Media, Meditation, and the Mind of Christ

 

It may come as no surprise that the world is vying for our attention.  It’s certainly nothing new, but perhaps it has accelerated its program and expanded it’s offerings since the dawn of the Age of Consumerism particularly with technological advancements.

We’re surrounded by a sea of offerings from music, television, and the internet.  We have media in our pockets and at our fingertips, literally a world in the palm of our hands.  Long gone are the days of watching a favorite television show and having to wait an entire week to find out what was going to happen next.  We live in an age of Netflix and binge-watching, where we can consume as much as we want, when we want, how we want, and where we want.  Gone too are the mornings of slow and deliberate newspaper reading, we have and desire 24/7 news accessibility.

Additionally, we are bombarded with voices, even the one speaking through this meager blog; voices from blogs, podcasts, vlogs, radio, t.v., print, etc. all telling us how to think and what to think on.  Not only are there talking heads on these various platforms, but there is social media, where literally thousands of voices can combine to leave comments on any topic or simply speak through their own platform.  We are exposed to the lives, thoughts, and opinions of others without limit.  In fact, we expose ourselves to them each time we open Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or turn on the radio or television.

The quantity and variety of media is limitless.  Essentially, you can find anything you want at any time you want or simply wait and it will find you.  If we stopped to think about it, the amount of information our minds are exposed on a daily basis is staggering.  Oddly enough, despite all of the over-exposure to this information, all the while we remain un-engaged with people and with the media we are consuming.  In a sense it is a mindless consumption.  Simply observe a modern family in a restaurant, each with their own devices scrolling in a zombie-like, semi-vegetative state failing to realize the interactions they’re so desperately searching for lie across the table.

Is any of this consumption of spiritual profit to our minds?  With all of these voices and media options garnering our attention, clouding our minds, and sending us into a catatonic state it can be difficult, rather it can be virtually impossible, to hear the only Voice that matters.  The voice of Almighty God speaking through His all-holy Word.

Over and again in God’s Word we read such statements regarding the mind as

Romans 8:5-8 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

Colossians 3:1-2 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

1 Peter 1:13 13 Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

Philippians 4:8-9 “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things

Just in the sampling above, we see that there are calls to action for setting the mind on the things of God.  How can this happen if we allow ourselves to be bombarded with a cesspool of virtual media?  How are we to love the Lord with all of our mind if it is filled with all manner of worldliness, regardless of the media form in which it is delivered?

Simply put, we cannot.

This places a level of importance upon the much maligned and neglected practice of divine meditation.

Writing in Volume One of his works, Puritan John Owen says

“The mind must be spiritual and holy, freed from earthly affections and encumbrances, raised above things here below, that can in a due manner meditate on the glory of Christ. Therefore are the most strangers unto this duty, because they will not be at the trouble and charge of that mortification of earthly affections, — that extirpation* of sensual inclinations, — that retirement from the occasions of life, which are required whereunto.”

*killing; exterminating; unto extinction

Owen, speaking of the distractions of his own 17th Century, exhorts us that the mind must be freed from earthly affections and from those things which would hold us back and keep us from meditation, particularly on Christ.  This is the chief reason why so few give their mind to meditation, they are entangled in the mindless distractions of this age.  In order to meditate properly and effectively, these affections and distractions must be brought to extinction.  Not merely placated. Not merely lessened. But totally eradication.

So then, we are faced with a multitude of problems, from over-exposure to media, to a failure to realize we are called to meditate on Christ, ignorance of how to meditate, a variety of media distracting our minds from the spiritual discipline of meditation.

How can we possibly prepare our minds for action if we are exposed to such a quantity of mental distractions?

Perhaps our answer may be as simple as realizing that those who have trusted in Christ have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:16; Philippians 2:5).  A mind that is transformed by renewal, not conformed to this world (Romans 12:2; Eph. 4:23).  Believer’s in Christ have been renewed in their inward man, a renewal of the mind (2 Corinthians 4:16).  This gift of a renewed mind is not to be given over to worldly pollution again (Eph. 4:17).

Far too often it seems we are content to allow our minds to veg-out in media consumption, failing to realize that there is a daily war taking place, vying for our attention with a motivation to numb us to the core of our very souls.

For the unbeliever, your mind has been blinded by the god of this age (2 Corinthians 4:4) whose desire it is to keep you blinded by constant distractions.  It is a mind given over to futility (Ephesians 4:17) and a mind set on the things of this world, which are hostile to Christ (Philippians 3:18-19).  The only hope is a renewed mind in Christ through repentance of sin and embracing of Him by faith as Lord and Savior.

For the believer, it is a realization that we have the mind of Christ.  A mind that is not to be subject to the calling sirens of the world.  A mind that is not to be set on things below.  A mind that is to be set on, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

The Foundation of Ekklesia

 

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. Matthew 16:13-20

In the passage cited above, we have what may be properly called the first confession of Christ’s ekklesia, given by Peter via revelation from God the Father.  Our Lord Jesus’ reply has led to numerous interpretive challenges that have caused no shortage of division and schism among those who profess the name of Christ, at least outwardly.

To address the first of these controversies, we begin by asking, “Who or what is this rock upon which Christ will build His ekklesia?”

Historically, there has been recognition given to a word play between Peter (masc. – petros) and the rock (fem. – petra) that some have used to help support their interpretation.  There may be something to this and our Lord seemingly is making a distinction between the two, i.e. “You are Peter (little rock) and on this rock (rock cliff) I will build my ekklesia“.  Despite the obvious differences, I do not lean on this distinction to determine the meaning of the passage.

Traditionally, the Roman Catholic Church has asserted that the “rock” in this passage is Peter, which for them sets up the doctrine of Apostolic succession upon which they fabricate their doctrine of the Pope.  Some, even well-intentioned Protestants, affirm that the rock does indeed refer to Peter, their implications simply being that the church was built upon the apostles, of which Peter may have had preeminence.  Of course, this latter, Protestant interpretation in no way allows for the establishment of apostolic succession from Peter to popes.

Others, perhaps recognizing the validity of such an interpretation have affirmed not only Peter as the rock, but Peter + his confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  This is the view that I held by default, meaning I hadn’t really studied the passage for myself but relied on faithful teachers who held this view (never a good idea by the way!).  Similarly, some have simply allowed that the rock is the confession that Peter makes or even the faith that he displays.

However, now arriving at this passage with fresh eyes for the purpose of defining my understanding of the church, I find myself in disagreement with all of the above interpretations concluding that, along with John Owen, the rock is none other than Christ.

First, notice the ESV translation of this interaction between Peter and our Lord:

16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

In making observations on this passage, the question that I’ve asked first is not who is the rock, but why does our Lord repeat Peter’s name in a formulaic expression, first in saying Simon Bar-Jonah and then declaring “you are Peter”?  The answer, I humbly assert, is to repeat the formula that Peter uses.  In doing so, Christ reminds Peter of the name change that He gave him (John 1:42), the little rock from the larger Rock, so to speak, thereby affirming Himself as the central focus of this confession and passage, not Peter.  Note below:

“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

“You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church

If our Lord was determined to declare Peter as the rock upon which He would build His ekklesia He could have simply said “You are Petros and upon this Petros I will build my ekklesia”, no word play necessary.  The two confessions seem to be directly parallel, but let’s go on.

Second, note the framework for this entire section is the assertion that Jesus is the Messiah (Christ/Annointed One).  It begins with the question, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” to which Peter answers, “The Christ, the Son of the living God”.  The section ends with the instruction by Jesus for His disciples to “tell no one that he was the Christ.”  The focus is not that Peter has been in some way given the distinction as the rock, but that Jesus is the Christ,  the Anointed One and Son of God.  This fact frames the entire interaction between Jesus, Peter, and subsequently the other disciples.

Third, almost as if to dispel any confusion that Peter may have been given the preeminent designation as THE rock, Matthew’s gospel follows up this account with a rather inauspicious portrayal of Peter.  If in fact he was just designated as the rock upon which Christ’s ekklesia would be built, then this foundation begins to crumble in the very next narrative.

21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Matthew 16:21-23

Fourth, the word our Lord chooses to use here for rock, petras, has a prior usage in Matthew’s gospel.  In Matthew 7:24-25 we read

24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.

Can there be any reasonable argument made that the rock upon which the wise man builds his house is none other than our Lord?

Fifth, outside of the Gospel of Matthew, we have clear passages that designate Christ as the stone, or Cornerstone, upon which His ekklesia is built.  Sometimes this is the word lithos, but other times it is the very word we find here in Matthew.  We can see this in Romans 9:33, 1 Corinthians 10:4, and most notably 1 Peter 2:8 (see also Isaiah 28:16 and Psalm 118:22)

Finally, the equivocation of Christ as the primary rock (Cornerstone) and the apostles as the foundation upon which the “church” is built is made in Ephesians 2:20.

19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

Additionally, note the larger context of 1 Peter 2 and the highlights I’ve made below

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture:

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
    a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone,”

and

A stone of stumbling,
    and a rock of offense.

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

It seems likely that the above two passages, Ephesians 2 and 1 Peter 2, could easily explain the declaration of Peter as little rock and Christ as THE rock.

Peter’s role in the formation of the early church is important, no doubt.  But if preeminence were to be given to any Apostle, we might more easily conclude that this eventually became the Apostle Paul, whose influence was arguably greater that Peter’s.  Additionally, in Acts 15, at the so-called Jerusalem council, a passage we will look at later, James seems to have a position of seniority or superiority, not Peter.

Finally, let’s conclude with a summary statement from Owen,

There is but one rock, but one foundation. There is no mention in the Scripture of two rocks of the church. In what others invent to this purpose we are not concerned. And the rock and the foundation are the same; for the rock is that whereon the church is built, that is the foundation. But that the Lord Christ is this single rock and foundation of the church, we shall prove immediately. Wherefore, neither Peter himself, nor his pretended successors, can be this rock. As for any other rock, it belongs not unto our religion; they that have framed it may use it as they please. For they that make such things are like unto the things they make; so is every one that trusteth in them: Psalm 115:8. “But their rock is not as our rock,
themselves being judges;” unless they will absolutely equal the pope unto Jesus Christ.
Solus Christus!

 

Ekklesia in the Gospel of Matthew

 

In our last post on the doctrine of the church, we began our Scriptural examination with an overview of the Old Testament, particularly the Greek translation (Septuagint), use of ekklesia, the Greek word translated as church in the English New Testament.   Here we want to turn our attention to the first use of ekklesia in the New Testament, which as we have seen is not a new concept, rather a clarification and reapplication of an existing concept.

The word ekklesia is used only used three times in the Gospels, all occurring in Matthew and all used by our Lord.  We will begin with an overview of these passages, some brief observations/questions, and follow up with more in-depth exposition in subsequent posts. The first passage is Matthew 16:18 within the context of Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ and Son of God

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.” Matthew 16:13-20

Historically, this passage has been the source of two significant controversies concerning the understanding of church.  First, is the identification of the rock upon which Christ will build His church.  This interpretive controversy has led to no shortage of division, most notably between Protestants and Catholics.

The second controversy concerns the notion of a doctrine of the universal church.  What is it? Does it or Does it not exist?  This has had massive implications such as who belongs to the church and may find its origin in the 3rd and 4th centuries, most notably with Augustine and the Donatist Controversy.  Here is where a nuanced understanding of church vs. ekklesia will help navigate the waters of this controversy, which we will traverse in a future post.

Additionally, as we dive into this passage in subsequent posts, we must distinguish between this concept of ekklesia (church) and the kingdom of heaven, a matter of confusion that also has its source around the time of Augustine.  Also, we’ll need to look at to whom the “keys of the kingdom” have been given.  Relatedly, what is the “binding and loosing” that is here mentioned?  Answering these questions biblically, while avoiding the tangles of tradition, will aid greatly in identifying the form of Christ’s ekklesia.

The next two uses of ekklesia (church) in Matthew are both found in Matthew 18:17.  Here the context of is the confrontation of a sinning brother or sister for the purpose of bringing them to repentance.

15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Matthew 18:15-20

Here, it is often asserted that the use of ekklesia is substantially different than in the previous use, perhaps suggestive of a more specific application, which some have determined to be a reference to the local church.  For obvious reasons, if a universal church existed, it would be impossible to “tell it to the church” universally, so by necessary reasoning the scope of ekklesia here is often seen to be different and narrower.  However, we will need a closer examination and not merely assume that there is an implied difference between ekklesia found in Matthew 16 and here in Matthew 18, as so many have done before.

Next, we find an additional mention of binding and loosing, which would seem to be a clarification and indeed an application of the previous mention in Matthew 16.  Additionally, some have used this passage to promote a concept known as “church discipline”.  As we unpack these uses of ekklesia by our Lord in the Gospel of Matthew, this will be one of the issues we will need take up.  What situations warrant discipline?  Who is qualified to issue this discipline?

With these passages from Matthew introduced, we will turn our focus to the first controversial issue from Matthew 16, namely upon whom is the rock which Christ will build His ekklesia?