for football games. Proms. There’s nothing I would rather do than be a mirror.”

I agreed that it sounded nice.

Then the mirror graciously volunteered, and I appreciated him doing so, he offered: “Say, I know that I’m here to serve you as a family. And I’m happy to do it. I wonder if you have a word for me about the big event tomorrow. How can I help you for the wedding? Do you have any special requests?”

It was a question I was hoping for and I said, “Well thanks for asking. Actually, as it turns out, I have four words for you. And, just to help you remember, I alliterated my points. I am a preacher after all. So here are 4 m’s for you to remember the day of my daughters wedding. I counted them off with my fingers:

  1. More
  2. Magnificent
  3. Modest
  4. Mirror

I was concerned that the list might be a bit long for a mirror, so I added, “I know you only asked for one “m” and that’s four. So if you need to remember only one of the four, remember the word more.”

The mirror thought about all of this. He mumbled m’s. He paused and thought for a few minutes.

I thought maybe he didn’t get them. So I started to repeat them . . . but the mirror interrupted, “No. I’ve got it.”

CDB_6549The mirror cautiously explained, “Well, I can work with three of the four. Obviously, I know a mirror’s job. I reflect images. I’m up for magnificent. Every day work is okay. But mirrors, even small town mirrors, live for big days. That’s what we love about being mirrors. Having said that, I’ve always been a modest mirror. I know there are mirrors with bigger jobs. There are mirrors on the Hubbell Space telescope, and mirrors in the Palace of Versailles – – I’m a small town mirror.”

I could tell he was being careful, but the mirror continued and said, “But the one word that gives me some pause – – which as it turns out – is the one you are especially stressing is the word ‘more.’ To me, and I don’t want to read too much into what you are saying, but to me, ‘more’ implies that you think tomorrow I will portray a more magnificent image than I ever have in the past. It sounds like you are expecting a greater degree of reflection and beauty.”

The mirror said all of this in a very diplomatic way. He then waited for me to say that I didn’t think tomorrow would be more magnificent. But I didn’t deny the point. In fact I assured him that I did think tomorrow (which is now today, my little girl’s wedding day) would be the mirror’s best moment ever.

At this point the mirror got a little salty. He said, “Look that seems a bit presumptuous. How can you say that tomorrow will be more magnificent? You don’t know my body of work. I’ve conceded that I am a small town mirror, but I have reflected at some big events by Midwestern standards.”

I didn’t back down. “Well,” I said, “It’s like this. First let me confirm, you were not at my wedding, August 12, 1989.”

The mirror did even have to think about his answer. “No, he said, I wasn’t there. I’ve never worked west of the Mississippi.”

I said, “Well, in that case, you’ve never reflected a more beautiful bride.”

The mirror got it then – — and he smiled – he realized he was dealing with a guy who wasn’t trying to be objective. He conceded my right to be biased, “Okay, you can argue for the unsurpassed beauty of your wife and daughter.”

But then the mirror’s smile turned to concern. He said, “Hey, don’t put too much pressure on me. I can only work with what I’ve been given. I haven’t seen your daughter in her wedding dress yet. So how can I know if she will be pretty?”

I said, “Well, that’s where the ‘modest’ word enters the picture. You don’t have to be magnificent on your own. I assure you that my daughter will supply enough beauty for whatever room she is in. Just show up buddy. My daughter as a bride will light the place up. I know my little girl will be beautiful on her wedding day.”

*          *          *          *          *

Now – – much to everyone’s relief who is worried about my late night conversation with a mirror – – I’ll turn to my audience here. I’m sure Alex agrees that this mirror, reflecting his bride, never had a more magnificent day. Right Alex? The mirror is looking good.

(Alex agreed!)

Allison and Alex, for the both of you, not coincidentally, I have the same four words for you two that I had for our friend here.

  1. Mirror
  2. Magnificent
  3. More
  4. Modest

A Magnificent Mirror

To begin with, any Christian should be a mirror that reflects glory back to Christ – – As our Scottish ancestors wrote, our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. The metaphor of a mirror helps us understand what it means to glorify God. God’s glory is his manifest beauty – – glory is to God as beams of light are to the sun – – so glorifying God means that we are the surfaces off which God’s glory reflects. We are mirrors.[1]

The extent to which a mirror brilliantly reflects an image demonstrates its quality. A marvelous mirror shows a marvelous image without distortion. And the degree to which we show an on looking world the beauty of Christ is the degree to which we glorify Him.[2]

Usher #1’s (your brother Christopher’s) reading from the Psalter emphasized that when we pray today for God’s blessing on your home, we have this mirroring / reflective objective in mind:

[1] May God be gracious to us and bless us

and make his face to shine upon us, Selah

[2] that your way may be known on earth,

your saving power among all nations.

[3] Let the peoples praise you, O God;

let all the peoples praise you!

[4] Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,

for you judge the peoples with equity

and guide the nations upon earth. Selah

[5] Let the peoples praise you, O God;

let all the peoples praise you!

[6] The earth has yielded its increase;

God, our God, shall bless us.

[7] God shall bless us;

let all the ends of the earth fear him! (Psalm 67 ESV)

 Think of verses 1-2 with my comments inserted:

[1] May God be gracious to us and bless us

and make his face to shine upon us, Selah

[2] that (which is to say, “for the purpose” or “to the end”) your way may be known on earth,

your saving power among all nations.

 The Psalm is a prayer that asks that God’s glory would shine into our lives. But the goal of the prayer is the result that God’s ways would be known on earth. And today the church asks for God’s blessing so that we might make a difference around the globe. So that we might, as mirrors, reflect his glory.

To say this personally to you Allison and Alex, today when we pray for God’s blessing on your home, we are not simply thinking of your home in St. Louis but we are praying that as you are built into the community of a local church – – that there would be global implications. We are praying that, as the glory of God shines into your lives, that as mirrors you will reflect God’s glory in ways that benefit many others.

Make your marriage a magnificent mirror that reflects the beauty of Christ and the loveliness of the gospel.

CDB_6368More

What I have said thus far – – that we are to glorify God by reflecting his manifest goodness — is nothing that cannot be said of all of creation. The mirror concept is not limited in its scope. All of creation is in some sense a mirror that reflects the glory of Christ. Every blade of grass reflects the beauty of the Creator.

So why would we say that your marriage should be a more magnificent mirror. The answer to that question flows out of usher #2’s (your brother Benjamin’s) Scripture reading. The Apostle Paul pointed out that marriage and the gospel explain one another.

[22] Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. [23] For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. [24] Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

[25] Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, [26] that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, [27] so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. [28] In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. [29] For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, [30] because we are members of his body. [31] “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” [32] This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. [33] However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Ephesians 5:22-33 ESV)

So up to this point – – either of you has been mirrors that reflected the glory of Christ to the world. But now – as of today – together – you are positioned to glorify Christ even more because marriage and the gospel explain one another. Notice four ways marriage and the gospel explain one another.

First, marriage is a mirror that magnificently glorifies Christ when wives submit to their husband. Paul wrote:

 [22] Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. [23] For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.

 Allison, as a wife, you are called to uphold and support Alex. You are to be a champion for him. You know that in our home your mother has beautifully exemplified this. She supports us and upholds me, if anything to a fault. Believe in your husband. Respect him. Love him.

Second, marriage is a mirror that more magnificently glorifies Christ when husbands love their wives as Christ loved the church.

[25] Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.

 Jesus loved us by going to the cross to take the penalty of sin upon him. He gave himself completely for his bride the church. Likewise, Alex the expectation is that you would protect your wife completely. The guy goes down for the girl. If you hear a noise in the apartment, don’t say, “Hey honey, go check that out.” The guy goes down.[3]

Which is to say, Alex, God would expect, that you would step in front of a truck to save Allison’s life, tragic as that would be. But really getting hit by a truck is the easy part. Dying (at least by way of getting ran over by a truck) happens all at once. The more difficult thing is when you are tired at the end of a long day and the dog (by the way, I would encourage you to hold off on getting a dog for a little while) –when the dog wants to go out and you need to be a servant leader and you have to get up and let the dog out. That’s when servant leadership really kicks in. And in those moments you show Christ-like love, however, ordinary, and reflect the glory of Christ.

Third, marriage is a mirror that more magnificently glorifies Christ because when a husband and wife become one flesh they picture the solidarity of God’s people with their Savior. How is it that what a Savior accomplished millennia ago outside Jerusalem has significance for today? The answer is that we are united with Christ. We are “bound together” with Jesus. Likewise, you are to be bound together. The intimacy with which you hold one another pictures the intimacy of Christ and his bride the church.[4]

Fourth, marriage — with its exclusive commitment — mirrors the love of Christ for his church. Your foundational relationship is Christ and his church. But after this – – your central relationship is to one another. For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother . . . You belong to one another. Likewise, Christ is not a universal Savior. The danger we run in a wedding like this – – is that we play some church music and read some biblical thoughts – – and imply that the benefits of Christ are universally bestowed. But this is not what the Bible says. Rather, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in His name, he gave the right to become children of God (John 1:12).”

Modest

Allison, you might be inclined to respond, “Oh you are my father. You have an over-inflated opinion.” And Alex may feel like – – “Oh what am I getting myself into.”

Admittedly, I am biased about the two of you, but remember the word “modest.” My confidence regarding this challenge to be more magnificent mirrors is not because of you. After all, you are modest mirrors. My confidence is because the source of the glory – Christ, our King – – is the brightest possible light. We have a beautiful Savior. We don’t have to worry about him being beautiful. Just show up as mirrors and our King, and his bride, will shine in ways that don’t just fill a church building on a wedding day – – his glory will shine forth and fill the entire universe.

************

[1] S. Aalen, “Glory,” in The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, ed. Colin Brown (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), 44–48; Chris Brauns, “How Would You Define ‘Glory’?,” A Brick in the Valley: The Web Site of Pastor and Author Chris Brauns, accessed November 6, 2014, http://chrisbrauns.com/2011/04/how-would-you-define-glory/; Chris Brauns, “Notes on Glory for Romans Study,” A Brick in the Valley: The Web Site of Pastor and Author Chris Brauns, accessed November 6, 2014, http://chrisbrauns.com/2009/09/notes-on-glory-for-romans-study/.

[2] In addition to noticing what a marvelous mirror is, we could also notice two things a mirror is not. (1) A mirror is not a source. Mirrors don’t supply light on their own. So a marvelous mirror cannot produce a beautiful image. (2) Mirrors are not sinks. They are not to be black holes that suck up the light and internalize them.

[3] Matt Chandler, “A Beautiful Design: Man’s Purpose” (The Village Church, Dallas, September 21, 2014), 3, http://www.thevillagechurch.net/resources/sermons/detail/mans-purpose/. Chandler shares that Dr. Randy Stinson, “Has taught all his little boys concerning his daughters and women in general, ‘The boy goes down. The girl goes free.’

[4] Chris Brauns, Bound Together: How We Are Tied to Others in Good and Bad Choices (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013).

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Chris with wedding responsibilitiesOne day my wife is leaving detailed instructions about when to feed our baby girl. The next day my baby girl is handing out wedding instructions.Sunrise, Sunset.

Last night my daughter, Allison / Allie, who is scheduled to be married on Saturday, published a detailed explanation of the schedule for the week. She personalized each copy of the wedding instructions with a particular person’s responsibilities highlighted in his or her respective copy. Marching orders for the Brauns men feature more detail than field instructions for the battle of Antietam.

Allison’s brother, Christopher (He answers to Usher #1 this week) went to work at 5:00 AM. Hence, he did not receive his orders until dinner time at which time he was expected to absorb the information between bites.

Allison doubtless quizzed Christopher before work this morning. She has been getting up with him at 4:15 A.M. to enhance her productivity.

Back to dinner for a moment – – the Brauns men are all losing weight – – not just because we are reading the wedding instructions over dinner, still less because we have targeted weight loss (Tuxedos have built in elastic after all!)- – but because we are eating at the same table as everyone else. Jack Sprat ate more fat.

But I digress.

Some have suggested that Allie, in dispensing schedules, is following my example. And while there may have been a time or two when I seemed a bit goal oriented in life, I would point out that the women in our house have always been the ones pounding out the cadence.

To document my point, I am providing the below letter that I wrote to Allison on November 3, 1994. Notice the letter includes a detailed schedule Jamie gave me so that I would know my responsibilities.

Screenshot 2015-06-02 11.03.44November 3, 1994

Dear Allison,

I haven’t written anything down for some time. Sorry. Mommie is off at some pastors’ wives’ retreat and you and I are alone for the first time. You have decided that you don’t want any kind of bottle so I only fed you cereal. It will be interesting to see if you sleep through the night.

You really know me now. One of our (you and I) favorite things is for you to cough….I then give a fake cough back and we start doing it back and forth. Intellectually it probably isn’t one of my more stimulating conversations. But, it is one I would rather have than practically any other in the whole world.

I continue to be amazed at your relationship with your mother. You know each other so well. She has this little schedule that she follows religiously with you. She even typed instructions up for me on the computer. They are enclosed in the box below just the way she left them.

ALLISON’S SCHEDULE

7:30 – 8:30 She will wake up for the day.Feed her a bottle of breast milkAbout 1/2 hour later you can feed her a 1/2 bowl of rice cereal made with a little pear juice and the rest water. The consistency would need to be somewhat like mashed potatoes.
10:30 If she starts to get a little fussy she may be ready for her morning nap depending on how early she woke. Lay her in her bed with a pacifier in her mouth and the rest at the top left corner of her bed and give her a burpy. Turn her tape on the right over and turn it on. The volume is set you do not need to mess with that. (I would advise only letting her sleep for an hour then she will take a good afternoon nap)
11:30-12:00 Feed her a banana. You will need to put it in a bowl and mash it with a fork. She will eat the entire thing. If she still acts hungry give her some applesauce, which is in the refrigerator. After she has had that then give her another bottle of breast milk. She will not drink much.
1:30 Lay her down for her afternoon nap. Do the same as you did for the morning nap.
4:30-5:00 Give her a breast milk bottle.
6:00-6:30 Give her two ice cubes of anything that is in the freezer. Put them in a bowl and microwave it for 1 minute. Give her 3/4 bowl of rice cereal made with a little pear juice and the rest water. The consistency would need to be somewhat like mashed potatoes.

Really, though, the logistics of things are not what amazes me. Rather, it is how comfortable you are when she holds you, how she knows just how to handle you when she changes your clothes, how excited you are to see her.

By the way, you get so excited these days. You wave your arms and bounce when you see Mommie or me. Sunday I was preaching in Algona (they had a kind of homecoming thing) and you looked up and saw me sitting on the platform and got all excited. That meant so much, I almost got a little misty on the spot.

It may be fair to say that your favorite thing in the whole world is to pull my hair. You love to do that. Every time you pull it, you start laughing and get all excited. Of course, I love it. As long as I have hair Allison, you can pull it.

Allison, without question you are our greatest joy, without question. For that, will you put up with our weirdness and still come and see us even when you don’t need us? We certainly hope so.

Your Dad who loves you immensely.

P.S. We are getting a new sofa and chair. The green and blue Rowe thing that you probably will think is incredibly old when you read this. Well, we agonized over the decision and now Mommie flying high. She will be so excited when it comes next Tuesday.

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Don’t miss the links at the bottom of the page. There are resources available.

Jesus’s teaching on lust sets the standard. Sins of the mind are wrong. He stressed the stakes. Lust is eternally deadly. And Christ gave us a strategy: take radical action.

[27] “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ [28] But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. [29] If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. [30] And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. Matthew 5:27-30

What does it look like to take radical action? How do we figuratively gouge out our eyes and amputate our hands? Below are 10 Policies for parents to implement to protect their families. These are not all radical in nature. Some of them take place over time. But be ready to act decisively if necessary.

  1. Be involved in a Christ-centered, Bible preaching local church. The only way we can counter the corrosive effects of a fallen world is through Christian community. You need to feed on the proclaimed Word, share life with other believers, worship Christ in community, and pray with others. If you are struggling in this area, make yourself accountable to a mature Christian very soon.
  2. Promote a positive vision for marriage and God’s plan for intimacy. Envision Christ-centered weddings.
  3. Make love — husbands and wives — a priority. Spouses belong to one another (1 Cor 7:1-5).
  4. Establish and maintain modesty standards within your family.
  5. Establish family policies early. Second grade is easier than sixth for setting boundaries. Still, it is never too late.
  6. Minimize screen time in general. Check the progression that accustoms families to always being in front of a screen. Hate addiction to video games and be scared of them in the first place. If the only way you can get work done is to occupy your children with a video, or, if you always use videos to keep children from being a distraction when you entertain, that is a problem! (Though, exceptions can be made for the sake of #3.
  7. Keep Internet access away from private contexts: especially bedrooms and basements. Sin loves darkness.
  8. Implement steps from Pastor Tim Michalek’s Top 5 Free Ways to Protect Against Internet Pornography.
  9. Question if teens really need Internet enabled phones.
  10. Avoid split second decisions about purchasing Internet enabled devices. Heed Tim Challies appeal. “Please don’t give them porn for Christmas.”

Online resources for battling pornography:

The Porn Free Family Plan (Tim Challies)

The Top 5 Free Ways to Protect Against Internet Pornography (Tim Michalek)

For help implementing a family policy, and for saying no to Internet enabled devices, see Parents Memorize This Speech (Chris Brauns)

Please Don’t Give Them Porn for Christmas (Tim Challies)

Parenting in a Hyper-Sexualized Culture (Heath Lambert)

The Most Insidious Drug (Chris Brauns)

What’s at Stake with Internet Pornography (Russell Moore)

Is Pornography the New Tobacco (Mary Eberstadt)

Pornography: The New Normal (Carl Trueman)

Pornography: The New Narcotic (John Piper)

Hijacking Back Your Brain from Porn (John Piper)

Porn, Pride, and Praise (Heath Lambert)

Children Playing Outside Requires Leadership. Here’s Three Suggestions (Chris Brauns)

Russell Moore: Fake Love, Fake War and the Dangers of Pornography and the Internet

Pornification: Just the Facts (Ed Stetzer)

A Study on the Effects of Pornography

Recommended Reading:

Finally Free: Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace (Heath Lambert)

Counsel to Men Addicted to Pornography (Ed Welch)

Pornified: How Pornography is Damaging Our Live, Our Relationships, and Our Families (Pamela Paul)

When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy (John Piper)

Wired for Intimacy. How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain (William Struthers)

Sexual Detox (an e-book by Tim Challies)

Recommended Videos:

I Am Struggling With Pornography and Need Help. What’s My First Step (Heath Lambert)

What Should I Do When My Husband is Looking at Pornography (Heath Lambert)

The Science of Pornography

You Can Say No to Porn (John Piper)

The Key to Escaping Porn (John Piper)

Tim Keller: How Does the Gospel Conquer Pornography

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I am really enjoying God Dwells Among Us: Expanding Eden to the Ends of the Earth Here’s a sample quote in which they reflect on what it means to glorify God:

What does it mean to glorify God? The Westminster Catechism reminds us that “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” If we are created to glorify God, then we should know what that means. We glorify God by multiplying images of him who are crowned with his glory; we glorify God by making disciples. Jesus himself glorified God in this way. Near the end of his life, he declared:

I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do . . . I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. (Jn 17:4, 6).

Jesus glorified God by making disciples who kept God’s word. The mark of these disciples was obedience. Similarly, we glorify God by our mission in making disciples who keep God’s word.

(Page 35)

See also:

Towards Understanding More About the Glory of God

Notes for “glory” on Romans Study

How Would You Define Glory?

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The Apostles’ Creed is the most well known summary statement of what orthodox Christians hold to be true.[1] It reminds of us central points about which all Christians must agree, serves as a defense against heresies or false teachings which deny any element, summarizes the faith, and provides an important resource for either private or corporate worship.[2]

The Apostles Creed reflects that the historical church saw the need from very early times to confess important doctrines in creedal or doctrinal statements. This is not surprising because the New Testament explicitly references the importance of sound doctrine. In the Pastoral Epistles, Paul stresses that Timothy should counter the false teachers in Ephesus by means of sound doctrine. Likewise, Paul instructed Titus to appoint elders who could encourage God’s people by means of sound doctrine. In the Pastoral Epistles, Paul refers to sound doctrine with various labels:[3]

the faith: 1 Tim 1:3, 19; 3:9; 4:1, 6:10, 12, 21; 2 Tim 3:8; 4:7; Titus 3:15[4]

the truth: 1 Tim 2:4, 7; 3:15; 4:3; 6:3, 5; 2 Tim 2:18, 25; 3:7-8; 4:4; Tit 1:1, 14

the sound doctrine: 1 Tim 1:10; 6:3; 2 Tim 1:13; 4:3; Titus 1:9, 2:1

the teaching: Titus 1:9; 1 Tim 6:1

the good deposit: 1 Tim 6:20, 2 Tim 1:4 (literally)

Stott points out that, “In nearly every one of these expressions, the noun is preceded by the definite article, indicating that already a body of doctrine existed which was an agreed standard by which all teaching could be tested and judged. It was the teaching of Christ and his apostles.”[5]

The Apostles’ Creed dates back to 700. But far earlier fragments of it exist. The most well known influence would be what is known as the “Old Roman Creed” which comes from the second half of the second century.[6]

Every phrase of the Apostles’ Creed is important and worth studying. We should notice:

  • The Trinitarian organization of the Creed.
  • The affirmation that our heavenly Father created all things and is all-powerful (omnipotent).
  • The miraculous conception of Christ that was denied by liberal theology in the 19th and 20th
  • The reference to Pontius Pilate that insists on the historicity of the death, burial, and resurrection of our King.
  • The certainty of the impending resurrection and final judgment.

The Heidleberg Catechism acknowledges the central importance of the Apostles’ Creed in questions 22-23:

Question 22. What is then necessary for a christian to believe?

Answer: All things promised us in the gospel, (a) which the articles of our catholic undoubted christian faith briefly teach us.

(a) John 20:31 But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name. Matt.28:19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Mark 1:15 And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.

Question 23. What are these articles?

Answer: 1. I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth: 2. And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord: 3. Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary: 4. Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead, and buried: He descended into hell: 5. The third day he rose again from the dead: 6. He ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty: 7. From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead: 8. I believe in the Holy Ghost: 9. I believe a holy catholic church: the communion of saints: 10. The forgiveness of sins: 11. The resurrection of the body: 12. And the life everlasting.

The version of the Apostles’ Creed our church uses features three translation/interpretive decisions.

  1. First, it reads, “he descended to the dead,” rather than, “he descended into hell.” This serves to avoid confusing people by implying that Christ spent the time between his death and the resurrection in hell.[7]
  2. Second, we have substituted “living” for the word “quick.” In our use of language “quick” references physical ability to respond rather than merely the idea of being alive.
  3. Third, we prefer “the holy universal Church” rather than “the holy catholic Church” so as to not confuse people that this is a reference to the Roman Catholic religion.

To those who object that no updates should be made to the Apostles’ Creed, we would remind them that this is not Scripture nor does it date to the apostles themselves. Like the Bereans, we eagerly receive the historic teaching of the Church. But we also examine it to for ourselves to make sure that we are being consistent with the clear and plain teaching of Scripture (Acts 17:11). Further, these decisions make no change to the consensus of understanding regarding the meaning of the creed.[8]

These considerations in mind, the version of the Apostles’ Creed we use reads as follows:

I believe in God the Father Almighty,

maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord;

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

born of the Virgin Mary,

suffered under Pontius Pilate,

was crucified, dead, and buried.

He descended to the dead[9]

The third day he rose again from the dead.

He ascended into heaven,

and sitteth on the right hand of God

the Father Almighty.

From thence He shall come to judge the living

and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

the holy universal Church,

the communion of the saints,

the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body,

and the life everlasting.

*******************

[1] On the importance of confessions and creeds see Carl R. Trueman, The Creedal Imperative (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012).

[2] O.G. Oliver, Jr., “The Apostles Creed,” in The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), 73.

[3] The list is based on Stott’s summary, though there are several errors in the references. John R.W. Stott, The Message of 1 Timothy & Titus, ed. John R.W. Stott, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2001), 42.

[4] The “faith” group of words is very important in the Pastoral Epistles and the major commentaries usually have extended sections on Paul’s varied use of faith. See especially, Jerome D. Quinn, The Letter to Titus: A New Translation with Notes and Commentary and an Introduction to Titus, I and II Timothy, the Pastoral Epistles, vol. 1st (New York: Doubleday, 1990); I. Howard Marshall and Philip Towner, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1999); William D. Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: T. Nelson, 2000).

For more on “the faith” see, Ibid., cxxxi–cxxxii. See also Mounce’s point that Paul’s emphasis is as on doctrine as a whole and not with a particular issue as in Galatians. Ibid., lxxvi.

On the theological activity of the New Testament church, see Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998), xxx. On the necessity and centrality of doctrine to Christianity, see J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 18.

[5] Stott, The Message of 1 Timothy & Titus, 42–43.

[6] Oliver, Jr., “The Apostles Creed,” 72.

[7] See Trueman, The Creedal Imperative, 90; Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 586–590.

[8] Trueman argues that we should not change the phrase, “he descended into hell.” But even he admits that it does not mean what it appears to mean. He writes, “Given the near universal presence of the Apostles’ Creed across the Christian spectrum, it is ironic that it also contains one of the most controversial and disputed statements in creedal and confessional history: the clause which states that ‘Christ descended into hell.’ This seems to be a statement with minimal biblical foundation and unfortunate soteriological implications, as if Christ’s death on the cross was somehow an insufficient act in itself to fulfill the mandate of the Suffering Servant. In fact, as is often the case in the history of theology, the creed’s offense at this point is based more on a surface reading of the words from a later context than upon their original intent. Thus, a careful exploration of the words reveals that the creed is not claiming anything particularly objectionable at this point.” Trueman, The Creedal Imperative, 90. Grudem’s response is far more balanced and does not treat a creedal statement as though it is the Bible itself. After a careful consideration of the phrase, he concludes, “At this point, people on all sides of the question of whether Christ actually descended into hell should be able to agree that at least that the idea of Christ’s ‘descent into hell’ is not taught clearly or explicitly in any passage of Scripture . . . Does the phrase ‘he descended into hell’ deserve to be retained in the Apostles’ Creed alongside the great doctrines of the faith on which all can agree? The single argument in its favor seems to be the fact that it has been around so long. But an old mistake is still a mistake—and as long as it has been around there has been confusion and disagreement over its meaning.” Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, 593, 594.

[9] This change suggested by Cranfield, Apostles Creed: A Faith to Live By, Grand Rapids (Eerdmans, 1993), page 3. The change was first suggested by the International Consultation on English Texts and published in 1970. C.E.B. Cranfield, The Apostles Creed: A Faith to Live By (Grand Rapds: Eerdmans, 1993), 3.

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The Story of the Nicene Creed

Chris —  April 28, 2015 — 1 Comment

Athanasius of Alexandria

Elsewhere I have summarized the doctrine of the trinity. Below is a synopsis of the story of the Nicene Creed: a short creedal statement that gives an overview of the doctrine of the Trinity.

The story of the Nicene Creed comes complete with a theological villain (Arius) and a hero (Athanasius). This is not just an interesting tale. You will far better appreciate the doctrine of the trinity if you know a little of how it developed in church history.[1]

First, consider reading the Nicene Creed aloud. It has been ours since May of 325! It gives the Church of Christ one of the most important doctrinal summaries every written. Notice how Jesus is described. Phrases like “begotten, not made” and “of one Being with the Father” are very important.

The Nicene Creed, ELLC Translation[2]

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, light from light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
and became truly human.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father [and the Son],
who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Most who have been around the Christian faith know that the doctrine of the trinity is a central part of our faith. Interestingly, the word “trinity” does not appear in the Bible.[3] This does not mean, of course, that the doctrine of the trinity isn’t Biblical as we shall see.

The church father Tertullian (155-220) first coined the word “trinity” in the second century.[4] Tertullian used it to summarize what the Bible teaches about the relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.[5]

Tertullian was quite a story himself.[6] He was from Carthage in North Africa and he came from a non-Christian background. Tertullian was so gifted linguistically that he went to Rome to study law and planned to use his linguistic gifts in a legal profession. But God had other plans. In Rome, Tertullian was converted and when he returned to Carthage his central goal was to passionately study and proclaim the gospel.[7]

This is not to say that Tertullian was the only one who made orthodox contributions to the doctrine of the trinity. Origen and many others contributed to the understanding of the trinity so that much of the doctrine was in place by circa 300.[8] (You can read more about Tertullian in a series of posts by Mike Wittmer).

Yet, a battle loomed. In 318 doctrinal complications arose regarding Christology when a church leader in Africa named Arius arrived on the scene. Arius was a gifted thinker and philosopher. In addition to his intellect, Arius had a great deal of charisma and was gifted musically. He sang little jingles that seemed to answer the questions of newer Christians.[9] Arius’s combination of musical gifts and charisma made him more popular than his doctrine deserved.

Arius argued that the doctrine of the trinity needed a correction. He said that Jesus was not only functionally subordinate to God the Father, but also “essentially” so. Arius insisted that Christ was less in his being than the Father. He further argued that this point was crucial to protecting the unity of God that had rightly been a great emphasis in the Church.[10]

Christianity was young and vulnerable to heresy. When Arius began to question the doctrine of the trinity, people were not used to the whole idea of the mysterious trinity like we are now. The masses wanted a doctrine they could comprehensively understand and Arius gave them answers that seemed to work.

Many were swayed by Arius and began to believe that Jesus was not fully God. Everything was at stake. If Christ is not fully God, then he cannot grant forgiveness of sins in any meaningful way.[11]

By, God’s grace orthodox theologians opposed Arius and a full-scale dispute broke forth in the Church. The relationship of God the Son to God the Father became a huge topic of discussion. Regarding how embroiled people were in the debate, Shelley writes:

One bishop described Constantinople as seething with discussion. He said, “if in this city you ask someone for change, he will discuss with you whether God the Son is begotten or unbegotten. If you ask about the quality of the bread, you will receive the answer that ‘God the Father is greater, God the Son is less. . .”[12]

Eventually, on May 20, 325 A.D., Constantine called a council of the Church to meet in Nicea in what is now modern day Turkey. This calling of the council was in itself amazing. It was the first time such a council was ever convened. It would be a little like the United Nations determining that we need to work through some doctrinal issues and, not surprisingly, it was later to have negative implications.

About 230 different leaders met to agree upon a statement regarding the relationship of God the Father and God the Son. One of these came from Alexandria and he brought with him a brilliant and godly young assistant named Athanasius who was to later become the bishop of Alexandria and a great hero of the church.

Arius was his charismatic self at the Council of Nicea. At one point, he burst into a musical version of his heresy:

The uncreated God has made the Son . . .

The Son’s substance is

Removed from the substance of the Father:

The Son is not equal to the Father,

Nor does he share the same substance. . .

The members of the Holy Trinity

Share unequal glories.[13]

Arius’s jingle doesn’t flow that well in English. But it apparently it was catchy at the time. We can be thankful Arius didn’t have an electric guitar! But we are most thankful that once the Church leaders began to study the issues they determined in a relatively short period of time that Arius was teaching heresy. Today, Arianism is known as the heresy that teaches that Jesus is entirely distinct from and subordinate to God the Father.

To clarify the theological understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity, the Nicene council formulated a summary of their position: the Nicene Creed. The Nicene Creed includes this statement about Jesus that today is reflected in nearly all doctrinal statements.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, light from light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father;
through him all things were made.

Regarding the Nicene Creed, Mark Noll wrote:

Not only does it succinctly summarize the facts of biblical revelation, but it also stands as a bulwark against the persistent human tendency to prefer logical deductions concerning what God must be like and how he must act to the lived realities of God’s self-disclosure.[14]

The debate over the relationship of God the Father to God the Son was far from over. It continued over many years and at times it looked as though Arius would prevail. At some points there seemed so little support for Athanasius, the champion of orthodox doctrine, that he entitled one defense, “Athanasius against the World.”[15]

Athanasius was a true theological hero. Five times Athanasius (by this time Bishop of Alexandria) was exiled. But, he stood firm and would not waver.[16] He wrote a famous statement in which he said, my paraphrase, “If Jesus is less than God we have no true hope of salvation.”[17]

C.S. Lewis said of Athanasius. “He stood for the Trinitarian doctrine, ‘whole and undefiled,’ when it looked as if all the civilized world was slipping back from Christianity into the religion of Arius – – into one of those ‘sensible’ synthetic religions.[18]

So you see that the Nicene Creed and the doctrine of the trinity rose out of necessity. Herman Bavinck, in his magisterial book on the doctrine of God wrote, “The development of the truth of the trinity. . . arose from . . . practical and religious need. The church was not interested in a mere philosophical speculation or in metaphysical problem, but it was concerned about the very core and essence of the Christian religion.[19]

An overview of the story of the Nicene Creed should motivate us to endure even when there are conflicts. This is God that we are reading about. What we believe about this relates directly to our salvation and how we believe that we can spend eternity in the presence of the King. It’s worth stretching our minds to consider. This doctrine wasn’t ironed out by stuffy professors who had no clue about life. It was achieved by men of courage and resolve who risked everything to achieve it.

God promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against the church (Matthew 16). Leaders like Athanasius were God’s gift to the Church to protect her from heresy. Five times Athanasius was exiled. Five times it looked to be the end for him. Yet, God used him that we might be here today. Let us sing with the reverence and passion of Athanasius, “God in three persons, blessed Trinity.”

**********

[1] My source for much of this information is chapter 2 of Mark A. Noll , Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity (Wheaton: InterVarsity, 1997), 47–64. It is an excellent introductory book. A much more thorough and technical discussion is found in J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 2nd ed. (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1960).

[2] This reflects the expanded version from 381.

[3] R.C. Sproul responds to objections that the word “trinity” does not appear in the Scriptures in his book on the Holy Spirit. R.C. Sproul, The Mystery of the Holy Spirit (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1990), 37–46.

[4] Noll, Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity, 49.

[5] Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 113.

[6] R.C. Kroeger and C.C. Kroeger, “Tertullian,” in The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), 1078–1079.

[7] Ibid., 1079.

[8] For a fascinating series of posts on Tertullian’s apologetics, see Mike Wittmer, “Tertullian for Today,” Don’t Stop Believing, April 6, 2015, https://mikewittmer.wordpress.com/2015/04/06/tertullian-for-today/.

[9] Bruce L. Shelley, Church History in Plain Language (Dallas: Word, 1982), 115.

[10] Prior to the third century there was a great emphasis on maintaining the unity of God. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 109.

[11] Noll, Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity, 55.

[12] Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, 113.

[13] Noll, Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity, 53.

[14] Ibid., 59.

[15] Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, 118.

[16] J.F. Johnson and C.C. Kroeger, “Athanasius,” in The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), 95.

[17] Noll, Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity, 49.

[18] Athanasius, The Incarnation of the Word of God with Introduction by C.S. Lewis (Macmillan, 1947), 7.

[19] Herman Bavinck, The Doctrine of God (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1991), 333.

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Pastor Chris Brauns speaking at the Christ and Culture Conference in Wisconsin.Audio recordings for the Church and Culture conference on Homosexuality are available online.

Powerpoint slides, other notes, and an abbreviated bibliography are available here.

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Commenting on the second question of the New City Catechism, D.A. Carson answers the question, “What is God?” and issues a caution of what we must not do.

What is God?

God is the creator and sustainer of everyone and everything. He is eternal, infinite, and unchangeable in his power and perfection, goodness and glory, wisdom, justice, and truth. Nothing happens except through him and by his will.

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Allie High School GraduationEvery May, since I became a pastor over 20 years ago, I review what I want to say to graduating students on one page. I prayerfully refine it every year. This year I have consolidated points that were previously separate and I have added points #5 and #6. I welcome your interaction . . . you may talk me into changing what I say before I pass this out to graduating seniors in May.*   

Dear Graduate:

Congratulations on your accomplishment! We are so thankful for you.

For over 20 years I have thought about what I would tell graduates on one page.  Each year it is my goal to prayerfully refine this letter even as I refine our philosophy of youth ministry. Here is the 2015 version.

  1. Know that following Christ is both right and best. Believing in Jesus is right because Jesus is the One true God. He deserves all glory. Putting our faith and trust in Jesus is best because Jesus came that we might have life more abundantly (John 10:9-10). If you have not done so already, give your life to the King. On the Cross, he paid the penalty for His people so that we could spend eternity together on the New Earth in his presence. This is the Gospel (or the Good News of Christ) and it should shape every area of life. The alternative to believing in Jesus is unthinkable (John 3:36).
  2. Be warned and be sure. First, be warned: the way of the sinner is hard. As someone has said, “choose to sin, choose to suffer.” Don’t buy the lie that you can make wrong choices and not reap the consequences (Galatians 6:7-8). Do not choose to suffer by dating unbelievers! Hate, hate, hate pornography and other potentially addictive behaviors. Second, be sure. Be sure you really are a Christian (2 Cor 13:5, James 2:17). Many think they are Christians and they are not. The worst words that will ever be heard will be when many stand before Christ thinking they are Christians and find out that they will spend eternity in hell (Matt 7:21-23). The thought that some in our flock may be in that group is what scares me most as a pastor. Talk to someone soon if you have any questions!
  3. Remember that God makes bricks with a building in mind. The Apostle Peter compared individual Christians to living stones so that he could make the point that Christians should be mortared together in local churches (1 Peter 2:5). Gifted and empowered by the Holy Spirit to serve together, local churches are called to be salt –subtly seasoning and preserving every bit of our communities – – and light – – boldly proclaiming the truth to light the darkness. Be baptized and join. You need a church as much as Noah needed the ark. Don’t put church on hold for the next few years. During that time, you will make decisions that affect the trajectory of your life. Be aimed in the right direction. If you move, or go to college, make it your first priority to find a church and Christian fellowship. This is especially critical the first three weeks of college.
  4. Sharpen your wisdom saw with the Word (Philippians 1:9-11, Romans 12:1-2). Wisdom is skill for living.  It is the saw we use to cut our way through life. We need a sharp saw to make quality decisions. We sharpen our wisdom saws by memorizing and reading the Word and by hearing it preached. Be Word-centered! Rinse in Scripture. It is more precious than gold and sweeter than honey (Psalm 19:7-11).
  5. Envision a beautiful bride walking down the aisle in a Christ-centered wedding. Most of you will marry. God’s plan for sex and marriage is breathtakingly beautiful. All of us, even those who remain single, must remember that the Church is the bride of Christ. Marriage and the gospel explain one another (Ephesians 5:29-32). We cannot allow unbelieving culture to corrupt our vision for Christ-centered weddings and homes. Both marriage and the gospel are at stake.
  6. Think deeply about true answers. Don’t stumble through life as an unconscious zombie. Too many in our day never think about life’s big questions: Where did we come from? Why are we here? Why do we love? Why is there pain? How can we know God? Don’t be a zombie! Insist on answers (1 Peter 3:15). Let’s welcome discussion about what we believe so that we can point others to our King.
  7. Be assured: the people of the Red Brick Church love you. Love didn’t evolve. Love wasn’t invented. Love is eternal because our triune God is eternally love: ever giving and self-giving. He loves us and tells us to love one another. And we do. We love you. When we get to the Heavenly City, we want to know you will be at our meeting spot: 5th tree, right side of the river, facing the throne. We will be there soon. In the mean time, I am a pastoral resource available to you!

In Him,

 

Pastor Chris Brauns

www.chrisbrauns.com , @chrisbrauns

*This is a working document so I am revising it over time. I have already revised point #5 after an excellent comment. More revisions are probably coming. Proverbs 27:17

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