Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Preposition or Presupposition

I almost fell off my stool!  

I was seated at a high-top in the cafĂ© of King’s River Worship Center with my friend Pastor Dennis Chasteen as we were gathering for a Pray West Virginia leadership council.  I was sharing with him - what for me had come as a revelation. I have mentioned this in a blog before, but will go deeper with it here.

How will they believe in Him... 

One of the greatest evangelical exhortations is: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?” Romans 10:14 NAS  Almost all other translations say something like this: “and how shall they believe in him of (about) whom they have not heard?” The New American Standard is one of the few versions that is faithful to the incarnational nature of the Gospel. Is our message Christ and Christ alone, or is it of or about Him - if the latter, presumptuous adulteration is unavoidable. 

An excellent rendering is provided by the Weymouth New Testament: “And how are they to believe in One whose voice they have never heard?”  (“Of” wants to roll off the tongue at the end of this sentence, but it is decidedly not there.)

To hear him is irresistible - to hear of him leaves us with options.  We subject - at least within our own minds - the Consummate One to the peril of conjecture. That is why we get “called according to His purposes” - as opposed to His purpose!  How often I hear evangelical leaders opine either in postlude or prayer on Romans 8:28 and reduce the sole purpose of conformity to the image of His Son to purposes - thus subtlety shifting the emphasis from the immortal to the temporal. (A similar grating of the fingernails on the chalkboard is referring to the Book of the Revelation as “Revelations.”)  

Our Father is calling us here in West Virginia to this singularity - oneness!  May we note Weymouth’s translation once again: “believe in One...”  And the great Shema of Israel:  "Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one." It is fitting here to notice also that our Lord in His high priestly petition (John 17) did not ask for unity on our behalf, but oneness: “that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You,...”

Preposition or Presupposition

Now back to our opening scene:  In a momentary mental lapse I remarked, “Well, it is only a preposition.”  Pastor Dennis’ laconic rejoinder was, “It is not a preposition - it is a presupposition!” My immediate response was to hurl a brief - but non-profane - expletive in his direction along with a light punch to his shoulder. A vista of implication had suddenly opened before me that was so staggering it almost caused me to fall from my stool.

The following scribing of my electronic stylus may only serve to scratch the surface of this wonder...

The definition of presupposition is: “to suppose or assume beforehand; take for granted in advance.” An identical synonym is presumption - “to take for granted.” Can you see where this is beginning to lead us? A miasmic tar-baby of deception awaits those foolish enough to rush in where angels fear to tread. The pitcher plant’s deadly allure offers nothing in comparison.

Our attention is drawn back to this Psalm of David: “Also keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins; Let them not rule over me; Then I will be blameless, And I shall be acquitted of great transgression.”  Psalm 19:13 NAS

Could we not also call this the sin of presumption - a great transgression?  

Charles Spurgeon writes: “This earnest and humble prayer teaches us that saints may fall into the worst of sins unless restrained by grace, and that therefore they must watch and pray lest they enter into temptation.  Every sin has in it the very venom of rebellion, and is full of the essential marrow of traitorous rejection of God; but there be some sins which have in them a greater development of the essential mischief of rebellion, and which wear upon their faces more of the brazen pride which defies the Most High.”  Treasury of David

From the New Testament we read: “Presumptuous are they, self-willed, they are not afraid to speak evil of the glorious ones.” 2 Peter 2:10 KJV 2000  Other translations include arrogant, proud, will-ful, etc. 

To be presumptuous is to be judgmental - too often this characterizes the church at least in the minds of honest seekers  Presuming to know that God will react in certain ways to our initiatives is to sow the seeds of bigoted religiosity. The glorious reality of the Gospel is thus sullied by incantational nonsense.  

Word of the Sovereign Lord

The Word of the Sovereign Lord came to the Prophet Ezekiel: “I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD." 37:6

Three times He expresses His will: twice He says “I will” and once “you will.”  The number three represents the fullness of the Godhead. And then He declares: “I am the LORD.” Here we hear echoes from the burning bush: “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” The message of Ezekiel - and Moses - was not about the Sovereign Lord–it was the very Word Incarnate. 

Immediately before this He said to Ezekiel: “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!’” And then He tells Ezekiel what to say to them: “I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.”

This is the essence of prophetic praying - speaking forth what God has told you to say. This is a sweet fragrance unto the Lord - a bowl of incense.  Presumption is a stench. Prayer begins in God and returns to Him having served His sovereign purpose - it will not return void.

“So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.”’”  Ezekiel had heard the Word of the Lord and now he was hearing the sound of fulfillment. He was thus kept in a rapt attitude of worship.

Sin of Covetousness 

Presumption is as the sin of covetousness - for by it we covet the role of God. It is the false worship of the creature rather than the Creator. Thus the first command of the Decalogue is the alpha - “You shall have no other gods before me;” and the last is the omega - “You shall not covet...”   By them the whole Law is tied together from the beginning to the end.  

Covetousness is the deadly allure by which Nemesis leads her victims to the pool of Narcissus - or departing from mythology to fairy tales the morbid mantra becomes: “Mirror, mirror on the wall...” In our modern vernacular it would be a “selfy.” All of which are predated by the seducing words of the tempter of Eden: “You will not surely die.”  Paul looks back to the garden and writes: “And they changed the glory of God, who is indestructible, into the likeness of the image of man, which is destructible,” Romans 1:23a Aramaic 

The commentator F.F. Bruce notes: “And it could be argued that covetousness is the quintessential sin.”  I once heard Malcolm Smith teach something like this: “I can read the first nine commandments and feel pretty good about myself - but the tenth one absolutely destroys me.” Of course this is a good thing, forcing us upon the mercy and grace of Almighty God.  There is nothing within ourselves that can keep us from covetousness. Insisting on our ability to choose reduces as to stark impotence.  “Free moral agency” is a myth. We are only free when our bondage is broken by Christ Himself: “So if the Son sets you free, you will be absolutely free.” John 8:36 GOD’S WORD 

It could be said that it is this struggle of ‘wants’ that Paul saw in himself and indeed in every man: “For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.” Romans 7:19  For prior to this he had exclaimed: “I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.” Romans 7:7b We - with Paul - find our answer to this dilemma in the fulness of the Son: “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Romans 7:24-25a

The greatness of our God - Be Thou my vision 

May we be apprehended by a vision of the greatness of our God that will totally transcend all tendencies toward presumption.  His all-sufficiency will easily eclipse the inferior light of covetousness. It is with a modicum of poetic license that I believe God gave Abram - as evidence of the eternal covenant - a vision not just of his descendants which would be temporal, but of Himself which is eternal. “And why?” you might say.  For one cannot see where the sands of the sea or the stars of the sky begin nor where they end–thus they are eternal. “Then the LORD took him outside. ‘Look up at the sky and count the stars—if you can!’" Genesis 15:5 ISV

It is most fortunate for us that He knows our frame and thus He receives our feeble attempts to qualify and quantify Him - “if you can.”

No longer will our message be of Him or about Him - but it will be Him!  “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.” John 1:18 NIV 

Sam Storms addresses this so eloquently: “Worship without wonder is lifeless and boring. Many have lost their sense of awe and amazement when it comes to God. Having begun with the arrogant presumption of knowing about God all that one can, they reduce him to manageable terms and confine him to a tidy theological box, the dimensions of which conform to their predilections of what a god ought to be and do. That they’ve lost the capacity to marvel at the majesty of God comes as little surprise.”1

I would add that the propriety of the ultimate surprise remains the domain of the Eternal Father.

From the ancient Celtic hymn we derive our benediction:

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

1 Sam Storms, onething - Developing a Passion for the Beauty of God, 2004, Christian Focus, Scotland, UK, pp 69-70