Saturday, May 23, 2009

Another Take on Christian Perfection

I encountered this interesting discussion of Christian Perfection while thinking about Arminius' comments in the previous post. This is a Mennonite perspective bringing an Anabaptist view of Holiness that seems to address the issue with civility and maturity. While it is relatively short, the author, Robert Friesen, sums up his conclusions rather well. Following is his conclusion with a link to the full article.

Christian Perfection - Robert Friesen

The Scope of the Call To Be Teleios

The call to be teleios is addressed to all believers. With the call to enter the kingdom comes the call to be one of the teleioi. It is a call to discipleship. The teleioi are to be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect. Jesus, who came to show us the Father, is the example to be followed. The perfect ones are willing to take difficult, radical steps to follow their Lord.

Characteristics of the Teleioi

The teleioi are wise and possess knowledge which the immature do not have. This wisdom is not equivalent to what the world considers wisdom nor is there knowledge based on superior intelligence. Because of the Holy Spirit's enlightenment they are able to receive and understand the kind of solid teaching which Paul calls meat as opposed to milk (the elementary principles of the Gospel).

The wisdom and understanding of the teleioi is evident in their actions. They are able to distinguish right from wrong and they live according to what is right. The wisdom of the teleioi is knowledge turned into proper action in life.

The teleioi are those who love God. This love is demonstrated in a life of discipleship. They love their brothers and sisters in the Church and desire to use their Spirit-given gifts to edify them. They also love those who are not in the Church. Their love, in fact, extends even to those who are their opponents.

The teleioi are not portrayed as those who have attained absolute perfection. They always strive toward perfection and are not content to settle for less. The English word "mature" is often a good translation, but even that word does not catch all the nuances of the Greek teleios. The English "perfect" may be too absolute, but "mature" may be too mild. Jesus did not call us simply to be 'mature' as our heavenly Father is 'mature'. We consider people mature even though they have many imperfections which need not necessarily be changed. The teleioi have never arrived at their goal. They are mature, but they are moving on to a greater maturity. Because of this problem of finding the best word, the new translations use both "perfect" and "mature" to render teleios in different contexts. {31}

The Process of Becoming Teleios

The New Testament is clear that the teleioi are involved in a process of growth. Tomorrow they should be more closely conformed to Jesus' example of perfection than they were today.

The teleioi are dependent upon the rest of the body of Christ for the process of growth. All the members of the body have responsibilities to have others to mature. They carry out this work with the enablement of the various gifts which the Holy Spirit gives to the Church.

Paul warns that the work of teaching may be hard, wearisome toil. It is not a small task. He also indicates that teachers need to be wise. But it is not the world's wisdom that is needed. In order to do the work of the Church and to bring people to maturity, teachers need God's wisdom. James indicates that when the teleioi feel a lack of wisdom they are to pray with perseverance to God who will give the required wisdom.

In Colossians 4 Paul indicates that prayer can help to bring people to maturity even when a person is absent from the ones he prays for. This labour of prayer is an important task in the work.

The New Testament indicates that trials and suffering may be the context in which maturity is produced. It is essential that a person recognize these situations as possibilities for growth and use them as such.

In answer to the question "Who are the teleioi?" we must conclude: The teleioi are obedient disciples of Christ. The process of becoming teleios is a divine (i.e., God-empowered) process mediated by the members of the body of Christ in the context of prayer and love.

Christian Perfection by Robert Friesen

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Arminius on Perfect Obedience

One of the Wesleyan teachings that causes some stir in a few circles is the idea of Christian perfection, oftentimes mistakenly represented as sinless perfection. Of course, the teaching of the Wesleyans is not one of sinless perfection with regard to perfect obedience to every aspect of law. Instead it is a doctrine of Christian perfection where faith is preeminent in all things subjecting every aspect of the believer in submission to Christ. This is not to say that all Christians are to find themselves in such a place but that the capability and means are evident through Christ. Wesley didn't invent something new with this. He explains much in his essay A Plain Account of Christian Perfection as well as with his similar sermon. While there are differences in the teachings of Arminius and Augustine for that matter, there are strong similarities in what Wesley presented as our expectation as saints in Christ knowing full well we most often fall short of those expectations. In the last of his Nine Questions, Arminius addressed this issue of perfect obedience with regard to the saint of God. His comments follow.

Can believers under the grace of the New Covenant, perfectly observe the law of God in this life?

May God, or may He not, require of those who are partakers of the New Covenant, that the flesh do not lust against the Spirit, as a duty corresponding with the grace of that covenant?


The performance of the law is to be estimated according to the mind of Him who requires it to be observed. The answer will be two-fold, since He either wills it to be rigidly observed in the highest degree of perfection, or only according to epieikeian clemency; that is, if he require this according to clemency, and if the strength or powers which he confers be proportionate to the demand.

(1.) Man cannot perfectly perform such a law of God, if it be considered as to be performed according to rigor.

(2.) But if he require it according to clemency, and if the powers conferred be proportionate, (which must be acknowledged, since He requires it according to the evangelical covenant,) the answer is, it can be perfectly observed. But the question about capability is not of such great importance, "provided a man confesses that it is possible to be done by the grace of Christ," as St. Augustine justly observes.

Arminius' Nine Questions

Monday, May 18, 2009

C. Michael Patton raised a poignant concern earlier in the following post on his blog. It is timely and appropriate in this internet age and I am thankful for his graciousness in this matter. We need to keep this brotherly example in the forefront for he reflects Christ as we should all.

An Admonishment For All of Us

Sunday, May 17, 2009

What in Blues Blazes?

The internet does some funny things to people. It seems to give people a vaulted sense of importance to the point where they lose sight of who and what they are to be. I have briefly engaged an exchange with another blogger and in looking at his profile I found the following.

I'm a native of the greater Seattle area. I'm a TA at RTS. In theology, I'm a Calvinist, creationist, inerrantist, cessationist, classical Christian theist, and amil (with postmil sympathies). I'm a low churchman with a sympathy for a certain amount of high church symbolism. I'm a pragmatist about church polity. On the sacraments, I take them to be symbolic. I regard other issues in sacramentology as secondary to this primary position. In philosophy, I'm an Augustinian exemplarist. I'm a Cartesian dualist. I'm an alethic realist, but scientific antirealist. I believe in innate ideas, sense knowledge (I'm an indirect realist), and the primacy of divine revelation in Scripture. In ethics, I subscribe to traditional Christian morality, rooted God's revealed law as the source and standard of personal and social ethics. I also subscribe to a supralapsarian theodicy. Although I'm not a Lutheran, a traditional Lutheran service suits my taste in the style of worship.

At what point does one recognize they are simply a lowly servant of the LORD, a Christian? Having backed off my "blogging" knowing I do this as a personal therapy of sorts, I have come to realize that my service to Christ and the simplicity of being a Christian is far more important than listing all the edges of sword used to identify my arsenal. This needs to be kept forefront when teaching our children and fellows the doctrines we subscribe to. Christ rather than dogma must always prevail and when asked what we are, Christian should be our first response.