Tag Archives: Church life

Unity of Churches? What Does the Bible Say?

I think modern calls to unity and ecumenism are wrongheaded. Al Kresta talked about it in the podcast below calling Evangelicals “separated brethren” and I believe Steven Greydanus has said that evangelicals are “sheep outside of the fold” and/or a younger brother of RCC. Thus, we don’t experience the “fullness of the Gospel” because we are not under the umbrella of the RCC. These RCC can correct me if I’m wrong but it seems as if they hope for a formal unity where everyone, including the Orthodox are under the RCC. Evangelicals work with the same assumptions. George Yancey has written about it in, “One Body, One Spirit: Principles of Successful Multiracial Churches” and in other places. And progressives actually seem to have no problem coercing others into what they believe. They want everyone to follow their liberal agenda’s, ie., everyone SHOULD be welcoming and accepting of LGBT and SSM (not just between races and ethnicities but anyone who is different). This was something that really struck me as I read, Skillen’s “Recharging the American Experiment.” In there, Skillen’s said that the government should not coerce theological conscience. There are some churches that believe in SSM and some that do not. As we live in a pluralistic society, all should be allowed to exist in their differentiation. By implication, this could be the same for churches between themselves. Churches don’t tell others churches what they should believe with regard to a host of issues. So it should be the same with SSM. Churches are not united for a myriad of reasons—theological, moral, worship style, ethnic, etc. The problem with calls for unity, it seems, is that this is:

1.An ideological utopian vision influenced by modern Kumbaya culture.

2.It is not what Jesus had in mind in John 17.

Here is D.A. Carson on John 17. The John 17 unity prayer needs to be understood within the greater context of the Father’s protection for those who would be followers of the Messiah.

“The constant goal is that the disciples be one as Jesus and his Father are one. Like any analogy, this cannot legitimately be pressed without limit. The unity enjoyed by Jesus and his Father has numerous features that could not be duplicated in the unity among believers. For instance, Jesus and his Father are but two; the believers are many. Jesus and his Father stand together in their creative work (1:1–3); this cannot be predicted of the disciples. Jesus and his Father enjoyed the brilliance of pretemporal glory (17:5); but obviously that unity could not in the nature of the case be shared by temporal creatures. Many other such distinctions suggest themselves on the basis of the fourth Gospel alone. Yet clearly the analogy is important, and must not be robbed of all content by endlessly peeling the onion. Many of the relational ties between Jesus and his Father described by John’s Gospel are functional in nature. Moreover, as chapter 2 of this book demonstrated, if Jesus stands with his Father with respect to man in revelation and authority, he simultaneously stands with man with respect to his Father in dependence and obedience. Within this framework, the Father and the Son enjoy a perfect unity of love, of purpose, of holiness of truth. Now, Jesus prays, so protect these people you have given me that they may be one as we are one: one in love (a theme already stressed, 13:34f.; 15:13), one in purpose (obedience, fruit bearing, witness—all prevalent themes in these chapters), one in holiness (it is not for nothing that Jesus here addressed his Father as “Holy Father,” and will shortly ask him to sanctify the believers), one in truth (they, unlike the world, have come to recognize the fundamental truth that Jesus is the revelation of God). This theme of unity is an important one in Jesus’s prayer. It is picked up again and repeated (17:21, 22, 23), and so we shall return to it in the last chapter of this book—at which time its relevance to the modern church may be usefully explored. For the moment, it may be helpful to note that if the prayer is a request that Jesus’s disciples be protected in order that they may be one in love, purpose, holiness, and truth, it follows that the greatest dangers lie in those things that seek to destroy unity in love, in purpose, in holiness, and in truth. An adequate catalog of such evils, coupled with a careful assessment of their danger, would immediately double the length of this book. Such a catalog would include jealousy, hate, friction, arrogant isolation, selfishness, bitterness, an unforgiving spirit, a wretched tongue; for these vices seek to destroy the unity of love. The catalog would go on to mention one-upmanship, an uncooperative spirit, brinkmanship and impatience (which threaten unity of purpose), all kinds of sin (which abhors holiness), and lies, dogmatic half-truths, unwillingness to admit error or sympathetically learn from one another, chronic unbelief (which conspires to obliterate unity in truth). From all such evils, good Lord, deliver us.”

If this is the case, as I believe it is, Sunday morning is not the most segregated hour in America. That is an ideological utopian vision of how one believes things ought to be. James Kalb and of late, Jared Taylor have spoke about some of the sociological aspects of human communities where they expound on the idea of “birds of a feather flock together” and “where we find ourselves naturally.” Let’s face it, it’s right there in front of our faces EVERYDAY. Diversity. Diversity is with us as a constant—as the way of the world. Why do we still have the black race? Why do we Asian peoples? Why do we still have Anglo-Saxon European peoples? Spanish and the sub varieties therein. As said above, people group together for various and myriad reasons. It is still basically the same in schools, in marriages, and in friendships. This is not to say that persons from one group will not venture into another group, but if it is done, it will be done organically without changing the distinctions of that particular group.

Yeah…Jesus Didn’t Condemn Having Wealth and Resources

I saw two pieces on Facebook about five days ago about the top 1% of the richest in the US. The first was by fiscal Marxist David Fitch a professor of theology at Northern Seminary 🙂. I kid, I kid…you can see that article here.

The other was by my Facebook friend, Dwayne Polk, whom for purposes of credentials worked for Greg Boyd and is a graduate of ORU (Oral Roberts University) in theology. Here is what he posted:

“If I were President, Id just make a public call to the 1% to help *personally* fund the things we cant get past Congress that are needed. I mean, go straight to them. And on television. Social media. All that. Call out names. And id appeal to them as Americans and Americans OF FAITH and talk about the Golden Rule…and Loving the Neighbor as Oneself. I would put overt pressure on them to help the American people in a failing governmental system.

But thats just me.”

Eric Reitan, a professor of philosophy at Oklahoma State University had this to say:

“And then realize that Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk both have well over 100 billion in personal wealth. Making $100k a year without taxes and it would take you a *million years* to achieve that level of wealth. Or invert it: Elon Musk could spend $1 million a year on his own pleasure (meaning about $950,000 a year on mere luxuries) and it would take him a hundred thousand years to exhaust his wealth–and he’s unlikely to live more than 40 more years. While money does add to happiness in the sense of ensuring needs are met, lifting away anxiety, enabling one to pursue meaningful activities and develop talents, and providing resources for sustaining meaningful relationships, the amount needed for this falls well short of a million a year. Meaning if Bezos gave away to those in need 99.99% of his personal wealth, he’d be left with far more than the maximum wealth required for optimal human happiness (and might be more likely to be able to access the other necessary conditions for true happiness, such as the cultivation of benevolence).”

Now, let me start off saying this.

A. Christians should struggle with their wealth and riches INTERNALLY. However, most of what passes for critical self (or otherwise ie., Christian community as a whole) is negative. It sees it FIRST in terms of what is said in the quotes above or, to put those quotes another way, it sees wealth and riches and capitalism in general, in terms of exploitation, or class warfare or oppression.

B. I’m a believer in “free markets” as far as markets are free. What I mean by that is not that a society can’t have government regulation, (I am not wholly put off by the government regulating when it should. This is really not much different than what Roger Scruton talks about when he spoke at his website about the environment. That is, for an example, if a private company spills waste into a river and pollutes it, it should bear the brunt of the costs of what it has done. This is only proper from a conservative point of view because at a base instinctual level one should care about the community to which they are attached to. However, this doesn’t rule out government intervention if need be. You can read Roger Scruton’s post here) but rather the market itself is very much one sided in terms of corporate pressure in marketing of said product(s) ie., as Cavanaugh asks, “When is the market free? How can we judge when any particular transaction is free?” Freedom isn’t merely negative ie., freedom from coercion (as Milton Friedman would have us believe).

Here’s my main point though that I posted to Facebook of which I think really get’s to the some of the assumptions that guys like my Dwayne and Eric Reitan are working with.

From Facebook:

“I’m not a full fledged libertarian, though I do think libertarianism makes some valid points, especially as it concerns economic inequalities. I mean there is this sin called, “envy” and it rears its ugly head in more ways than one—not just between individuals but between those who say they are advocating for the poor by criticizing those who have resources (which, for me, is quite a relative measure ie., one can complain about Bezos EXTRA BILLIONS that could go to the poor, which I’ve seen done even this week on FB, but those same folks have extra that they don’t need either and when you consider all us middle to upper-middle folks whom have “more than we need” then I wonder why there is no complaints or voluntary giving of THEIR over-and-above resources of which no one can really say what that amount should be). Anyhoo, most of what passes for “critical self-analysis” is negative in nature, as if there is nothing positive to ownership of wealth and resources. It is ASSUMED, as pointed out in question 40 in the book, that there is a connection between those who have wealth and those who don’t when in reality the problem isn’t Bezos’ billions but personal and social/governmental complexities.”

And then I go on to quote from the book mentioned above:

“38. What about the inequalities that capitalism creates? Economic inequality has always existed wherever there have been economies. In pre-capitalist days, having wealth often (but not always) entailed exploiting others who then remained poor. This is one reason we see so many admonitions against wealth in the Bible. It is also why many early church leaders and theologians decry wealth. It is only recently that being wealthy has not been associated with unjust acquisition of wealth but instead with the indication that mutually beneficial trade is occurring. Under free market capitalism, wealth must be obtained by effectively and efficiently providing value to others in exchange for their money. Whenever inequality indicates that the few are exploiting others and leaving them worse off, we should stand against it. But under conditions where everyone is better off and some are “more better off,” we can appreciate, if not applaud, the gains through exchange. Christians are often concerned about the well-being of others, yet it is all too common that concern over inequality is not about the wellbeing of those with less but a suppressed envy that arises because of perceived reasons behind the injustice. We must be mindful that we are not suppressing our envy when we advocate for the wellbeing of others. All too often the concern over inequality is not about the wellbeing of those with less but the perceived reason behind the perceived injustice. For example, while the purchasing power of the average worker’s wages has improved dramatically for several decades, the top I% have seen even greater gains. Many have pointed out that this is the reason to institute redistributive schemes to rectify the perceived injustice of inequality, even though everyone has gained financially (see Question 40).”—Faith Seeking Freedom: Libertarian Christian Answers To Tough Questions

And of course, Jesus NEVER condemned those who were wealthy but those who were wealthy by ill-gotten means or by exploiting others.

Divisions, Divisions, Divisions!!!

Some years ago I picked up a couple of books, one put out by Randall L. Frame and Alan Tharpe entitled, “How Right is the Right?” and one by Ronald Nash, entitled, “Why the Left is Not Right”

Even in today’s political climate these books are still a relevant read as they both critically expound on the positions of their opponents views (as well as their own) which have not changed since the time they were written (though some political situations have changed). One may try to package things differently and or say it slightly afresh today (we see this with regard to Marxist class theory from the working class to “identity politics” ie., the working class based butt hurt has shifted towards the sexual arena or racism) and yes, in some cases, the intent to do this is to deceive those who are not aware that these ideas have been around for quite some time now (the younger folk). Why they would do so has to do with political power. That is, they would like to get their way enshrined not only in law but the minds of the aforementioned un-informed or the gullible (which can impact law).

For me, one of the most important ideas that I understood, prior to ever reading it in Nash’s book, was that it is not that both Left and Right wing Christians don’t love their neighbour but that they both have different solutions or answers to social and political problems that exist in society. It really is a sad state of affairs that uncivilized national discourse has crept into the Christian community as a whole where one or both sides is either claiming who is loving as Jesus did or claims God’s answer to a particular social ill is “the Christian response.” One use to see this from the right back in the day but now one sees it from the left. This is not to make a judgment on the rightness or wrongness of left/right policy positions but rather to mention the bad faith between Christian brothers and sisters.

So politics divides Christians.

(As an aside, I’m OK with that, for I’ve usually been comfortable with tribalism. Tribalism in the Church, in politics and in society. I’m not completely against openness to other people, groups, nations, churches, etc, as long as others are open to each other “naturally,” (James Kalb) where the feeling is mutual and it is not forced whether by government or one another and where the goal is not to change the other. End of aside)

But to the point above, let me be a little more precise about the civil discourse (not so much the uncivilized aspect as much as the argument itself).

Basically it goes something like this:

Progressive Christian: Jesus said, “Love your neighbour as yourself.”

Me: This is a broad neutral statement. For me the important question is, “What does this look like in the concrete reality of life?” If, say, we wanted to improve the economic standing of the poor (which is a loving thing to do), how would we do that? Would we do that via a socialist scheme or a free market capitalist one? The answer doesn’t reside in the raw theology of the Bible for the Bible is not a comprehensive economic guide. Like science. It doesn’t tell us which way to go on these things. It only gives us the raw data, broad neutral statement of “loving our neighbour.” We need to go “beyond the Bible” if you will to economic theory.

(As an aside, what I mean when I say the above concerns “full fledge” free-market capitalism as opposed to a simple base line one. That is, I believe the Bible does provide the “seeds” of a capitalist economic system, ie., ownership of property, free buying and selling of goods, etc, and not the seeds of a socialist one. For me, socialist interpretations of scripture are rather strained. End of aside)

That alone should be enough for us to bring up our level of discourse. The problem is not in theology. The problem is in reality. The “facts” if you will. What we have is basically two parties wedding economic theory to the Bible. Even if you wanted to say that the Bible supported a democratic socialism or socialism or communism (as we understand them today) one would still have to contend with the individual economic theories. Here is a quote by Ronald Nash on all of this:

Is There a Religious Left?

Why Should We Care

Years ago, I supposed conservative Christians would have been surprised—even shocked—that self-professed evangelicals were supporting and even actively promoting liberal causes But those were the days when evangelicals—better known as fundamentalists—separated themselves from societal affairs at large. On still encounters people like this. But most evangelicals themselves care deeply about what is happening in America’s schools, government, and abortion clinics. They also care about racial justice, the environment, the poor, the elderly, and the homeless. As indicated by the charities they support, they also care about poor, sick, and starving people in other nations. For most of my lifetime, liberals have been telling this nation that caring in these ways **must translate**into voting for liberal politicians and supporting liberal social policies. The evangelical liberals have been part of this liberal establishment. But I contend that liberalism is an exercise in fraud and deceit. The more than five trillion dollars of taxpayers’ money the federal government spent in the vain hope that it would put an end to poverty in America did not simply fall short of the goal. It actually made the situation worse. We now have more poor people in the United States than there were before the start of the War on Poverty pr-grams in the mid-sixties—and they are also worse off today. Some in the evangelical Left now tell us they no longer support the liberal welfare state. They admit that it has failed, and they propose to provide new leadership and direction in the next decade. The past record of these people needs to be known so we can better judge their claims about the present and their promises for the future. Why do they attack evangelical conservatives? What do they believe? Are they really centrists, and if not, why do they claim they are.


The secular and religious Left find it convenient to demonize politically conservative Christians. It is true that many evangelicals were unconscionably inattentive thirty or forty years ago; of course, the world was a different place back then.

Michael Cromartie of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., observes:

It is strange that twentieth-century evangelical Christian, would have ever needed to be convinced that they should be concerned about social problems. Many of their spiritual forebears always were. Their compassion and fervor animated the campaigns against the slave trade and child labor in England and, one could argue, was the basis of most reform initiatives of the early nineteenth century. The claims that the faith of American Christians should always be an intensely private affair between the individual and Cod would have been news to such diverse persons as the Pilgrims, from John Winthrop to Jonathan Edwards, Abraham Lincoln and the abolitionists of slavery.

Whatever their shortcomings may have been back then, Michael Cromartie observes, “Evangelicals of every perspective no longer need convincing that political and social concern is an important part of Christian discipleship. It is a settled issue that `the least of these’ among us should be treated with both charity and justice. The debates now revolve around prudential questions regarding which policies are in fact the most effective in meeting the normative standards of justice.” The members of the evangelical Left are wrong to claim that they hold the monopoly on concern for peace and justice. The more central issue for evangelicals today is what those terms mean. The evangelical Left has appeared to some to have simply assumed the standard liberal understanding of the words and then discredited anyone (including their politically conservative brethren) who understood the terms differently and who pursued the objectives of peace and justice in a different way. There is no evidence to support liberal insinuations that being a conservative entails opposition to racial and social justice means being unconcerned about unjust social structures. What the Left does is simply assume, for example, that concern for poverty **must manifest itself in unqualified support for misguided liberal social programs.** They simply take it for granted that concern for racial justice **must translate into support for so-called Affirmative Action programs** that turn out to be exercises in reverse discrimination. It is time to strip away the false front that the evangelical Left has hidden behind and see what they really stand for.”

This is a most important point that colours everything you read in these volumes and for me personally, it colours my view of politics as a whole. Even if one were to disagree, why the name calling or ad hominem, especially from Christians is beyond me. For all they are really doing, it seems to me, is arguing over political philosophy not theology. And it is the theology that holds them together as brothers and sisters.

Christianity is Not a White Western Religion

I read this article at “Red Letter Christians” with the title by the same name as this post. You can read that article here.  Is it me or does anyone else essentially read this:

A.  White Western religion = White Christianity bad.

B.  Black religion =good.

There really is no reason given as to why this assumption is there and I’m sure that is not the point of the article.  However, it is a main staple of Red Letter Christians throughout their writings.  Here are a few negatives about white religion that are sited in the article.

“But through my activity in church, I felt that people were trying to mold me into this Western white culture – even in the Black church.”

 “But there was still this tension between Western culture, biblical culture, and my culture as a person of African descent.”  “Western culture” should be interpreted as white culture.

“This made me see my reality in the Gospel much more so than the average evangelical. I listened to Focus on the Family and Charles Stanley, but I struggled to integrate their form of Christianity into my everyday life.  These guys are considered, conservative white male Christian religion.  Nothing is ever stated as to how much of what we see in black churches is really not authentically African either.  And what were some of the aspects that you could integrate?  Seems like absolutely nothing of value can come from such Christians?

“If you’re trying to understand Christianity in a Western context, you’ll be lost.”

“It’s so important for Christians to connect to the Hebrew roots of their faith, because otherwise out faith becomes disconnected, becomes Westernized and makes whiteness an idol.”

“But as more Greeks and Romans converted, and Christianity became the religion of the empire, it got watered down and separated from its Hebrew roots. Greeks and Romans were white.  Definitely not black.

“Either we will have a Christianity that is Western or we will have a Christianity based on the truth of the Bible”

“When you separate it from its roots, the whitewashed Western, and often American, version hurts everyone, including white people.”

Now for the positive statements of black religion.

“I also always loved to read and learn about Black history. I read Malcolm X and Dr. King…”

“At Penn State, I took an African American religious studies class where we read God of the Oppressed by James Cone. I reread it again that summer. I began to see the Bible in my reality.”  Apparently, black literature by certain black authors is cool.  In fact, so cool, that it was read over again.

“I’m the founder of Prophetic Whirlwind, an organization that provides Bible study materials and educates via social media, lectures, and workshops on the African roots of the Christian and Jewish faiths. This is a huge passion of mine.”  I guess that’s a positive thing?  That Christianity and Jewish faiths are rooted in African roots?  Well, when you compare it or contrast it next to white religion.

“Until 1869, Israel was connected to Egypt – connected to all of Africa. It was only when the Suez Canal was completed that Israel became separated from Africa. Even until the early 1900s, Israel was referred to as NE Africa.”

“The whole world opened up to me and revealed items that are important to Black Christians, and Christians in general. We have really separated Christianity from the Hebrew faith. But early believers continued to practice Passover and Sabbath. In Hebrew culture, salvation is about everyone – the entire community – not just the individual. This is the norm in African culture.”  This is important and it’s positive because, well, you don’t see this in white Christianity or White Western culture with it’s high individualism right?  Listen, there can be blind-spots in any culture. Why not talk about Asian societies with their culture of shame for example.  Simon Chan talks about this in his book, “Spiritual Theology.”

“It’s even more powerful to understand the cultural roots of our Biblical mothers and fathers. Mark was the Father of the Gospel in Africa. The Last Supper and Pentecost took place at his mother’s house, and she was an African Jewish woman from Cyrene. They were refugees. Do immigrants know this today? Do Black sisters and brothers know this today? This is incredibly empowering if we know these stories.”  Here we see an almost complete contrast to western religion.  This is one HELLUVA positive statement.  This is not all that bad, as making the Bible relevant to someone is a good thing.

“Then there was a large reverse exodus from Israel back to Egypt in Biblical times. The two landmasses were connected, they looked the same, and had similar climates. When Mark and his mother needed to leave Israel, they went to North Africa. It was a place a lot of Jews went. Thomas Oden is a researcher from Eastern University, and his research opened my eyes. Mark was born in Africa, and died in Africa. St. Augustine was African, his mother Monica was African, and when she died, she told St. Augustine to carry her bones back to Africa.”  So Africa is the jam man.  Interestingly, when you get down to it, the continent of Africa is not uniform either and so one might want to ask what group is she is referring to as being so closely biblical?  That is, which group represents Christianity the closest?

“This is significant as Biblical prophecy states that when these tribes begin to come back to the Torah, the Messiah will return. Many researchers, especially from the Jewish faith, travel around the world, like Indiana Jones traveling for the lost ark, looking for these tribes. And research shows that many of these tribes are in Africa.”  Hmmm…it may be significant for Onleilove to talk about what the researchers are saying about those tribes but she also used the word, “many” (“many of those tribes”) which is to say that some of those tribes weren’t of African descent?

Interestingly, there was a statement that is most revealing in this article.  Onleilove says:

The whole world opened up to me and revealed items that are important to Black Christians, and Christians in general. We have really separated Christianity from the Hebrew faith. But early believers continued to practice Passover and Sabbath. In Hebrew culture, salvation is about everyone – the entire community – not just the individual. This is the norm in African culture.

It’s important to understand that the Bible is a multi-cultural book. My work is about reconciling Jesus to his culture – his Hebrew culture. If you’re trying to understand Christianity in a Western context, you’ll be lost.

It’s so important for Christians to connect to the Hebrew roots of their faith, because otherwise out faith becomes disconnected, becomes Westernized and makes whiteness an idol.

If it is the case that black Christians and Christians in general need to return back to their Hebrew faith then why talk about all the positives of black religion as if it is not in need of redemption.  Here.  I’ll say it like this.  Richard Mouw one time spoke about the arts being in need of redemption.  He was referring to the pop cultural art (low brow), yes, but he was also referring to what is sometimes referred to as “high brow” art.  One gets the feeling, when reading Onleilove’s article contrasting white western Christianity and black religion that it is white religion that is in the real need of redemption.  Referring back to Simon Chan’s book, even black religion would be in need of redemption because as with all societies, there is a separation between “doctrine” from “the living God”–orthodoxy and orthopraxis.


Inclusiveness On Steroids

The whole inclusiveness ideology that many Christians tout today is based on a particular understanding of God’s love and Jesus’ mission in the world (Christ came to save everybody)–the whole, “he came to seek out the marginalized and we’re supposed to love everybody” thingy.

In saying this, many Christians don’t really have a problem with how their faith (and this particular theo/politico outlook) would play out with regard to public justice or individual justice. Essentially, for them, government was and is doing a good and just thing to end discrimination, ie., school integration and civil rights legislation, acceptance of LGBT folk, etc.

Interestingly, the whole top down approach to rid society of discrimination has not only been a failure historically but it really doesn’t make philosophical sense because it ignores that the attempt to eradicate “racism” (ie., attitudes) is much like the attempt to eradicate stupidity as well as it ends up creating a homogenized and uniformed society. That is, it “flattens” society. (James Kalb, “Against Inclusiveness”).

But there’s something else as well. Inclusiveness ignores human nature and how relationships work. What I mean is that you can’t like or “love” (in that sentimental sense) EVERYBODY. Does love (in this sentimental way) mean, for example, that a pastor will get along with everyone in his flock who is under his care? How exactly would a pastor “love” everyone in his congragation? Would he get along with EVERYBODY?Would he not have differences with parishoners? Would he not find some relationships like sandpaper–gritty that go against the grain? Does this not ignore how relationships work in real life situations? For example, most of these same inclusive Christians would have no problem with a couple who divorce for they realize the situation–that that couple are ultimately not reflecting the Triune love of the Godhead in their relationship. In other words, there is a less than perfect love there. As a matter of fact the best that a couple might be able to do is to reflect that love by not talk to each other and in this way seek out as much peace as POSSIBLE. In other words “as possible” means there is less than perfect love there. But maybe it has nothing to do with “less than perfect love.” Let’s say, said couple have different interests and are not compatible on other levels? Does it have to be a question that there is LESS THAN perfect love? Or does this not reflect the normality of the way that relationships work and are INTENDED to work?

So, if this happens on a personal level, why MUST we push the idea of inclusiveness on such a grand public scale? If the idea of a divorced Christian couple as not “inclusive” (of each other) is OK, why do we not allow for this on a societal/sociological scale? Let’s face it. People choose to hang with and befriend certain other people for various reasons. People clash with personalities. People don’t always feel comfortable in other groups. So what would be problematic with a pastor who chooses not to associate with certain people in his congregation ie., trust, personality issues, cultural differences, etc? Granted, some of this “lack of reconciliation” is due to sinful tendencies and impulses but some if not most of it isn’t. And it would certainly be hard to differentiate between the various reasons, as if there are hard and fast boundaries.

One may say, “Well we should TRY to be loving (which means inclusive) because ultimately in the new age to come we will be love each other.” This is inclusiveness from the other end of the spectrum–the eschatological end. But why must “loving” in this instance mean getting along, making-friends-with, everybody? Why can’t loving mean simply serving–without the sentimentalism? Why couldn’t a pastor serve those in his congregation by helping them connect with others whom are like minded (you know, birds of a feather flock together idea?) or connect them with those who can be loving in the way that these folk need to be loved? Would that not be loving even though the pastor doesn’t have the interior resources to love in that way? It seems to me that inclusiveness in the Christian community is an inclusiveness on steroids that does damage to the way relationships work and are intended to work.

The Atlantic’s, “The Quiet Gay-Rights Revolution in America’s Churches”: Some Thoughts

The “The Atlantic” (is that how I would write that?) has put out an interesting article, The Quiet Gay-Rights Revolution in America’s Churches on the changes within faith communities and how they are “progressing” and are more supportive of gays and same sex marriage. Whether it’s true or not, that this was in a very large part due to some political agenda as described by Capelle here:

“In Albany, who do legislators listen to?” Alan van Capelle asked his fellow activists at a dinner at the Sheraton in Manhattan. “Corporations, labor unions, and people of faith. If we can win their support, we can win the issue.”

where churches have been “infiltrated” to cede ground to gay activists, I don’t know. It could be a number of issues going on here.

Regardless, what I want to do is look at some of the points this article mentions and then give a little commentary on each one.

“It is a recent development — Jones dates the “tipping point” to 2011 — and it has helped marginalize gay-marriage opponents by discrediting their most powerful claim: that they speak for the religious community.”

There are a couple of things that have been pointed out in this article. One is that, though Pope Francis is still very much against SSM, he is more friendly towards LGBT persons saying, ” “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” and the other is the LONG solid history of the Church on sexuality and same-sex attractions and activities/relations. The Christian church has pretty much been unified on this question of same sex relationships. For the Pope to say what he has said is not unusual or even contradictory to the long teaching of the church. But I suppose one could say that proponents of same-sex marriage, in the Christian church don’t speak for the religious community either. At least not for most of those who have lived (past) and those who are still alive (such as the Christians mentioned in the article ie., Southern Baptists, a good portion of Catholics, etc. I mean, are we to say that the Religious Left speaks for the religious community?

This really is a question of justice. And the problem is that both the right and left have been narrowly focused on political engagement. That is, they both have jumped on this or that moral issue and have sought to get government to do something about it not asking the question, “Is this where government should be involved?” I know this sounds slightly derogatory, but both the Right and Left live parasitically off of one moral issue or another (Skillen) instead of asking about the more basic questions, “What is civil society’s role? And what is government’s role?” on these issues.

“I get it all the time,” she said. “People have been told for so many years if you’re a gay person you basically don’t belong in the religious community. And straight folks, too, want to see their religion as a source of love and inclusion that’s making people’s lives better, not shaming people or keeping them out.”

This get’s a little closer to what I’m saying above. Think of it like this. Say you have a public space. In this space there are families, churches, shops, unions, universities, police, voluntary organizations, doctors, banks, and so forth. Now, a university doesn’t have the right to tell a family how to work out their family life or family issues, etc. A union shop doesn’t have a right to tell a church how to run it’s business, etc. With THAT basic understanding in place now think of it like this. You not only have ONE church, but many churches of many different stripes. My Baptist church should not tell the Mormon Church what distinctives it should have. The Catholic Church should not tell the Orthodox or the Protestant churches about it how they believe or their codes of ethics or conduct. Even within denominations, a church should not tell another church how to run it’s business because of the dynamics involved. And so, you begin to see the point that this is not so much a theological question but a POLITICAL one. Churches have their theological teachings as well as their ethical ones. There are certain beliefs and behaviours, etc, that churches adhere to. Thus, if one wants a church that is LGBT friendly, such that it invites them to participate in the full life of the church, such that it marries them or invites them to take communion, etc, then what would be problematic with gay-folk attending THAT church and leaving those that are opposed to same-sex marriage alone–to their own beliefs, teachings, codes of ethics, etc? Why is there this need to change all these more conservative churches on this question? And here’s the thing. This has NOTHING to do with centring out gays PER SE. It has EVERYTHING to do with PUBLIC JUSTICE. Connect the dots, please.

“Central to this outreach has been a message that emphasizes religious teachings about compassion, tolerance, and humility. Religious leaders and followers want to feel that they’re not choosing politics over religion but bringing the two into alignment.”

Given what I’ve said above. Who is doing this? Choosing politics over religion? I would say, it is more those who seek to change a particular church.

“When President Obama came out in favor of gay marriage more than a year ago, he framed it as a matter not of separating church and state but of following Christian teaching: “When we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the golden rule,” he said. “Treat others the way you’d want to be treated.”

A religious argument for political question now, right? I mean, churches hold that women should not be ordained as priests, would the President say, that the Golden Rule is not only not being applied but that it is also going against a woman’s civil rights? I mean, there are some that advocate this (goes against a woman’s civil rights). But again, given what I’ve said about churches having “theological consciences” then folk should attend those churches that believe in women’s ordination. Also, this seems to apply only when the issue is “your beloved issue.” Right or Left. The Right, for years has mostly been the one to use religious arguments and those on the Left have said, “You have to hang up your religious hat before you can talk about a particular issue in the public square.” The Left comes out with their particular pet issue (SSM) and it’s OK now? We can use religious arguments?

“There’s no question this is partly the story of an overall change in American public opinion toward gay rights; it’s also partly the story of a rising religious left that seeks an alternative focus to the old religious right.”

All this is is living parasitically in the political system. Right vs Left with no principled understanding or a connecting of the dots between governing and the proper issues. The Left is pretty much doing the same thing that they have accused the Right of doing.

“For faith leaders and LGBT activists alike, a reconciling, gradual but profound, is under way. “People have been told for decades that homosexuality is a sin, but they know really good LGBT people, and they don’t know what to do,” said Groves of the Human Rights Campaign. “We need to be going into those conservative religious spaces with messages like the pope — who am I to judge? Once people see the humanity of LGBT people, it is very hard to hold onto a vitriolic stance.”

Of course, don’t be vitriolic. I know this happens with both sides. Both sides, both Right and Left could tone the speech down. Both can be welcoming but both can’t be affirming. One side will be both welcoming AND affirming and the other will be welcoming but NOT affirming which may look like, invitations to communion, participation in different areas of church life, etc, (again, all of this depending on that particular body’s code of ethics) but don’t believe in or practice SSM.

Law and Spirit: How They Interconnect Pt. 4

As a prerequisite most of the information on pneumatic direction that I will be sourcing is from the Gospels and Pauline thought. Having said that…

Some Christians think that what separates a/the Christian ethic from legalism is pneumatic direction. That is, the Christian life is neither established nor guided by human wisdom (those who lean towards a pneumatically directed ethic see almost all forms of external criteria as legalistic, though I would argue that they intuitively work out of a external criteria on many levels) 1 Cor 1:18-2:5, but revealed to us through the Spirit 1 Cor 2:10 (along with the idea of assessing what the most loving thing to do in any given situation would be). This pneumatic direction, for Paul, he designates as “the mind of Christ” 1 Cor 2:16. That is, the mind of Christ is applied by the Spirit. Thus, the Christian is one who lives not by the letter of the Law but is controlled by the Spirit. The “flesh” is the distinguishing feature which controls the unbeliever, but the Spirit is the distinguishing feature in the believer’s guidance and life. This is the “new Covenant.”

What the exact relation between Christ and the Spirit in terms of immediate and direct guidance is not explicit in Paul. It could be that the “mind of Christ” became operative in the life of the Christian THROUGH the activity of the Spirit (this is how I’d usually think of it personally) as in 1 Cor 2:16. However, in II Cor 3:17 Paul seems to equate the two when he says, “the Lord is the Spirit.” Either way, the Christian, it seems, has a knowledge which no human wisdom can approximate or even test. Indeed, life in the Spirit (having the mind of Christ) seems to lie implicit in Paul’s whole conception of the Christian life and of his own apostolic ministry.

However, the question to be raised is this: While there is an emphasis on pneumatic direction, does this EXCLUDE ANY TYPE OF EXTERNAL CRITERIA? Or to put it another way, is there a “morality beyond rules?” (which, by the way, seems somewhat characteristic of Kierkegaard’s “suspension of the ethical”). Well, there have been exegetical issues raised against seeing this as decidedly one sided.

First Exegetical Problem: New Lawgiver and Torah in Messianic Thought
First, in Judaism there was the EXPECTATION of a new Torah. For example, Jer 31:31-34 speaks of a new covenant wherein God’s law would be written on the heart. What should be noted is that these verses do not automatically exclude the thought of external type of direction as well. Though this passage goes beyond others in speaking of a “new covenant” it can be paralleled by Ps 37:31, 40:8, Deut 30:14, 6:6 and 11:18 in its reference to the law contained in the heart with none of these passages ruling out the presence of the external Law. Indeed, there were many expectations in both the Old Testament and Jewish literature that some type of external and divine teaching would continue to be valid in “the latter days.” In the discoveries of Qumran there is evidence that the expectation of a new lawgiver and Torah was a part of the common Messianic thought of Judaism. For example, it has been long known that the Qumran community was awaiting “him who will teach righteousness.” (Dead Sea Scrolls).

Thus, while this thought may have been contained within Judaism and influenced Paul, it is more probable, according to some scholars, that the Church was probably more influential than Judaism at this point. Secondly, we see in Peter’s sermon on Solomon’s porch and Stephen’s defence before the elders that there is some sort of providential continuity between Moses and Christ via the quote of Deut 18:15: “A prophet shall (the Lord) God raise up unto you from among your brethren like unto me.”

Lastly, we see in the gospels a new law, new lawgiver, prophet, rabbi (written under the influence of a “high” Christology) where Jesus is seen as a TEACHER with his school of disciples teaching them to keep his COMMANDMENTS and where his person is in some sense a new Torah.

Second Exegetical Problem: Law of Christ
Paul presents the “law of Christ” in two passages:
Gal 6:2 where bearing one another’s burdens the Christian is fulfilling “the law of Christ.” In 1 Cor 9:21 Paul speaks of himself as not being without law before God but as being “under the law of Christ” or “in-lawed to Christ.” So the question to be asked is this: Does the “law of Christ” exclude any thought of a standard in the Christian life which possesses an external significance and validity?

Well, there are two interpretations. One is that the “law” is understood as the old pre-Christian mode that Paul understood unintentionally and the other interpretation is referring to a law where the “law of the Spirit” refers to an inward non-propositional guidance. However, there are problems with this because there is evidence that Paul understood “law of Christ” as more than acting in a Christian spirit and to be different in some respects from “law of the Spirit” Rom 8:2.

So it seems that “the law of Christ” has to have some external validity to it. Now, some scholars have pointed out that Paul was not opposed to “tradition” (paradosis) for the instruction and teaching of Christ and the Church even though:
1. It carried the idea of external authority within Judaism and
2. Jesus strongly denounced the “tradition of the elders” as being the “tradition of men” and
3. Paul had abandoned “the tradition of the fathers.”

In Paul’s day however, pious Jews were told to “hold fast” the traditions” and Paul exhorted his converts to “hold fast the traditions which you were taught” and praised them when they did hold fast the traditions though he opposed what he called “the traditions of men.” Thus, for Paul, it does not follow that he also opposed the external validity of all traditions and principles.

C.H. Dodd said: “…maxims which formed part of the tradition of sayings of Jesus are treated as if they were in some sort elements of a new Torah.

And we see this when Paul, in discussing marriage in 1 Cor 7 claimed for his own view the direction of the Spirit and contrasts it favourably with what Christ said on the subject. Yet, it appeared that what Christ said remains uniquely authoritative.

This also occurs with regard to the maintenance of the Christian preacher 1 Cor 9:14, Matt 10:10, Lu 10:7 the institution of the Lord’s Supper 1 Cor 11:23-25, Matt 26:26-29 and the blessedness of giving, Acs 20:35 and Lu 14:12-14 as though such words of Jesus carried a decisive validity. Lastly, in Romans, there are at least eight passages where Paul is clearly dependent upon the words of Jesus and uses them as external guidance for the Christian life–for example, Rom 12:14, 17, 21

Though Luther insisted that Christ is “no Moses, no exactor, no giver of laws, but a giver of grace, a saviour, and one that is full of mercy” that statement should be understood in its context of justification by faith alone and as a reaction to the “schoolmen” and “merit-mongers” who commercialized righteousness. So the idea that “Christ is the end of the law” for those who believe should not be understood that we receive our guidance ONLY from the Holy Spirit. Though Paul’s usage of the word “law” should not be understood as identical with Judaic usage, it is not accidental. It would be a mistake to understand “the law of Christ” as equivalent of the rabbinic Halakah or to even confine it to the teachings of Jesus. For Paul, immediate Spirit guidance for the Church (no small institution) though valid, did not exclude that which the Lord commanded and ordained.

Bringing The Two Elements Together
So let’s bringing the two apparent polar opposites together. For Paul it seems that he views the teaching of Christ as the embodiment and one true interpretation of the Old Testament, ie. 1 Cor 15:3 where the Christian interpretation of the Old Testament prophecies came about in the first instance through the instruction of Jesus. It was not only through this though but also through Jesus’ tangible portrayal and instruction of the divine standard. For Paul, “The Law of Christ” must be understood as both Christ’s teaching and the example of the person of Christ.

So Paul brings both to the table in ethical reflection–Law of Christ and Mind of Christ. However and THIS is an important point, HE NEVER REPRESENTS THE NEW TORAH AS BEING A DETAILED CODE WHICH HAS A READY MADE ANSWER FOR EVERY CIRCUMSTANCE (something my buddy Randy was questioning as he was thinking way ahead of the game. Right on Randy! Tracking me perfectly!). Paul never exchanges the Halakah of the rabbis for the Halakah of Christ. Even where Paul has a definite command of the Lord with regard to marriage (as noted above), we should not understand Paul to be speaking about “law” in the sense of a detailed code covering every conceivable exigency. Instead, this command partakes of the nature of PRINCIPLE. A principle is something that POINTS THE WAY to the solution in a particular circumstance but which must be applied anew to differing situations. And we see this with regard to marriage. Christ establishes marriage as permanent from the beginning. However, he says nothing specific about ascetic separation within the married state or how this works out when one party becomes a Christian. 1Cor 7:10, 1Cor 7:3-6, 1Cor 7:12-16.

Thus, in a negative sense, these principles will objectively pass judgement on the self-assertion and waywardness of the Christian. In their positive sense, they will give authoritative guidance. E.F. Scott is appropriate to quote at this juncture:

“Instead of framing laws he stated principles, and made them so few and broad and simple that no one could overlook them…It is true that he enounced a large number of precepts which appear to bear directly on given questions of conduct…But when we look more closely into the precepts we find that they are not so much rules as illustrations. In every instance they involve a principle on which all the stress is laid; but it is applied to a concrete example, so that we may not only grasp it as a principle but judge for ourselves how it works.”

Let me use a few examples of what I mean. Think of when Jesus tells us to “forgive seventy times seven.” Matt 18:22. This should not be interpreted so precisely such that once we reach that number then we don’t have to forgive anymore. Or the example of prayer in Matt 6:9-13 and Lu 11:2-4 . This does not mean that such a prayer was binding on us in its order and phraseology for a truly proper intercession. What about when Jesus was on trial? Did he literally turn the other cheek?” No, though we believe he was true to the principle in Matt 5:39. The fact that Jesus spoke so much in parables is evidence of the fact that principles were the vital elements while the concrete situations in which those principles were encased were meant to be only illustrative. In Eph 5:2, 25 we read, “…walk in love, even as Christ loved us and gave himself for us” or in his praise of the Thessalonians that they “become…imitators of the Lord.” Are these to mean that we should actually repeat the sacrifice of Christ or that we should punctiliously conform to the external activity of the Lord’s ministry?

Personally, I don’t think Paul, who insisted that “the written code killeth” was prepared to view the Law of Christ as more than authoritative principles set in concrete illustrations.

So, going back to Dodd, the ethical precepts of the gospels “…serve two purposes. On the one hand they help towards an intelligent and realistic act of ‘repentance,’ because they offer an objective standard of judgement on our conduct, so that we know precisely where we stand in the sight of God, and are in a position to accept His judgement upon us and thereby to partake of His forgiveness. On the other hand, they are intended to offer positive moral guidance for action, to those who have, in the words of the gospels, received the Kingdom of God.”

Paul, it seems viewed the Law of Christ as both propositional principles and personal example that stood as valid external signposts all of which are bounds for the operation of liberty and are concerned with the quality of direction of Christian liberty.

Now, up until this point, I have not mentioned anything about pneumatic guidance of the “Mind of Christ.” So what do we mean by the “Mind of Christ.” Because we have the Law of Christ, does this mean then that we don’t need ANY guidance via the Holy Spirit? It would seem that if we were to rely solely on the Law of Christ there would be nothing distinctly Christian about it. As a matter of fact, to do so would be more in line with Stocism. While, the Law of Christ is A DEFINITIVE factor in the direction of Christian liberty, it is not the most DISTINCTIVE factor which ACTUALLY produces the CHRISTIAN ethic. What is the most distinctive factor is the “Mind of Christ” through the activity of the Spirit at work in the believer without whom the principles of the Law of Christ remain remote and unattainable. If all we needed was the principles, then it would seem that all we have is religion. Thus, the Christian is ultimately guided by the Spirit if guidance and Christian life is to be truly Christian, John 16:12-15

Paul uses the word dokimazo–testing, determining, proving. Of this, Cullmann says:

“The working of the Holy Spirit shows itself chiefly in the “testing” (dokimazein), that is in the capacity of forming the correct Christian ethical judgment at each given moment, and specifically of forming it in connection with the knowledge of the redemptive process, in which indeed, the Holy Spirit is a decisive figure. This “testing” is the key to all New Testament ethics….Certainty of moral judgment in the concrete sense is in the last analysis the one great fruit that the Holy Spirit, this factor in redemptive history, produces in the individual man.”

Under the Old Covenant the individual was to “DETERMINE the things which are best being instructed out of the law” Rom 2:8, however, in the New Covenant the Christian is to “TEST all things” and “DETERMINE the things which are best” Phil 1:10 by reference to the working of the Holy Spirit in his life.” (Side note: There is a close proximity of the exhortations “test all things” 1 Thess. 5:21 and “quench not the Spirit” 1 Thess 5:19 End side note). Thus, Paul will exhort, “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may DETERMINE what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

So guidance for Paul, will involve both “the Law of Christ” and “the Mind of Christ.” It is not productive of the Christian life if one is to stand alone. It is significant that both the Law of Christ and Spirit directed testing are joined together in the opening verses of Gal 6 and are subsumed under the broader heading of “walking in the Spirit.” 1 Corinthians stresses the Mind of Christ, but it also contains the reference to being “in-lawed” to Christ.” Thus, the “spiritual man” ie. the man who not only notes the principles and example of the Law of Christ but who also allows the Mind of Christ to make application to his ethical judgment at each given moment, “judges all things” 1 Cor 2:15. Such a person realizes that as he is guided by both the Law of Christ and the Mind of Christ” he need not worry about what men say for it is the “Lord who judges” 1 Cor 4:3-4, 1 Cor 2:15, 2 Cor 10:7, Col 2:16. At the same time he will allow the same freedom of ethical decision for his fellow Christian. He may see his brother taking a different course of action, but as his brother so desires to act within the bounds of the Law of Christ and be guided by the Mind of Christ, he ultimately recognizes that it is “before his own Lord that he stands or falls” Rom 14:4, Rom 14 1Cor 2:5 and 2 Cor 5:10.

So. All of this, it seems, goes to show that we are not totally without guidance when it comes to ethical decision making. We have SOME EXTERNAL CRITERIA in helping to guide us in these things. This does not mean that we have to have complete exhaustive knowledge to cover every possible situation. But neither should it mean that those who hold to a “more principled” Christian ethic should be seen as either claiming exhaustive knowledge or being legalistic. What I’m seeking to do is to counter the pendulum swinging in the OTHER, OPPOSITE direction of merely Spirit guidance (along with an ethic of love) which can lead (though not necessarily so) into ethical relativism. Given this, I hope it is starting to shape up as to how one could be a Pharisee with a genuine heartfelt faith and in turn how Christians can follow a new Torah with a genuine heartfelt faith as well.

Law and Spirit: How They Interconnect Pt 3

I want to begin where I left off from the last post. Essentially, the idea that I was trying to convey there was that one could be a Pharisee, attending to the law out of a heart felt and genuine faith-that not everything was formalism and externalism–that there could be a genuine love and “trust in” AND “obedience to God.”

Now, my point was not to say that one could be made righteous upon doing such works and therefore there is no need for a Messiah. The Messiah has come and for our BEING MADE RIGHTEOUS, the works of the law no longer apply.

However, in much recent theological literature what this has translated into is that because we have no need for the law in our being made right with God all we have to do is follow the Spirit (listening to that “still small voice”) in whatever situation we are in without ANY external criteria to follow. In other words, freedom in Christ means freedom from the domination of the Law which is to say that the Christian lives a life no longer under a detailed code which regulates each particular action but in the new life of the Spirit (a point that my buddy Randy was attempting to get across in one of his responses to my first post where he says that the Pharisees always asked “Why” to have perfect knowledge in order to know how to respond [live for God] in any given situation).

However, before commencing any further (I will deal with following the Spirit within the next couple of posts) I think it is needful that we recognize two strains in Pauline thought. As indicated above, one is the “indicative.” That is, the indicative is that we are “free ‘in’ Christ”–Christian liberty and the other is, the imperative–our part. Such that it would look something like this:

Indicative: “God is at work in the Christian’s life.”
Imperative: “Work out your own salvation.” Phil 2:12
Indicative: “You are ‘in’ Christ.”
Imperative: “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ.” Rom 13:14
Indicative: “dead to sin and alive to God ”
Imperative: “…consider yourself so to be…” Rom 6:11
Indicative: “Sin will have no dominion over you.”
Imperative: “…so do not permit sin to have dominion over you.” Rom 6:12-14
Indicative: “You are free from the law.”
Imperative: “…so stand fast.” Gal 5:1
Indicative: “You live by the Spirit.”
Imperative: “Walk by the Spirit.” Gal 5:25

It seems that one cannot separate the two for to do so, is a “satanic parody” as one scholar put it. And the question then arises as to what the relationship of the imperatives to the indicative are. Two points come to the fore. One is that the they are based in the fact of a new nature and the other is that they are motivated by love.

New Nature–In Romans 6 Paul says the Christian has become “a new creation” and out of this capacity Christians are exhorted to PRESENT THEMSELVES “as those alive from the dead.” (out of the actuality–‘hosei’ Rom 6). That is, Paul declares the very fact of the believer’s death to the old nature and his resurrection to the new ought to settle the question of his allegiance.

The same can be said of the “fruit of the Spirit” in Gal 5:19-24 where the contrast between the “works of the flesh” and the “fruits of the Spirit” points out the same emphasis of the changed nature as the basis for the acceptance and fulfillment of the Gospel imperatives. The word, “fruit” seems to have been deliberately chosen to suggest that the good deeds of the believer are characterized by a certainty spontaneity. That is, they are the natural outcome of a transformed nature rather than the laborious attempt to conform to an external code ie. again, not mere gruelling formalism or externalism.

Also, Luther’s translation of Rom 6 “presenting their bodies IN ORDER that you become holy” is probably more appropriately read in light of Rom 12 where Paul again urges his readers to present their bodies WITHOUT the idea that by so doing they gain a further degree of holiness but rather, that they thereby but respond to the mercies of God. Again, here, not a mere formalism but rather arising out of a “trust in” and “obedience to” dichotomy.

Motivated by Love-The imperatives find their motivation in the indicatives of the Gospel. That is, that Christian ethics is motivated by love and not impelled by the desire to gain righteous. In other words, Christian ethics has the character of works which doesn’t establish the relation of man to the Transcendental but rather it takes the form of OBEDIENCE to the One who has already established that relationship. For Paul, righteousness was already realized in Christ such that New Testament ethics–Gospel ethics is a “therefore-wherefore” ethic.

This should be a reminder to Christians who so many times, quote Philippians 2:12 which exhorts us to “…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling…” but what they often neglect is that this verse starts off saying, “…as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now MUCH MORE in my absence…” assumes that the works of the Christian is to be under the caption obedience.

So there is a distinction between works in order to gain righteousness and works taking the form of obedience based on righteousness which ultimately lead Martin Luther to declare: “Our faith in Christ does not free us from works, but from false opinions about works.”

Law and Spirit: How They Interconnect Pt. 2

Under King Solomon there was a mastery and unity over the land of Palestine. After his death, around 722 B.C., that unity was broken. The Northern Kingdom of Israel in which 10 of the 12 tribes consisted was conquered by Assyria and it is probable that those Hebrew people went into exile and/or became absorbed into the people with whom they dwelt. Essentially, they ceased being Jews.

In 586 B.C. the Southern Kingdom of Judah was conquered by Babylon. The Temple was destroyed, the rituals brought to an end and most of its inhabitants were taken into captivity. Questions that had befallen the Northern Kingdom would now be the same for the Southern Kingdom. Would Judah give way to the seductions of the surrounding alien culture? Would she become assimilated and absorbed into it? However they survived, one thing seems sure, the people maintained their identity through the Law.

The religious leaders of Jewry by and large realized that Israel could attain a separate entity and keep it that way only on a religious basis. As a result, the synagogue, the place where the Law would be read and studied came into being and the scribe or the instructor came to the fore in the community. And it is over against this background that Pharisaism is to be understood. That is, out of the fires of exile, a people were pledged to a life of conformity to the revealed will of their God made known in Law.

Most scholars derive the term Pharisee from the Hebrew word, “parush” meaning “separated” or “isolated.” The question then arises, “Separated from whom or from what?” One theory says, that this separation is from the nations based on Ezra 6:21–“So the Israelites who had returned from the exile ate it, together with all who had separated themselves from the unclean practices of their Gentile neighbours in order to seek the LORD, the God of Israel.” However, the term Pharisee does not appear at all in Ezra and though the idea of Pharisaism is beginning to come into being, it is not fully explicit.

A second more acceptable theory is that separation was from the later period of the second century B.C. in which Jewry was in a struggle against Greek culture that was being forcefully imposed on it by Antiochus Epiphanes

However, though the idea of separation is prominent among scholars, the question as noted above arose as to whom this applied too. Was it to the whole community, the people of Israel or was it applied to a separate group?

Though some scholars have pointed out that it applied to the whole community, the reason this was so was because it was thought that the whole community itself struggled against the priests who claimed to be the SOLE interpreters of the law they (the community) thought that ALL who obeyed the law could interpret it as well. The bottom-line though for most scholars is that the term referred to a group or sect and that it is probable, that the separation was from some furious political nationalism which marked the emergence of the Pharisees as a distinct party.

Now, though Pharisaism connoted the idea of separation, that is only the negative side to it. The positive side was that Pharisaical saintliness demanded obedience to the commandments–a submission to the yoke of the Law. As noted in my comments in the previous post (and I will say more about this later) this was not always some mere formalism or externalism and at this point one should begin to wonder about not only the caricature of the Pharisee as has been portrayed throughout most of Christendom, but should also cause us to pause and reflect upon our own spirituality–about our own “walk with the Lord”—about our own separation, consecration and obedience to the God. Jesus tell his disciples that their obedience should out do the righteousness of the Pharisees, but one has to wonder if the Pharisees obedience is out doing ours. If God has told us not to bear false witness against our neighbour, should we not be OBLIGATED to reconsider the witness that we have assented to and scrape the barnacles off?

Law and Spirit: How They Interconnect

Just over three years ago now, Scot McKnight wrote a series on being liberated from legalism. You can actually find almost everything Scot wrote about, in this book by Longenecker several years earlier: Paul the Apostle of Liberty

I’ll link you to McKnight’s posts and then put in summarized form what Longenecker wrote about. But before I do that I just want to say how important I think this issue is.

First, what McKnight and Longenecker clear up are questions concerning the nominism/anti-nominism debate. Basically, as Christians, are we suppose to follow rules, imperatives, law, principles, etc? You will find that both authors agree that there are indeed divine imperatives that we should follow.

Second, because of this, then, the next thorny question to be raised has to do with the Holy Spirit. If we know that there are imperatives that should be followed, then what need is there for the Holy Spirit and faith if things are so clear?

But there is another related question as well. For example, what about, as I heard a “Christian atheist” say one time about Christianity, following Paul, has become a system of belief and not doing. Well, that is put to rest by addressing Christian ethics, especially within this context of Law and Spirit as spoken of by McKnight and Longenecker.

Anyhoo, without further a due, I will put up the first of what Longenecker wrote about and then over the next few days put up the rest. But before that, here are the links to McKnight’s thoughts on the matter.

Liberated from Legalism 1, Liberated From Legalism 2, Liberated from Legalism 3, Liberated From Legalism 4, Liberated From Legalism 5, Liberated From Legalism 6

From Longenecker (my title though)

It’s A Bad Day To Be A Pharisee…Or Is It??? Hmmm…

When you hear or read the word, “Pharisee” or “Pharisees” what automatically comes to mind? In part because of unfavourable connotations attached to this word through constant usage and taking that usage for granted such as to not see something from a different perspective, most Christians over time have tended to perceive of the Pharisee or Pharisees as something negative or derogatory such as, “hypocrite” or “holier than thou.”

As Kenneth Bailey points out in his book, “Jacob &The Prodigal: How Jesus Retold Israel’s Story” in the history of interpretation of Scripture, there is the tendency that “the more familiar a passage becomes, and the more central it is to the life and faith of the church, the more interpretive ‘barnacles’ it acquires.” Barnacles are marine crustaceans that attach themselves to rocks or the hulls of ships, that, in the case of ships need to be removed or else they become a detriment to the ocean or seafaring vessel. In other words, there are ways of seeing the story that become fused with the text itself such that the given interpretation does an injustice to the story or in our case here, to the character of the Pharisee (which in turn does an injustice to the story).

Right off the bat, one might object to this and say that the Pharisees have a negative connotation because that is the way the Gospels actually portray them. But that is exactly the point and this is where some of the human element comes into the picture. According to some scholars, the Pharisees appeared as rivals and opponents of the early Christians AFTER the lifetime of Jesus on into the first century. Thus, a confrontation with Pharisaic Judaism that characterized this early situation as well as the portrayal in the Gospels will be of some importance in assessing the picture of the Pharisees in the Gospels. That is, it is plausible that to those who authored the Gospels, a Pharisee, as an opponent, would have loomed larger than some of the actual opponents from the lifetime of Jesus and a opposition party which stood against their lord as well as continued to stand against them might get more play or blackballed than a group that would have dropped out of the picture after Jesus day.

Having said that, I want to take another look at the Pharisees and hopefully reorient our view not only of the Pharisees themselves but also of the radicalism of what Jesus had to say to them. It might have been that Jesus does not so much focus his attack on hypocrisy (as Matt 23 alleges) but against the desire within EVERY human being (and not just the Pharisees) to attain righteousness by self and works. In other words, the conflict and antithesis between Jesus and the Pharisees is more so against “extravagant legalism” (extreme righteous?) which is sustained not only by his words but also by his life.

Much of modern theology is prone toward the kerygmatic (pronouncement, preaching–something less formalized) as opposed to didache (commandment). But we need to be reminded that though there is a danger with focusing some attention on law, Jesus did say, “these words of mine” yes, Torah, “the law of Christ” is part of the New Testament Word of God as well. Could it be that “Law” is an expression of Grace?