Friday, July 9, 2010

Abandoning Your First Love...

Rev. 2:1-7 (ESV)
"To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: 'The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.
[2] " 'I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. [3] I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary. [4] But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. [5] Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. [6] Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. [7] He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.'

To the angel of the church in Ephesus…. So if we were talking of Cherubs and Seraphs why would John be instructed to write to them? And if he was talking of these creatures, why the admonishment? This is perhaps the best argument for the idea that he is talking of pastors as angels.
So first the Angel in Ephesus is praised, toil, patient endureance, does not bear with those who are evil, tests those who call themselves apostles…. The angel in Ephesus was zealous for doctrine. He was zealous for the faith. He was even zealous for his people. Yet he had abandoned the love he had at first.
I suppose some would describe this as dead orthodoxy, a concern for doctrine over and against works of love. Perhaps. Today I think the problem is normally just the opposite, a concern for works with absolute disregard for theological orthodoxy.
Yet at times you see this sort of thing happening. At times you see pastors who are so busy fighting against false teachers and false doctrine, that the persona take on that of a contentious spirit, and even when they don’t want to they seem to take it out on the people who simply don’t know any better. Their love comes to be that of a love for themselves and their own theological eruditeness. Sometimes in their own effort to remain “confessional” or to preserve their reputation as a conservative they show no mercy to those for whom Christ died. It is something to watch out for.
But “you hate the works of the Nicolaitans….” At times it is good to hate. The Nicolaiaans were a sect at one time fairly popular in Asia Minor, seems they engaged in and promoted fornication and adultery, and in the name of Christ. That is the knowledge we have been able to gain about them from extra Biblical texts of the time. Somehow this seems to be a perpetual danger for the church. Heresies of this type have come and gone throughout the history of the church, cults of this sort are as old as man. There are works to hate. There are religions to hate.
Today it may not be the sin of actively promoting this behavior, but turning a blind eye to the behavior. Marriage is a good thing. Society may not approve of it anymore. The laws and culture seem to be destroying it. But it is necessary. Christians cannot listen to society here. We can’t turn our eyes away from these sins, and not address them for what they are. There is forgiveness for these sins. Forgiveness is not an excuse to condone.


Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I'm sort of surprised that we haven't gotten modern Nicolaitans today - I mean, full bore ones.

Bror Erickson said...

They are out there Eric, but maybe not as open. Everyonce in a while you hear about "christian" sex cults and the aftermath.
Some say that Mormonism is actually the outcome of one of those that blew up in Oneida New York in the 19th century.

Larry said...

What if its dead orthodoxy not in the sense of doctrine over works of love, but a kind of empty shell orthodoxy that has gutted the content of the Gospel? In other words its one thing to confess orthodoxy, the two natures is a good example. Anyone that does not confess the two natures is easily identified as unorthodox and yet many heterodoxies are that confess the two natures in so many words don’t really “confess” it as it is. There is a sense in which I can answer the question of the two natures correctly and be “orthodox” yet have lost entirely why its important as to eternal things. It’s one thing to “get the test question right” but why is it right.

E.g. my children should not drink juice with arsenic in it. The right answer to the question, orthodox answer. But yet the real question is “why”, what does it do? It slowly poisons. That seems to me to be the “loss of the first love”. Many groups, even heterodoxies, confess the two nature and the trinity, even orthodoxy does this, the write (orthodox) answer to the question but why is the real question/answer and first love. Why is it deadly to go all Gnostic on the two natures and not just a “typo” in doctrine? Why is it deadly to go non-trinitarian and not just a miss adding up of the numbers? Why is it deadly to not have real sacraments (baptism and LS) and not just an incidental error? Why is it deadly to not have the real and true body and blood of Christ in the sacrament and not just a matter of a difference on the modes of real presence?

Those are the real questions, not just “this is the right answer to the test question” which has the shell of orthodoxy sometimes while gutted of the food. This food and marrow of the problem is the real deadliness and not just the outer answer to the question. This, I think, is the first love lost, EVEN in the presence of orthodoxy is it not? Is this not why even some orthodox confessing Lutherans can and do confess on the LS but yet don’t understand why it is such a deadly error. Put another way expanding to heterodoxy that get some “answer to the question right”, the shell orthodoxy, why, a Reformed or Baptist must ask themselves, is it wrong to deny the two natures or the trinity? Not just, “because it is false” (which it is) but why? What is so deadly about it.

Because there’s this air out there heavily among heterodoxy for certain and within orthodoxy in parts that, “Yes the answer to the question is X (orthodox answer)”, but a loss of the urgency of the very real and true spiritual deadliness attached to that error. I think its why many on many doctrines, especially the sacraments, and PARTICULARLY on the LS say on one hand, “Yes that may be true…but didn’t Jesus die for us anyway and that is enough (which it is) and ERGO what’s all the hubbub bub when all is said and done!”

That seems to possibly be the first love lost. In other words, why Luther seems so passionate unto death on the issue of the sacraments and he confessed in complete confidence to his very day to his comfort these things and today many Lutherans (the orthodoxy) while they see right (orthodoxy) and wrong (heterodoxy) they don’t see the spiritual urgency. It’s the difference in talking about good a thing tastes versus actually TASTING the goodness of a thing (the first love).

Bror Erickson said...

I think you are on to something here.
It often happens that people don't realize what is at stake.
I find that this is why neophytes are so often explosive in their exuberance for orthodox Lutheran theology. They understand its importance.
This is different for many who just grow up Lutheran, like me. I knew what was right doctrine. But it never hit me the importance of it all until I had a brush with the rest of the world and learned what was being taught there and the outcome. Then I became happy to be Lutheran.
But I think there is a badge of orthodoxy complex that hits many, and it is not a good thing. Orthodoxy should be characterized by charity and patience. The goal is to win other souls, not to save your own. And when it becomes nothing but flag waving to say I'm orthodox, I'm orthodox! and it disintegrates to an excuse for why your church is dying etc. well then I begin to wonder.
The truth is that too is often the result of not really knowing the why of orthodoxy, a sort of insecurity manifesting itself in a vicious circle of self defeat that is painful to watch.

Larry said...

I often wondered that. Coming from where I came from the standard interpretation was the "dead orthodoxy" meaning no loving good works, focusing on the word "love" in the "you've abandoned the love you had first". While that certainly that never made any since. The word that makes the passage seems to be "first" and one's first love coming into the faith is Christ and Him crucified for you. Not the fruits of faith. And to me that's real dead orthodoxy and simultaneously dead "good works pushing" disguised as love comes in.

People and movements tend to fall into one of two categories coming into the Christian faith. (A) they ultimately have been dispaired over and not liking of the lack of more or less in whatever form it comes "transforming power" of the Christian faith (so wrong "dead orthodoxy" is cried). E.g. Calvin, pietism, Puritans, Wesley, Rome, you name it. And so a kind of false christianity develops around that housed in some doctrines to give it structure. Or (B) what is sought is forgiveness of sin (e.g. Luther)

That, as I live and breath more and more I see even today, is the phenomena. You see Lutherans along with baptist and reformed (especially those coming out of that) really hit by the Law despairing and seeking the forgiveness of their sins. They either become full blown Lutheran or very Reformed Lutheran leaning (e.g. WHI folks). This later group if they attempt to remain are eschewed by the larger Reformed elements, I've seen and heard it numerous times. Then you have the baptist, Reformed and I think even crypto-pietistic lutherans who are as in days of old more concerned about the "effects" and "forgiveness of sin" is but a tangential thing at best. These are your standard MO Reformed/baptist etc... I've seen that first hand with a very close friend of mine baptist pastor who is very "luther leaning" (forgiveness of sin is it). He has caught 10 kinds of hell from fellow baptist and baptist pastors and its not the "liberal" "arminian" baptist either but the conservative/reformed/calvinistic renewal baptist he runs into.

That seems to be the constant battle back during the reformation and today, both corporately in large groups and individuals.

A strong example of this is how Michael Horton's (strong luther leaning, forgiveness of sin PRIMO) is eschewed by the larger Reformed body out there (the Owenian puritan types), these you find more over in the Sproul camp. When I use to frequent heavy Reformed sites as a Calvinist you'd be shocked the distance they put between themselves and the WHI.

I cought onto this even in our former PCA church when they would allow literature of the Reformed ilk that was Puritan based, calvinistic baptist like John Piper, MacArthur, etc...but you'd never find Horton's works or WHI type folks. I tried to introduce some of it thinking "well its reformed" back when I was there. But nobody wanted it.

If you read within the Reformed camp these two divisions, their writings, you'd swear there was two John Calvins or he had a dual personality.

Larry said...

Additional interesting related phenomena in the Reformed camp. If it’s a group that is “forgiveness of sin” (e.g. WHI reformed folks) you will see a resurgence of the “sacraments” (at least their version of it) in increasing frequency (every week), if it’s the other camp where “forgiveness of sin” is NOT the central issue, the sacraments frequency and use and importance disappears (quarterly or monthly at best, this is a plague in PCA I know first hand).

But not just frequency but how it is defined. Suffice it to say Reformed as a whole do not agree on the Lord’s Supper ranging from Zwingli to Calvin in their views. However, the more “forgiveness of sin” is Christianity folks slowly begin to raise the reality of Christ’s presence as highest in the sacrament (albeit the Calvin version of it and thus they emphasize those statements of Calvin that can sound Lutherish). The other group lean more to “just signage” and are really functioning baptist on the issue of both sacraments. As one fellow ex-PCA now Lutheran friend of mine told me on my blog, “in reformed baptism it just seemed like you increased the Vegas odds of a child coming to faith in baptism as opposed to strict believers baptism.” I had a calvinistic baptist friend one time in tears, I was still struggling myself then, wishing and praying that God would just save his son (then about 5). He was terrified he might not be elect.

This is a guarantee and I’ve heard it so many times I lost count, but if one happens to be “forgiveness of sin” Luther leaning and begins to “up” the sacraments (as Horton and the others have) they will be (and have been) accused of being crypto-lutheran. And then there ensues this battle for the two Calvins, “this is what Calvin meant”…”no this is what he meant”.

ldhashhughes said...


I just heard a commentary lecture (literally today) by Siegbert Becker on Revelation. He says kind of the same thing concerning the church of Ephesus and quotes a german lecture by Walther entitled (English version) “We are not what we were”. That the warning to the church of Ephesus in “loosing their first love” was not “loving acts” versus dead orthodoxy but a dying zeal for that same orthodoxy they once really were. I’m not as familiar with Lutheran church history even today because I didn’t come up in it as I might be of baptist history. My experience is very limited there unlike my other experience. But that does seem to be sometimes, especially in the realm of the sacraments. They are either relegated to “we don’t want to upset the apple cart” discussions or “some dark Lutheran family secret” it seems.


Bror Erickson said...

We are not what we were! That is for certain.
It is funny. But I look back on Church history and see that Walther and the boys, as tenacious as they were about theological orthodoxy were much more able and therefore willing and capable to discuss theology with the heterodox. They might not have communed, or even prayed with them, but they were willing to say lets sit down and talk.
Today orthodoxy is characterized by unwillingness to discuss, because sacraments might come up, our differences might be highlighted etc.

Bror Erickson said...

For instance, I wonder why it is we are not have serious talks with the bodies breaking off of the ELCA.
In the past this would have been seen as opportunity to sit down and discuss what it means to be Lutheran. But when your synodical president doesn't know that Lutherans believe in Baptismal regeneration, well... how do you expect him to discuss anything with anyone else?

Larry said...

That is so true, no one wants to discuss the differences and be plain about it. There's this tendancy to want to pull into the lowest common denominator of agreement and ignore the "elephant in the room" that EVERYONE is thinking about in silence.

A great baptist friend and minister of mine, one my best friends ever, always discuss differences and use uncoached language. But yet we do not get angry with each other. In fact we ENJOY greatly our discussions, they are some of the best ever. But we don't "glaze" past the diffrences.

And you what, a lot of times his questions to me set me to searching something I otherwise in my sloth would have NEVER looked for.

In fact he was dealing with the issue of closed communion in his baptist church (he was teaching it and doing it, still does) LONG before I had entertained it as I was beginning to transition from PCA to LCMS.

Those kinds of things are some of the most profitable discussions I've ever had.

On the other hand I've discussed with him, I always tell him he's Lutheran but just doesn't know it yet, issues that made him think (he's a life long baptist from the cradle).

E.g. (at this point I was theologically “Lutheran” on baptism) One time he was baptizing a couple of members and during the liturgy (I know that’s a dirty word in most baptist circles), the baptismal service, he did not do the usual focus one finds in a baptist church in which the Trinitarian name is almost formality and the emphasis is on “…based on your confession of faith I baptize you…” (std. baptist formula). Rather he focused at great length on the name, and Word (promise) and what God gives us in baptism. Then he baptized them. After the service one of the members, a staunch reformed baptist, came up to him and said, “that’s baptist”. I told him, “you know he’s right.” He looked at me oddly, “what do you mean”. So I explained the baptist doctrine back to him. He understood what I meant. That’s why I tell him he’s Lutheran and just doesn’t know it yet.