Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Pentacost Message 2009

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev. Dr. Stephen Tong on 31st May 2009 in Newton Life. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

The greatest gift God has given to the world is the gift of His one and only Son. The greatest gift God has given to the Church is the Holy Spirit. If God the Son never came, the world has no hope. If the Holy Spirit never came, there would be no Church.

God the Holy Spirit is our Comforter for all generations. We receive more abundant life because of the Holy Spirit. God the Son resurrected from the dead and accomplished salvation, and God the Spirit makes us understand the works of Christ through the inspiration of His Word. This is unique to Christianity. The faith of Christianity is the faith in the Triune God. It is not three Gods in three persons, not one God in one Person, but one God in three Persons.

There are always emergence of heretical teaching throughout the history of the Church. The first one is around interpretation of God, the second one around Christology and the third is around the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Once the concept of God is wrong, it is very difficult to turn around. It becomes heretical teaching in the most fundamental doctrine. The wrong understanding of God will lead to a wrong execution of religion, and eventually bring about a collapse in the entire lifestyle.

This is because God is the Centerpoint, the reason for all creation. God is the One that sustains the universe and inspires the truth. He is the Lord of salvation and the Source of understanding for the Church. The wrong understanding of revelation leads to wrong understanding of the truth.

The Church has spent many years debating on the doctrine of Trinity, Christology and the Holy Spirit. From the first to the third century, Christian faith was in the midst of great confusion as the church struggled to consolidate the doctrine of God. The first person to use the word Trinity is Tertullian, but Augustine is the first to write about the doctrine of the Triune God. The most important confession on Trinity is the Athanasian Creed. At the time of Athanasius, there was a presbyter Arius who did not believe in the Triune God. He considered Christ as a creature hence denying His divinity. If the Son was created, He is not equivalent to the Father.

The denial of Christ’s deity was already present in the gnostic thought in the first century. The Gnostics believed that Christ is the created Logos. God used the created Logos to create the world, but Logos is part of creation itself, the first created matter. Hence the world was created through Logos, and this introduces the concept of the highest God, and the created god, which is the Logos.

Athanasian Creed declares God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to be equal in glory. If you believe in only one God and one Person, you are a unitarian. If you believe in many gods, you become a polytheist. Polytheists cannot segregate the Creator from the created world. So on one extreme is the believe of only one God in one Person, and the other extreme is polytheism (many gods), but only Christianity presents the Trinity.

When Christ entered synagogue at the start of His ministry, He opened the book of Isaiah and said the Spirit of God is upon Him. So God the Father anointed God the Son with God the Holy Spirit. At the end of His time on earth before His ascension, He gave the mandate to baptise believers in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Son came forth from the Father, revealed the Father to believers, and went back to the Father so that the Holy Spirit would come to believers. So the teaching of the Triune God is abundant in the words of Christ, especially in the gospel of John.

This unique understanding of God in Christianity is absent from all other religions. The theology of Trinity is built upon the revelation of God, not on the reasoning power of men. The revelation of God is different from our understanding of His revelation. God is infinite and His truth surpasses reason. Our created reason is constrained, and moreover with the Fall, we cannot use our created and fallen reason to understand God’s revelation fully.

Does that mean we should despise reasoning power and neglect the responsibility of thinking? The thinking process of trichotomy, popularised by Watchman Nee, would go this path. Trichotomy believes that human is made of 3 parts, body, soul and spirit. The body is made up of senses, the soul of emotions, reason and will, and the spirit is part that can be in contact with God. Due to this view, reason is neglected and considered as something unspiritual, hence they cannot fulfil cultural mandate. The side effect is that many Christians abandon the use of reason to understand the Bible. It brings about a segregation from the world, causing people to think spiritual Christians do not use their mind and are against the intellectuals. As a result, Christians have no influence whatsoever in the society. They are not light in the world, but just light within the church. Inside the church, there are listeners but once outside the church, nobody listens to them.

In reformed understanding, reason should not be neglected nor worshiped, but should be brought back under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Similarly, our emotions are to be guided by the holy love of the Holy Spirit and our will to be guided by the Holy Spirit so that we are obedient to God’s will. Hence our faith is true when reason, will and emotions are brought back under God’s truth.

Reformed thinkers would use reason but not worship it. They should be most rational people but they are not to become rationalists. Reason is not God; it is one of the important faculty God has given to use for His glory. When our reason is under the guidance of God, it will fulfil its great potential. Indirectly the charismatics have gone through the same error. They make great intellectuals to keep using their emotions and discard their reasons. This should not be.

We can bring back to the altar of God the intelligent among us. We can use reason but not worship it, just as we can belong to a denomination but we cannot worship the denomination. We have political view and status but we cannot worship it. The question is not whether reason is useful or not. The important question is who is guiding our reason. Martin Luther said that reason has no loyalty. It is like a prostitute and its passion is fake. How frequently we hear arguments from opposing sides and our reasons continue to switch allegiance. That is how decadent our reason is.

If we believe in relativism, our reason has become like a prostitute. We agree with anything and everything. We need to have a stand. The stand is to take our reason to be submissive to the Word of God that we will only testify the truth. When the Spirit of Truth comes, it will remind us of what Christ had spoken to us. The Spirit awakens us and guides the direction of our thinking, that we will remember what Jesus has taught us. So the Spirit is not here to extinguish thinking, but to enable us to think properly.

God the Father sent God the Son that we might have life. The Father and Son sent the Holy Spirit that we might have life abundantly. God the Father prepared salvation, God the Son came in the flesh to complete salvation by purposely taking a decayable body to enter death and defeat death. When He truly died, it is not because of His sin, but because he took over our sin. So it is not a passive death, but an active death. He had the power to let go of His own life and to take it back. His resurrection is also active. He came voluntarily to earth, but did not lift up Himself. He willingly humbled Himself and God lifted Him up. This is how Christ is in contrast from Satan. Satan lifted himself up and was abandoned by God. Christ did it the other way round. He humbled Himself and God lifted Him up to the highest place and gave Him the Name above all names.

Jesus went to heaven so that the Spirit of truth would come in to live in the hearts of believers forever. God the Father breathed into Adam to give him life and God the Son breathed into his disciples to give them the promise of the Holy Spirit which is the mark spiritual life. Nobody else have the right to breath life into other people. God is God and man is man.

But is the Son really God? God the Father said to the Son, “Today I have begotten You.” This “Today” is in eternity. It is not in history, it is above history. So in all eternity Christ is begotten of the Father. He is the only begotten Son of God.

The Holy Spirit is not begotten, otherwise Jesus will not be the only begotten Son of God. But how is the Holy Spirit God if He is not begotten of God? How did He give new life if He is not God? How can he reveal truth to men? From the Bible clearly we know that the Holy Spirit is God.

The Holy Spirit proceeds from God. He is not begotten of the Father nor of the Son. But did He proceed from the Father or from the Son or both? In the 11th century, the church split over this doctrine of the Holy Spirit. The theology of Trinity and Christology were already past by the third century. In the 11th century, there was eastern and western Roman empire.

Western church believes that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. The Eastern church believes that it is only from the Father. Until today they are still separated over this issue. This is the first giant split. The second giant split was the reformation in 1517. The third time did not look so obvious, which was in 20th century when the charismatic spoke about the Holy Spirit.

The differences in the doctrine of the Holy Spirit is because the Eastern Orthodox followed Greek, while the Western follow Latin. Latin church fathers influenced Roman western church. Here Augustine’s works on Trinity influenced the Roman catholic church. His book says that the Holy Spirit were sent from God the Father and the Son. On this doctrine, following Augustine, the reformed theology’s stand is the same as the Roman Catholic. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God, and is also the Spirit of Christ.

After God gave us His only begotten Son, the plan of salvation was completed. Before Christ ascended to heaven, He promised the Holy Spirit, who will help us remember what Christ said, comfort and protect us. This is Another Comforter. Since this is “Another”, this cannot be Christ Himself.

Christ said to His disciples that when the Holy Spirit come upon them, they would receive power to be His witnesses. He did not leave a single dollar for ministry and had not build a single church when He ascended. The work of God does not depend on men’s power, but on the Spirit of God. What is impossible with men is possible with God. May the Lord illuminate, inspire and guide us.


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