Thursday, August 21, 2014

"City of God" XVII.12-13

Chapter 12:
More exposition of how the blessings and the promises made to Israel and David point to Christ.

Chapter 13:
These promises are not completely fulfilled in Solomon, though they are in part expressed there.

[I skim over the summary of these sections not because what Augustine is saying isn't true, but because 1) there is better exposition of any one of these specific texts available; and 2) what I find interesting is not the specific proof-texts he offers, but rather the overall point of this section that Augustine is making, which we'll get in later sections.]

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

"City of God" XVII.9-11

Chapter 9-11:
Again, much of the OT Psalmady and Prophesy may be understood to be ultimately about Christ and the City of God, though not at the cost of actual historical application to the immediate setting of ancient Israel as well.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

"City of God" XVII.8

Chapter 8:
Even the promises to David, which have some historical fulfillment in Solomon, are best interpreted as pointing ultimately to Christ and His Kingdom, which is the only one that will truly last forever.

Monday, August 18, 2014

"City of God" XVII.6-7

Chapter 6:
How can we be certain about God's promises to us, when they seem to have failed concerning Saul and the Jewish Priesthood, both of which failed? Augustine points out that these promises were not to the specific people and institutions immediately concerned. Saul could not have expected to live forever as King, and the priestly line would not last. Instead, we need to understand that these promises are made to the spiritual City of God, while still having some immediate historical application.

Chapter 7:
When God takes the kingdom of Israel from Saul, for example, we should understand that He is divided Spiritual Israel from earthly Israel, just as He divides the City of God from the city of man.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

What should the church do with "married' homosexual converts?

So with all the discussion about homosexuality and the changing political climate (or not) concerning gay marriage, there are a couple of questions that churches are going to have to face which I have yet to see be addressed. (I do not read all of the Internet, so kindly link to anything I've missed in the comments.) I do not claim to have answers to these questions, though I will point out a few considerations it might be helpful to keep in mind. The big thing here is to clearly articulate the questions so that those wiser than me can provide answers.

And I'll go ahead and say right now that if you are reading this blog and are not a Christian, this post is not really for you. I'm asking in-house questions about church membership. I have no intention of working through the theological, historical, or ethical questions concerning homosexuality.


The Questions to be Asked

Given that several states have now legalized gay marriage, within the next decade Christian churches are going to have to deal with some of the implications of these new laws and this new historical circumstance. Specifically, we're going to see homosexuals who have taken advantage of these new laws convert to the faith and want to join the church.

So, three questions that should be raised as a result:
  1. When one homosexual currently in a civil marriage converts, should he (or she, I suppose) be required to get a civil divorce before he can join the church?
  2. When a homosexual married couple convert together, are they required to get a divorce before they can join the church?
  3. Given that these couples may have children, how does that factor in?
At the risk of over-populating this post with numbered lists, you'll notice that there are a number of assumptions I'm making here. Each of them could receive its own post (heck, its own book). Specifically, I'm assuming that:
  1. Christians--truly converted Christians, not just those who are culturally Christian--should want to join a church. 
  2. A faithful Christian church will not allow for gay marriage, or even recognize such a things as "marriage" in the first place. Instead, it will hold to the Biblical view of marriage as being between one man and one woman. 
  3. Christians are generally against divorce and in favor of traditional marriage.
Given these assumptions, what are we supposed to do in response to the above-mentioned questions?

Yet another caveat: in this particular post, I am only interested in the institutional side of the question. There are certainly additional moral and personal considerations to be discussed that may come into play--to say nothing of the whole question of homosexual 'marriage' as a political and religious issue to begin with. But here I'm more concerned with the practical side that the church has to face. Churches need to have some kind of set rules and guidelines about what to do in such a circumstance, because this will be an issue. 

So what are we to do?

A Few Things to Consider

Again, none of these answer the questions, but I think they might be helpful to point out:

  1. Should the trend continue as it has, we will all eventually know at least one homosexual 'married' couple. Which means that our churches need to be working towards equipping us as members to navigate these relationships in a Godly way. Not being involved in this issue is very quickly becoming impossible. 
  2. The fact that our local church may not have yet made a decision about homosexual "married" converts in no way lessens our responsibility to be good friends and to share the Gospel with homosexual individuals, whether they are married or not. 
  3. Saying "we don't recognize what the state has done as a marriage in the first place, so they might as well get a civil divorce" is a problematic position, to say the least. It may be the best possible one, but it is one which churches should engage only after a good deal of thought.
    After all, Christians have traditionally recognized marriages conducted by the state. This is because marriage is a gift given to the whole world, not a gift like baptism or communion that is unique to believers. We rejoice both when non-Christians enjoy this blessing and when the state recognizes marriage as the positive good that it is.  However quickly the government is changing its position, we should not be equally quick to withdraw our support from the good that the state does in this area of life. Even after the establishment of homosexual marriage, we still need to recognize marriages between a man and a woman conducted by the state as legitimate marriages established by a legitimate authority. We want to be careful not to denigrate this authority when it is properly exercised, even if it is equally improperly exercised in other ways. 
  4. And of course, we certainly don't want to contribute to the divorce culture that is already so pervasive. Being cavalier in telling Christians to pursue divorce, even if it is an attempt to escape a sinful parody of marriage, is unwise. (There are, after all, certainly plenty of sinful parodies of Godly marriage among heterosexuals as well--among Christians and non-Christians alike.)
  5. Answering the questions listed above will only be the beginning, but it will lay the foundation for answering future questions that spring from this issue. As just two examples:
         a) If these new Christians want to get (re?)married in the church, what then?
         b) Can these new Christians someday be elders?
    The tone and thoughtfulness of our answers to the first questions will set the pace for future discussion, and so we need to be especially careful, thoughtful, and above all faithful to Scripture. 
  6. These are difficult challenges for us now, but in the grand scheme of church history this is pretty tame stuff. We need to be sure that we don't develop a "woe is me" mentality about this particular issue. At this point, we are not facing persecution; we are not being ordered to sin; and beyond some name calling we are not facing any true pressure from the culture at all. That may change, but it's not where we are now. 
All of this to say that the church is facing a challenge created by the culture which it needs to deal with sooner rather than later. As of now we have some time and space to think through this carefully, and we should take full advantage of that fact. If we put it off, we'll find ourselves scrambling to patch things together at the last minute. However much my professional work may flourish under conditions of last-minute panic, that's not a terribly wise or Godly way to run a church. 

So those of you out there who know more about this than I do, get to it!

Friday, August 15, 2014

"City of God" XVII.5

Chapter 5:
And again, we see the words spoken to Eli the high priest are prophesy about Samuel, but they are also pointing to Christ and His role as prophet.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

"City of God" XVII.4

Chapter 4:
As an example of everything Augustine has been saying about how promises in the OT apply to Christians, he notes Hannah's prayer, which is both for herself and an expression of her time, and an articulation of the relationship between Christ and the church that would be. Line-by-line Augustine shows how each thing she says foreshadows Christ and is demonstrably fulfilled in His person and work.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

"City of God" XVII.1-3

Chapter 1-3:
From the promise to Abraham, the children of Israel entered Canaan under Joshua's leadership and set up a monarchy under Saul and David. Augustine says that these historical narratives in Scripture could be the work of many, many volumes to exposit, but in general we need to understand that the promises and prophecies in the Old Testament are of three kinds:

  1. Those made to Israel and the Jewish people;
  2. Those made to Christians and the church;
  3. Those made to both.
We may have some other kind of allegorical interpretation other than Augustine's, and he's fine with that so long as we do not slight the historical reality of the narrative.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

"City of God" XVI.43

Chapter 43:
Having spent much of the book on the first part of Genesis, Augustine now skims from the Egyptian captivity down to the Kingship of Saul (the next book picks up with David). All of this history, he suggests, is a picture of the life of the believer, which begins with the infancy, when we learn words, passes through childhood (when we are disciplined), and into fullness of adulthood. We also see the coming of the Law and the awareness of sin, though Augustine does not here go into detail.

Monday, August 11, 2014

"City of God" XVI.40-42

Chapter 40:
Augustine works through some textual difficulties concerning Jacob's emigration to Egypt and the number of descendants Scripture attributes to him.

Chapter 41:
The promises that Jacob makes to his children are all, again, fulfilled in Christ. (And again, Augustine has to reach a bit with his allegorical method, yet I don't know that I'd disagree with any of his specific conclusions.)

Chapter 42:
Just as with Jacob and Esau, so with Joseph's children we see the blessing being conflated, and the one the world would think would be blessed not being blessed (well, not exactly), and the one the world would think would receive the lesser receives the greater blessing. In the same way, the City of God appears to be of lesser value than the city of man--where, after all, are our cities and castles and empires? Yet in reality, the City of God is that which receives the blessing of the first born.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

"City of God" XVI.38-39

Chapter 38:
The history of the City of God through the life and marriage of Jacob, who was separated out from Esau and by whom the City of God grew through four wives, though not through sin. Rather, each was through a promise, just as we grow through God's promise to us.

Chapter 39:
Jacob's renaming and wrestling with God is a type of Christ, who voluntarily let the Jews overcome Him that we might be renamed and brought into the City of God.

Friday, August 8, 2014

"City of God" XVI.36-37

Chapter 36:
Yet again, we learn allegorically from the actions of the patriarchs. Specifically here, we learn from Isaac--even from his mistakes--about marriage and contentment:
We may also learn this, not to compare men by single good things, but to consider everything in each; for it may happen that one man has something in his life and character in which he excels another, and it may be far more excellent than that in which the other excels him.  And thus, according to sound and true judgment, while continence is preferable to marriage, yet a believing married man is better than a continent unbeliever; for the unbeliever is not only less praiseworthy, but is even highly detestable.  We must conclude, then, that both are good; yet so as to hold that the married man who is most faithful and most obedient is certainly better than the continent man whose faith and obedience are less.  But if equal in other things, who would hesitate to prefer the continent man to the married?
It is interesting to see how the Christian view of marriage has shifted, mostly thanks to the Reformation. It used to be assumed that the truly holy path was to remain single and serve God in chastity (though not so much in isolation--hermeticism was never really endorsed).  Today, we assume the better path is that of family life, and that the way to best serve is in the home. I can see merits to each side, though I might have a slight preference for the latter.

Chapter 37:
In Jacob and Esau, we see how God chooses the lesser over the greater and the younger over the older, despite the world's contrary expectation.
We also see here an example of the limitations of Augustine's hermeneutic:
 But what is the blessing itself?  “See,” he says, “the smell of my son is as the smell of a full field which the Lord hath blessed:  therefore God give thee of the dew of heaven, and of the fruitfulness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine:  let nations serve thee, and princes adore thee:  and be lord of thy brethren, and let thy father’s sons adore thee:  cursed be he that curseth thee, and blessed be he that blesseth thee.” The blessing of Jacob is therefore a proclamation of Christ to all nations.  It is this which has come to pass, and is now being fulfilled.  Isaac is the law and the prophecy:  even by the mouth of the Jews Christ is blessed by prophecy as by one who knows not, because it is itself not understood.  The world like a field is filled with the odor of Christ’s name:  His is the blessing of the dew of heaven, that is, of the showers of divine words; and of the fruitfulness of the earth, that is, of the gathering together of the peoples:  His is the plenty of corn and wine, that is, the multitude that gathers bread and wine in the sacrament of His body and blood.  Him the nations serve, Him princes adore.  He is the Lord of His brethren, because His people rules over the Jews.  Him His Father’s sons adore, that is, the sons of Abraham according to faith; for He Himself is the son of Abraham according to the flesh.  He is cursed that curseth Him, and he that blesseth Him is blessed.  Christ, I say, who is ours is blessed, that is, truly spoken of out of the mouths of the Jews, when, although erring, they yet sing the law and the prophets, and think they are blessing another for whom they erringly hope.
While everything Augustine says here is true, I think it's a stretch to interpret it quite this way. The blessing of Jacob as a type to all nations is probably true and a good read, but "Isaac is the law and prophesy" is starting to stretch it a bit much. And when we get to "His is the blessing of the dew of heaven", well, I think Augustine might have overreached a bit.
Still, by and large an excellent section!
 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

"City of God" XVI.33-35

Chapter 33-35:
Even in small events, like Isaac's marriage, Abraham's re-marriage, and Isaac's twin children (still in the womb), we see God teaching us truths (allegorically) about Himself and the heavenly city.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

"City of God" XVI.31-32

Chapter 31:
Even in Isaac's naming (though I think I disagree with Augustine that Sarah laughed out of joy rather than scorn), we see a type of the difference between the City of God, born in joy, and the city of man, born in sin by nature.

Chapter 32:
In telling Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, God showed Abraham the true depth of his faith and the nature of his own obedience. For, as Augustine notes, the way we most learn about ourselves is when we see how we act under pressure and temptation. Abraham passed the test, and was rewarded for his obedience.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

"City of God" XVI.28-30

Chapter 28:
Whatever Augustine's questionable understanding of human biology and aging, he clearly understands the point of changing Abraham's name: to foreshadow the blessing that would come through Christ.

Chapter 29:
When the angels came to Abraham and Lot (promising blessing and judgement respectively), they both recognized the hand (and possibly even the person) of God in the visit.

Chapter 30:
In Lot's escape and Abraham's sin (lying to the king about Sarah), we see a warning for believers. A delicious warning:
For what is meant by the angels forbidding those who were delivered to look back, but that we are not to look back in heart to the old life which, being regenerated through grace, we have put off, if we think to escape the last judgment?  Lot’s wife, indeed, when she looked back, remained, and, being turned into salt, furnished to believing men a condiment by which to savor somewhat the warning to be drawn from that example.