For Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter 2011
Of Pontius Pilate, Truth, and Unity
By Jeff Ziegler, President SGI
I have always wondered as to the great notoriety of Pontius Pilate! Think well on this! His name is declared across the world every Lord’s Day as the confessions of the Church are read and proclaimed. It has been this way for over 2,000 years. In some ways Pilate is as famous as the One whom he consigned to death Christ Jesus. Certainly, his infamy is secured in the creedal phrase “suffered under” (Apostles Creed) and “was crucified also for us under” (Nicene Creed). Yet, his question (though asked with sardonic cynicism); “What is Truth?” should be a Divine priority in today’s world more than when it was originally uttered. Yet today, the question is not asked at all! In many circles the question of truth is held as folly, subjective, or non-existent. Philosophically termed “nihilism”, it is a view that declares truth to have no intrinsic value. Hence; to look for truth or seek meaning in life is seen as a waste of time. Such is the political goo from whence Barack Obama has spawned.
PILATEThe notion of truth as defined and proclaimed among “conservative” politicos, movement organizers, and activistic elements within patriot cabals, revolves around the concept of a unified organizational Church heralding the same (truth) without diminution. What kind of unity, the depth and virility of such models, and its expression has always been at issue throughout the 2,000 years of Church history. While total institutional unity is never seriously proposed, the notion of “core values”, truth, and common and basic theological vision is often heralded as the tip of the spear for cultural reform. There is a certain degree to which this goal is true and should be pursued! The question becomes whether the majority of churchmen will stand for this proposed vision or no. Indeed, on this note, Pilate asks the right question more than modern American churchmen. But certainly a strong portion can hold and proclaim the theology that will support the reclamation of the American Republic.
Let us explore the basic elements needed to uplift these ideals. First; let us examine the difficulty in working for a basic yet meaningful Church expression in American life. Secondly; let us define the foundations of Church mission; and finally an examination of National Confession to establish a Christian America
Church as the Voice of Truth
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all . . . (Ephesians 4:4-5).
It is paramount to comprehend that in any debate or conflict, it is impossible for more than one position to be right. There cannot be “two sides of the story” except in terms of perception. There must be the rendering of a righteous judgment. Truth; must by its very nature, tower over error. Justice is destined to vanquish iniquity. Therefore, the nature of Christian unity, the unity that we are compelled to strive for, as well as the reason of our existence must be rooted in an unalterable, immutable foundation that is exclusive and prejudiced against all other competing themes, anthems and voices. Pilate understood more than we might imagine and saw the same as a threat to Imperial Rome and his way of life!
Ironically, St Paul’s great rallying cry for unity touches us precisely where Christians are the most sharply divided. Premillennialists and postmillennialists dissent over the nature of future hope; Orthodox Christians (Catholics, Lutherans and Anglicans) oppose Anabaptists over the character of faith, and the nature of the sacraments. Catholics, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists disagree over church polity. Nonetheless, St Paul proclaims there is only one, exclusive and absolute hope, only one, exclusive and absolute Faith, and only one, exclusive and absolute baptism. Truth defined and enacted is the foundation!
God demands unity and agreement of mind (Truth) in His Church (Rom. 12:16; 1 Cor. 1:10; 2 Cor. 13:11). Most in our day have applied these scriptural injunctions as though unity is achieved through tolerance of every idea which calls itself Christian. This is nothing new! The Church of England adopted this approach in the seventeenth century. In England, the policy of not insisting on strict adherence to orthodoxy (Truth) was called latitudinarianism. In 1697, Anglican Bishop Jeremy Collier wrote, “When you have made the most of it, I foresee this Latitudinarian Love will be very expensive.” Collier was quite correct. The high price, the expense that the Church of England paid was the forfeiture of truth.
Latitudinarian unity is not true unity. The tolerance of divergent anti-orthodox doctrines in the church actually perpetuates the problem it tries to solve and is the antithesis of Christian charity. Instead of bringing unity, such amorphous ill-defined rubbish: breeds division, discord, and dissatisfaction. Peter’s warning against destructive heresies calls for astute discernment of truth and falsehood in order that the integrity of the church might be maintained (2 Pet. 2:1). The divine call for unity of mind requires that false doctrine be exposed, confronted, and purged from the church. This is accomplished through diligent study, through the personal application of the Word of God and by the courage to enforce the truth against the perpetrators of sedition (1 Cor. 4:6).
In the face of the difficulty that presents itself throughout Christendom, where so many opinions, so many doctrines, so many wars and rumors of war exist, it is easy to become disheartened. Where do we begin? Or is God mocking us with the seeming impossibility of truth leading to a unified witness coming to pass?
In Deuteronomy 13:3, we see that false prophets were introduced into Israel by God as a test. This testing is crucial to the spiritual vitality of God’s people for the conflict produces purity. Stagnant water is not apt to stay pure, and testing introduces a good stir. Heresy has been of great benefit to the church in that it has caused the truth to be thoroughly explored and painstakingly presented. (READ I Corinthians 11:19) This is not to say we tolerate nor recruit heretics. Instead, we are to sharpen our beliefs and actions against them.
Henry Melvill observes:
It is astonishing how apt men are to rest in general with ill-defined notions, so that, when interrogated and probed on an article of faith, they show themselves unable to give account of their belief. When a new error is propounded, you will find that candid men will confess that, on examining their own views on the disputed point, they have found them in many respects vague and incoherent. Until driven to the work of expounding and defining, they have never suspected their ignorance upon matters with which they professed themselves altogether familiar.
The Biblical doctrine of the Trinity was thoroughly searched out in reaction to Gnostic and Arian heresies. The precious doctrine of Justification was most clearly vindicated in answer to Pelagian works-righteousness. So in the sense which heresy is used by God as a challenge, or test, these trials under His Providential hand, bring blessing and maturity for the church. It serves as a winnowing fork that separates wheat from chaff.
Therefore, it is paramount to remember: HERESY AND ERROR MUST BE RESISTED! If we cower here, if we fall back on this ground, if we refuse the contest, if we will not intervene and venture into harm’s way for the sake of truth and justice, then, not only will unity of the Faith be afar off, but heresy uncorrected will turn toward our judgment!! So war is the ground presented! It cannot be avoided! It must be embraced and prosecuted to the victorious end of TRUTH! If not, we are less than Pontius Plate who at least asked; “What is truth?”
Mark it well! Heresy is the most insidious evil! It divides the church, it leads people astray; it is sin from beginning to end. Heresy is the fruit of unfaithfulness. It is God’s judgment on a backslidden and cowardly church that is disengaged from cultural reformation.
Consider and hear clearly the sobering words spoken to the prophet Amos:
“Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord God, “that I will send a famine on the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord, but shall not find it” (8:11-12).
Disunity of mind and doctrine is evidence of sin in the church. As with the sin of Achan, this sin cripples the entire camp and harms national life. We must remember that God assigns duties, not only to individuals, but also to corporate bodies of people, whether they are families, nations, or church parishes. Daniel and Ezra identified themselves before God as part of a people in rebellion against Him. The sin of disunity plagues the church! This sin must be confessed, and as the people of God, we must turn away from it. And the way we turn from it is not through a relational, doctrinal lowest common denominator, but a contest for TRUTH!
We must acknowledge before God that truth comes to us only from Him, and ask that He would grant that His Word be made plain and clear to us all. Moreover, that we all come to an increase in doctrinal literacy, practice, and national confession. This we can pray with assurance and thanksgiving, knowing that the sovereign God uses heresy, disunity, and apathy to rouse His true people from slumber! Today’s heresies while diverse all work together as one to 1) Disengage the Church from her cultural mandate 2) Create false antithesis between the Gospel message and civil witness 3) Emphasizes individual faith against the Church catholic as a corporate witness; and 4) Substitutes “newspaper” exegesis and current events in exchange for sound orthodox foundations depicting the Church triumphant in time and history. None of these challenges can be allowed to remain lest final ruination of the American experiment in gospel liberty shipwrecks on the shoals of error and tyranny. Ideas have consequences!
“A church with a little creed is a church with a little life. The more divine doctrines a church can agree on, the greater its power, and the wider its usefulness. The fewer its articles of faith, the fewer its bonds of union and compactness. The modern cry, “less creed and more liberty,” is a degeneration from the vertebrate to the jellyfish and means less unity, less morality and it means more heresy. Definitive truth does not create heresy-it only exposes and corrects. Shut off the creeds and the Christian world would fill up with heresy unsuspected and uncorrected, but none the less deadly.” – B. H. Carroll
Church Foundation and Mission
As delineated in previous editions of the SGI newsletter, the first four ecumenical creeds of the Christian Church provide a rudimentary yet profound reservoir of truth which, when applied with any vigor, heralds a civilization filled with liberty, justice, and economic opportunity for all.
The Apostles Creed establishes God as the Father-Creator, authenticates His transcendence and immanence, and refutes all dualistic notions of reality. In other words the Creed elevates Christianity over and against pagan, humanistic motifs. The Nicene Creed establishes the same themes as the Apostles but also defines and defends Christ’s divinity with all the same attributes as God the Father. This establishes continuity between The Old and The New Testaments and establishes Christ’s lordship over every aspect of life. The Athanasian Creed defines and defends the doctrine of The Holy Trinity and expresses Christ as both fully God and fully man yet diminished in neither aspect. This theme is reiterated in The Chalcedon Creed which also depicts the governmental, real, plenipotentiary authority vested in the resurrected Christ.
Taken together, Creedal orthodoxy proclaims that Christ as Lord of heaven, lord of earth, Lord of the visible and the invisible, Lord of the living and Lord of the dead. Hence all human claims of divinity in any of its institutions (especially political) are thrown down by the affirmation of orthodoxy. Such acknowledgement depicts all human power, concepts of liberty, as well as all social-political institutions as stemming from the authority of Christ. Such basis is the very foundation of our founding document “The Declaration of Independence.” There can be no compromise on these fundamentals. In fact, such was the force of the Athanasian Creed that it proclaims damnation over and again for those in opposition to the creedal truths and declarations it defines.
As a logical national follow-through to the truths of the ecumenical creeds, a genuine Christian unity can be exhibited and acted upon through the following affirmations:
1) A nation is a corporate being, with moral character, accountability, and is directly responsible to the Author of its existence or God Himself.
2) As such a “moral being” the nation is under the moral Law of God: including that general revelation as seen in nature and the specific revelation as contained in Scripture.
3) Christ Jesus; His Rule and Reign; is not confined to the unseen world but extends into the visible world and its institutions. This “truth” caused Pilate to initiate his “hand-washing”.
4) The civil ruler is obliged to govern according to the moral Law of God and is duty bound to acknowledge the abiding authority of Christ’s Lordship.
5) Christianity as the “perfect law of liberty” for nations and individuals can infringe on no man’s right of conscience. In being true to God’s Law a nation best preserves its own rights and freedoms and ensures the unalienable rights of all men.
Finally and in conclusion; unity forged in humanistic consensus is no more than a reinstitution of The Tower of Babel and is fully allied with OBANANATION, The United Nations and all other man-as-god agendas. Yet a unified, Creedal and orthodox expression of the Church taking her place as the embassy of God and working to proclaim and enforce The Crown Rights of Christ, this is a unity worth fighting and dying for! Such is the comprehensive answer for Pontius Pilate!
By Jeff Ziegler
EPHESIANS1:15-23. 1:15 – Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church,1:23 Which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all.
By virtue of Christ’s resurrection (Easter’s all-encompassing message) all things in heaven and earth are reconciled in Him! All power, rule and authority whether human or unseen are placed beneath Christ’s feet! Christ’s victory is communicated to His body (The Church) as the definitive witness of His supremacy over all. That the Church has little understood or exhibited such a fact does not change the abiding validity or vitality of the legal reality of Christ’s finished work in resurrection!
THE WRONG STRESS!!
How many sermons will you hear or have heard on the tortuous physical sufferings of Christ upon the cross? Yet, there were approximately 2,000 crucifixions on that same day. This was the preferred methodology of Rome to suppress revolt. Thousands had preceded Christ in this fashion of execution and thousands more would follow. Each of these executions was meant to inflict pain, humiliation, and to stand as a witness against further infractions against the state. In the slave revolt led by Spartacus 70 years prior to Christ; approximately 10,000 slaves were executed in this fashion. So the physical deprivations are horrific and well documented and yet in no way depict the true torture inflicted on Christ. It was not the physical torture that was at issue! To stress this, is to miss the meaning of Easter! The true pain was a Divine transaction wherein He (Christ) who knew NO sin, BECAME sin for us II Corinthians 5:21 For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
Being made sin, Christ suffered a severance from the Father! Herein is the great pain, the difference from all other executions! Additionally; we are “made” righteous in Him! This is not a potential righteousness! This righteousness is being MADE by Him! We are redeemed not just for Heaven! But redeemed to be for Him here where all is contrary to Him yet where, according to Ephesians 1 we are to exhibit victory in every sphere of existence! Two quotes from former Dutch Prime Minister Abraham Kuyper stress the proper view of Ephesians chapter 1 in its totality and intent!
“In the total expanse of human life there is not a single square inch of which the Christ, who alone is sovereign, does not declare,’That is mine!’”
“When principles that run against your deepest convictions begin to win the day, then battle is your calling, and peace has become sin; you must, at the price of dearest peace, lay your convictions bare before friend and enemy, with all the fire of your faith.”
With such exhortations may this Easter be the demonstration of His resurrection in FACT and in DEEDS in every sphere, everywhere! Let no religious excuse, no testimony of unbelief, no logical explanation dissuade you from His victory on Earth as it is in Heaven!