Christian Character: What Is It? Part 5

backhuysen-paulus_grtSuffering and Character

We live in a culture that seeks to avoid pain at all cost. We Christians often fall prey to this false, worldly, and demonic tendency by being certain that God wants to shield us from all anguish and misery. But God, through the Apostle Paul, informs us that He has a God-given ministry of suffering for many of us, and that this ministry is often essential in the formation of our character. Paul in Romans 5:3-5 describes this ministry:

. . . We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Paul spoke from experience. He was beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, and also in danger from storms, wild beasts, and robbers while on the road (2 Corinthians 11:25). He suffered. All of this trauma strengthened his character.

How are Christians to View Government?: Lessons from Church History, Part 6

JohnLockeProtestant Political Theory

As we have seen in previous articles, two political concepts arose during the Protestant Reformation that would have a powerful impact on history. The first, Protestant resistance theory, states that though government is established by God, should the king violate the people’s fundamental rights, they have the right to resist him. Most political theorists followed Luther in arguing that such resistance must be led by lesser magistrates, who are themselves ordained by God to govern and protect the people.

The second important idea was Calvinist social contract theory. This argued that God vested people with the authority to govern themselves, which they then delegated to the government. If the government fails in its duty to protect the people, they have the right to take power back and delegate it to a new government. Most who held this view argued that this action should be led by the lesser magistrates.

Most, but not all. A few theologians, particularly among the English and the Scots, argued for a more general right of resistance by the people directly, not led by the lesser magistrates. During the English Civil War, still more radical groups such as the Levelers emerged who put even more emphasis on individual liberty and equality.

Christian Character: What Is It? Part 4

330px-Dublin_CChrist_Church_Cathedral_Passage_to_Synod_Hall_Window_Fruit_of_the_Spirit_2012_09_26In the last article in this series, we discussed the four cardinal virtues that have existed from the days of the classical Greek philosophers. According to these philosophers, men and women of integrity will exhibit these virtues in their behavior. The four cardinal virtues are these:

Christian Character: What Is It? Part 3

Vertus_cardinales_par_Germain_Pilon_LouvreIn America’s media-driven society, it appears that being a character is more important than being a person of character. A character is one who has distinctive qualities, often exaggerated, that make him or her stand out from the crowd. That person’s qualities may have nothing to do with the cardinal virtues—if anything, they’re probably just the opposite. Being a person of character, on the other hand, means someone lives a life characterized by these cardinal virtues.

Yet unfortunately, the cardinal virtues are all but forgotten in our educational systems, in business, in politics, and even, it seems, in our churches.

How Are Christians to View Government?: Lessons from Church History, Part 5

401201In Part 4 of this series, we looked at the beginnings of Protestant resistance theory, that is, the question of when it is acceptable for a Christian to resist an unjust government. The emerging consensus, beginning with Luther’s Torgau Memorandum (1530), was that when the king broke the fundamental laws of God or of the kingdom, the “lesser magistrates” had the right and responsibility to lead resistance against the king.

Although in the wake of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacres (1572), in which thousands of Huguenots were murdered across France, French Calvinists took more radical positions on the question of resistance, overall they showed remarkable restraint: They continued to argue for resistance led by the lesser magistrates, with only a few allowing for resistance by the people directly, and then only in carefully defined situations.

Christian Character: What Is It? Part 2

Synaxis_of_the_Twelve_Apostles_by_Constantinople_master_early_14th_c._Pushkin_museumFrom Aristotle to Aquinas and into the present day, the development of character is understood to be a matter of the choices we make. This is also true of the development of a Christ-like character, with this one important caveat: A Christ-like character is the outcome of the cooperative work between the Holy Spirit and us, and involves choosing to wisely love God with our whole hearts, minds, and strength, and love our neighbors as ourselves.

A Divine/Human Endeavor

As mentioned in my last article, the word “character” comes from the Greek word transliterated “charactêr,” which was the name given an image impressed upon a coin. A Christian’s character is to be the image of Christ that is being impressed upon us through the work of the Holy Spirit.

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