Ephesus was a center for the practice of magic (Acts 19:18–19). It welcomed magicians and sorcerers. These were believed to draw power from the worship of Artemis and other occult practices. We might be tempted to say that a false god is “nothing” and therefore no threat (1 Cor. 8:4), but Paul corrects a dismissive approach and warns that demons stand behind idols and receive their worship (1 Cor. 10:20). Hence, Ephesus was a hub of spiritual darkness and demonic oppression.
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians stands alongside Romans as a classic example of his thought. Ephesians is heavenly in its content and expansive in the truths it proclaims, while remaining approachable and pragmatic in its instructions. Here are three things you should know when you read Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.
1. Ephesians is deliberately broad and general.
Unlike Colossians, where Paul had not met the people to whom he was writing, he had pastored the Ephesians for three years (Acts 20:31). During that time, he regularly taught in a public lecture hall, laying a broad foundation of Christian teaching in Ephesus before this letter was written (Acts 19:9–10). So, what Paul writes is not a reaction to heresy (as in Colossians) or to public scandal (as in 1–2 Corinthians), but the essential gospel. Ephesians is gloriously and majestically general. It is a digest, hitting the high notes of the years of gospel teaching he provided as their pastor.
Paul’s balanced summary presents the two great functions of faith: to receive the redemption accomplished by Jesus Christ and to respond in new obedience. Chapters 1–3 lay out the gospel facts. They recount God’s eternal plans to bless His people, to give new life to those who were spiritually dead, to unite those who had been divided and far off into the one church, and to “do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us” (Eph. 1:3–14; 2:1–10, 11–22; 3:20). The first three chapters essentially ask the question, Will you believe?
In the last three chapters, Paul lays out the faithful response to redemption. A person’s “walk” is a motif in the letter. The term first appears when describing how unbelievers “walked” in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1–2). But, beginning in Ephesians 4, believers are called to “walk” as a response of faith. Paul calls the faithful to walk worthily of Christ (Eph. 4:1).
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By Ben Zornes — 1 year ago
God’s commandment is to believe in Jesus, and love the brethren. Once again it is made abundantly clear for even the feeblest saint, our confidence towards God is on the basis of faith in Christ alone. ”Faith alone” should be the key signature of our prayers.
And this is His commandment, That we should believe upon the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another, as He gave us commandment. 24 And he that keeps His commandments dwells in Him, and He in him. Now hereby we know that He dwells in us, by the Spirit which He has given us.1 John 3:23-24
As this line of argument comes to a close, John puts a nail in timidity’s coffin. Here is the command we are to keep. A command which is uncomfortably simple to both the self-righteous and the self-pitying. But this command is a deep comfort to the feeblest of saints: believe in Jesus, and love one another (v23); and then trust that you rest in Him as He abides in you.
John’s argument (in vv20-21) is a decision making flowchart of sorts. Does your heart condemn you? If, yes? God is greater than your heart. Now, in light of that, does your heart condemn you no more? Good, then say your prayers (v22).
To come to God in prayer is to come to Him by the Son, by the Intercessor. Only a fool would try to come before God in order to pull off a heist; as if he could dupe God by coming in any other way than by the Son. When God’s greatness is displayed in Jesus Christ manifested in the flesh, prayer becomes like the no-doubt 3-pointer. We pray “Thy Kingdom come”, and we are certain that near and far, in our heart and in our homes, from shore to shore Christ is King and shall be exalted in all the earth. Who could pray such a bold prayer unless that had certainty that the Father would hear & answer such prayers?
By Nick Batzig — 2 years ago
All theological error originates from the evil one. He is more cunningly skillful than we could ever know at leading people astray through academic and highly nuanced theological error. As is true with every other danger that we face, when we come to study theological error we must remember the words of the Apostle Paul: “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”
There is a profoundly important section titled, “On the Preaching of the Word,” in The Directory for the Public Worship of God, in which we find a very short and very wise statement about the minister’s responsibility to refute false teaching in the church. What is most captivating about the brief statement found therein is that it instructs concerning, first, the dangers of talking about false teaching, and, second, the necessity of refuting false teaching in the church.
As the Divines unfolded their beliefs about how ministers should approach the aspect of refuting theological error in their preaching, they wrote:
In confutation of false doctrines, he [i.e. the minister] is neither to raise an old heresy from the grave, nor to mention a blasphemous opinion unnecessarily: but, if the people be in danger of an error, he is to confute it soundly, and endeavor to satisfy their judgments and consciences against all objections.
The rationale for this statement is dependent on understanding the nature of false teaching itself. In short, ideas can and often do have massive spiritual consequences. J. Gresham Machen made the important statement about the implications of false teachings and ideologies when he wrote:
False ideas are the greatest obstacles to the reception of the gospel…What is today a matter of academic speculation begins tomorrow to move armies and pull down empires. In that second stage, it has gone too far to be combated; the time to stop it was when it was still a matter of impassioned debate.1
Since beliefs inevitably have consequences on our lives and actions, the Divines first warn against our “raising an old heresy from the grave, nor to mention a blasphemous opinion unnecessarily.” They do not say this to be necessarily or fearfully censorious, or to bury their heads in the sand rather than deal with difficult theological matters. Rather, they raise this warning because of the nature of false teaching.
When I was a young Christian, a friend taught me that “whenever false teaching is taught in a nuanced fashion there is always the danger that some who hear it will be drawn into it.” He went on to explain that this is true within the realm of relationships, as well. Whenever we start to enter into debate with those with whom we disagree we are in danger of becoming more like them–as well as becoming more susceptible to being influenced by their beliefs. It is not guaranteed that this will happen, but it is certainly a very real and ever present danger. Tragically, years after sharing this thought with me, my friend went on to embrace a sinful lifestyle due in part to the public discussions about, and approval of, that particular sin. Additionally, I have watched–with great heaviness of heart–as a minister of the Gospel walked away from Protestantism in the midst of engaging, on church court levels, with men who were being tried for holding to aberrant theological views on the sacraments and soteriology. Whether engagement with sacramentalist views were the cause of his departing from the truth or not, I cannot help but wonder what impact interacting with aberrant teaching had on this particular individual.
This danger must be highlighted within the realm of pastoral ministry in the church. There are some who thrive on debating theological issues. This can be harmful to the members of a church because some members already have misguided beliefs, and some have a very small knowledge of doctrine. In the case of the first group, introducing old heresies can encourage more confusion. I have, time and again, seen individuals start to dabble with heresy because they already had misguided beliefs based on their erroneous knowledge of Scripture. In the case of the latter group, introducing theological error–even in the name of “discernment”–can end in filling the minds of God’s people with falsehood when they ought to be filling their minds with the truth. Far better to teach them the nuances of the truth of Scripture so that they will be able to discern falsehood when confronted with it. You don’t study a counterfeit dollar bill to spot a counterfeit; you study the real dollar currency so that you will be better suited to spot the counterfeit.
By Scott Aniol — 4 months ago
With the NT, God no longer has to condescend and enter the fabric of the physical universe to manifest Himself to his people; he can now allow his people to ascend into Heaven itself to worship him, which the author argues is superior to the former worship. This is possible because of Jesus’s mediation on the behalf of his people (12:24), and thus Christians can now approach God with full confidence in worship.
The immediate causes for Reformation in various regions, as well as what caused divisions among various Reformation figures, are diverse. However, much of what lay at the core of what both unified Reformers in their reaction against the Roman Catholic Church and what ended up dividing them in the end, involved theology and practice of worship.
Yet what is remarkable is that some of the very same problems with worship that the Reformers criticized with medieval worship have appeared again in contemporary worship. No, the contemporary church has not denied the five Solas or submitted once again to Rome; rather, the practices of contemporary worship suffer from some of the same fundamental problems that Rome’s worship did at the start of the sixteenth century.
Core Problems with Medieval Worship
Although much of the development of worship during the Middle Ages was originally rooted in biblical prescription, example, and theology, heresy did grow, and several aspects of how many Christians worshiped by the end of the fifteenth century made significant reformation necessary.
Problems specifically with worship can be summarized with the following categories:
One of the first significant errors in late medieval worship was sacramentalism, attributing the efficacy of an act of worship—especially the eucharistic elements—to the outward sign rather than to the inner working of the Holy Spirit. Christians during this period came to believe that just by performing the acts of worship, they received grace from God, whether or not they were spiritually engaged in the act. Along with this belief came the idea of ex opera operato (“from the work worked”), the belief that the acts of worship work automatically and independently of the faith of the recipient.
Necessity of Faith
Martin Luther stressed the need for personal faith in those who wished to participate in worship. The mass is not, Luther insisted, “a work which may be communicated to others, but the object of faith, . . . for the strengthening and nourishing of each one’s own faith.” Martin Bucer’s most significant work on the subject, Grund und Ursach (“Ground and Reason”), called the Roman view of the Table “superstition.” He insisted that worship that is “proper and pleasing to God” must always be based upon “the sole, clear Word of God.”
These Reformers insisted that the sacraments were limited only to the two Christ himself commanded and were considered visible signs of spiritual realities. Though the sacraments are means of grace given from God, then are not effectual in and of themselves; rather the benefits of the means of grace to sanctify a person necessitate the sincere faith of the worshiper and were brought about ultimately by the inner work of the Holy Spirit.
Medieval worship also developed the error of sacerdotalism, the belief in the necessity of a human priest to approach God on the behalf of others. As a result of the drastic increase of church attendance in the fourth century, a strict distinction between clergy and laity had developed wherein the clergy did not trust the illiterate, uneducated masses to worship God appropriately on their own. Thus, the clergy offered “perfected” worship on behalf of the people. The pronouncement by the Council of Laodicea in 363 illustrates this: “No others shall sing in the church, save only the canonical singers, who go up into the ambo and sing from a book.” While this was a local council, it illustrates what became common among most churches in the Middle Ages.
The quality of worship became measured by the excellence of the music and the aesthetic beauty of the liturgy, and while this facilitated the production of some quite beautiful sacred music during the period, it resulted in “worship” becoming mostly what the priests did in the chancel, which eventually was often distinctly separated from the nave by high rails or even a screen. This clergy/laity separation was only exacerbated by the continued use of Latin as the liturgical language despite the fact that increasing numbers of people did not understand the language.
By the end of the fourteenth century, members of the congregation rarely participated in the Lord’s Supper, and even when they did, the cup was withheld from them lest some of Christ’s blood sprinkle on the unclean. Roman worship had moved from the “work of the people” (leitourgia) to the work of the clergy. As even Roman Catholic liturgical scholar Joseph Jungmann notes, “the people were devout and came to worship; but even when they were present at worship, it was still clerical worship. . . . The people were not much more than spectators. This resulted largely from the strangeness of the language which was, and remained, Latin. . . . The people have become dumb.” The people became mere spectators of the worship performed by priests on their behalf.
Luther criticized this very reality in the Preface to his German Mass: “The majority just stands there and gapes, hoping to see something new.” The Reformers countered this mentality by insisting that each member of the congregation ought to be an active participant in worship, including praying, singing, receiving the sacraments, and hearing the Word. Martin Luther stated in the Preface to his Latin Mass:
I also wish that we had as many songs as possible in the vernacular which the people could sing. . . . For who doubts that originally all the people sang these which now only the choir sings or responds to while the bishop is consecrating?
Preoccupation with Sensory Experience
Medieval Christians likewise became enamored with sensory experience in worship. Church architecture deliberately kept the nave dark and the elevated chancel bright and included ornate, elaborate decorations. Liturgy included rich vestments, processions, and other elaborate ceremonies that included bells and incense in order to create a mystical experience.
The Reformers Rejected Visual Images as Essential to Worship
Even Luther considered them “adiaphora”—“things indifferent.” He said of worship in The Babylonians Captivity of the Church, “We must be particularly careful to put aside whatever has been added to its original simple institution by the zeal and devotion of men: such things as vestments, ornaments, chants, prayer, organs, candles, and the whole pageantry of outward things.” In On the Councils and the Church (1539):, Luther said, “Besides these external signs and holy possessions the church has other externals that do not sanctify it either in body or soul, nor were they instituted or commanded by God; . . . These things have no more than their natural effects.”
The Reformed wing argued that if they were adiaphora, they should be eliminated. For example, Ulrich Zwingli was committed to church practice being regulated by Scripture alone, leading him to advocate much more radical reforms than even Luther did. He insisted that worship practices must have explicit biblical warrant, causing him to denounce images, other ceremonial adornments, and even music from public worship since he could find no warrant for them in the New Testament.