Church

Functional Election: 3 Hints for not misreading Scripture

old-man-reading-1882Reading the Old Testament as Christian Scriptures poses interesting surface challenges for Christians. I have been observing over the last eight years that students find the particular topic of a chosen people very hard to grasp correctly.

However, when we approach the scriptures with the inductive method, and with a rich historical context, and follow that up with going through Chronologically so that the many stories unfold neatly into one large story of Gods ongoing redemptive work then we can reach the New Testament with far more clarity about the world of the Jews, Greeks, and Romans. Then we already understand that there was a specific purpose for which the people of Israel where chosen for. How do we read and study the OT incorrectly.

Three things keep us (particularly western people) from reading scripture right. The three things that I will explain are actually all about how we impose our own Modern thinking on to the text. We think as Individuals, we think as Materialists, we have Greek thinking categories. We then impose our western way of thinking onto the text and miss the point that the authors were trying to make. When we miss out on what the author truly meant then we miss out on what exactly God was communicating to the Original Audience. When we miss that we miss out on what God is saying through the text to us today. How does reading the text as individuals impact our reading of scriptures.

Most are completely aware when reading the bible that it is a very old piece of literature. But most are completely unaware of the implications of that truth for how we aught to read and understand scripture. If we really grasp that the bible is very old and that its original recipients thought and lived very differently from us we would not take so much ‘out of context’. For instance most people do not know that people in the Ancient world were not individualistic. At least nothing like are today in the west. In fact in many cultures around the world people do not think so much in terms of individual success and identity. Instead the ancient thought and valued group identity, the success of the group, and importantly the purpose of the group. For Israel they very much learned to value group identity, and group success. It was not however understood correctly in terms of their group function or purpose. They felt strongly that they were God’s people, and that as God’s people they would be blessed and prosperous. The purpose was for many Jews was that through the power and might of the ethnic group of Israel nations would turn to their God and be humbled by him and by his people. Unfortunately they did not always conceptualize what God himself promised to Abraham that God’s peoples function was to achieve all this for the sake of God’s redemptive purposes in all people. That when the nations turned to the God of Israel then the nations would be joined to that family.

Thus to understand Romans more correctly, as many have sought to do one must understand what was important to Paul, to other Jews of his time in Rome, and to the rest of that ancient culture. Paul was remembering the Jewish stories of how God had intervened in the world and spoke to righteous men of Israel, how he gave his law, how he delivered them from slavery, and then back into slavery until they themselves would turn back to him. For the chosen people had failed. They were the ‘chosen’ people for a specific purpose, and then they failed God sent them into exile until again he would act on their behalf. God chose to do these through a special person, Jesus, God incarnate, a high priest, a great teacher, an example of righteousness, a judge, a high priest, the atoning sacrifice, the embodiment of resurrection hope for all people. Jesus was the Jewish messiah and the God over all. Romans when read correctly with more than just individuals in mind keeps us from reading the book just as a way for an individual to get saved and instead as a book that speaks of the ongoing work of Gods Saving intervention for humanity. Romans is about how God actual did act on behalf of his people to bring them redemption and how that redemption and salvation is available to all people irrespective of their age, sex, ethnicity, or social status.

The gospel is that Salvation has come into the world for all who believe, confess, or cry out for it. When we see scripture in a more communal way we experience the message of the books a little closer to how the Original audience would have. Reading a book otherwise leads to an over emphasis on personal salvation, so that a theology that allows me as an individual to prove my salvation and eternal destiny is all that really matters to a ‘believer’. Paul thought very differently. I believe that he felt that the story of God’s Salvation is one in which when you confess faith in the messiah then your life begins to reflect that kind of belief. We were not meant to use Paul to define our salvation so we can justify our complacency. Paul had a more fluid concept of God’s Salvation. It was not to be something we could place neatly into boxes. This part is Justification, that part is Sanctification. Somehow God’s Salvation works out when the people of God are identified by their Faith in God’s Faithfulness, and then when the actually begin to live faithfully as God’s people in a world full of Adam’s thorns, and thistles. It is the creation itself that is waiting for the ‘revealing of the sons of God’. In others words, Salvation just begins when people receive by faith their atonement in Christ. Then they must begin the task of cross bearing themselves. Paul says, that the sons of God will continue to groan with creation as we await our own resurrected bodies. Because we think with sharp categories, and because we think as individuals, almost selfishness or egotistically, and because we have adopted post-enlightenment categories of physical spiritual worlds. False categories of gods and spirits (and other obviously made up stuff for the ignorant and wishful thinkers) vs the category of reality and hard science (and other things that can be trusted with certainty).

We then, unconsciously, impose this onto scripture. For instance, the church in America gets obsessed with debates over the material reality of Genesis 1-2. It is important to Christians that the events of Genesis 1-2 are historical. That is fine, nothing wrong with that. Unless you then are going to wrongly impose modern materialistic science onto Genesis 1-2. As if Genesis 1-2 was God’s revelation of the material existence and how it was all made. In doing this, Evangelical Christians in America often miss probably the most fundamental lesson from Genesis one and two. Of course, it seems even a little pretentious to me to imply that I myself know what is the most fundamental truth in such a vital piece of scripture. However, I believe that for the original audience of Genesis, Israel needed some clarity about their purpose, vocation, or function as a nation. It should not be a surprise then that when God finally brings Israel out of Egypt, and when they arrive at Sinai, that God says you are going to be a priestly nation. In that simple phrase God is, in short, informing them of their function. Priests served both God and the people. Priests, acted as intermediaries between God and people. This was Israel’s task before all other nations, to be the “city on a hill”, a “light to the nations”, and the “salt of the earth”. In other words Israel, God’s chosen people, is not to be understood even materialistically as the one people who are God’s, period. But instead, Israel is God’s people who have a specific vocation in and for the world.

Again, Israel’s status = Special People with a special Task. This definition of Election then emphasizes Israel’s Function. This is why for me I have begun using the word Election with the word Functional in front of it. I believe this because I think himself thought of Israel’s Election in this way. In fact he said that not all who are descended from Israel are Israelite. That is because for Paul in order to really be an Israelite or a Child of Abraham you needed to have Faith in Gods Righteousness. That Faith made you a part of the Family of God and his Covenants and then as a member of the Covenant Elect you had a job to do, a part to play. Paul’s election when it is uninfected by individualist, materialist, categorized thinking is more fluid and free from simply being about those who are “Saved” from Hell, or for Heaven later on. The Elect instead those who God Called, Justified, and Glorified for the sake of the ongoing work of bringing kingdom, creating life, and co-reigning with God. Many Christians today believe that because the profess Faith in Christ they are saved. We believe that this is good theology. This is shorthand theology. What Paul would have said to that statement is that we are saved when in professing faith in Christ, we live in unity with brothers and enemies, when we care for the needs of others, when we suffer with those who suffer, and when we maintain hope even in the face of awful evil because God has overcome and will restore all things in heaven and on earth and nothing can separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus. This describes the ongoing work of Gods Salvation, thus Gods elect are to be a functional elect, who show the sings of those who God is saving and using for the saving work in all of his creation. This kind of “Functional Election” does not need to be thought of as just another kind of legalistic or works based salvation theology.

Just look at how screwed up the hero’s of faith, both in the old and new testament. Abraham, Jacob, and David all had serious blunders and foolish behaviors. But that did not matter, God had so much grace and mercy for them. They realized this and it strengthened their faith. So then it is not by works that we are “right’ before a holy and righteous God. It is by his faithfulness, his grace, and mercy. But what does it mean to be a person of God, an Elect, a chosen one of God, it means that God has a strong purpose for your life. It means you have a calling, a task, and a job to do. That built on the foundation of God’s faithfulness we place our own faith, and on that foundation we live, we act, and we offer our own bodies as a living sacrifice to the service of God and people. We seek to be the Elect not simply to enjoy the benefits of the elect. Like Abraham’s children in the flesh, for about a century they sought to be the “people of God” for the benefits. Many Christians are so because they want to benefits. They want heaven and not hell. But being the people of God, professing faith is only the beginning of what it means to be the people of God. That is making a sacrifice yourself to love in the same self sacrificial way that Jesus himself did. This teaching is very hard. But it is this kind of thinking that can at last begin to transform and renew our thinking. So that we are not conformed by the world, by materialist thinking, by individualist thinking, and by placing things neatly in their categories so we can feel better about ourselves. The Good News is that there are in fact great benefits in being human because God has made salvation available to the human race. So don’t feel bad for coming to faith in this way. But now that you have allow yourself to be transformed in your thinking so that the name of God will not be cursed by those who look the Christian ‘elect’ as nothing but hypocritical or ignorant. Instead we need them to see Functional Christians. Those who’s actions reflect Christ’s self sacrificial love to the world around. We like the Jews of Paul’s day have brought disgrace to the name and character of God.

Suggested Reading (on topic):

Ancient Near Eastern Thought Relating to the Old Testament – John H Walton

Paul and the Faithfulness of God – N.T. Wright

Escape from Reason – Francis Schaeffer

Categories: Bible, Church, Context, Culture, Doctrine, Faith, New Testament, Old Testament, Romans, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Paul’s Reasons for Writting to Rome

Paul - Spain.001For Personal, theological, and for geographical reasons Paul writes to the church in Rome.

As I just said in a recent post, “Romans in not simply a theological book that Paul sought to write” but there were sociological reasons, perhaps political reasons. As we try to be aware of weather or not we are reading into Romans our perception of Paul’s theology we find that the book clearly addresses many things in the life of the church in Rome.

But I mean to highlight that Paul specifically in the beginning and ending of his book he speaks of 1) wanting to visit Rome, but 2) returning to Jerusalem from Macedonia region (likely Corinth) first, 3) finishing his work from Jerusalem to Illyricum and not wanting to build on others foundations, 4) wanting to finally come to Rome and get the churches help for further expansion west to Spain.

In other words one of Paul’s primary concerns outside of this specific group of believers in Rome is that he wants to see the ongoing mission of the church. He believes that since Jesus is in fact the Messiah then now is the time when Gods purposes for Israel are being realized when Gentiles believe and worship the God of Israel now revealed in the Messiah.

That said, if the church in Rome wants to be a part of this ongoing mission. Then they, a mixed group of Jews and Gentiles need to learn to get along. Paul speaks plainly in chapter 14 about not despising each other over issues of food and drink, or holy days. But before that Paul goes much deeper in chapters 1-11 as to what exactly they are to find their common ground in. Paul is careful not to shift the balance to far to one side which would lead towards anti-Semitic attitudes, or to attitudes of Jewish superiority.

This becomes more clear with just a simple knowledge of the timeline and historical events of the time. Paul is writing this letter in his third missionary journey 53-57 AD. He is near the end of it. At 54 AD Emperor Caligula died and his edict to ban Jews from Rome ended. The church that had once been Jewish and Gentile had become purely Gentile for a number of years, then the Jews came back. Not difficult then to image hostility towards the Jews from Gentile believers who do not feel the need to observe Jewish holidays and Jewish diet. The returned Jews may be causing some confusion. They may be narrowing the grace of God to yes embracing Jesus as Messiah but also doing the rest of the requirements in order to really be part of the Family of God. Gentiles are not only resisting this but perhaps getting into arguments and judgements directed towards those who historically rejected Jesus and depend on their traditions to much. They need some intervention and conflict resolution. Paul goes to the deepest possibly roots of this conflict. It is no wonder that this book has primarily been used to answer questions of how people get reconciled with God. Since there is a major emphasis on unity it is easy to narrow the discussion to unity between man and God. Really the roots of the problem presented here for the church in Rome goes then to the question of mans unity with God irrespective of their racial ethnicity. So it is not that Paul never talks about reconciliation with God but i would say the primary purposes of Paul in the letter and therefore the emphasis is on getting the church unified by the Faithfulness of God to his covenants.

Categories: Bible, Church, Context, Doctrine, Faith, Mission, New Testament, Romans | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Romans: Not what I expected

paulRomans is not at all what I had always thought of it as. When I began by School of Biblical Studies in YWAM 8 years ago I thought that Romans was the book I needed to know because this was the most theological book of the bible. I will not doubt in the strict sense of the word that Romans is a book that reveals more about who God is and is therefore a book about theology. However I always felt that how the theology of Paul worked was based around how to get Saved as an individual.

Of course this was of huge concern to me coming into the school because I had encountered some very strong (and I mean hyper) Calvinistic folks right before coming to do my CSBS. So I wanted to be sure Salvation was in fact by faith. Strangely my dilemma with Salvation by Faith was that I felt that there must be some kind of importance in my own heart, and mind, regarding the decision to actually have faith. I was shocked really after getting to Romans and after spending a few years coming back to Romans to the same issue.

Romans was a book written to a specific community of Jews and Gentiles in the first century AD. It was not written directly to me about Salvation. In fact it was not even written to them simply about how individuals get saved. Though there are passages that can be used to clarify how Individual Salvation works. I was shocked to find that it is a book written to groups, groups that Paul wished would learn to have fellowship together and call themselves the true Israel of God.

So then, the book references so much from the OT, stories, symbols, practices. It is a book certainly written with the Jewish people in mind. They are one of the communities he is speaking to. He uses the stories and symbols not at random to prove theological points. Instead he uses them (often in order) to show that there is an ongoing story of Gods redemptive work in the world. How that plan started when the race of man fell, or rather rejected God and his original plan. So God starts with plan two so to speak. Abraham, the rest of the patriarchs, Exodus, Law, Land, Temple, Exile, and eventually he climaxes with Christ. He retells the story to show that God had a plan to use the family of Abraham, to give him land, law, influence. But that just as Adam rejected Gods plan so Israel rejected Gods plan, they embraced pagan lifestyle. But what about the Jew during the time of Paul. They did not reject Gods Law. Some say they made an idol of it. That is very simplistic. However, I think it is not far from what Paul himself thinks is the problem in his own day. Paul’s thoughts on the Law are not limited to such a simple reduction. Its perhaps one of the most perplexing parts of Paul. I have written at length in other posts about that specifically. But in summary here I think Paul believed there were multiple functions that Law played both pre-Jesus and post-Jesus.

It did pronounce judgement. It did serve as revelation of God and witness to surrounding nations. It did intend to shape identity of Israel. Some focus in on specific uses of the Law because so many wish to simplify what Paul says about the Law. But to ask Paul to give one purpose for the Law would actually be very crude. Paul was a Jew. Jews in the first century saw a great many uses of the Law. One of which was that by paying close attention to it, study, and practice would bring about Gods blessing in the form of his deliverance and vindication of Israel. In short, Law brought salvation. Paul because of his faith in a faithful Jewish Messiah believes this has already taken place in Jesus. But of course Paul’s twist is that when God did what he had always promised to do in the Messiah he did it not just for the vindication of Israel in the Flesh but for all people, Jews and Gentiles alike.

Passages that always terrified me in Romans could be narrowed down to two references to the OT. First is when Paul is telling the story of the Exodus and Pharaoh and the second is when he is talk about how God had always made distinctions between the people of Jacob and the people of Esau. The combination of God hating Esau, and God manipulating the heart of Pharaoh made me scared to press in any further. But why did Paul use those quotes of OT passages? Pharaohs heart was in fact hardened by God to bring about his salvation for all people, Jews and Egyptians alike. And God did not actually hate Esau or his family. Paul quotes this as a reminder that God simply made a distinction between Israel in the Flesh and its fleshly enemies. God had a plan for ethnic or fleshly Israel. That is why there is a distinction. They are being called to account for why they failed to carry out Gods plans of blessing the nations around them. Thus, the reference to Esau and Jacob is not about blind favoritism. It is about who had the greater responsibility. Paul goes on to say that it is in fact these tribes and nations that are coming into the Israel of God by faith, that they are being grafted in.

In short one of Paul’s most profound points is that being the people of God, the Israel of God, the Elect, is not just about privileged but it is about responsibility. This is my summarizing title for the book of Romans.

“The Story and the Future of the People of the One God”

Thus Paul is not doing Theology so much as he is implementing the use of Jewish story telling, with the key themes being eschatology, election, and monotheism.

Categories: Bible, Church, Context, CSBS, Doctrine, Faith, Romans, School of Biblical Studies, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

The Juicy Sequence of Ezekiel’s Compilation

So what was the point of how the compiler of Ezekiel laid out the book? It is likely an intentional chiastic structure. A common style of structuring Hebrew literature to place emphasis on the central event. For Ezekiel that central event is the exile itself. Though 24 is not necessarily the point in the book when Ezekiel hears of the actual fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC. That takes place in chapter 33 not 24. The book is built upon the three visions of the presence of God, the presence leaving the temple, and the presence returning to a new and altogether different Jerusalem. Though it is never called Jerusalem or Zion, rather YAHWEH SHEMAH, The Lord is there. Aside from these major visions and including the vision of the valley of dry bones there is perhaps a far more interesting point to draw from looking at the flow of the book as a whole. Starting the the initial portion of Judgement (as most prophetic books begin and tend to carry on in that way for a while) on Judah, Israel, and the nations including the tribal peoples including Edom, Tyre, and Sidon. What are we to make of these potions of judgement on the nations. Well, first we start with the fact that Israel and Judah is judged first. They are in the wrong. Then there is consolation for Judah to know that the other nations and tribes are also in the wrong. They will be judged to for their injustice and violence done. Some make a point to see that this point is emphasized well. Because the Original people of Judah needed to have some hope that other nations were being judged to. But I say you can only take that so far before you end up completely missing the point. So if your going through you see all the passages on the judgement of nations. Three whole chapters on Tyre and Sidon. Then in chapter 35 it all ends with judgement on Edom. The big brother of Israel that took part in unnecessary humiliation and injustice done to Judah. They will be judged. Perhaps this is more consolation for Judah. Yes perhaps, but that’s not all. Chapters 35 and 36 are a contrast of the future blessing that will be poured out on the ‘Mountains of Israel’ and the destruction poured out on the “Mountains of Edom. However, the passage about Israel’s future blessing and restoration is for a very clear purpose outlined in chapter 36. “The whole point”, God says, (and I paraphrase) is that I chose this land as a place where Israel would be a blessing to nations. When I give it all back you need to remember that this is not given so that you will go on abusing the nations when they come to you. You need to welcome them into the family of God. I am not so much concerned about Israel as I am about my own name. Formerly you, Oh Israel, have defiled and profaned it among the Gentiles. So when I bring you back from the dead (moving on to the famous chapter 37) and I call you forth from your graves to again bear fruit as people who are alive and not dead, please, know that I AM GOD, and you are my special people with a calling. The two sticks prophecy at the end of 37 are a curious reminder that this special people of God will include members of the family of Israel that have since been lost and assimilated into the greater Gentile world. The future Elected people of God will no longer be a people of purely Hebrew ethnicity but Gods gathering of his family will be a mixed group and they will begin to accomplish his plan of making its way throughout all the families of the earth. This then leads the eye up to perhaps some of the most tricky two passages of the OT in chapters 38-39. The infamous Gog and Magog passages that are repeated by John in the book of Revelation. My own relative clarity about these passages comes by placing it in the sequence of events already tracking with as we follow the flow of the compiler of Ezekiel’s prophecies. We are talking about a mixed group of Gods people and the resurrection itself all no doubt pointing us to the resurrection of Christ himself, and the beginning of his church. Thus, a mixed group who have been raised to life bringing together the lost tribes, the true Israel of the house of Israel. These two chapters speak of a very distant enemy. Certainly an enemy that they are currently unaware of but in the future the new and more diverse people of God will be painfully aware of. Israel has had a lot of enemies but they did not know this one. They were to far off. But in the future Ezekiel speaks of the painful reality of this enemy and offers the hope that when this day comes there will be no need to worry. God will have an emphatic victory. Weapons will provide wood for fire for seven years. In plane language 38-39 speak of the persecutors and enemies of the church worldwide. This is not I believe a merely spiritualization nor a Figurative reading of the text as we move into more heavy ground with passages 40-48. Am i just going to go on then saying that the rest of the book is of a purely spiritual or figurative language. No because that is not what the Original Readers would have done by a long shot. They would go on reading as if it were all about literal though future enemies, literal new temples, and literal new land allotments. However, as they read it literally they would have seen the challenge and perhaps impossibilities of a temple without any measurement for height, temple with spring flowing from the inside going out to the nations and getting deeper and deeper as it went. Or perhaps they would scratch their head over the massive acreage needed to even build such a temple. Maybe they also would wonder about the strange new dimensions  of the tribal allotments and the lost tribes that were to inhabit each one of them. The point here is not that they perhaps would have doubted Gods power but maybe doubt their own understanding of the message he was giving. Maybe this temple is really about what it says here in 47 about the new temple being a place that blesses the nations, and is not merely secluded within and solely for Israel. But that the presence of God is meant as it has been throughout the book moving all about, and providing healing for the rest of the nations as well as our own here in Israel. Again, in plane language 40-48 is possibly about three main things. Israel’s return and the temple they would eventually rebuild under Zerubbabal, and second about they day when, as Jesus said, the temple water would flow out of the believers heart, and third a day in the future when from the throne of God all nations would be healed by the waters. In plane language that would make 40-48 simultaneously about the hope of the age to come and the practice here and now of that kingdom life. Not merely putting 40-48 about some distant utopia but about Gods vision for the people of God to clarify the whole point of their Election, MAKE THE NAME OF GOD KNOWN AND BLESS THE NATIONS.

(Though this is not well written it roughly captures some of the flow of the more difficult parts of the book. Basically Israel is meant to learn something here before ever we, the 21st century reader was to. They needed to see how God was reminding them of their true identity and calling as well as the true intent or will of God. God wants to be known, and he wants to redeem his creation, humankind being the linchpin of creation. Israel’s true identity and calling were essentially one and the same. Their identity was wrapped up in their unique understanding of two things, the true nature of God as he revealed himself to them, and their understanding that it was their responsibility to be a blessing to nations and bear witness to their God. Ezekiel’s strange visions can be clarified when we understand that he is an agent of these ends.)

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Art and Bible: Part 2 (JEWS IN ROME)

In Part 1 I began to mention some important background information about the church in Rome. Something else interesting and unique among Paul’s letters is his personal greeting of twenty six individuals in Rome. Why are so many people mentioned in detail. Most likely it has to do with the disunity that exists among the Christians in Rome. I think it is likely and maybe more helpful that we would consider the church in Rome to be many individuals who perhaps have little to no dealings with each other whatsoever. This could be a merely racial issue. As many of the early Christians in Rome were likely Jews who heard the gospel from those at Pentecost. These Jews being filled with the Spirit and beginning to place their hope in Christ as Messiah probably continued to meet in Synagogues and carry on being Jews in the normal sense. They needed the presence of one of the apostles to bring more clarity about what is happening. Jews without the presence of an apostle in Rome may have continued to hold Gentiles at an arm length even if they professed faith in God and now the messiah. Even though they were being filled with the spirit they may not have been welcomed so readily. No doubt this was part of the issue in Galatia. But how did Paul go about addressing issues in Rome. The other issues as I mentioned in ‘Part 1’ was that Jews had recently been expelled and then brought back to Rome. Gentile Christians in Rome had a chance to be the ‘church’ without ‘pesky’ Jews around telling them what they can and can not eat and so on. Having them back to Rome was not sitting well with some of the Gentile Christians in Rome. What is the responsibility of the apostle in this situation? How is he going to address this and bring unity and truth to the situation. Its clear that there are some potential errors on either side of the racial divide.  Jew In Rome

The picture today is interesting to me. After I finished I became aware of how extremely out of place the Jewish man seems with the Colosseum in the backdrop. This is how it must have felt for the Jews. Very out of place. And for Gentile Christians, is this how they saw them. Is this what part of what lead to the judgements and divisions between Jew and Gentile believers in the Messiah.

An interesting dilemma is brought up when we consider the earliest Jewish believers. Was it wrong for them to feel an obligation to maintain the traditions they had learned from youth while wholeheartedly embracing the messiah? I don’t believe it was. Take a look at the section in Romans when Paul addresses the area of practice. Jews maintained practices that set them apart. It is more obvious when you observe the early part of the book to see that Paul is pointing out essential areas of truth about God and what he has done to provide salvation for ‘his people’ (Jews and Gentiles). Then in the end he teaches them to learn to honor each other practices and the convictions they live by. Unity and Diversity. Something the church should always remember well.

For anyone interested by current reading list for the book of Romans is;

Paul and the Faithfulness of God – N.T. Wright

NIV Application Commentary – Douglas J. Moo

Eerdmans Introduction to NT – Joel B. Green, Paul J. Atchtemeier

Commentary on Romans – Ernst Kasemann

Categories: Art, Bible, Church, Context, CSBS, Doctrine, Ethics, Faith, New Testament, Romans, School of Biblical Studies | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Luthers Schism. And, ” The Dark Ages? “

Please read this with an ounce of whimsical and a pound of sincerity.  Martin Luther, 95 Theses

I was kept up last night about what the issue at hand was for Martin Luther. I am preparing for teaching the book of Romans. Since Romans and Galatians are the two books Luther found the most life changing and useful in his endeavors for change in the church I have been thinking a bit about him. I have read and written quite a bit on the middles ages preceding the reformations. As I have often set out to defend the church of the middle ages it is also something I have aimed to clarify, that the church was no doubt in need of reform.

I have laid out in other places that the church indeed had a couple of reforms take place throughout the middle ages. Specifically the Reform of Pope Gregory VII. Though Gregory VII denied the honor saying that honor was to be given to Gregory the Great whose name he took as Pope. Pope Gregory the Great never sought to have a position in the high church. Against his will he was forced into office. Though it was essential for the church to have actually given the Papal office to a man of humility and integrity. Pope Gregory VII sought to honor Gregory the Great by taking his name and continuing the work of reform that Gregory the first had brought. Simony (the buying of priestly offices) was a serious problem in the church. Along with the buying of offices by corrupt men came the depravity of the priesthood. These were area of great concern for the early reformers. 5751120-M

So Luther had sought to bring about his own reforms. Though he went further than any others had ever gone before. His challenge of the Pope’s authority took on greater meaning as the Papal bull of 1302 ‘Unam Sanctum’ was drawn up. A document that most historians consider to be the most extreme statements of Papal authority ever made. So the problems in the church had never been worse then the century leading up to the time of Luther. It is also of important note that Luther was not the first monk to respond to the abuse within the church in those early times. John Wycliffe in 1384 attempted reform in England, then the Czech Jan Hus in 1415 in Prague. Later we come to Luther in Germany, Calvin and Zwingli in Switzerland (there influence spreading throughout other parts of Europe into Scotland, Germany, France, and Hungary.) This is only to mention a few of the locations breaking into reform or schism with the Roman Catholic Church. There was a great need that the church had for change, reform, and even schism. It is important to note that it was reform that men like Luther sought. But they soon realized they could only settle for a break with the previous Roman Catholic institution.

Thus the story of the church throughout the middle ages is rife with corruptions, wheat and tares. But it remains the church until a split has taken place. Though there has been some actual reform in the Roman Catholic church there has also been a sinking into more error. The Roman Catholic Church like any other denomination has issues that need to be addressed, some more serious then the rest. Clarity about salvation and papal infallibility to name just two. The Catholic church was not wrong to attempt to exercise some control over the translation of scriptures for the sake of protecting them and assuring they would be translated well. The need for the Reforms I believe had less to do with the availability of bibles in the language of the people then it had to do with a) how someone gets saved, b) who has the authority. The need was to recognize scripture as having authority where the Pope did not, and for salvation by Faith and Grace rather then by mere association and participation in catholic church rites. The issue at hand with regards to common people having access to scripture was about the need for people to learn to read at all.

The Latin Vulgate could be read by anyone with an education in most of Western Europe. If you were from Eastern Europe you spoke and likely read in Greek and could read the bible. If you were form Africa there were a number of translations available to those who could read. Even in Europe there are a handful of German translations the predate Luther’s bible.  Again, only to name a few. Bibles were available, though not as many because the printing press was innovated around the time of Luther’s reform and made it possible for Luther’s bible and theological material to spread quicker to the public then any other materiel before it. In fact though Luther translated his work into German it would still only have been readable by someone who could actually read. That is the reason that during the middle ages if you wanted to hear the reading of scripture in your own language you had but to go to a church where that was made possible. It is therefore easier to say there was a great need for the printing press and more frequent work done to translate scripture into other languages. This was a task that the Catholic Church was up for but did so at a slower rate then we would be satisfied by. They were scared of letting just anyone take on this task. We take this for granted today because we know that now large teams of scribes work together to carefully translate the bible from its original Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic text.

I feel sad discounting the work of scribes and devout monks who worked hard to translate and copy the scripture before the printing press. Their work is significant and important to say the least. But I think we bring shame on the church and its saints by repeating the mistake of calling this broad era of 1,000 years ‘dark’. Luther’s challenge and subsequent schism with the church of Rome was necessary. But was this an era of 1,000 years of darkness that preceded Luther? Hardly.

Though, it is not easy because of the blanket statements that have continued to shape our thought about history in that period. Instead of blanket statements and generalizations about the churches control over western Europe it helps to see that Europe was fractured into many kingdoms throughout most of the middle ages.  The church only gained “control” or at best “influence” over the kingdoms at certain times, during certain reigns, in certain places. Then, there is the dilemma of the state or kingdom exercising its “control” or “influence” over the church. You see it is not always the church with the power to control. Many of the corruptions came because of the opposite being true. Though both had its way of corrupting the right influence of the church in a culture and period of time. Sadly the middle ages had its moments of Wenzelsbibel03darkness but I would hardly call it an era of 1,000 years of darkness. If there is a dark ages within the church then I would say it existed during the 10th-12th Centuries leading up to the time of Luther. But the ‘dark ages’ was a term given to the entire period from the fall of Rome to the Enlightenment. It is a secular term used to smear religion and Christianity and the very idea of God being something to be banished from the public sphere so mankind could get on with its anonymous progress. By using it as protestants we simply mean it to be a slant against a certain kind of church rather then the church. But by using the term we give credence to the movement of the “enlightenment” and its anti-God (not just anti-catholic) bias. What we aught to do as Christians is recognize what Christ said about his church that it would be full of good wheat and creeping tares that corrupt and distort its message of hope. We need to do a better job observing the details and avoid criticizing those who came before us. Thus I would not even go so far as to use the ‘dark age’ term as it is a secular term used to condemn the church as a whole of holding back human progress. When in fact the period from the 10th-12th century was one of the most exciting times of technological and scientific exploration by Catholic scholastic Universities across Europe giving way to the Scientific Revolution of the 13th-14th century. Again, blanket statements and generalizations confuse and are the opposite of learning. If you want to know truth about this issue you need to look closer and observe more carefully.

Luther’s Reforms/schism was needed for the church as a whole to go on being the true church of which the Catholic church is part of and always has been, even though it has had its issues and still does.

The “Dark Ages” (a term coined by Petrarch, an Italian scholar, in the 1330’s to describe the decline of Latin literature) was a term used heavily by enlightenment figures as a sweeping criticism of the Roman Catholic church and the lack of technological, scientific, philosophical, and artistic progress as the result. To which I say, “ABSOLUTELY POPPYCOCK!”

A closer look is warranted for the serious Christian scholar, minister, and social activist. Dark Ages is a term to avoid in order to ever find unity with Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ. It is a term to avoid in order to not invite unwarranted criticism on the body of Christ of which we are a part. It is a term to avoid because it is far to general and directed (even by the most well meaning folks) at the church and not other important spheres of society of which God is also glorified in.

Read these books for further study.

1. Church History in Plane Language – Bruce L. Shelley

2. The Triumph of Christianity – Rodney Stark

3. The book that made your world – Vishal Mangalwadi

4. For the Glory of God – Rodney Stark

5. Hinges of History Series – Thomas Cahill

6. The Genesis of Science – James Hannam

7. The Victory of Reason – Rodney Stark

8. Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature – C.S. Lewis

9. Story of Christianity: Part 1 & Part 2 – Justo Gonzalez

10. Those Terrible Middles Ages – Regine Pernoud

11. Scripture and the Authority of God – N.T. Wright

Categories: Bible, Church, Culture, Enlightenment, Faith, History, Medieval Period, Philosophy, Science, Society/Culture, sociology, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Medieval Man – Modern Man – Post-Modern Man

clovis_baptizmThe Medieval Man had God and Religion at the center of all things. Kings were baptized and whole kingdoms across Europe   became Christian before the individuals that make up that Kingdom ever heard the gospel of Christ. On the surface this is neither encouraging or something to boast about as a Christian. But what does the gesture imply for the future of that nation. Again, your answer may be that the implications lend toward a Christian culture in name while remain ignorant to what God has done and desires to do in the world through the church. This may be true as well. Wow! I’m really digging myself a hole here. 🙂 However disastrous we may think these types of things to be that happened throughout the middles ages they do say something of the place of God and religion in a culture. And that is to say that God and Religion were right at the forefront of things. Kings and other rulers were baptized and whole kingdoms “became” Christian. Over time this had an extraordinary effect. At some point individuals hearing the gospel caught up a little bit and the presence of Popes, local Bishops, perish priests, and enclaves of hermits and monks brought something of the essence of real Christianity to Europe. Though not thoroughly and as we might wish. And from an early time God and Religion were understood to be essential to the life and culture of the West. Though I am dealing primarily with the West there was a similar emphasis with Christians in the East and in Africa. Placing God at the center had an extraordinary effect. Great advances in technology and science culminated around the 1400-1500’s to spark the Scientific Revolution with great contributions coming from Roman Catholics and Protestants across Europe, from some Persians in the East, and a handful of Africans. It was however primary an endeavor of European Christians. In other words the scientific revolution was an outgrowth not of recovered Greek learning but of Christian doctrine. There is so much upheaval then taking place at this point in history. The protestant reformations, the secular revolutions, and the so called enlightenment. I believe the enlightenment term to be useful in explaining that what many experienced as a result of reformations, and revolutions, was that having God and religion at the center no longer seemed valid.  Philosophers such as Edward Gibbon, Voltaire, and Rousseau to name a few were a large reason for the violent dismantling of matters of faith from matters of real life and philosophy. It is by understanding the work of enlightenment figures and their influence that we can approach the Modern era clear headed about the nature of it. Of course I believe it helps to have a realistic honest look at the Middle Ages if we want to look critically at these “Enlightenment” figures and what the propose to be true about life and faith.

The Modern man is now a man who has removed God from the center. He may not have removed God completely but like many of those original figures mentioned above, God was banished to the clouds. He no longer belonged anywhere near thisPSM_V21_D154_Charles_Darwin reality and what we mean we speak about reality in the universe. It has been throughout this Modern era that man removed God from Science. Once you arrive at the current time, science has become something seemingly incompatible with God and matters of faith. This took place over a period of time. Two great leaps forward from God happened with the enlightenment figures of 1600-1700 and with one particular individual during the mid 1800’s, Charles Darwin. The first leap was to place God off in the distant, and the second leap to banish God completely from reality. Before the turn of Darwin’s century a man by the name of Friedrich Nietzsche said that “God is Dead” and in the coming century men would no longer speak of him. So confident men became in a Science that is free from God and religious talk that eventually we make our way to the horrors of the 20th century. It is only here in the first 50 years of the 20th century that man begins to have sensible doubt regarding the unchecked positivism in human endeavors. But what could one do with God out of the picture, and now man out of the picture? Where can we turn. For Americans at least there was turning back to God, and a putting your hand to the work of rebuilding your life with God and family at the center. But another war dragged on stirring up doubt and mistrust in “the man” at the center. Young people sought an escape, sought a revolution, clung to ideologies, experimented with drugs, sex, thrills, and rock n’ roll.

The Modern man is now a Post-modern man. Uncertain of anything he tries everything and hesitantly agrees with everyone unless someone believes in absolute claims about truth, meaning, morality, origins, and destination. Man is no longer certain 7051-33about placing any one thing at the center. So he places many things at the center and is unsure what he believes and why, and where it is taking him. If he is sure of anything it is that he can not be sure of anything, that he is broken, frustrated, confused. Yet he constantly seeks validation and does not wish to be corrected. He is looking for someone who will agree with him and feels obligated to agree with everyone else. Unsure of what is up and what is down the post-modern man is tempted simply to take a step back, to place himself, his endeavors, and his own gain at the center of everything. What you then have is a post-modern man being reborn as a Modern drone-man without a soul. A man who hesitantly placed something specific in the center only for the sake of getting on with life. Even though he embraced some of the ideals of the modern life he is still a post-modern man. The original Modern man still had God in view and could not completely push him out. It is these lifeless zombies of post-modernism that lack God and eventually hopelessly leap into the dark for meaning.

Conclusion: Post-Modern youth have grown up and eventually and hesitantly re-embraced the modern ideal. If you want to have a job and get on in life then you need to re-embrace those ideals. But again, that does not make you modern. There is a real transition we have undergone. The answer to understanding post-modern man actually lies in our knowledge of Modern man, and the Medieval man. If your are a christian trying to learn to communicate you need to be able to paint the picture as I have. To see the ways in which the church engaged and came under the influence of each era and to what degree did Christians resist and maintain a biblical worldview and way of looking at reality. In other words though the Middles ages were rife with problems, corruptions, and tares among the wheat, it was a time in which God was placed at the center. Men like Martin Luther saw the corruption and error of the time piling up to something intolerable and sought to preserve the centrality of God, scripture, and faith at the center. It was the middle ages that gave us men like Luther, Augustine, and Francis of Assisi. Though God may be given a high place in culture it takes the work of devoted men and women of God to make that a lasting thing with depth. Without such men, their is such a high level of hypocrisy that people will get tired of it and seek to remove religious folk and their ‘god’ along with them from the center place. I’m crazy enough to believe that good people seeking to place God at the center and not man or even the church in the center will bring about a great healing. God at the center is the answer. I’m not advocating that we need a replica of the Medieval Christian world, what I am really aiming at is the principle at play in that era which culminated in more freedom, more churches, more education, more science, more human potential, and more progress. That the idea of human progress can not sustain itself without God, without morality, without meaning, without truth, without origins and destination.

For more on the middles ages. A personal favorite area of research and study for me check out these posts.

The Myth of the Dark Ages

Two Historical Myths – Two Historical Revisions: Part 1

Two Historical Myths – Two Historical Revisions: Part 2

“Enlightenment” Myth

Reformation Rethought

Reńe Descartes: Foundations for Modern Science

Categories: Bible, Church, Culture, Enlightenment, Faith, History, Medieval Period, Modern, Post-Modern, Science | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

What kind of Christian am I?

Here is something for change. I am being introspective. jesus

As I read, study, and do life with other Christians in Mexico of all places I wonder what Christian category I actually fit into in all of my beliefs. I have been a part of YWAM for the last 8 years. Crazy! I’ve been a part of the CSBS for the past 7 years. So what that means is I have been a bit of a bible nerd for all that time. Over the past 4 years I have begun to really broaden my reading and writing habits. I mean broaden, in that I have been reading more then the bible. But that is perhaps the first observation about myself. Reading the bible so much and studying it in context did something to my brain. I think perhaps seeing the bible as one story, a story that fits into real history, a story that covered centuries of history and exposed me to new kinds of literature and authors. Essentially it was a new education, using an entire library of information presented in poetic form as well as prose. For me this study sparked an interested in adding to that sacred library more and more material. I have taken a strong liking to the kind of extra biblical material that challenges and enriches my understanding of the sacred library. Books about ecology, psychology, history, sociology, worldviews, science, and an ever broadening list of subjects. Of course the list of reading material includes a ton of theology stuff. I still don’t have a large appetite for theological debates. But as I have engaged in new theologies, and old theology I have began to wonder about this question: “What am I”?

I read about Reformed tradition, Anglican, conservative evangelical, charismatic, Catholic, emergent, orthodox, neo-orthodox and on and on. Ive read and engaged with a lot of church history and history of Christian thought and still I’m wondering where someone might fit me. I feel this way in part because I serve in YWAM, an Inter-denominational organization. We have people from all traditions and non-traditions in our tribe of Jesus followers.

I come from the Baptist Tradition. GARBC to be exact. My Father, my grandfather, and my three uncles are pastors with GARBC churches in the state of Michigan. I suppose you could say I have carried my share of disillusionment with the church. But over the past 8 years things have shifted. I have sought to find a clearer head in regards to what my thoughts are about church and about the kingdom of God. I now have a stronger love for the local church then I ever have. She has her problems and people will always line up to point them out. To me this is one of the observations I have been seeing. You know it is the church because people are watching to see inconsistencies with beliefs and actions. The most common accusation of Christians may be that we are hypocritical. I think it is important for the church to recognize its inconsistencies and respond to the critics with candor and sincerity to change.

My own disillusionment with the church lead me to explore some of the “Emergent” authors; McLaren, Bell, Campolo, Rollins, McManus. I have enjoyed to some degree a lot of what these guys do and say. I have not disagreed with them on each and every point. But in the end I’m not what we are calling “Emergent”. I don’t know… I think its just not cool to stay disillusioned forever. Some of the Emergent guys are doing quite well because its sexy to be disillusioned, confused, “broken”, and uncertain. It is not cool to know something for sure, its not cool to be healthy or to want to be healthy, and doctrine/theology/history is not cool at all. Its all just power play and dogmatism. So while a agree with some of the tough criticism that “emergent” writers bring on the established church I don’t in the end wind up an emergent. I’m not emergent in the same way that I would not consider myself a modern, pure materialist, humanist, secularist, blah blah blah. I am of course a person who lives in what many consider a post-christian, post-modern world and I am effected by much of the thinking, and the style of the rest of my generation. But I suspect that In order not to be cast off as a super old school, pre-historic conservative I need to find the right brand for myself. Maybe someone can help give me some insight as to what I am.

My title suggest that I might just fit right in with the Emergent crew. Because I seem to be unsure about what I am. But I’m not really unsure about what a believe. Check out my blog. I have lots of opinions and I am under no illusion that my beliefs are wrong. I believe most of them to be correct. In all humility I hope to correct the existing mistakes. But they are either correct, or they are mistakes. The only in between for me is that I do believe things aught to be looked at from different perspectives. This is actually post-modern more then it is a modern or pre-modern way of thinking. However, it is also an ancient Hebrew way of thinking. So I would not say that this acknowledgement of the need to asses truth from different perspectives is post-modern pollution of Christianity. Its like, why did God provide two accounts of the history of Kings in Judah with Kings and Chronicles? Why are there two accounts of creation? What we end up with is further enrichment of revealed truths. We are not talking about opposing contradictory messages. What we have are two complementary views about reality. Jeremiah paints a portrait of a failing monarchy and a decaying community headed for hard times. Ezra takes the same original model and paints a complementary portrait identifying the particular features that would help the community at a much later date to put things back together. The fact that this is happening in the bible affirms the validity and benefit from seeing things at different angles for a clearer grasp of the truth.

So aside from needing to get new perspectives I feel that I am either bringing truth or stumbling through error. Feel free to read, agree, or disagree. For now Ive have enough self evaluation. Just to wrap up. I love the church. It has issues here and there, but I love the church. Whatever your creed or tribe I love to see the gathering of folks seeking Jesus ans seeking to bring him out into the world initiating a transformation that he completes. God Bless.

Categories: Authority, Bible, Church, Context, CSBS, Culture, Doctrine, Faith, History, Modern, Modernism, Orthodox, Poetry, Post-Modern | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

How the OT helps develop the Meta-Narrative for the Coherent Mission of the Church

Metanarrative

So just in case we need another reminder of the purpose and need for the churches ongoing mission here it is. Also by way of introduction we consider the current world views of our western culture. Much of what people believe today is built what might be called a meta-narrative. This is a basically a story. A story that people have been telling for some time. A story that holds significance because it says something about reality and who we are and where we are going. A meta-narrative is a single story that encompasses all the diverse stories and makes them into one story. The Romans and Greeks were great at telling stories and reworking the stories of other peoples into their own larger and more excellent story about reality and destiny. For us the stories we find ourself wrapped up in might be the story of Human Progress. This is an enlightenment meta-narrative that sought to do away with God, and religion, and superstition, and free man so that progress could have its way and we have been on this track for some time now. Often you will here people speak of this anonymous progress or they will speak of religious people as hold it back.

Another common meta-narrative you might here of is the overarching idea that we are all headed towards a better modernization. That is that capitalism, globalization, and better economy will heal all the worlds ills. Countries are buying into this, it is a western idea. Certainly better economy is a good fruit of something going right in a nation. This meta-narrative clashed very hard with Marxism not many decades ago, and today it clashes hard with Islam. These in short are the two projects of world domination of our day. The western ideal and story of global economic progress. And Islam’s story culminating with the rise of radical militants who got everyone’s attention on September 11 2001. The opposing meta-narratives have never more clearly been at such odds then on this day on 2001. So what is the true Christian meta-narrative? We need to be asking that and re-familiarizing ourselves with it because of the onslaught of new ideas and old ideas pressing in on us and especially on the young or new generations. What story are they going to live by? What should be extremely obvious is that Christ is the central part of our story. The gospel assumes the finished work of Christ but also acts as a metonym for ‘the whole story’. So its clear that the churches mission is to get the story out so that people will meet Christ and receive their salvation. I want to focus in on the meta-narrative. In other words how do we tell many stories and still be telling one story.

I wish to submit very briefly an overview of an overview. In case the attention spans are lacking for you readers. I want you to get the meat of this in order to garnish your comments or questions.

There are three biblical thematic trajectories I want to point to.
1. Abraham and the trajectory of Blessing
2. Israel and the trajectory of Revelation
3. David/Zion and the trajectory of Rule

Each of these were singled out by God for a larger purpose. They are individual stories but they do not stay that way. Because the blessing on Abraham, was not just for him but to enable him and his offspring to be a blessing to all the nations of the earth.

Likewise, Gods revelation of himself was not merely for one nation Israel but by choosing one nation God would make a name for himself and reveal himself to the rest of the nations of the earth.
When God chose a people he also chose a place, and eventually he chose a representative from the tribe of Judah who would act as his deputy on earth. David became Israel’s second King and God made a covenant with him. David’s offspring would continue to serve as Gods representatives. Because they ended up failing at this role ‘messianic hope’ grew and the prophets began to speak of one like David, a son of God who would continue to establish Gods rule not only in Israel, on mount Zion but over the rest of the kings and nations of the earth.

So then we see that each time God singled out an individual, a nation, a place, it was for the purpose of extending that blessing, that revelation, that rule of God to the ends of the earth. Its like Gods little seed projects. Because God was seeking not to interfere with his own design of man, making him like himself, with his own will, God developed relationships with real, particular individuals with the universal scope in mind.

Therefore the “mission of the church” is more clearly understood when we identify what Gods mission has been since the beginning. That allows for the “mission of the church” to not just become what we want it to be, or to bend the goals based on what culture says and does. The OT is extremely useful for the church today because it is what makes the ‘mission of the church’ coherent and places it within the much large meta-narrative of Gods mission to redeem all to himself.

None of these roles Abe, Israel, David are strictly speaking missional. They are not sent out into the world to evangelize. But these three strands of the biblical story make the churches mission coherent with the rest of the biblical meta-narrative. They establish the movement from the particular to the universal. The churches mission echoes the ancient biblical vision to serve Gods mission of Redemption. When the world comes under the blessing, revelation, and rule of God.

Some lessons learned is that God singles people out for the sake of others. When God singles us out we end up on a mission and its purpose is the same as that of Abraham, Israel, David, and Zion. By that same toke we should image God singling out places where he rules for the sake of reaching new places and all places.

Comments and questions please. 🙂 Blessings

*** An Area of great credit goes to Richard Bauckham and his book “Bible and Mission”. I read it a few times on a recent trip and thoroughly enjoyed it. You will find many of the themes I have used in his book. I also recommend his other more impressive work “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”.

Categories: Bible, Church, Culture, Enlightenment, Modern, Old Testament, Society/Culture, sociology, Theology, Uncategorized, Worldview | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Paul and Titus: A model of Transformation

In the Letter to Titus  –  Paul says ‘good works’ a lot. Why?

In light of the book of Galatians, where for to many, it would seem to indicate that works are not of great value for the spiritual life. That by faith and by Grace alone are we enabled to live a Godly life. Works alone then are of no use in ones spiritual life. This is a rough synopsis of only some of the thought coming out of Galatians and the language of Paul.

But even following up with that in his other books it is indexclear that what he means to say and often does with as much clarity. That no amount of good works ever saved anyone. That only by the goodness of Christ has anyone found adoption into the household of God. (Titus 3:5-7)

That said, the emphasis seems always to be on our endless desire to define “Salvation” into a science of belief, and prayer. Making it as simple as possible for us to add to our numbers and feel better about ourselves. If all I need to do is say a prayer, or believe in my heart then many will gladly do it and go on with their lives unchanged. Fortunately and unfortunately for some that is just not a message to be found in the bible.

Paul is quite clearly emphasizing in most of his work the full picture of salvation. It is not limited to the moment when you pass from death to life but expanded to the whole picture if what it looks like when one passes from death to life. Not that your eternity can not be sealed in a moment. Paul emphasis good works in Titus slowing once to point out that good works are possible because Jesus was ‘good’ first in every way. His good works made it possible for the adoption, salvation, cleansing of “us” for the purpose of good works.

In order to know the real purpose of good works at all then you need to know what the two silly words really mean. What are we to think of when we consider the value of good deeds. The only alternative translation might be “Beautiful Works”. This begins to highlight a theme Paul speaks of often. That from the beginning of time man was created for good or beautiful works.

The Garden was the place where man was created and given the task of creating and nurturing life to make more life and even make it better. (Eph 2:10) Good works touches on more then just religious activity like we might be inclined to think it is when we consider Galatians and the “good works” of the Judaizers. But good works of the rest of Paul’s writing often indicates a much larger concept. That good works is about the creative and endless potential of man. Man made in Gods image means in part, that man has infinite potential for creatively living life and giving life. What a massive influence then Paul letter might have with the despised people of Crete, who may yet walk in a new identity full of “good works”. They are not only encouraged to start in the institute of family life, and church life, but also into the public sphere.

Crete is full of bad works. Full of men and women resembling in almost know way the idea that they are made in the image of a good God. In fact quite the opposite is believed and lived by. They reflect the story that has been told about them.

The church needs to find order first, then the family of Christians, then begin to show good works toward to public sphere. Perhaps Titus is a model for community development.

Paul is not just about starting churches, but about starting organized and healthy churches that have healthy families that find creative ways to make whole cities and governments healthy.

Paul’s “Good Works” then becomes another ‘cargo ship’. It is loaded with a whole story of what Good works really is. It is like sin. Sin has a story. Its not just important to avoid sin because its sinful. But because of what sin really is. Sin is actually connected with the idea of good works. Christians have often settled for “not sinning” when they called to “DO, Good Works”. Its not about what we are not doing so much as about what we are doing for the kingdom of God. Titus is a book written to Titus and his community of believers who need to grasp on to the next step of walking out in good works for their church, family, and cities.

Professor NT Wright affirms some of these ideas himself;
“we find, here in Paul, at least the beginnings of an outline sketch of a Christian responsibility in relation to the wider world, rather than an ethic which is concerned only for the ordering of the household of faith. And I am inclined to think that we should read the passages about ‘good works’ in this light as well: just because other civic benefactors are pagans, that doesn’t mean that Christians shouldn’t ‘do good works’ for their wider society if and when they have the opportunity…” 1

“…They are part of the worldview which Paul believes must characterize the Messiah’s people.”

In other words, Paul was not really someone who in his previous life sought salvation without any knowledge of Gods grace or the importance of ones faith. Something else had been going on in Paul. He is seeing very clearly however that in order for the Jews and everyone else to get on with the next step in Gods plan. Only the messiah could accomplish by faith what no other man was able to. Paul knows now that Jesus made it possible for adoption, for others to become obedient sons of God and begin to bring the Messiah’s worldview to earth. The kind of world that Paul wanted found its full expression in Jesus the Messiah and knew this was what the Messiah had actually initiated in his coming.

Titus is instructed to continue the work of establishing the Messianic Kingdom of God. Beginning with elders for the churches on Crete and finding a strong place in the home, then working its way outward to the general culture and the civic sphere of authority and rulers. The transformation of Crete. An Island that had once been the capital of a large and powerful world civilization was being pointed back to their true greatness as a people. That they were made for the purpose of showing the world their many great works.

Really the people of Crete believe that they are descendants of wicked rulers who had sex with beasts and became beasts. That they were put in their place by the ordered civilization of the Greeks. The gods of Crete were rendered weak and pathetic beasts and the people resembled their gods. They saw themselves as inferior to the greeks and their gods of power and might. They were in need of a corrected story. Who is our true God? Who are our ancestors? What is our identity? How do we rebuild what we have lost?

They needed a new story about their God. They need a new story about their ancestors. They needed this in order to really begin to understand themselves. They needed to know how to begin to rebuild. The answer is God in Christ, that their past is full of potential yet tainted by their own sin, that their identity is found in knowing their origin as created in Gods image, and that God wants to begin the rebuilding process inside of them and then in their families, in their community by way of the church and then by way of their relationship with the established system of Cretan culture.

 

1. Excerpt From: Wright, N. T. “Paul and the Faithfulness of God: Two book set (Christian Origins and the Question of God). Page 916”

Categories: Bible, Church, Culture, New Testament, Old Testament, Salvation, Theology, Worldview | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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