Three ways to live

Which is your way?

With Osipov on sin

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 7:39 am on Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Today I am going to look in detail at Eastern Orthodox view of sin, based on Prof. Osipov’s talk entitled “Sin and human nature”. 

Osipov begins by pointing out that Eastern Orthodoxy disagrees with Protestant and Catholic view of sin as violation of external God’s law that leads to punishment. Instead, it prefers to see God’s law as the law of the nature of our being and sin as the violation of this nature. So our motivation for avoiding sin should be not the punishment, but understanding that we contradict and damage our own nature.

Then he proceeds discussing three categories of sin:

  1. Personal sin. This includes sinful attitude inside the person (e.g. covetousness) as well as sinful acts toward others (stealing, murder).
  2. Inherited sin. The sinful passions we inherit from our parents. Osipov acknowledges that people are already born broken, with sinful desires, some with more, some with less. To Osipov this is common sense – everybody knows that in a criminal family the children often turn to crime. His own opinion is that this is how we are to understand God’s punishing people up to third or fourth generation. Nevertheless, the amount of inherited sin in us has nothing to do with our likelihood of becoming Christian. After all, the way to Christianity is not an absence of sin or sinful desires, it is the ability to see our own sinfulness and desire to overcome it. 
  3. Original sin. Here Osipov’s criticizes the Western view of original sin as our guilt (and corresponding punishment) for Adam’s sin. He also criticizes the view of Jesus’ sacrifice as earning our justification from this guilt and appeasement of God’s wrath. Instead, Eastern view is that it is not the guilt that is transferred to us from Adam but depravity and sickness. We are not guilty of Adam’s sin, we are sick. The death was not the punishment for Adam’s action but a result of the corruption of human nature due to his sin.

What do you think? Which points do you agree with and which do you disagree?If you have an opinion please leave a comment. I will post my own response in a couple of days in a separate post.

 

With Professor Osipov on Eastern Orthodox christianity

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 7:12 am on Sunday, April 20, 2008

After some deliberation on what to do next on this blog, I’ve decided to make a series of posts on Eastern Orthodox christianity. I have recently had several conversations with my mom (who is orthodox) about the differences between Protestants and Orthodox religions. While I was able to convince her that Protestants are also christians, trying to make my point made me want to learn more about Eastern Orthodoxy. 

The way I will approach this is by assessing a series of lectures by Dr. Osipov, a professor at Moscow Eastern Orthodox seminary. The lectures can be freely downloaded from here, but I doubt it will be useful for most of my readers as they are all in Russian.

So, who is Prof. Osipov? I don’t think you have ever heard of him or ever will. He hasn’t written any famous books or commentaries, his lectures are not likely to ever be translated into English. Yet, after listening to some of them I must say this man is a great communicator and is able to authentically represent the Eastern Orthodoxy.

How can this be useful to anybody else? Well, Russian christian thought has basically been developing quite independently from Western christianity and thus allows us to look at familiar things from a slightly different and (as I have often observed) very helpful angle. Yes, in what Osipov says, there are many things that Protestants will disagree with. Yet this man deserves to be heard and we will do well by listening to the issues he raises, even when we disagree with them. So tune in, the first installment is coming soon!

Personal page

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 10:32 pm on Monday, April 14, 2008

One of the main reasons for switching to WordPress for me was ability to add static pages to my blog, see for example my new personal page. In the future I am planning on adding more static pages containing some useful resources and links.

Moved to WordPress

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 3:52 am on Monday, April 14, 2008

As you might have noticed, I’ve just moved to WordPress. Won’t be posing much in the next few days, as I need to make sure that all my old posts have been transferred correctly. I might be switching themes from time to times, so don’t be surprised to see a new look each time you navigate to this blog.

In case you are wondering why WordPress and what was wrong with Blogger, a short answer is that Blogger vs. WordPress is like Windows vs. Mac or like Word vs. Latex. WordPress is highly restructive in formatting but can help your posts look nice and organized without much involvement.

Christian community

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 6:26 pm on Thursday, April 10, 2008

Here are the links to the three parts of Christian community series:

  1. Part 1 – Big picture
  2. Part 2 – Signs of authentic christian community
  3. Part 3 – Motivation

Christian community – Part 3

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 2:16 am on Sunday, April 6, 2008

This is part 3 of the notes on Christian community. Here are parts 1 and 2.

Motivation

Maintaining a community, as described in my previous post, is a difficult thing to do. It’s likely to result in hurt, pain, insecurity, etc. Where do we get the power to continue?

There are, of course, past (gratitude toward what Jesus has done) and future (eternal life) aspects. The world in its present form is passing away. All created things will be shaken of, no matter how sturdy or pleasant they look now. You may have a life that is full of conveniences and pleasures, but the end is the same for all – death. God offers us a new life, a new name, which is better than any name that we can have now. Those who are poor now will be rich, those who morn will be comforted, those who hunger will be filled. So we have a future hope which provides motivation for everything that we do and the assurance now by what Jesus has done.

But I think another important motivation for building a community is to understand that it is one of the primary way to worship God. A big part of both Old and New Testament worship was about community building. See bold highlights below.

Micah 6:6-8 (NIV)
6 With what shall I come before the Lord
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
8 He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

Isaiah 1:11-17 (NIV)

11 “The multitude of your sacrifices—
what are they to me?” says the Lord.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
12 When you come to appear before me,
who has asked this of you,
this trampling of my courts?
13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
I cannot bear your evil assemblies.
14 Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts
my soul hates.
They have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even if you offer many prayers,
I will not listen.
Your hands are full of blood;
16 wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds
out of my sight!
Stop doing wrong,
17 learn to do right!
Seek justice,
encourage the oppressed
Defend the cause of the fatherless,
plead the case of the widow.

Isaiah 58:2-7 (NIV)

2 For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.
3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.
5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for a man to humble himself?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying on sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Mark 12:33 (NIV)

33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

See also Hebrews 13 and Romans 12.

I used to think that these verses imply that God asks us to take care of other people as a way to please him. Yet now I think this doesn’t do justice to the true meaning of these verses. By showing kindness to others we do not only reflect God’s glory and please him, we build community. 
This understanding helps resolve many issues with “doing good for other people”. Should we give money to a stranger on the street? Should we offer a ride to a friend in church? Should we attend a church camp even despite being busy at work? Next time you have these (or similar) questions, try putting them through the lens of how they contribute to community building. 

Nice T-Shirt!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 11:50 pm on Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Christian community – Part 2

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 6:46 am on Tuesday, April 1, 2008

This is Part 2 of my three-part study notes on Christian community. Part 1 can be found here.

Signs of God’s community

So, what are the signs of a true Christian community? How is it different from secular human communities? Here are a few things that can be found in the Bible:

  1. A radically new community serving as an example to outsiders
  2. Serving each other with spiritual gifts and love (1 Corinthians 12-14, Romans 12:3-8)
  3. Equality among believers, no competition, jealousy
  4. Hospitality to strangers (Romans 12:13)
  5. Financial support to brothers and sisters (Romans 12:13)
  6. Forgiveness, both to members and outsiders (Romans 12:17-20, Matthew 18:21-35)
  7. Maintaining sexual purity (1 Corinthians 5, Romans 13:13)
  8. Being involved with each others’ lives, including discipline (1 Corinthians 5, Matthew 18:15-20)
  9. Submission to authorities
  10. No debts to others (Romans 13:7-8)
  11. Accept each others’ unimportant differences (Romans 14)

However, just stating all the marks of Christian community is not really helpful; many features stated above are also present in many healthy secular communities. For example, no community will survive without hospitality or some form of forgiveness. it would be more useful to highlight the differences between a Christian community and a secular one:

1. It should be a better community than a secular one

Why? Very simple, since God created us, he knows how we work, he knows what’s best for us. Something that adheres to his creation purposes must be better than something that does not. Imagine an engineer building a very sophisticated device. Of course, it might be possible to learn how to operate it. And you might even operate it flawlessly for some time. But ultimately, there will come a time when it will break. So it is even with the best human communities, best-run organizations, schools. Sooner or later they will break. Yet, God’s communities should stand.

2. They might look similar, but yet they should operate on radically different principles. The Christian community must always be built on putting others before yourself. Many secular communities operate on exactly opposite principle.

Secular community may appear doing the same things as the Christian community but for a different (and rather selfish) reasons. For example, submitting to authorities finally pays off – you can be much better off in a well-run country than in a corrupted one. Having many friends may make you feel good about yourself. The Christian community should, instead, be motivated by unselfish love.

Yes, very often the unselfish love will lead to many benefits for its members. And it should, since this is by God’s design. But this is a by-product rather than a goal. As C.S. Lewis has put it, “Aim at heaven and you will get Earth thrown in. Aim at Earth and you will get nothing.

Here are some marks that can distinguish a selfish community from a truly transformed one:

a. Consumer rather than covenantal relationship. Consumer relationships are based on mutual usefulness; once the latter disappears, the relationship breaks down. You might attend a music class and form a community there, but if you lose interest in music you will leave. That community existed only while it was useful to you. You can really like a chicken rice in a nearby stall and go there all the time, but if suddenly you noticed that there is better one, closer to you place and even cheaper, you will stop going to the previous stall. This is a consumer relationship. Christian community should be based on covenantal relationship, where people stay with each other because of commitment, not because of some benefit.

b. While a secular community might appear moral, it never obeys God’s law fully. Consider Hebrews 13:4-5, 16, which demands that we keep away from sexual immorality (we are not to free to decide how to use sex) and keep away from the love of money and share (we are not to freely decide how to use our money). It’s rare to find a US community that does both; conservatives uphold verse 4, but not 5 and 16, while democrats do exactly the opposite.

3. It is very tightly knit together and yet open to outsiders

This idea can be found in Hebrews 13:1-2. Verse 1 mentions philadelphia or brotherly love – a very tightly knit community of believers. But in verse 2 there is a word philoxenia, which means love of strangers. The secular communities are usually one way or another – they are either very close to each other and are not open to strangers or open but not very tight. Christian community is called to be both.

4. Christian communities always have a common goal, while secular ones often do not.

One of such goals is its very special mission, which is to expand itself, through becoming so attractive to the world like a city on a hill that others would want to join, and through direct proclamation and teaching of the gospel. That was Jesus’ command to his disciples – go, proclaim the gospel and make disciples of all nations – build and expand the community of believers.

5. One of the goals of the Christian community is building each other up, help to bring each other closer to God’s intended image. Hence Christians should despise privacy and allow brothers and sisters full access to their lives. Secular communities usually have much narrower goals (music club, workplace) and hence allow only certain points of contact, relevant to their common goal. In a sense, secular communities are like clubs. You may allow your street or apartment neighbors to dictate the amount of noise you make or discuss neighborhood news, but will keep many other aspects of your life private.

In my next post I will talk about our motivation for building a community.

Christian Community – Part I

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 7:41 am on Sunday, March 30, 2008

Some time back during a group retreat we discussed a topic of Christian community. I will decided to put my prepared material on this blog in three parts; today is Part 1.

Christian community – big picture

1) What is community according to God? Since God as a Trinity is already a community, we can learn a lot about human community by first looking at God’s own. First human community was created male and female, to reflect the nature of God. Two factors united trinity into community – communication inside and common mission to outside. So the first human community was given a common task – take care of each other (inside mission) and tend the garden of Eden (outside mission). So we can define God’s created human community as a group of male and female people united under God to care for each other and to have a common mission/goal that benefits the creation. These features will become more evident in the way God builds his community in the Bible.

2) Human community in the Bible

The fall led to several community problems – broken relationship between people and God, and between people within the community. Yet, what does the broken community do first? It builds cities, see Gen 4-11. The truth is, we cannot live without community, even when our sin makes us selfish. Sin can make us have wrong reasons to join a community (to feel better about ourselves, to make our life more comfortable, safe), but everyone of us deep inside has need for community. Child’s brain does not develop properly unless he is touched, hugged, kissed by their parents, no matter how much other stimuli you provide. Try enjoying something precious without ever showing it to anybody else. Try not depending on somebody else’s opinion. You can’t! We are made to live in a community.

What does the broken community do next? It seeks God, trying to reverse the effect of the fall on their own strength. Both community building and seeking God culminates in the tower of Babel story. Yet God sends a resounding “No” by confusing people with many languages in Gen 11. People can neither restore community on their own nor restore their relationship with God on their own. Why not? Because trying to be independent from God, and trying to resolve the problem on their own strength was the essence of Adam’s sin that has caused the problem in the first place. No, the restoration must be initiated by God alone. And that’s exactly what he does by appearing to Abraham in Gen 12.

Since then, God was working on restoring the community. Note that his promise to Abraham was that he will become a seed for many nations – a new community. God had to intervene for that to happen, to make sure that this action could not have been accomplished by any human effort. Next, God appeared to Moses and again had to intervene to bring Israelites out of Egypt to become a new community. He then promised David an offspring (Jesus!) to become a beginning of a yet another new community. Jesus started this new community of Christian believers through his sacrifice on the cross and subsequent defeat of death by his resurrection. The new Christian community was no longer limited to a race or a nation. Finally, in the end of time, God will make new Heaven and New Earth, which will finalize the new community.

Understanding this might help us better understand the relationship between salvation and good works. God have saved the Jews from the slavery and then gave them the law. But the law was never supposed to be a way to be saved (they were already saved at that point of time), it was a way to build new community.Similarly, the Christian salvation is not an end in itself, it is a means to an end, which is to create a new community. We are saved by what Jesus has done, but we obey his commands because the ultimate goal is to build a new Christian community with God in the center, made right with God by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

Sometimes people ask, why go to church? Why can’t we just be individually saved? Because God has never intended this to be the end, only means to an end, which is a new community, a church. Sometimes, we can get busy studying the Bible and yet miss forest for the trees.

In part 2, I will discuss on some of the signs of a healthy Christian community.

Why pray? – Summary of study

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 8:00 am on Monday, March 17, 2008

In the my last post (sorry, it was a while back), I promised to address some of the challenging questions on prayer. Even though I wanted to look at all eight questions, the group’s discussion didn’t go much beyond the first two, which can really be further combined into one:

“Why pray if God knows what you will ask him before you actually do? Moreover, God will only grant your request if it is according to his will, but if it is according to his will, he will do it anyway even if you don’t ask him”.

What I learned when preparing for the study is that this question keeps been asked again and again and again. I have heard it been answered by people whose teaching I really respect, e.g. Tim Keller, Don Carson, etc. So what’s the answer?

There is none.

There is no answer. Any explanation you will try to give will not make sense in one way or another. The only way to understand it is that while our prayer has appearance of us asking God for something and trying (in a way) to change his mind, the only thing that changes in prayer is us.

What did this discovery did to me personally? After a few days of struggle, somehow, I feel liberated. I have struggled with prayer for a long time, but now that I know there is no good explanation for why we should pray, I feel free to pray simply out of obedience to God’s Word. And, somehow, I feel humbled by the fact that not everything can be understood by our limited minds. Well, I knew that already, but this time this understanding (that I can’t understand everything and must rely more on God) came really home to me.

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