The Nicene Creed was modified by the Latin Church, adding the word “Filioque” (i.e. and the Son). The Western Church wanted to be clear regarding the third person of the Trinity and His spiration. The Eastern Church, however, never accepted the term, and to this day continues to use the original form of the Nicene Creed. Thus, the controversy of the Spirit's procession
The Latin Church added the term because they thought it best represented the teaching of Scripture: The Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son.
The difference between the Western and Eastern Churches' understanding may be depicted like this:
You may ask, “What’s the big deal?” The difference is significant. The Eastern and Western churches have developed quite differently over the last 1000 years.
Before we get into more pragmatics, let’s examine the dynamics of filioque. The question comes down to this: How does one relate to the Father? In the Eastern church one is said to have communion with the Father by means of the Spirit only. In the Western church one relates to the Father by means of the Spirit and the Son. On the one hand, you have almost a direct access to the mind of God the Father. The Spirit brings it straight to you. One the other hand, the knowledge you may gain from the Spirit about God the Father includes the Incarnate Son (thus, this knowledge is mediated by means of what the Son reveals about the Father).
In sum, the Western Church will have both an incarnational aspect to it and it will be greatly influenced by the Word of Christ. In the Eastern Church, one does not necessarily have an incarnational aspect and may not need any relation to the Son to gain knowledge of God. For the Eastern Church then, the focus then tends to be on a mystical experience of God.
1. We can see some of the practical outworking of this through the writings of various people associated with the Eastern Orthodox Church (EOC). One Eastern writer sums up the Greek Church’s views well this way, “The premise of all mysticism is that experiential knowledge of God takes preference over doctrinal understanding of the character and being of God because of the transcendent nature of God.” (Italics added for emphasis).
Another Eastern writer says, “None of the mysteries of the most secret wisdom of God ought to appear alien or altogether transcendent to us, but in all humility we must apply our spirit to the contemplation of divine things.”
One more quote ought to suffice. This one from a contemporary youth who converted from Protestantism to the EOC, “This is how we worship, to stay concentrated in prayer. We believe that, during the service, God pours himself out. If you get quiet enough in your mind, you can feel, palpably, his presence.”
One can see how this radically differs from Western Christianity, especially Reformed Western Christianity. In the West we know God through the Bible alone and we admit that there are some things God has not chosen to reveal. Thus, for the West, “The secret things belong to the Lord” and we try not to pry curiously into them.
In the East, there are no secret things. All God's truth, even that which is not revealed in Scripture, is fair game because the Spirit grants us free and unhindered access to it.
To put it another way, in the West, we “experience God” by the Spirit’s illuminating our minds to the teaching of Christ in His word. In the East, one experiences God without this word and almost directly (save the mediation of the Spirit).
You might say that some of the Eastern Orthodox mysticism is parallel to some of the Pentecostal and charismatic churches today in that it seeks to have a definite, physical experience of God and gain knowledge of God without the Son. The Pentecostal inclination to seek mystical experiences of God apart from the Son and the truth He gives centers isan implicit denial of the filioque. Though Pentecostals might not openly reject the filioque clause, in practice they do.
2. Another practical expression of the filioque is highlighted by Bojidar Marinov. Marinov says that the Eastern countries do not have an adequate understanding of the “rule of law” as the western countries do. This is because their religious experience was framed by the Spirit’s direct interaction with the Father and had no incarnational aspect. Western Churches have fought tyranny because the word of Christ dealt with our physical, everyday life and not just our spiritual relationship with God. The law of God (i.e. the Bible) impacts both our relation to the world as well as our relation to God.
Eastern churches did not see this incarnational aspect. God only spoke (so it is said) to our spiritual lives. When it came to normal, everyday life another source of truth was needed. It became the state. Government leaders were the ones who gave law to direct the affairs of this world. So man was to be governed by two laws: one which was spiritual (life with the Father, mediated by the Spirit), and one which was physical/temporal (life on earth, mediated by bureaucrat).
3. Another expression of the practical implications of denying the filioque may be seen in the EOC’s focus on deification. The EOC says that the goal of human redemption is to be so united with God that one actually becomes divine.
For many Church Fathers, theosis [i.e. deification] goes beyond simply restoring people to their state before the Fall of Adam and Eve, teaching that because Christ united the human and divine natures in Jesus' person, it is now possible for someone to experience closer fellowship with God than Adam and Eve initially experienced in the Garden of Eden, and that people can become more like God than Adam and Eve were at that time. Some Orthodox theologians go so far as to say that Jesus would have become incarnate for this reason alone, even if Adam and Eve had never sinned.
In Western theology this is repudiated. The goal of Western theology is justification and being made right with God. This occurs through the atonement and the imputation of Christ's righteousness to us by the Spirit's application. In Eastern theology, there is essentially no need for atonement because union with the Father is not dependent upon the Son's activity.
Something of this is seen in the liberalism of the West. Liberalism says that God can be known apart from Christ, that there are “many roads to God,” and that all people will be saved (universalism). Such views say that the Spirit lives in us all and allows us to know God apart from Christ and the preaching of His word.
The phrase [filioque] in the creed can lead to a possible misunderstanding. It can threaten our understanding of the Spirit’s universality. It might suggest to the worshiper that Spirit is not the gift of the Father to creation universally but a gift confined to the sphere of the Son and even the sphere of the church. It could give the impression that the Spirit is not present in the whole world but limited to Christian territories. Though it need not, the filioque might threaten the principle of universality- the truth that the Spirit is universally present, implementing the universal salvific will of Father and Son. One could say that the filioque promotes Christomonism. -Clark Pinnock, Flame of Love, p. 196. (Underlining added for emphasis)
Pinnock's description is a clear renunciation of the fact that the Spirit is bound to “reveal the Son.” Instead, the Spirit is “universal” and “threatens…the universal salvific will of Father and Son.” In other words, Pinnock says that the way to God does not depend on the Spirit working in and through the word of God (which is the message of the Son, Rom. 10). Rather salvation is the working of the Spirit alone apart from God the Son & His word.
All this radically denies the Bible's plain teaching on the exclusivity of Christ for salvation.
 Understanding this is difficult. To say the least, it is not an ontological merge, where you become one with God physically. However, you are increasingly becoming god-like. The goal is not to become like Adam and Eve, as they were in the garden. But to become more than Adam & Eve were to the point where you are made divine.
Yesterday in my class at the prison we began discussing the eighth commandment (Thou shalt not steal). The men there were greatly intrigued by the thought that God's word lays down a perfect system of economics and provides the means for for wealth and prosperity.
The teaching and discussion that ensued was so good that they asked if we could continue to studying the subject next week. I thought that I would post my notes, which are based on the Westminster Larger Catechism, just in case others might benefit from them.
Unfortunately, these notes are not as complete as I'd like them to be. A good deal of my teaching and illustrating was "ad lib." (Here is a printable version)
Question 140: Which is the eighth commandment?
The eighth commandment is, Thou shalt not steal.
Question 141: What are the duties required in the eighth commandment?
Answer: The duties required in the eighth commandment are, truth, faithfulness, and justice in contracts and commerce between man and man; rendering to everyone his due; restitution of goods unlawfully detained from the right owners thereof; giving and lending freely, according to our abilities, and the necessities of others; moderation of our judgments, wills, and affections concerning worldly goods; a provident care and study to get, keep, use, and dispose these things which are necessary and convenient for the sustentation of our nature, and suitable to our condition; a lawful calling, and diligence in it; frugality; avoiding unnecessary lawsuits and suretyship, or other like engagements; and an endeavor, by all just and lawful means, to procure, preserve, and further the wealth and outward estate of others, as well as our own.
Question 141: What are the duties required in the eighth commandment?
The duties required in the eighth commandment are...
truth, faithfulness, and justice in contracts and commerce between man and man;
rendering to everyone his due;
restitution of goods unlawfully detained from the right owners thereof;
giving and lending freely, according to our abilities, and the necessities of others;
moderation of our judgments, wills, and affections concerning worldly goods;
a provident care and study to get, keep, use, and dispose these things which are necessary and convenient for the sustentation of our nature, and suitable to our condition;
a lawful calling, and diligence in it;
avoiding unnecessary lawsuits and suretyship, or other like engagements;
and an endeavor, by all just and lawful means, to procure, preserve, and further the wealth and outward estate of others, as well as our own. Lev. 25:35, Phil 2:4; Deut 22:1-4
Question 142: What are the sins forbidden in the eighth commandment?
Answer: The sins forbidden in the eighth commandment, besides the neglect of the duties required, are, theft, robbery, man-stealing, and receiving anything that is stolen; fraudulent dealing, false weights and measures, removing land marks, injustice and unfaithfulness in contracts between man and man, or in matters of trust; oppression, extortion, usury, bribery, vexatious lawsuits, unjust enclosures and depopulations; engrossing commodities to enhance the price; unlawful callings, and all other unjust or sinful ways of taking or withholding from our neighbor: What belongs to him, or of enriching ourselves; covetousness; inordinate prizing and affecting worldly goods; distrustful and distracting cares and studies in getting, keeping, and using them; envying at the prosperity of others; as likewise idleness, prodigality, wasteful gaming; and all other ways whereby we do unduly prejudice our own outward estate, and defrauding ourselves of the due use and comfort of that estate which God has given us.
Question 142: What are the sins forbidden in the eighth commandment?
The sins forbidden in the eighth commandment, besides the neglect of the duties required, are...
theft, robbery, man-stealing, and receiving anything that is stolen;
false weights and measures,
removing land marks,
injustice and unfaithfulness in contracts between man and man, or in matters of trust; oppression, extortion, usury, bribery, vexatious lawsuits,
Unjust enclosures and depopulations;
engrossing commodities to enhance the price;
unlawful callings, and all other unjust or sinful ways of taking or withholding from our neighbor: What belongs to him, or of enriching ourselves; covetousness; inordinate prizing and affecting worldly goods; distrustful and distracting cares and studies in getting, keeping, and using them;
envying at the prosperity of others;
as likewise idleness, prodigality, wasteful gaming;
3. Examples of "wasteful gaming": Slot machines, raffles, lotteries, games of chance, sporting pools, card games. (Discuss: What do you think is the difference between these and a pop machine?)
and all other ways whereby we do unduly prejudice our own outward estate, and defrauding ourselves of the due use and comfort of that estate which God has given us.
Salvation would not be effected without Christ’s having come down to earth and enduring all the indignities that he did. This abasement is typically expressed as his humiliation. The Apostle’s Creed summarizes it as his being conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, sufferings under Pontius Pilate; crucifixion, death, burial and descent into hell. Let us look at each of these briefly.
Holy Conception & Birth
Of course, the conception and birth of Christ seeks to emphasize that Christ really did have a human nature. From Mary he received actual DNA and the composition of humanity.
On the other side, the miraculous nature of his birth expresses the divinity and distinction of the Christ. In being conceived by the Spirit, without the means of a human father, he diverts the normal process of sinful generation. He becomes a second Adam, who has no corruption.
Yet, we must not miss the ignominy that is associated with this.
1. He was born in a low condition: This is to recognize that Christ’s taking flesh was a radical break with his former state of being. In heaven he had a “high” condition, in that he was comforted with its peace and prosperity, enjoyed the servitude of angels, was shrowded with infinite glory and had perfect rule and dominion of all. In his birth he shunned these, preferring instead to be in a helpless state (as all babies are) and without any nobility.
His lowly state was also expressed in his life-long state of poverty. It was one thing to take a state of humanity (to be born in the form of a worm), but the state of that humanity was the lowliest of its kind. His parents had to offer the offering of the poor (Christ’s escape to Egypt was likely funded by the gifts from the Maji). He himself during his ministry had no where to lay his head. He had no tomb of his own, and even the few clothes he had were taken from him.
2. He was made under the law: This was a humiliating act because he himself was not by nature under it. As the Soveriegn Lord and Lawgiver he was above the law and not subject to it. He could make and change the laws as he chose (so to speak). His coming to earth in human form meant that he must now submit to the earthly governors. In sum, the King of kings and Lord of lords became the subject of kings and lords.
3. He faced the indignities of the world: When you bring a girl home to meet your parents, you want your siblings to be on their best behavior, and you try your best to keep her from meeting crazy Uncle Bob, who is renown for his crude jokes, lack of manners, and disgusting bodily noises. What you are trying to do is save her from having to face the indignities of your family.
Christ faced the indignities of this world in that he was surrounded by profane people and all the disgrace that is entailed with that.
4. He was challenged by Satan & his temptations: In the book of Job we read that Satan had to get permission from the Lord to do anything. He was no threat to the Lord. In his humiliation he was made liable to Satan’s attacks and experienced the full enticement of those temptations. The NT does not describe how horrible it must have been for Christ to experience this. Yet we cannot underestimate how horrendous this experience must have been.
5. He suffered the associated pains of earthly life: Christ had new sensations that were not becoming of his divine nature: hunger, fatigue, thirst. Physical pain was more than simply a cruel sensation (He deserved to be treated well and nobly pampered. He also experienced emotional pains associated with slander, repudiation, looming execution, etc.
Suffered under Pilate
As with his holy conception and birth the creed’s statement of his suffering under Pontius Pilate is synecdoche. It represents all his earthly sufferings that lead up to his death and that for which we may call him the “Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief”. These include…
1. His being betrayed by Judas and forsaken of his disicples: Christ, in his humanity, had friends. Close friends at that. They were his confidants and the ones with whom he experienced camaraderie. We must not think that Christ had a stoic attitude towards his earthly associates. He loved them, laughed with them, and bonded with them as any mortal would. We likely have experienced a friend forsaking us or turning his back on us. Christ experienced this on a grand scale.
2. He was scorned & rejected by the world: He came to his own, but his own did not receive him. We often see Christ in conflict with the Religious leaders. We must not think that his rebukes were out of anger only. They were no doubt accompanied with tears. To be run out of towns and ridiculed by throngs would have no doubt multiplied his grief.
3. He was condemned by Pilate: To have a sentence passed against you is distressing. But it is different if you are innocent. Since Pilate knew that Christ was innocent (and even sought to persuade the audience and be something of an advocate for Christ’s release), it would have been even more troubling.
4. He was tormented by his persecutors: This should be obvious enough. Let us not forget though that Christ suffered numerous beatings, perhaps 4 altogether (one the hand of the Jews, one at the hand of Pilate, one at the hand of Herod, one at the hand of the crowds as he was led to Galgotha—it was their custom to “get their digs” as they were being led to the place of execution).
5. He conflicted with the terrors of death: Besides suffering the brutality of men, he experienced the mental anguish over his impending execution in the Garden of Gethsemene. This was of such an extreme degree that his pores began to seep blood (in other words, his capalaries were under such stress that they broke and released blood).
Was Crucified, dead, and buried.
It is not the intent now to detail the humiliating depths of crucifixion. It is enough for our purposes to say that it was a painful and shameful way to die. The Creed does not fail to mention that Christ actually died and, to prove such, was buried. In this we are reminded that Christ became “maximus peccar,” the supreme sinner, and bore the wages of sin.
His Descent into hell
This phrase has been the subject of much dispute. Some take it to mean that Christ, subsequent to his death, went to the locality of hell, where OT saints were said to be waiting and set them free so that they may, at long last, enter heaven. This interpretation, which is held by RCC and some Protestant churches, is based on an errant understanding of 1 Peter. 3:18f). Some take this statement to be a reiteration of Christ’s sufferings on the cross, this time pertaining to the mental agonies that he endured.
Perhaps the best way to understand this phrase is that Christ remained under the power of death for a time. The word hell is the word Gehenna, which indicates the grave (i.e. he remained in the realm and under the power of death). It’s positioning in the Creed, after buried, seems to indicate such. It then reminds us that the full penalty of death was paid by Christ.
One of the keys to understanding the meta-narrative of Scripture is what is typically called “progressive revelation.” Progressive revelation is part of the interpretive process wherein it is understood that God has revealed himself and his plan in gradual increments throughout history.
As we seek to understand progressive revelation, let us be sure what it is not.
What Progressive Salvation is Not
1). It should be understood that progressive revelation is not an evolution of religion or doctrine. Some maintain we see in Scripture the gradual transition from polytheism and nature worship to monotheism; the shift from cultic blood sacrifices to ethical religion. This perspective was popularized by the higher criticism that is associated with the Modernist movement of the 19th century (which is more commonly known as classic liberalism).
2) It should also be understood that progressive revelation is not a revelation of inconsistent and opposing truths at different points in history. The theological construct known as dispensationalism would be the most common illustration of this. The early dispensationalists, such as CI Scofield, postulated that God revealed himself in entirely different ways in different dispensations. The position these men advanced was more than just new information that built on old information. It was distinct and separate from that prior revelation.
A dispensation, according to Scofield, was a radically new way in which God related to his people. For instance, during the time of Moses it is believed that God related to his people by means of law. In distinction from this, dispensationalists proposed a new dispensation known as the church age wherein the Lord related to his people by means of grace. The older (sometimes called “classic”) dispensationalism went so far as to say that the saints during Moses’ time were saved by virtue of their works while the saints during the church age are saved by faith.
Contemporary (or “progressive”) dispensationalists would deny such a claim and affirm the more orthodox position—that the OT saints were saved by faith in the Messiah to come. Nevertheless, their view of progressive revelation still has some of the same incongruities. This is witnessed in the fact that both the older and the more recent forms of dispensationalism posit two different plans of salvation for two different peoples (Jews have a physical earthly kingdom, Gentiles have part in the church, the spiritual and temporal kingdom).
Progressive Revelation Explained & Illustrated
If progressive revelation is not evolutionary in nature or different in substance, how then are we to understand it? The proper view may be compared to an oak tree that grows out of an acorn. While the oak tree is obviously distinct from an acorn, it is not altogether unrelated. It is the fuller manifestation of the acorn. The essential properties of the tree are not different from that of the nut. Rather, it is simply the greater expression of all that was contained in the smaller seed form.
I recently gave a series of lectures on apologetics, particularly in regards to Islam. I have debated whether or not I should post them because much of the material has been borrowed (and is lacking a great deal of the necessary citations). I have decided though, to make the material available as it has been in some demand.
Please note though that much of what is here is simply a conglomeration of other people's thoughts.
Lecture 1: The Dilemma of Islam
Lecture 2: Allah: Uncovered and Exposed
Lecture 3: More Examples of How Isalm Impales Itself
Lecture 4: The Sure Way of Salvation
Here is the corresponding study guide.
This weekend I will be presenting several talks for a seminar on Islam at Richland Correctional. My prison students asked me to do the seminar because they wanted to have the men equipped to do some apologetics with the Muslims they frequently rub shoulders with.
I will also be presenting a summary of the talks at our Sunday night Bible study (August 4th, 6:30 pm). If you are interested in learning how to refute Islam, you are more than welcome to join us for the evening. Email me for directions if you need them.
The talks include: The Dilemma of Islam; Allah: Uncovered and Exposed; The Sure Way of Salvation
My friend asked me for my take on Zechariah 14. It is an interesting passage because it has been interpreted differently by different groups. The following is my work up of 1) a straight exegesis and 2) how the three different interpretations would understand the passage. You'll find numbers 1, 2, and 3 explaining how each different view would take those particular verses.
Zec 14:1 Behold, a day is coming for the LORD, when the spoil taken from you will be divided in your midst.
Zec 14:2 For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses plundered and the women raped. Half of the city shall go out into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be cut off from the city.
A day is designated as being for the Lord. It is the day that he has appointed for his particular work.
What is that work? There is a line of interpretation that believes that verse 1 is talking about a day when the people of God see the vindication of Jerusalem. They say that verse 1 foretells the day of blessing when all their spoils are returned (or divided in their midst) to their rightful owners.
I would take this in the stream of interpretation that says that verse 1 is the introduction to the pains brought about in verse 2. Verse one indicates that the Lord allows the people of God to be exposed and vexed. The enemy, which is described in wholistic terms (all the nations), has such success in their advance that they may be described as being so secure that they can divide the spoils right there in the midst of them.
Verse 2 expands on how devastating the “day” will be for the people of God. Their possessions are confiscated, the women are ravished, great multitudes will be taken into exile. In sum, things are in a desperate state.
The question arises as to when is this “day”? At least three interpretations exist: 1. A future millennial kingdom, 2. The present age where the gospel goes throughout the world, 3. The second coming of Christ.
1. This speaks of a time when the Jews are reinstated as a nation and Jerusalem is actually sacked.
2./3. Jerusalem represents the church, which is brought so low that only a remnant remains. The prophet sees no distinction between a Jewish nation and Christian church. Jerusalem stands as the capital city and chief representation of God’s people.
[The following is part of a lesson that I am teaching on Biblical hermeneutics and exegesis. I wanted to share it because it is a vital step in Bible interpretation that is rarely taught. Moreover, I wanted to help people see how my preaching usually differs from other churches.]
Up to this point, your work has been strictly Jewish. You must now make it Christian! This is done when you find the passage’s Christological significance. Always remember: The passage is not fully interpreted until you have discovered how the passage comes to its fulfillment in Christ.
The Bible itself tells us this. We can tell first simply by understanding the nature of Scripture. The whole of the Bible is telling one story. There are many stories, but it is ultimately one divine narrative. This helps us to keep in mind what we are talking about as we work through the Scriptures. The question we must ask is, “How is this specific story (or passage) drawing out the overall story?”
We can preach about Joseph and say, “Go and do likewise.” But to do so would be wrong. Joseph did nothing of his own power. His demeanor and ability to resist sexual temptation was “through Christ who strengthens me.”
Moreover, the point of the Joseph narrative is not about what we can do to be like Joseph. The real point is God’s providential acts through Joseph to provide for the redemption of his people. Herein is the Christological point: “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good, to bring about the salvation of many.”
Despite how heinous evil is, God still uses it for his ultimate purposes. The cross of Jesus Christ is a great evil, but it was ordained of God for the purpose of saving many.
Secondly, we find that interpreting the Scriptures “Christologically” is one of the basic principles of Biblical interpretation laid out in the New Testament.
“Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” Eph. 4:28
For my next class, which will be on "Ministering to the Poor," we will be looking at the above verse. I am going to make the point that, on the basis of this verse, churches ought to not let its members take public assistance of any kind. To do so would be permitting theft (let alone countenancing the other vices, such as sloth, that accompany such acts).
Instead, churches ought to be the agents of charity to its members. The corporate body ought to be the ones who "bear one another's burdens" and "encourage one another to good works."
Want to know what the men at Richland Correctional think about Matt and the classes he teaches? Find out in the latest ministry update that has been sent out!
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