A Concise Summary of Corinthians.

A few years back, I preached through Paul’s letters to the Corinthians. I actually began with 2 Corinthians and then went on to 1st.

Below is a summary based on my notes.

1. The Church is the Temple of God, His presence dwells in us and so we are Holy. Holiness is to be understood in terms of ownership by God.

2. Factions are caused by immaturity in the body and must be dealt with, and can only be dealt with by growing up.

3. Therefore the weaker members of the body are essential, for apart from them we cannot mature for maturity is achieved when we become like Christ. The weaker members of the body afford to us the opportunity to be like Jesus by setting ourselves aside on behalf of another.

4. The body of Christ is the context in which we live and grow. In it we are fed and nourished by the head. We must be careful though for others before us also had much the same advantage and many of them fell.

5. Therefore use the gifts God gave you to nourish and strengthen the body.

6. To turn your back on the body is to turn your back on Christ.

7. Be very careful that you do not act in such a manner so as to discourage someone in the use of their gift for apart from love gifts are nothing.

8. Anyone that does not love Jesus is cursed, those that love Him are blessed.

John The Baptizer

One of the things I like to emphasize is that the Bible is (Divine) literature, and as such should be understood and interpreted “literally” that is in accordance with way in which we normally understand or interpret any piece of literature. A while back, during a Christian education class, I had the opportunity to talk about biblical metaphors and the necessity of there being at least some similarity between the thing described and the metaphorical description. Therefore, it would do little good to make a point about my disposition by the use of a metaphor that did not have some point of similarity. For instance, you could not say, “Rogers’ head is as hard as a rock, if I am known to be of a supple and yielding disposition. Metaphors must have some point of contact if they are to get any traction.

Let me bring this to bear on Jesus’ description of John as “a reed shaken by the wind” (found in Luke 7.24). I suggest this is a rhetorical question; one that expects the answer to be “yes”. So, it is fair to ask what Jesus meant by comparing John to a reed.

A good place to start is to examine the context of the event Jesus is referring to, that is the ministry of John the Baptist. We need not go very far into the story of John to see the point for whatever else we may say about John, and his ministry, his name says it all. He was a baptizer. John came preaching a baptism for the remission of sins, and he came preaching and baptizing people who were already in a covenantal relationship with YHWH. Another important thing about John is that he was an Old Testament prophet. He was the Elijah of Malachi 4, which means that the baptism is an old covenant event. This brings me nearly to my point and to Jesus’ metaphor.

First, though, I want to think about some the things that attended the inauguration of the Old Covenant. One of the places we can look to is Exodus 24 and the ritual confirmation of the Old Covenant by the blood that was thrown on the people, probably what Hebrews 12. 24 refers to as “The Blood of Sprinkling”. Now to get to the point about John we need to put ourselves in the place of Moses. How do you throw blood on so many people? Well the answer is (probably) that you don’t throw it, but you sprinkle it, or better yet you throw/sprinkle it by some mechanical means and in this instance, like others (for instance Leviticus 14.6), the mechanism was a piece or a rod (kanon) of hyssop. The Old Covenant was inaugurated by sprinkling.

Which brings us back to Jesus’ metaphorical description of John.

Jesus could compare John to a reed because John, in accordance with other Old Covenant inauguration/ purification/renewal rites was baptizing by sprinkling the nation, and was sprinkling them with a reed of hyssop.

There was however, an important difference. For John’s baptism is also related, typologically, to ours, through Jesus. Prior to Jesus’ baptism, John’s baptism was an Old Covenant event. That is though not true of Jesus’ baptism, for at his baptism Jesus becomes (officially) the forerunner, the first man of the New Covenant, The Second Adam. So, just as The Old Covenant was inaugurated by the sprinkling of the people, so also was the New by the sprinkling of the covenant head, The New Israel, Jesus. Therefore, the (expected) answer to Jesus’ question was this: No. John’s reed was not shaken by the wind, but by the Holy Spirit.

Angry

Like any parents, my wife and I are very mindful of the habits we encourage or discourage in our daughter. For instance as a Christian father, I am concerned she learns to worship in a proper fashion (among other things of course). We are also very aware that the way we raise our daughter has the potential to effect generations to come, for as Scripture tells us the sins of the fathers are passed on to those that follow. Bad habits in children translate into habitual sin (and worse) in adults.

Take for instance anger.

In a child, anger is usually an understandable response and is generally related to, or is an expression of, indignation of some sort. For instance, you wake up one morning to what sounds like a demolition crew in your living room and find that the cause of the noise is little Johnny knocking holes in the wall with a hammer. You respond by taking the hammer away from Johnny which (predictably enough) causes Johnny to cry, howl, dramatize and so forth; which gets him nowhere and nothing but a spanking. A commendable situation all the way around for soon you won’t have to worry about Johnny and hammers; unless of course you give in.

But, you may ask yourself, shouldn’t I give in sometime? Is being lenient always bad?

Well, that depends, of course, on what we are allowing. In some instances being lenient, (which is a form of grace) is fine, but I would say that in the case of (sinful) anger we have no leeway for if we give into a child’s anger we can be sure that even though we missed an opportunity to educate, education still happened, but of the worse possible sort. For anger quickly, very quickly, becomes a means of manipulation and manipulative children grow into manipulative adults who learn to use anger, or the possibility of it, in a very effective way. Therefore, men learn that they can avoid dealing with problems or hearing bad news or any number of things by becoming angry. We have all heard it at one time or another “let’s not bring this up for we don’t want to make you know who angry”.

Yet it can get worse for this sort of ungodly anger can quickly become a form of covetousness for what is coveting but desiring that which God (through one means or another) has said we may not have. Anger is a way of getting something that God has said “no” to. Therefore that man who gets around his responsibilities (family, ecclesisiatical or other) by being such a touchy jerk that no one wants to bring anything to his attention is, by his anger, seeking something God has said he must not have; in this instance peace or rest or inactivity.

But it gets worse for covetousness is also, according to Scripture, a form of idolatry and idolaters are notorious manipulators. Its an evil brew and one full of unintended consequences, for our lives and for our families and for our future. The angry man may just want to be left in peace, but peace is something he will never find. For anger produces turmoil and never produces the righteousness that comes from God. For an angry man will never grow up.

Creativity

On the way to work the other day I was listening to a pod cast on Anglican Radio. The host was interviewing a gentleman who had recently finished a book on creativity and the Trinity. The author’s name escapes me right now but he did get me to thinking. Some of the material below is dependent on his ideas expressed during that interview.

Humans are creative and ingenious. It’s no suprise since we are made in the image our Creator. We see this in children who are so creative that their creative instincts have to be schooled out of them. Intentional or not we tend to atrophy towards a uniform and unitarian way of thinking. In other words we find homogeny desirable, which is also one of the reasons we like Social Media platforms like Facebook (for example).

This works itself out in some surprising ways and as the gentlemen mentioned above noted it makes us very suspicious and intolerant of anything that is or wants to be outside the norm (creative). We have to be careful though, for our God is both unified and diverse. “Always constant never the same”.

Creativity then is a good and godly thing. We should nurture it in ourselves and in children creativity should be encouraged and managed, but not squashed. After all do we really want to raise a bunch of unitarian totalitarians? Haven’t we enough of that already?

Son of The South

If you know me you know I am a son of the South. I have in my lienage several Confederate officers and even a Chaplin who served under Leonidas Polk. Lots of family and a long, long line that stretches back to the very beginnings of this part of the country. Lawmen, lawyers, judges and Indian fighters. Cowboys, carpenters, lumbermen, motorcycle racers and preachers. The stuff legends are made of. The stuff of the South.

It might have been Faulkner who said that “in the South, history is not in the past”. Whoever said it was right though. I love history. I love the history of the South and I love setting the record straight about the war that was between the States. Much may be said and of course to the victors go the spoils along with the writing of the history, therefore its pretty certain the South has gotten the short end of the stick, when it comes to the telling of it. I have sympathy for the cause at many points. I have heroes and family that fought in that war, who fought for their country and their land.

I love the South and yet the South was dead wrong. At the end of the day she failed and Southern slavery was her  failure. Southern slavery made her cause wrong, made it stink to heaven. Slavery was her sin. Slavery undid her good. Slavery made her stumble. Slavery made her immoral.

So, the South was wrong. That one issue made her horribly so. So wrong in fact that for all the above I could not lend her my support.

I have a a few young friends. Guys at work, smart fellows who on more than one occasion have questioned my politics.  They know me. For the most part they know how I think. They see how I conduct myself and they wonder;  “How on earth can you vote for a Republican?” How can a man like you, a Priest who loves his fellow man and is demonstrability concerend with social justice, not a racist or a bigot, no chauvinist. An educated guy with a good sense of humor, how can such a man not vote Democratic?

Its a good question because truth be known I am very sympathetic to some of the big aims of the Democrats. Yet there is that one issue. One issue that makes them wrong. Horribly wrong. Wickedly wrong. Catastrophically wrong. That issue is abortion. I simply cannot support murder. Like slavery in the South this one issue completely undoes the good. This one issue makes the whole thing corrupt.

At the end of the day my loyalty lies with Christ. I cannot serve death. I cannot promote murder in the name of doing good anymore than I can say a black man is less than human and another man’s property. I may be a Southerner but I pray I am no monster.

And I want no part of them.

Identify

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 heeled 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.

The Evils of Organized Religion ?

It is popular, in some circles, to bash Christianity under the guise of “organized religion” and to do so by alleging that “organized religion” is more about form than function. In other words, “organized religion” is more about theology and less about loving people. Therefore the truly spiritual, that is those that are able to recognize and diagnose these glaring problems within the church, are led by their angst to engage in methods that more closely resemble the occupy movement than anything else. The odd thing is that this angst, this protest against “organized religion” does little if anything to remedy the problems they decry. To put it another way these “occupiers” are, at least in theory, all for social justice but in reality do little or nothing to further it. Besides that, the criticism brought against “organized religion” will simply not stand scrutiny. Let me give you an example drawn from the small town we live in, Bertram,Texas.

If you need help paying your electric bill in Bertram there is one place you can go for help: organized religion. If you are hungry and need food at anytime of the day or night there in only one place, you can go to: organized religion. If you are travelling through our town, run out of gas and appeal to the gas station or the Sheriff’s department for help they will probably send you to, you guessed it, organized religion. If you need help paying your rent your best bet is to turn to organized religion. If you are a stranger and need a place to stay a phone call will secure you a room for the night in the local hotel and that call will probably come from, again, organized religion. If you need a coat next winter, where is the best place to find one, for free? Organized religion. If you do not want your children being educated in the government school, where do you turn? Organized religion. If you are pregnant and need help, the only place you can go in complete confidentiality and safety is to: organized religion. Organized religion accounts for probably 75 or 80% of the so-called “social safety net” in our county, if not more. The funny thing is that I see lots more men with clerical collars helping with this than I do guys with ear rings and guitars. Therefore the criticism falls very short of the mark.

It may be that folks making the above sorts of criticism are unaware of the good, the centuries of good, that the Christian Church (organized religion) has done. If that is the case then I would admonish said individuals against building straw men. No doubt the Christian church is a work in progress, indeed she is. It is also true that we are, in many ways, still in our infancy. We are and so let us press on and let us admonish those who, in the name of Christ, stand on the sidelines and point “that even now the ax is laid at the root of the tree, therefore bear fruit worthy of repentance”. “From the days of John until now the kingdom of God has been coming violently and the violent bear it away”. “Faith with out works is dead” and “He who has ears to hear let him hear”.

Intoelrance

In an earlier post, I argued that what is often called “tolerance” is actually tyranny. In this post, I would like to look at how that is so. It is a good thing to think about for our natural instinct is to see things the other way around and to equate tolerance with freedom. Let me start with the following observation: no one (no sane person) tolerates everything. Take for instance the political liberal. It is a safe bet that he or she will not tolerate much that a man like Ronald Regan might stand for.

The real question is by what standard we judge what is to be tolerated, and what is not. In the West, and for that matter in much of the East, the question of an ethical or moral standard was really more of an assumption than a real question. It was because for the first 1800 years or so of our history everyone assumed Christian values. Things, ideas, behavior etc. were judged tolerable or not based on The Word of God. In other words, there was one basic standard for morality.

So far so good, but then comes the rise of the enlightenment and rationalism followed by the hangover we call postmodernism. Suddenly skepticism came into vogue and almost overnight, the idea of objective truth (that is truth tied to some sort of a standard) became (almost) outdated. As one wise man put it, “Everyman did what was right in his own eyes”.

However, how does that sort of toleration lead to tyranny?

The reason is that when man replaces the objective truth of God’s word for another standard (whatever it may be) he has in fact recapitulating the age-old sin of the first Adam, who tried to be like God. Theologian RJ Rushdoony put it (roughly) like this: “when you reach the level of no further appeal, you have reached the god of the system” and it’s commonly understood that one sort of god does not tolerate any other sort of god very well. Therefore, the struggle for power begins.

I really like the movie Gangs of New York. It is a movie with some very graphic scenes but like many of Scorsese’s movies; it is making a good point by asking a good question. The question is “who is the biggest and toughest gang in New York?” and the answer is of course the US government. This brings us back to the question of tyranny. For, as I have pointed out, at the end of the day gods (and governments) will only tolerate themselves, and those that view themselves in terms of it. Like the gangs of New York, there may be room for slight variations but only very slight. The state becomes a monistic tyrant that will only allow reflections of its own image. Tolerance becomes tyranny and the only cure for that is The Trinity. How that is so is a question I will attempt to take up in my next post.

Dereliction of Duty

There is a scene in the Movie “Saving Private Ryan” that has always stuck with me. Its the one where an American soldier, fully armed and able, watches an enemy kill one of his comrads during a hand to had fight. Presumably paralyzed by fear he simply stands there unable or unwilling to help and then latter goes on to murder the captured German soldier in cold blood. The American soldier becomes, in effect, just like the enemy. 

Last night I was reading a commentary on Leviticus. The author has been doing an excellent job of drawing parallels between the Temple and The Garden of Eden and between Adams service as a Priest and the Levitical High Priestly service. Good stuff though its well plowed ground.

There is one question raised in the book (“Who Shall Ascend to The Mountain of The Lord by L. Michael Morales) sort of as an aside, that I find really insightful. It goes back to the Garden and Adam’s fall. The question is this: “What if Adam did what he was supposed to do?” For like the Soldier in “Saving Private Ryan” he was in a place to do what no one else could have done and save the day. Being still sinless and presumably acceptable to God why did not Adam offer himself as a sin offering on behalf Eve? in other words why didn’t he act in a Priestly fashion and so save not only the day but the whole of creation? We will of course probably never know the answer to the question but its clear that when faced with saving Eve or joining her, Adam chose the latter. 

Humanity is unable to save itself, which brings us to the The Second Adam. Jesus Christ, The One Who did what no one else could do and offered Himself, as a substitute, not only for Eve but also for Adam and so for the whole race.