During the 60’s young folk now know as ” Hippies” caused quite a row in the US. In general they were folks protesting and even revolting against a society that had long been propagating injustice, greed and inhumanity. They were right in doing that. However they were wrong in that they also equated Christianity, Religion , Christian Tradition and Moral Law as the enemy as well. For it was precisely those things that had kept the evils they decried at bay and from gobbling them up . Which it did. And chewed them and spit them out now made in its own image. The Hippies fell because they mistook the cure for the enemy.
The Spirit’s Leading
Over the years I have taught many bible studies. I usually employ a sort of lecture/ interactive format and if there is a lectern at hand (as would usually be the case in a Sunday School class) I will almost always employ it. My classes and studies are typically well received yet on occasion I have had folks express reservations about such a structured class or study thinking that in some way or another structure quenches the Spirit.
I find that odd especially when it comes from a tradition that employs a structured or very structured worship service, such as the prayer book. Few would say that the BCP service somehow quenches the Spirit, anymore than say employing a Hymnal would!
Now we all want and need the leading and work of The Spirit in our lives, but what we may sometimes forget is that like most operations of God the works of the Spirit are, what I like to call, “incarnational”. That is He employs definite means. So, the operations of The Spirit are not normaly invisible, undefined or ambiguous. They employ flesh and blood and even books, paper and lecterns or human formats. Now without a question there are times when the Spirit works in an extraordinary fashion.
But its just that; Extra-ordinary. It seems God likes the ordinary.
Lex Talionis (Part 2)
So how are we to understand the Law and the related question how are we to think bout the relationship between the Old and New Covenant? On the one hand we find Jesus telling us that He (in effect) did not come to change The Law but to fulfill it yet then we hear Him say things that seem to contradict. For example this passage from Matthew seems to change the “Lex Talionis” or what is called the law of retubution
” You haver heard it said and eye for an eye and tooth for tooth but I tell you do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek turn to him the last on also.”
So whats going on here? Is Jesus acting as a new law giver and changing the Law? Not likely since in the the verses prior to this He warns against those who might seek to. Its perplexing but we can get to an answer if we think about the nature of the Old Covenant or, to put it another way , ask the question “what was the Law supposed to do” and by this I mean” Law” in its expansive sense , dietary, sacrificial, moral etc.
What was the Law for?
Simply put the Law was meant to deal with sin. And it did, yet it did so in a sort of imperfect way for as the writer to the Hebrews tells us it could never deal with guilt and in fact in the very act of forgiveness there was a constant reminder of sin. The smoke from the sacrifices ascended daily and over and over the Old Testament people of God were reminded “something is wrong”. We see this also in the law of retribution. The remedy always carried a reminder. There was always the burden of guilt.
That is until the New Covenant. Under the New Covenant with its infinitely superior sacrifice sin is not only dealt with once and for all, the guilt of sin is too. Sin is dealt with and there is not longer a reminder. Which is why Jesus says what He. Our reaction to being sinned against cannot continue the sin. So when we are slapped we don’t respond by slapping back. We take it. Just like Jesus did. Sin and its effects stopped with Him and as His people it stops with us as well.
This does not mean however that we become pacafist ( in our current environment this is important to note) however it does mean that our response to evil (say on the national level) is intentionally done in a way that does not perpetrate the very thing it is intending to stop.
Lex Talionis (Part one)
Anyone who has visitied a FB page or an internet chat group where theology is discussed will, sooner or latter, come across a discussion on the Law. Yet, Biblical “Law”is a term that needs some definition since it can refer to “The Ten Commandments” or to what is called ” The Ceremonial Law” or to “Dietary Laws” ect. The list goes on.. However, Its an important discussion for it touches on the question of continuity between the Covenants or how the Old and New Testaments relate to one another.
Now its at this point its not a bad idea to think about how we interpret such things, for after all when we get into these sorts of discussions we are dealing with what theologians call “Hermeneutics”. Hermeneutics can be defined as the art of Biblical interpretation and as such it involves (at least in part) defining our presuppositions. So, how does that work and where to start? Or to put it another way around what lense should we use when we examine Scripture and does Scripture itself give us any clues?
It does in fact and Jesus Himself tells us what the key to interpretation is. Its Him. He says it in a couple of places but my favorite is the story of the disciples walking on the road to Emmaus shortly after the crucifixion. You probably know the story and about how the disciples were despondetly talking about Jesus death when suddenly they meet Him. Whats important to the present discussion is that it is there that Jesus tells His disciples and us that He is the point of “The Law and The Prophets” .
So the Bible is a story. we are part of the story true but we are not the most important part. Jesus is.
Next post Ill talk about how that works out and will do so with Jesus talking about the Law, more specifically what is called the “Lex talons” ir “Law of retribution.
I hope you will join me.
Veritas et Equitas
A while back I preached a sermon from the first half of Matthew 21, a section that contains the account of the cleansing of the temple. Matthew does not give many details, but simply relays a concise account of the events. It is a very interesting story and can be considered from several perspectives.
From the standpoint of biblical theology, we are led to think of the return of YHWH to the temple, and to Zion, and the attending notions of the defeat of Israel’s enemies (usually the Babylonians) and her freedom. Of course, if we take this line of interpretation we have to the ask the question just who the Babylonians are in this story.
In light of Jesus use of role reversal (“the first shall be last”) the answer is predictable.
Role reversal, by the way, is a very common theme in Matthews’s gospel and once you are aware of it, you see it everywhere. It is especially the case in the text at hand for after the “rich and famous” are thrown out of the temple, who does Jesus then receive but the blind and lame, just as the revolutionaries who were turning the house of praise into a den of robbers are replaced by children singing Hosanna to Christ. Jesus then quotes Psalm 8 in justification as the cries of the children still the objections of the enemy and avenger.
So again, we find an idea that keeps on repeating itself in the gospel. Setting things right (that which Jesus has been doing) involves putting the “top rail on the bottom and the bottom rail on the top” or as Luke relates in Acts “turning the world upside down”.
That is exactly what the Gospel is about, the proclamation that sinners can be justified, the dead raised to life and the rich and famous left out in the cold.
Good stuff, don’t you think?
You may have heard it said, “Prayer changes things, and sometimes the thing it changes is you”. This is a true saying and one most can relate to personally, for it is often the case that the thing that needs changing most is our perspective. Now interestingly this (the need for a change in perspective) is a principle that has border applications as well.
Let me illustrate what I am saying by means of a sort of rhetorical question: What do we expect from a sermon? Admittedly, this is a broad question and one with many possible answers. However, I think that most of us, if we are honest, expect one thing (or one group of things) from a sermon: things to do. I have heard it from time to time and I know colleagues of mine have heard it as well “great exposition of the text pastor but a little shallow on application”. In other words, “I want something to do”.
From a certain point of view, the whole thing seems a bit problematic. Narratives rarely contain explicit ethical demands and those that try to find them run the risk of completely obscuring the meaning of text and turn David’s defeat of Goliath into an example of how God enables us to deal with really big problems. On the other hand some texts do contain things for us to do, and so it is the job of the preacher to put those forward. However, we must be careful of what Charles Hodge described as “the ghost of semi-Pelagius” as being behind the desire “for something to do”.
So what then, are we to expect from a sermon? What then is the preacher to aim for? I would say a change in perspective. Good preaching should change our perspective; on the world, on ourselves, on grace, on any number of things. It should give us the mind of Christ, and the “being busy part’ should flow from there, and not from the end of the sermon.
Do We Have to go to Church?
I heard an interesting statistic this morning. Apparently, 80% of Americans identify themselves as Christian though only 20% attend worship services on a regular basis. This statistic led me to consider how it is that being a Christian has become separated from the worship of God. There are many clues that point towards how this has happened. Let me give one example. You have probably heard it said, “Christianity is a relationship and not a religion”. It is an interesting proposition, one with a long and heretical (Gnostic) pedigree and it is easy to see where this leads. “Having Jesus in my heart is of primary importance, things like worship, preaching and the sacraments are secondary to that, in fact they can even be dispensed with when necessary.” “Necessity” of course being almost completely ambiguous.
Yet, can we say that as Christians we are more or less compelled by Scripture to attend corporate worship? Yes we can and we can go on to argue for “more” than “less”.
Recently, I have been reading G. K .Beale. One of my favorites is an academic work titled “We Become What We Worship, a biblical theology of idolatry”. In it, Beale traces the history and effects of idolatry on the nation of Israel and on the New Israel, the Israel of God, the Church. Beale is not alone in his observations. Other men such as Ricky Watts have made similar ones, but the important point is this: we become what we worship, and I would add everyone worships, like it or not.
This brings me back to my original question and its answer: yes, corporate worship is essential to the Christian life and to eternity for the Christian life is preeminently about becoming like Christ. Worship is central to that and while it may be true that you have Jesus in your heart, it may be the case that apart from engaging in the corporate worship of the Triune God of Scripture that may be another Jesus you have rattling around in your chest.
Yet someone will surely say to me OK, but I still do not need a church to worship. A point I will of course dispute and will dispute it based on 1 Corinthians chapters 10-11, where Paul appeals to the sacramental presence of Jesus in the Old Covenant as a warning against idolatry in the New. In other words, Paul’s warning to the Corinthians is a very good place to argue for the presence of Christ, the Spiritual presence of Christ, during the course of worship. This Spiritual presence forms the image of Christ in us. Of course, the reverse is also true. For there are a diversity of spirits, not all of which are from Christ, though all have the same power to conform.
Next Sunday then ask yourself “Whose image do I profess to bear?” and remember. Actions speak louder than words.
The Search for What is Sure.
I have been interacting with a friend on what it means to be a Christian. It is amazing the conundrum such questions become when they are considered apart from covenantal thinking. My buddy is no novice; in fact he is very astute but when faced with judgments such as above he has absolutely no way to tell, objectively, who a Christian is. The discussion centers on a remark he made concerning the Roman Catholic Church. While we both agree that the Roman Church has fallen into grave theological errors (and let me restate that as very grave) he would apparently go on to say that because of their errors they are not a Christian church. While this line of thinking may at first seem to be sound when questioned it becomes obvious that it is a completely subjective statement. The question is of course where do you draw the “error line”? How grave an error can one fall into before one is considered as no longer a Christian? How do we know what God considers such an error to be? Ah, some might say, the Apostle Paul anathematizes anyone that preaches another gospel. Problem is a case could be made that when one considers what Paul calls the gospel namely the birth, death, resurrection and session of Christ the Church of Rome just squeaks by. What to do?
First of all instead of trying to decide in such cases who are not Christians we need to re-ask the question as “who is” or better yet who has put on Christ? When viewed from that (biblical) perspective the answer is simple: all those who have been baptized into Christ. Trinitarian Baptism then joins one objectively to the Covenant and is the answer to the question what does it mean to be a Christian, covenantally.
For several years I tutored three students in Koine Greek. In our class we read allot of the Septuagint and New Testament in Greek, but after a while we began to concentrate on learning John. We spent quite a bit of time in 1 John. Since the students had all gone through grammar and syntax we pretty much did sight reading and discussion. John’s Greek seems easy. John’s Greek, it has been noted, is deceptively simple. You really have to pay close attention to the verb tenses, which often vary.
The opening chapter of 1 John has really been on my mind lately, specifically v.7 which reads (if loosley translated) “but, if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son cleanses us from all sin”. The interesting thing about this verse is, again, the verb tenses. They are all in the Greek present tense and so may also be translated “if we keep on walking in the light, as He is in the light, we continue to have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ keeps on cleansing us from all sin.
Now that is noteworthy. There is a link between our fellowship with one another, and our cleansing from sin by Christ blood. One could say the two are closely related and that “cleansing” is dependent on “fellowship with one another”. If that is the case, and the grammar for sure suggests that it is, then we are right to ask, “What does John mean by fellowship?”
Context. Context suggests he has in mind the local church.
Think about it.. Fellowship with one another is essential. Fellowship, and it makes me wonder. Over the years I have run across folks that never, or very rarely, attend corperate worship. I have actually met folks that have told me that, as far as they are concerned, watching a church service on TV was equal to parish worship/fellowship. And I am not talking about shut-ins.
I am not suggesting that in every case folks guilty of this sort of thinking are also guilty of fatal error. Especially when we take into account the overall health of American evangelicalism.
But, what about more “mature” ones that fall into this error? That is a bit more complicated and more disturbing and what about those that do come and sit in the pew but never really enter into fellowship?
We can say this: But, if we have fellowship with one another, the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.
A while back I preached through The Gospel according to Matthew. In doing so, I tried to be sensitive to the events and situations that lead Jesus to The Cross. While I do not think of The Cross as the most important event of the story (the resurrection is), it is obviously very important and plays a central role in its theology.
As I went along, following many others before me, I asked this: for what sorts of reasons was Jesus crucified, not theological reasons only, but cultural and other (not that those are not theological reasons, they are just not explicitly theological). As one well-known New Testament scholar puts it (more or less) if Jesus was just a teacher of timeless truths (sort of like a first century hippy) why was He crucified? People like that just did not end up o n a cross.
It is a good question and one that has, I think, multiple answers. One reason seems to be His penchant for associating with people that no else could stand. I am closing in on the 11th chapter now and the list of folks Jesus takes in, and heals and blesses is remarkable. Roman soldiers, demon possessed people, women with flows of blood, dead people; people few, if any, wanted association with. Jesus loved those that no one else loved, and this caused Him to become, increasingly, unpopular. Moreover, when the popular and powerful and the influential are ignored, they take notice, and they do not like it.
So one of the reasons Jesus ended up on a Cross was His identification with the unpopular and their identification with Him.
Now that says something to us, today. Something about what it means to follow Jesus. It says this: following Jesus means identifying you with someone that the rich, and the powerful, and the beautiful, and the well healed of every stripe hates. To identify with Jesus means identifying yourself with those He loved, and to reap from it the world’s hatred. It means membership in the social strata the bible calls the weak and foolish, and, oh yes, it also means this. If you find that you really have a problem with people with personality issues, or who don’t bathe that often, or are fat, or just not very likable guess what? You may also find out you are having a problem with Jesus too.