Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Exorcists Return

The Catholic Church's attempts to push back at Vatican II are taking some strange turns. According to the New York Times, a conference of American bishops, held this week in Baltimore, was focused on properly identifying the demonic and when an exorcist is needed.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Death Toll Rises

The number of dead in the Our Lady of Salvation Church massacre has risen to 58. It is the single worse attack on the country's Chirstian minority since the American invasion.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Attack In Iraq

At least ten Chaldean Christians, including a priest, and almost as many Iraqi police and soldiers, were killed by terrorists today. Early reports are that the attackers were not Iraqis. Since the American invasion attacks on Iraqi Christians have caused most of the community to flee.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Five Fold Ministry

I've just finished The House Church by Wolfgang Simson. An interesting book. He doesn't make a lot of jokes, but he does make this humorous analogy on p. 64:
For a hands-on picture, let us compare the fivefold ministry to the five fingers of the hand. The apostle is the thumb; he gives stability, holds the counterbalance, and can literally touch all the other fingers. The prophet is the index finger; he points at you and says, “You are the man (or woman)!” The evangelist the middle finger, the longest of all, sticking farthest out into the world. The ring finger resembles the pastor/shepherd, caring for internal relationships. The little finger is the teacher; he can worm his way deep into any ear, and there share the truth of the gospel.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Religiosity and Riches



Click on the image to see it in its entirety.

This was taken from a New York Times article, Religious Outlier, by Charles M. Blow. He is discussing a Gallup poll correlating religion and wealth.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

House Churches

About five weeks ago I posted about the end of my 1,000 days and how some things were still playing out. One of those things was house churches. Meeting in small groups at home, instead of in church buildings. This is becoming more common--common enough to be considered a movement--but as nudged towards it as I felt, I did nothing. My church isn't a house church and I don't feel led to start up a house church of my own. This month our Pastor decided to move of mid-week Bible study out of our fellowship hall and into our homes. Interesting...

Its still very much a work in progress and he doesn't know yet whether we'll continue into the fall, but I want to get all I can from the experience while it is available to be had.

A Quote For The Day

“When the church wins the culture wars, it inevitably loses. When it conquers the world, it becomes the world. When you put your trust in the sword, you lose the cross.”

Rev. Gregory A. Boyd
Woodland Hills Church
MAPLEWOOD, Minn.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities

By Roger E. Olson
Published byInterVarsity Press, 2006

Roger E. Olson grew up in a Pentecostal household and has always been an Arminian. Surrounded by Pentecostals, most of the people he knew were also Arminians and so he never felt the need to question or defend the teaching until he got out into the broader Evangelical world. There he ran into Calvinism. I wrote earlier about the Evangelical tendency to avoid doctrinal debate through slander and disinformation. Olson, who is seeking a rapprochement with Calvinists, would never be so blunt, and puts down these ‘myths’ to misunderstandings and ignorance. Perhaps that’s fair. Certainly as these myths circulate, they get repeated by people who have no reason not to take them at face value, but if you’re going to expound on a subject, then you owe to yourself and those you are teaching to learn the truth.

Here Olson’s book provides a solid foundation. He addresses ten common misconceptions about Arminianism, contrasting it with Calvinism. For example, ‘Myth Four: The Heart of Arminianism Is Belief in Free Will.’ When I first studied this subject, about ten years ago, it was because of an interest in free will, but that’s not what Arminius was concerned about. Calvinism teaches a God so completely in control of the world that everything that happens is an expression of His will. His grace is so effectual, that all who God wills to be saved must be saved. Arminius realized that if this were the case, then God is the author of sin and that the Fall of Man could only have happened because it was God’s will that we sin. If God determines who will be saved, He, at the same time, determines who will be damned. This, argued Arminius, was wrong and contrary to the God revealed in scripture. It is not God’s will that any perish. If some do perish, and we know that some do, then there must be some element of free will that allows us to accept or reject His will for us. Arminius was not concerned with free will, per se; he only sought to protect the character of God from what is implicitly taught by Calvinism: that God created sin and condemned people to Hell long before they were even born.

Dr. Olson’s book is both a solid introduction to Arminianism and a strong defence against much of the disinformation that has been circulated about it, but I did have a couple of problems with it. The first concerns structure. Olson wrote each chapter so that it could be read without consulting the other chapters. I understand why. I spent many years in university and it’s an environment that teaches lazy reading. You’re after information and want it as quickly and as easily as possible. But if you are reading the book from cover to cover, it is incredibly repetitive. Rather than assume you’ve read the previous chapter, he repeats points again and again. Olson warns readers of this, but it was still very trying. Another structural problem is that the headers on each page list the myth being addressed in the chapter, but not that it is a myth. Consequently, the same lazy readers the repetition is meant to serve will open the book to, for example, page 160 and see “Arminianism Is Not a Theology of Grace,” instead of “Myth 7: Arminianism Is Not a Theology of Grace.” If you are going to spoon feed information, why stop at half measures?

The second problem is more serious, but also a logical result of Olson’s intentions. Because his goal is the acceptance of Arminius’ teachings within Reform--read: High Calvinist--circles, he makes little reference to the 1500 years of Church teachings that preceded the Reformation. In reality, Arminius’ doctrines were far more in keeping with traditional Christian teachings than Calvin’s. Yes, there were determinist theological teachings before the Reformation, but where were they adopted as formal doctrinal positions? No where. But by treating Calvinism as a norm to be measured against, he creates an inverted little world in which Arminius is always on the defensive. All of the myths addressed in this book assume Calvinism is the norm. All of the Reformation first generation of leaders, Calvin included, were trained as Catholic theologians first and later rejected aspects of Catholicism they believed to be unscriptural and unchristian, but they didn’t start again from scratch. This sort of contextualization could only serve to strengthen the legitimacy of Arminianism as a traditional Christian teaching, but Olson doesn’t give it because he is seeking acceptance form people who would only hold it against him (adding an eleventh myth, that Arminianism is too Catholic or Orthodox).

These criticisms aside, Arminian Theology makes for a great introduction to the subject and I would recommend to anyone interested in the debate.

Friday, July 02, 2010

One Thousand Days Plus

Last week saw the end of my one thousand days. A thousand days ago I set myself a goal. I had grown more and more unsatisfied with where I was spiritually and gave myself this period to set things straight. To set a new course. Somehow.

Many of the important things, however, are still playing themselves out. Events, decisions to be made, have not run their course, in spite of my self-imposed date. I’ve developed some good habits, become interested in some areas of study, but the conclusion of my course? It hasn’t arrived. ‘Why?’ is an interesting question. Is it because I can’t force it? Is it because I lack the courage to go where I should? Is it because I am being dragged down by my habitual procrastination? Perhaps its some combination of the three. I don’t know. But I know I am not there yet. This will take more than the thousand days I originally prescribed and that I can do nothing but continue. Its disappointing, but its not really in my hands.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Matthew 2:12-23

Matthew 2:12-23 Egypt and the Return

Herod had told the Magi to tell him where the new king could be found, but the Wise Men were warned in a dream not to and so left for home by another route. Joseph was also warned about Herod in a dream and told to flee to Egypt. When Herod realized the Wise Men weren’t coming back, he became enraged and ordered all the children in Bethlehem, age two and younger, to be killed. Joseph and his family remained in Egypt until Herod was dead, and an angel spoke to him in a dream telling him it was time to return. When he discovered that Herod’s son Archelaus reigned in his father’s place, he was told in yet another dream to go to Nazareth.

This is a rather complicated passage in which a very busy time in the lives of Joseph, Mary and Jesus is compressed into very few words. It is also full of dreams and prophecies.

Herod’s infamous Murder of Innocents is not recorded outside the Gospel of Matthew, but is it an act historians universally agree is in keeping with the Herod’s character. He has gone down in history as Herod the Great for all of the works he did to aggrandize Judea and Jerusalem. He restored the glory of the Temple, in material terms, to such an extent that it became known as Herod’s Temple, but Herod’s family was Idumaean in origin. Idumea was the Greek name for the Edomites, the descendants of Esau. The Hasmonean kings of Judea had conquered them and forced them to convert to Judaism, absorbing them into the Jewish people, but the Jews of Herod’s time never let him forget where he came from, and consequently his power and position were always closely tied to his friendship with Rome. As famous as he was as a builder, he was equally infamous for the blood he shed to preserve his power, even killing several of his own children.

That Joseph sought refuge in Egypt isn’t surprising. By the first century there was a large and stable Jewish presence there. It was close by, but outside the influence of Herod. When Herod died, his son Herod Archelaus took the throne, and began by killing three thousand Pharisees who opposed him. His reign over the entirety of his father’s kingdom was brief. After two years the Romans divided it up, leaving Archelaus still ruling half of it, including Jerusalem, but the other half was divided between his brothers Herod Philip and Herod Antipas. After ten violent years Archelaus was exiled to Gaul (France) and his kingdom turned into a Roman province. Philip ruled his area peacefully for almost forty years. He was the only one of his brothers to retain his position until the end of his life. Antipas ruled the longest, approximately forty three years, before also being exiled to Gaul. He ruled over Galilee and Perea and was still in power when John the Baptist and Jesus ministered. It was Herod Antipas who would behead John and would mock Jesus, sending back to Pilate. Nevertheless, following the death of their father, Antipas was still much preferred over Archelaus and Joseph, once again warned in a dream, settled in Galilee.

The dynastic politics give us some indication of when Jesus was born. There was no standard calendar at the time. Herod the Great was still alive. He died sometime between 4 and 1 BC. The earlier date is traditional, but there are reasonable grounds for the latter one as well. Jesus was no older than two at this time. Archelaus ruled his father’s entire kingdom for two years before it was divided up, and so Joseph and his family lived in Egypt for at least that long--he couldn’t have been directed to Antipas’ area before the division--and so there were at least four years between the Murder of Innocents and their settling in Nazareth.

Dreams play a big role in the first two chapters of Matthew. While the magi were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, it is Joseph who is counseled by them again and again. It was in a dream that he was told not to divorce the pregnant Mary (1:20) and here he is given directed three times by dreams: to flee to Egypt (2:13), that it was safe to return (2:20), and to settle in Galilee (2:22). These are the only two chapters in which we learn anything of Joseph’s earthly father and we see a man who sought answers in dreams, not the counsel of others, or even the Law. That may be unfair, given that these passages represent only a small part of his life, but it is all we are given. He seems content to follow the example of his Old Testament namesake, Joseph the dreamer.

Prophecy also weighs heavily here. We’ve already seen Matthew quote Isaiah and Micah in order to prove that events in Jesus’ life were the fulfillment of prophecy. Now he adds Hosea and Jeremiah. The family’s sojourn in Egypt was the fulfillment of Hosea 11:1:
When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.
And the Murder of Innoents was the fulfillment of Jeremiah 31:15:
Thus saith the LORD; A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rachel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not
.On their face, neither of these scriptures seem to foretell Christ. Hosea is talking of the deliverance of Israel from Egypt and Jeremiah of the restoration of the Northern Kingdom to the true worship of God (Rachel was the mother of Joseph and by extension Ephraim, the principal tribe of the Kingdom of Israel; she was buried in Ramah). Yet Matthew sees prophecy anyway. Why? When the early Church read the Old Testament, they saw Jesus everywhere. Each and every scripture spoke of His coming. Modern Christians tend to look to the historical context in a way that the Apostles did not. Early Christians saw the scripture as laden with symbolism, with types and anti-types. Its not that they doubted its history, or saw it as unimportant, but that they saw the Old Testament first and foremost as the foundation of their beliefs and of the promise of the Redeemer. And this was true of every verse, even those passages that wouldn’t appear to be prophecies to others.

Matthew ends his recounting of Jesus’ early life by telling us that His family’s settlement in Nazareth was the fulfillment of a fifth prophecy, that “He shall be called a Nazarene.” But where is this prophecy? Unlike the previous four, Matthew is not quoting any scripture in the Old Testament. An early attempt to find its source, dating back at least as far back as Jerome, ties it to Isaiah 11:1:
And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots
The Hebrew for branch is netzer and so Nazarene could have arisen from a transliteration. But this is stretch. The reality is that no one has come up with a solution that persuasive enough to resolve this question and we’re left with another puzzle by a writer who isn’t afraid to leave us wondering. As he would later quote Jesus, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.”

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The Gospel According To Chester Brown



The Hooded Unitarian has an interesting article on Chester Brown's adaptations of the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Mark. These have never been collected and I haven't read anything more than what Ng Suat Tong has posted here.

Speaking of Matthew, I have also revised the first paragraph of my own Matthew study.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Easter

I hope this Easter weekend finds you well and that you can make your way to a church to celebrate the important events these feast days commemorate: the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is the focal point of the gospel message.

This holiday is unique in being the only one that the media celebrates with scepticism and scorn. I know that the Bible says that the resurrection is a stumbling block and foolishness to unbelievers (1 Corinthians 1:23), but I can think of no other religions whose major feast day has to run such a gauntlet. With that in mind here are a couple of positive articles, one from the UK and one from the US. The first counters those who say they like Jesus, but not His Church, the second has some interesting information about Easter.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Matthew 2: 11

Matthew 2: 11 The Magi’s Gifts

So, here I pick up where I left off, in the second chapter of the first gospel. I am going to look at only one verse today, the presentation of the Magi’s gifts.

The Wise Men find the baby Jesus with his mother Mary and fall down and worship. This would prove one of the most powerful images in Christianity: worshipping at the feet of the Mother and Child. Of course, it specifically says “his” feet. They weren’t worshipping - or venerating - Mary, but if you visualize this scene, the mother and her baby, the magi falling down in adoration, its easy to see how such an idea could gain such a grip on people’s imaginations and hearts. We’ll talk more about Mary when we get to the Gospel of Luke, which tells the story from her perspective. Matthew focuses on Joseph’s and its interesting that he isn’t mentioned here.

The idea that there were three Magi stems from the fact that there were three gifts. We don’t know how many Wise Men there were. One early tradition says there were twelve. Twelve Tribes, Twelve Apostles, Twelve Magi. Their gifts were gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The latter two are made from resins and were a valued part of the Arabian spice trade. Frankincense was used in the incense that burned before the Lord on the Altar of Incense, first in the Tabernacle and then in the Temple, and myrrh was used in the embalming of the dead. The three gifts, then, speak of the baby’s future: the gold representing authority or lordship, the frankincense representing divinity or worship, and the myrrh the Redeemer or Christ.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Lost World Of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate

By John H. Walton

Published by IVP Academic, 2009

One of the biggest hot button issues in religion is the creationism v. evolution debate. Exactly how did God create the universe and everything in it, and what does the first chapter of Genesis tell us? Professor John H. Walton, of Wheaton College, offers a new perspective in The Lost World of Genesis One, one aimed at reconciling a conservative Christian position on scripture with the reality of modern science.

He does this by asking how the text of Genesis chapter one would have been understood - not through the eyes of scientists or theologians - but by someone living at the time it was written. His conclusion, which he goes to great lengths to explain, is that it would have been read as a description of God establishing the functions of the world and not an account of its material creation: “people in the ancient world believed that something existed not by virtue of its material properties, but by virtue of having a function within an ordered cosmos.” (p. 26) (Very) briefly, the world began without functions, it was without form and void, then the first three days established functions and the second three days installed those functions. Day one established day and night, periods of light and dark, day two established the sky and seas, creating a roof (firmament) to keep out the cosmic sea, and day three the dry land and vegetation. On day four the first day’s functions were installed, the sun and the moon and the stars, for signs, seasons, days, and years; on day five the skies and oceans were filled with life; and on day six the land was filled with animals, and mankind. On the seventh day God rested. Walton sees the seventh day of creation as pivotal. It does not simply mean that God stopped what he was doing. Rather, when the Genesis account was written people understood that the place a god rested in was his temple. It represented the place of a god’s authority. Genesis one, then describes God’s dominion over every aspect of creation and His continued dominion over all the Earth.

Walton takes time to address many concerns associated with this debate, including whether God created ex nihilo, the state of the world in verse two, and to compare his argument to the many alternatives that are being put forward. He addresses the first concern by looking at the Hebrew word bara, to create. This verb is used many times in the Old Testament and always in reference to God. Must it mean to create, materially, from nothing (ex nihilo)? Walton can find nothing to substantiate that position, though he is quick to point out that he, like others challenging the (so-called) Creationist view, believes that God did indeed create the materials of the universe as well as the functions. It’s a question of how. His point here is that Genesis one isn’t meant to be an account of the formation of those materials. I thought it interesting that he doesn’t actually refer to the original proof text for the teaching that God created the world, ex nihilo, II Maccabees 7:28 (KJV):
I beseech thee, my son, look upon the heaven and the earth, and all that is therein, and consider that God made them of things that were not; and so was mankind made likewise.
In the Vulgate, the Latin translation, “of things that were not” was translated simply “from nothing,” or ex nihilo. I think its ironic, given the anti-Catholic sentiments of so many of the fundamentalist advocating creationism, that this important doctrine’s only explicit scriptural support comes from a Catholic translation of an Apocryphal book. Yes, I know that the teaching was advocated by Jewish commentators, but that’s not scripture. And I know that others scriptures can be referenced (John 1:3, Hebrews 11:3, etc), but they only teach that God made the universe and made it from things other than those which appear now. The first point isn’t being disputed by any one, the second, arguably, supports the idea of creation as a process.

The second verse of Genesis one says that the world was “without form and void.” Its an important point for Walton because it describes a world without function. Some Creationists argue for what they call the “gap theory”: that there is a period between the first verse and the rest of the chapter, when Satan, cast from Heaven, destroyed creation. The idea is that God would never has created a formless, empty, less than perfect world. Walton simply states that the Hebrew doesn’t support such a reading, but I would go further and say that proponents of such a reading ignore their own demand for a “literal” understanding of the scriptures and are interjecting their own views of God into the chapter. The Bible says that God created the Heavens and the Earth and that the Earth was without form and void, and then began the process of creation.

Lastly, Walton argues that his position offers various strengths over a variety of others and here I read with some skepticism. Not because I doubted him, but because I think the proponents of those views are all too often so deeply committed to them that they will read this book looking only to find fault and to criticize. They have their position and I think Walton is na├»ve if he thinks a well reasoned, scripturally valid argument is enough to sway them. The audience for this book is people like myself, who believe in the Bible and in science. Who are looking for interpretations that of scripture that honour it as the Word of God, without forcing the believer to choose between faith or reason. Since coming into Pentecost almost three decades ago I have been consistently faced with a variety of Creationist accounts, all back up by pseudo-science, and have long chosen to just ignore the subject altogether. But why should I skim through the first chapter of Genesis because others find the billions of years of creation so upsetting? While my experience leads me to believe that many will never give this book a fair hearing, I also believe that there are many like me who are looking for something just like this book. We are Walton’s audience.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Religion And Education

There is an interesting article in the March 6 issue of New Scientist, Where do atheists come from? Apparently the idea that education spreads atheism, that the more educated you are the less likely you are to be religious, simply isn't true. This doesn't really surprise me, but it doesn't seem to sit well with many of those making comments with the online version of the article. Not that they argue the point. Rather, they ignore it and just reiterate their own position.

From the article:
The 2005 results show that while there is a clear positive correlation between education and lack of belief in God, the effect is slightly weaker, not stronger, among those with a university education (14.8 per cent were non-believers) compared with those whose highest attainment was secondary level (17.2 per cent).
And
Looking at white British people, for example, the findings show that only around 25 per cent of men aged between 25 and 34 claiming "no religion" have degrees, compared with around 40 per cent of those describing themselves as religious. For women in the same age group, the difference is less marked but the trend is the same.

You will need a subscription to read the article.

Monday, March 08, 2010

500 Christians Murdered In Nigeria

From Times Online:

On the dusty streets of three Christian villages in northern Nigeria, dozens of bodies lined the streets yesterday. Other victims of the weekend’s Muslim fury jammed a local morgue, the limbs of slaughtered children tangled in a grotesque mess.

One toddler appeared fixed in the protective but hopeless embrace of an older child, possibly his brother. Another had been scalped. Most had severed hands and feet.

Officials estimate that 500 people were massacred in night-time raids by rampaging Muslim gangs near the city of Jos, where the Christian-Muslim fault line cuts across Nigeria...
More.

Friday, February 05, 2010

The Armour of God

The Armour of God is found in the sixth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. It is one of the most popular passages of the Bible, prayed every day by some. Last fall I spoke about the Armour at my local church and I want to start off the year’s blogging (much later than intended - sorry!) by sharing that here.

Paul begins by setting a little context (Ephesians 6:10-12):
Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
We are engaged, he tells his audience, in spiritual warfare. Terms like ‘principalities’ and ‘powers’ aren’t as familiar today, but in the first century many, Jew and Gentile alike, believed that there were demonic influences in the world and had developed systems of categories of describe them. No standardized system is explicated endorsed in scripture but the Ephesians would have immediately understood that Paul is warning them of spiritual influences. And, more importantly, he is making the point that their conflict is not with other people, but with those spiritual influences. He told this to the Corinthians as well (2 Corinthians 10:3-4):
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)
In his letter to the Ephesians he goes on to describe these ‘not carnal’ - non-physical - weapons with which God arms us (Ephesians 6:13-17):
Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:
The Armour is a metaphor. No Indiana Jones is ever going to dig it up. Breaking down this metaphor, what is Paul talking about?

‘Your loins girt about with truth.’ The weight of your body hangs on your back and your back in turn is supported by your lower abdomen. It is the base that holds everything upright. In palates the lower abdomen is called the power zone. Our power zone is truth. Jesus said He wants us to worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). It’s not enough to have good intentions. It’s not enough to enjoy worship. You also have to have sound doctrine when serving the Lord.

‘The Breast Plate of Righteousness.’ The Bible says that only the Pure of Heart shall see God (Psalms 24:3-4, Matthew 5:8).

‘Feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace.’ To be prepared to share the good news (Isaiah 52:7, Romans 10:15).

‘The shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.’ I have more to say about the importance of shields below, but in life you will be buffeted. Some may be happy to learn that you are serving the Lord, but most people are indifferent or even hostile. It is our faith that enables us to remain strong.

‘The helmet of salvation.’ In the Bible the head represents authority. But this is not our own authority, but another’s. Salvation belongs to the Lord (Psalm 3:8). The helmet of salvation represents submission to God‘s authority and to His salvation plan.

‘The sword of the spirit, which is the word of God.’ The Greek translated as ‘word’ in this verse is not logos, but rhema, which implies something spoken or written, often spontaneously. Paul wants us to be led of the Spirit as we speak or write as Christians.

The Armour of God, then, refers to the many aspects of our Christian walk. Sound doctrine, right living, a readiness to act and to speak, faith and a submission to His will. But once we have the armour on, what do you do? Most people stop reading about the Armour with verse seventeen, but that is only half way through a sentence. Paul continues on the subject for three more verses (Ephesians 6:18-20):
Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, For which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.

We are in spiritual warfare. We have our armour on. What now? Paul tells us to do three things.

Number one, ‘praying always and in all supplication in the Spirit.’ Supplication means petition. Whether we need money or cancer healed, it means bringing our needs to the Lord. But whatever needs we have, we are to pray in the Spirit. We are to be led by the Spirit when we pray.

Number two, ‘watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.’ We aren’t to just pray for ourselves. We are to pray diligently for one another. To use the standard Christian terminology, we’re to become intercessors.

Isaiah 59:16-17 reads:
And he saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor: therefore his arm brought salvation unto him; and his righteousness, it sustained him. For he put on righteousness as a breastplate, and an helmet of salvation upon his head; and he put on the garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a cloak.
Reading this passage I noticed that there are two things Paul later includes in the Armour of God, the breastplate of righteousness and the helmet of salvation, but there are also two things he leaves out. Paul doesn’t write about being clothed in vengeance. That didn’t surprise me. The Bible makes it very clear that vengeance belongs to God. Even people who know nothing of the scripture know God says, ‘vengeance is mine’ (Duet 32:35, Romans 12:19, Hebrews 10:30). But why aren’t we to be clad in zeal as a cloak? Soldiers wore cloaks. God wants us to be zealous. The point Paul is trying to make to the Ephesians, however, took him in a different direction. Before talking about armour he’s talks about family. He’s talks about husbands serving God, wives serving their husbands, children serving their parents, servants serving their masters. There is an appropriate role and order in the family.

In the military there is also an appropriate role and order, an idea Paul carries over from the family to spiritual warfare very easily. He starts off by telling us spiritual soldiers to stand. Every Roman soldier stood in a holding their shields in their left hand and their weapon in their right. They stood shoulder to shoulder, their shields protecting their left side and the right side of the person standing to their left. Their right side was protected by the person standing to their right. They stood protecting one another with a wall of shields. When soldiers were told not to break ranks, they were being told to keep the line firm. To stand. I’ve seen films where armies march smartly towards each other, in ranks, but when they get a few yards from one another they break those ranks and charge. Its all very dramatic, but its wrong. In reality the armies would march right up to one another, attacking without breaking ranks. In fact, the whole point was to get the other side to break its ranks. A group of individuals, however well armed, could never stand against a disciplined unit. In the passage quoted from Isaiah God is pouring out His wrath on Israel, because there were no intercessors. No one in Israel was standing and praying for Israel. We are to pray in the Spirit, to be led by the Spirit, and we are to pray for one another. That’s how we stand.

And the third thing Paul says is ‘pray for me, that I may open my mouth boldly.’ There is a lot packed into that short statement, but I want to focus on two things. First, Paul did not say ‘pray for my ministry,’ or ‘pray that others will receive my message,’ he said ‘pray for me.’ So often our desire to shine as a light for Him gets turned around into a refusal to admit our needs to one another. We wouldn’t think of lying with our words, but we never hesitate to put on a fake smile. But Paul came right out and said, ‘pray for me.’ Its one thing for me to want to watch, with all perseverance, for your needs, but how am I to know what they are if you don’t tell me? Likewise, if I don’t tell you my need, how can I expect you to pray for it?

The second thing I want to focus on is prayer for our leadership. A soldier does what he is told. If his general makes a bad choice, the general does pay for it, but the soldier pays even more. The general sits on the hill top directing his men with orders and trumpets and signals, while the soldiers down below are fighting and killing each other. Who is going to be impacted more by a bad decision? The soldier down there fighting or the general up on the hill watching him fight? You have an interest in your leadership’s welfare. You want your leader to be in touch with God. You want your leader to be blessed of God. You want your leader’s counsel for you to be exactly what God wants it to be. But if you’re not supporting your leader in prayer, you’re weakening your leader and that will come down on you eventually. We have an interest in supporting our leadership in prayer.

A spiritual warrior, then, is a prayer warrior. It seems that everyone I’ve heard described as a prayer warrior is a woman, a senior, and somebody’s mother. Or grandmother. But God wants each of us to bear this burden of prayer. That why we bear the weapons of this warfare. To stand in the gap for His people. To be led in the Spirit in all our supplications, for ourselves and for the whole body of Christ.