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Matters of Glory and Trust - Bruce Atkinson

Matters of Glory and Trust

By Bruce Atkinson
Special to Virtueonline
www.virtueonline.org
January 27, 2014

A Jealous God

"You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God..." (Exodus 20:4-5)

Let me initially set forth a proper understanding of the word "jealous" as used in Exodus 20:5. English usage incorporates a couple of quite different meanings. Exodus 20:5 does not mean the sin of jealousy that Paul wrote about in Galatians 5:20. In modern parlance, by jealous we generally mean that we're envious of something that someone else has that we want, like money, power, popularity, or material things. This jealousy wants successful people to fail. Our common view of jealousy is actually the internal act of coveting (see the 10th Commandment).

Obviously, God's jealousy can be nothing like that, for the One who gave Moses the Commandments is without sin. Rather, God is righteously jealous when we give something that belongs to Him to someone else. Quite unlike envy, it is a reaction to having been violated by having something stolen from Him. As the Book of Hosea makes clear, the closest human parallel may be the situation in which a man finds out that another man is sexually pursuing his wife - and he has every right to be jealous. The husband is the only one with the right to be sexual with his wife. Thus, when the world, the flesh, and/or the devil flirt with the Bride of Christ and she becomes attracted and takes up with them, God becomes jealous and even angry. He is not exactly happy with His Bride's fickleness and shallow faith.

Ancient people, including the Hebrews, made images and idols to bow down to and worship. However, worship, praise and adoration belong only to God because only God is worthy of it. So, God is rightly jealous when we put anything before Him. Anything that can become more important than God in our lives is a potential idol.

Paul, in writing to the Corinthian church, shows a similar kind of righteous jealousy for the new converts. He exhorts: "I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent's cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough." (2 Corinthians 11:2-4)

Glory

"God's glory is not at all like a narcissistic, ego-centered man desiring glory- because such a man does not really deserve glory. Only God is worthy of real glory; it is built into His nature. C. H. Spurgeon said it well: "God's glory is the result of his nature and acts. He is glorious in his character, for there is such a store of everything that is holy, and good, and lovely in God, that He must be glorious. The actions which flow from His character, the deeds which are the outgoings of His inner nature, these are glorious too; and the Lord is very careful that all flesh should see Him as He is, that He is a good, and gracious, and just God; and He is mindful, too, that His great and mighty acts should not give glory to others, but only to Himself." (from God is Jealous for His Glory)

The Apostle Paul was certainly jealous for God's glory. We read in many of Paul's letters a strong emphasis on God's grace over and above man's works. Even our faith is something that God's grace provides and therefore only He deserves the credit. According to Paul, we have nothing to boast about. When we do boast, we are stealing glory from God. "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-not by works, so that no one can boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9) Quoting Jeremiah 9:24, Paul also wrote "Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord." (2 Corinthians 10:17; as for boasting, also see Rom 3:27; 1 Cor 1:29-31, 3:21, 4:17, 5:6, 9:15, 13:4; and Gal 6:14)

Only Branches

In John 15 (the vine and the branches) Jesus taught that we "branches" can do nothing of lasting worth on our own and that we can only bear fruit to the extent that we "abide in the true vine", that is, to the extent that we remain in Christ and His words remain in us. Note that Jesus did not say that the true vine was the Church. As sinful and weak human beings, we are to remain humble. Therefore, even the Church should never usurp either the glory or the authority that is rightfully found only in the Person of Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, Savior, King of kings and Lord of lords (cf. Colossians 1).

Now, in taking this truth to a more modern and subtle level, we can observe that one of the emphases of the Reformers was just this jealousy for God's glory. The Reformers protested anything that elevated human beings (other than Jesus) and they protested the incursion of any hints of salvation-by-works in the Church. Nothing that we do can ever compare with what God does in His glorious graciousness and spiritual power. And with abundant evidence, God the Father was clear about His intent to glorify His Son, which was also one purpose for sending His Holy Spirit to us (John 16:14).

More than ever before, an important reason why I am solidly Reformed in my theological orientation is because I too am jealous for the glory of the Lord (sola gloria). There are many ways to steal glory from Him, some large and others small, some deliberate and others unconscious. I have previously written about the essential idolatry, "the god of me," as the primary way human beings do this: http://www.virtueonline.org/portal/modules/news/article.php?storyid=18147#.Utv2VRAo7IU

Judging from a few criticisms of my recent articles--where I seek to reduce to a proper level the glory and authority self-adopted by the early church--- some will say that I go too far. I don't think so. Recall the one instance where the usually peaceable Jesus became really angry and even a bit violent when He felt it necessary to defend the glory and holiness of God as represented by the temple in Jerusalem. The Jews had profaned the house of prayer with unrighteous commerce. Surely the Lord felt the same way later about the Roman church selling indulgences and even now about whatever things detract from the glory of God and His authority over the Church.

Contrary to the many admonitions for humility (e.g., Philippians 2), there were a number of ways in which the early church indulged itself toward the glorification of its leaders by developing its own authority and power over the people. Due to threats from certain quarters, early leaders such as Irenaeus and Cyprian came up with the quite logical idea of a direct and unbroken line of succession from the Apostles in order to create proofs of legitimacy for themselves and later church leaders. Over the centuries, this tradition of Apostolic Succession empowered and officially legitimized church leaders such that they were able to create a separate ruling clergy class (even though Jesus was clearly against this as revealed in Mark 10:42-45, Matthew 23:1-15, and Luke 17:20-21). The earthly power of the episcopate obviously went to their heads. They assumed that they could decide such things as sainthood. They made their Roman leader (Pope) a religious emperor who could make official pronouncements that were infallible. Many even promoted prayer to Mary, saints, and angels- even though the gospel is clear that Jesus broke down all barriers to the Father so that we can all "come boldly to the throne of grace." We ought not give this glorious mediational role to any other, for by right it only belongs to the Lord Jesus.

Lest I wrongly appear unappreciative, I must also emphasize that I am grateful to God for the true Christian believers who came before me because they paved the way for me to hear God's Word. We need human beings to preach and pass on the gospel (Romans 10:14). Bishops and other teachers and preachers in the Church have a difficult job; they are also mandated to a higher level of morality and theological correctness than the rest of us (Luke 12:48; James 3:1; Titus 1:7-9, 2:1, 7-8; 2 Tim 1:13, 2:15). There are dire consequences for teaching error, preaching another gospel, or false prophecy (Deut. 18:20-22, Gal 1:6-9, 2 Peter 2, Matt 7:15-23, etc.). Those who are truly called to these positions need our support, but they also need to be called to account when they err.

I am thankful to God for my brethren in the early church but I will not idolize them because they were spiritually powerless without the Lord Jesus Christ, without the providence of the Father and without the guidance of His Holy Spirit. Had they not believed, God would have raised up others to do so. Similarly, at this very moment God is raising up people to preach and teach the gospel. It is all His doing. We only serve Him through His grace and power. I am convinced that famous preachers, bishops, and theologians don't deserve any special honor and privilege; at least not yet, because we don't know what God knows. Only the Lord has the right to say who is His and who deserves special honors, and this particular revelation awaits the final judgment. The rest of us are premature to attempt to judge such things.

In the meantime, I give God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) the entire credit and glory for the fact that I have been provided the saving Gospel and that by His grace He made it possible for me to hear it and understand it enough to be born again. I will not apologize for the fact that I don't give much credit to any human being other than Jesus. My conscience refuses to divinize the saints of old or Mary or any established church or even my loving mother, because they could have done nothing (and I mean nothing) without the gifts of God - the words and acts of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit. "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights" (James 1:17a, NIV); these gifts originate from nowhere else.

I don't think that the saints of old (this "great cloud of witnesses") mind in the least that I am jealous for the glory of the Lord. As I have shared before, I believe that IF the early church fathers showed up right now and were weighing in on our discussions about the Church, they would have a consensus in saying: "Give all glory to the Word of God, both to Jesus and to the scriptures where we find His words inscribed for all time, and pay little heed to us. Preach Christ crucified, evangelize the world, and love each other as Christ loves you. We early believers were only servants of Christ at that particular time, no better and no worse than all of you. Do not honor us to the point of subtracting glory from our Lord."

Who to trust?

It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in humans.
It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes.
- Psalms 118:8-9 (NIV)

As I was meditating on this issue, a particular NT event came to mind: the Transfiguration of Jesus (Matthew 17:1-9). The Father honored Moses and Elijah by having them show up and talk with Jesus... but note carefully what God said when Peter wanted to honor them overmuch by building shelters for each of them, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to HIM." Purposefully God said nothing about Moses and Elijah. The point was clear. Extending this point, we can say that Christianity is all about Jesus Christ, and we can read and value what came before as well as what came after His Incarnation, but we must beware of elevating anyone too highly. We should hear their words, not as having authority, but with caution and a "grain of salt," the same as I do when listening to my bishop's sermon or anything written by the Reformers or more recent theologians. I know that Jesus personally chose and gave authority to the Apostles, but no one can prove that anyone else has such authority.

Because we know that leaders in the established church (even bishops and archbishops in the "apostolic succession") have gone astray with significant frequency, we cannot ascribe authority to any of their innovations. Rather, we take everything to the touchstone of true Apostolic authority-the NT scriptures- and we examine the various interpretations over time with care and prayerful discernment.

I have been asked, who am I to think that I can understand and interpret the words of Scripture better than anyone else? I answer: "Not necessarily better but not necessarily worse." Who were Ignatius and Clement? None of us, including these early leaders, can be regarded as Apostles or as having that kind of authority. You and I too can "hear" the actual words of the Apostles, and better, we can hear the words of Jesus Himself, probably more clearly and extensively than could the early church fathers because they did not yet have all the manuscripts available, nor did they have scholarly translations in their native languages. Additionally, they did not have the 2000-plus years of inspired commentary by other church leaders that we have available today.

Fortunately, I am not accountable to any of these leaders, whether early or recent. The only person to whom I am truly accountable is the Lord Jesus Christ, and fortunately, He is the One who leads me to believe what I believe. He knows that I have submitted and committed my entire self into His hands. By His words and Holy Spirit, "He leadeth me, He leadeth me." I am not naïve about the reality that every individual makes private interpretations of the scriptures and makes choices regarding which traditions and which church leaders to trust. We all "pick and choose" and make choices according to what seems right to us. We cannot help it. Regardless of our limited knowledge, we still must do the choosing regarding which church leaders to follow, whether they are early Catholic "divines" or Reformation leaders or our favorite theologian of the moment. The bottom line: We are each of us accountable to God for our choices regarding who we trust and follow. God knows our inmost motives and our true (and often unconscious) reasons far better than we do ourselves. Humility is always appropriate.

So while we should carefully examine the teachings of past "traditional" Church leaders, as well as the more recent words of today's respected Christian leaders, and while we should always compare them with the scriptures themselves, in the end, we must submit all to the Lord for His judgment and correction. "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight." (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Conclusion

We believers have a mandate to follow the gospel imperative. As the Father made clear in Jesus' baptism in the Jordan and also at the Transfiguration and Resurrection, we should trust the Lord Jesus Christ and give Him ALL the glory. No glory is to go to others and certainly not to self. If the Lord wants to give credit or glory to any of us, that will be His prerogative at the Eschaton. In the meantime I will glory only in the crucified, resurrected, and ascended Christ and I will trust only in the authority of His Word.

I love the Gloria in Excelsis which was presented in English in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and which has been used continuously since that time. Instead of in the rote monotone that I heard growing up, I prefer it to be chanted (and sung) with more enthusiasm. I quote most of it here:

Glory be to God on high
And in earth peace, goodwill towards men; We praise thee, we bless thee,
we worship thee, we glorify thee,
we give thanks to thee for thy great glory
O Lord God, heavenly King,
God the Father Almighty.

O Lord, the only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ,
O Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father,
that takest away the sins of the world,
have mercy upon us...
For thou only art holy;
thou only art the Lord;
thou only, O Christ,
with the Holy Ghost,
art most high
in the glory of God the Father.

Amen.

Dr. Atkinson is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary with a doctorate in clinical psychology and an M.A. in theology. He is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Atlanta and also works as a clinical supervisor training Christian counselors for Richmont Graduate University. He is a founding member of Trinity Anglican Church (ACNA) in Douglasville, Georgia

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