Posts Tagged With: new testament

My Story, Gods Story, & My Theology

One of my biggest mistakes I believe that I was making as an early bible student was assuming that scripture was all about how to ‘get saved and go to heaven.’

To my pleasant surprise, (as it turned out) that was not what Featured imagescripture or God himself was concerned with trying to reveal. I’m so glad that the year I had decided to do the SBS in YWAM, a Chronological SBS was starting in Los Angeles and that happened to be the place where I was planning to go. I spent the first 6 months of the bible school trapped in the Old Testament. I was just nineteen years old when I began the CSBS and I struggled with the violence in the OT but for the first time was struck by the goodness and mercy of God. Instead of being fixated on his wrath or anger It became clear that though God interacted with violence at times mankind was constantly prone to violence, murder, lies, cheating, stealing, and many other violent and destructive behaviors. God not man is the hero of the OT.

Often people struggling with God, fixate on specif instances of his judgement. But the consistent story of the OT is about the ongoing and worsening behavior of man. Yet the primary theme emerges. Scripture when given a chance and looked at as a unified whole reveal a good God, a loving and patient God, a just and right God who does not gleefully destroy anyone or anything that he lovingly created.

The emerging theme is what we sometimes call the theme of Gods Redemptive Plan. It is evident from book one that he had a plan to turn everything around. To reverse the curse that began with mans rebellion from God. Abraham was the man God chose and his family to undo the sin of Adam and bring blessings instead of curses onto the earth and to every family in it. Just as God planned in Adam and Eve to fill the earth with Adam seed and nurture Eden until it consumed the whole earth. God wanted for Abraham to continue in that great vocation though sin and its curse had already begun to have its effect on the earth and on all the families of the earth including Abraham’s family.

The overarching story of those first 6 months of bible study told us that this chosen family was failing. Though there were many bright spots, many shining examples of faithfulness, the people of Abraham failed. They again, like Adam faced exile from their home, from the place which in Gods design they would spread out from and bless the world. When we arrive at the gospels in the New Testament Jews believed that though the had been preserved they were still in an exile of sorts. Still awaiting the day when God would act on their behalf. The day when God would restore their fortunes and make the world notice that God was for Israel.

Interesting for me that after about 5 years in the CSBS I had not developed a strong appreciating for the New Testament. I did not dislike it. But I was intrigued and drawn to the Torah and to the story of Israel and their God. But after 5 years I finally fell in Love with the gospels. In particular I fell in love with the the Gospel of Matthew. This makes a lot of sense to me since Matthew is the most Jewish Gospel. Written to Jews no doubt, Jesus engages a lot with Pharisees (with the lament of the pharisees in particular), Law (with the Sermon on the mount in particular), and Temple (with the Olivet Discourse in particular). It is a master piece seeking to convince any doubters that Jesus really is the Messiah that the Jewish people have been waiting on. But its going to be tricky cause he is a little different than expected. I found it more exciting because Jesus was not simply telling people ‘this is how you get to heaven or get saved.” It was more rich than that. He was teaching what his kingdom was like, how those who were a part of his kingdom must live, think, and feel about the world that they live in and will inherit. Only after I really grasped some of these essentials about Jesus and his kingdom, about the ongoing use of the Jewish Narrative and their Law was I able to appreciate the work of Paul the Apostle.

For many Christians, I believe, their “Christian” Theology is actually a “Pauline” Theology. Whether they worked for it or inherited it from sermons and popular teaching people understand the OT through Paul’s lens, and people understand the Gospels through Paul’s lens. Not that there is anything wrong with Paul’s lens in itself. Its just not the way Christians, I believe, should go about study and compression of the Canon of Scripture. I have heard it pointed out that our “Theology” is often based on creeds rather than on Canon. That theology is inherited from the teachings, the sermons, the songs, the liturgy, and the creeds, of the church. This is a valid point that Reformers themselves fought against. We tend to think that the reformers had a great victory in riding the church of allegiance to creeds and bring the people of God back to the whole witness of the Canon of Scriptures. But they did not once and for all rid Christianity of allegiance to creeds over Canon. They simply set an example to follow. It remains a task of Christians to follow in their footsteps and not allow Tradition to overtake fresh engagement with the Word of God. Even if that means that we challenge some of the traditions developed in our post reformation christian world. Of course I am not suggesting to throw out doctrine of John Calvin, Martin Luther, and the like. We should work with their readings and commentaries and go back to the text and have fresh insights that derive out of careful exegesis.

One of these Post-Reformation ways of engaging with the Canon is to read through the lens of Paul rather. As inductive bible students who seek to establish a context for each book, its author, its audience, and its occasion we should not approach Genesis for instance simply with what Paul said, though we do not dismiss him. It helps, I believe, to approach these text fresh, with as much knowledge of the context as possible. To work through the unfolding story, in context, to arrive at Jesus and the Gospels still engaging with their context, and then arrive at Paul and his letters to see how he engaged with the Old Testament and the Gospels and add on to what we have already learned and perhaps adapt it where it needs to be adapted. The thing I’m not suggesting is a a sort of either or, that we either go with what Paul said about the OT or we just do it on our own. Instead we do a little of both. I believe if we learn to work with the OT in context then instead of forcing Paul to say what we want him to we become familiar with how he may have actually come to think about the OT and Jesus.

In other words, what Paul says about the use of the Law is not extensive and final. Most come away from Paul with clarity that the Law brings condemnation. He says that it does, but for those who are “in Christ” the law does not bring condemnation. Therefore the Law becomes simultaneously; condemnation for those who are not “in Christ”, a tool for those who are to know God better, to look more like God, and to bear a greater witness to those who are not “In Christ.” Multiple uses for the Law abound when we look at Paul’s explanation of the Law from the angle of how Jews in the first Century struggled with the Law and how to actually go about observing it. Paul now has the key, Jesus and the Spirit. All of these uses are evident if we study the law in context. Paul becomes more clear when we see for ourselves that the Law is about humbling the people of God, revealing God to the people of God, and making the people of God a greater witness to those around them.

It is the issue of the Law that brings me back to my own story. Just as I had mistaken all scripture to be about Salvation, or how to get saved and go to heaven. Jews in Paul’s day had mistaken the Law for a formula for assurance of their own future vindication. If they were circumcised, if they ate right, observed holy days, and followed the rabbinic teachings of the day then they would have some assurance of their Salvation. In others words for many Jews in Paul’s day they have mistaken the Law for a way of salvation. Saul of Tarsus certainly must have believed in some form of this, until his conversion, and maybe some time away in Arabia to sort things out a bit. The new Paul was able to clarify that Law on its own brings condemnation, that without Christ there is no hope of future vindication of the righteous, no matter how righteous, without Christ and also the spirit there is not hope for the people of God. So for Paul, if he were asked directly, “How do I get saved?” He might respond with well really its not about how you get saved but about how you have been saved, or better, how salvation has come into the world for the world by way of those in the world. It is a story that in Romans Paul actually decided to tell from Creation, Fall, Judgement, Law, Sacrifice, Atonement, Adam, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Pharaoh, Prophets, exile, and Messiah. This is the story not of how you can get saved and go to heaven but about how God has brought salvation into the world that he loves and to that which he loved the most, mankind.

It would be silly of me to completely leave out what Paul says about “Justification by Faith”. Some might say well actually Paul answers the quest more basically. He says, to those who ask, You get saved by faith in the Messiah. But that I believe is sometimes the answer we give a bit to soon. Paul labors heavily to tell the story of how Salvation was provided for us by God  throughout history climaxing in Jesus the Messiah. Then when it is heavily evident Faith in the messiah becomes a reaction, and a work of the spirit, through the telling of the story of Gods Faithfulness. In other words, we are saved by the faithfulness of God. By Faith for Faith as Paul says in Romans chapter one.

Some Suggested Reading on topic

Conversion of the Imagination – Richard B. Hays

Ancient Near Eastern Thought Relating to the OT – John H. Walton

The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah – Alfred Edersheim

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

How God became King – N.T. Wright

Categories: Bible, CSBS, Doctrine, New Testament, paul, Romans, Theology, YWAM | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

Art in the Bible (Part 3): What is Romans all about?

Two Basic points Paul wants to clarify for the church in Rome. How to gain membership in the covenant people of God and what it means to be a member of that covenant family.

How to get Covenant Membership.001

What Covenant Membership Means.001

What are the implications of this kind of reading of Paul in Romans?

Categories: Art, Bible, Doctrine, Faith, New Testament, Romans, Theology | 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 Law, Jesus, and Paul: Part 2

I felt like a summarized clarification of the first post on the Law from the angle Matthew’s Gospel and Paul’s Letters. Since part two is actually long over due. We will recap and get back to the topic for a third part.

There are three main ways I would propose you begin looking at the differences in Jesus statements about the Law from Paul’s statements.

Matthew 5:19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

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Galatians 3:10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”

Point 1 of 3: Jesus was not speaking about how to gain Salvation. He was primarily speaking on how when we understand the law and teach it well, it brings the kingdom of God. Jesus felt free to discuss the ongoing purpose of the law for the ‘his people’. Whereas, Paul felt obligated with his letter to the Galatians, to warn that relying on works of the law for salvation brings a curse. For if that was the way to salvation there would be no way for any person to abide by all the things written in the law.

Point 2 of 3: Both Jesus and Paul dealt not only with some misconceptions about the law as a means of attaining salvation. They dealt with the ‘other’ law. The Oral Laws that in the first century had taken on as much or more authority as the written law. The nature of the oral teachings was that they were new laws laid down by rabbis that kept people from breaking the laws of Moses. These Oral teachers felt they were doing Israel a service by making sure no one would break the Mosaic law. But the problem with that is they did not teach how to do the Mosaic law. Moses was clear that the whole heart of following the law is about loving God and people. Jesus said this because people had not realized how far off they had got from the heart of the true law given by God. Paul and Jesus had these things in mind when they ministered to the new church.

Point 3 of 3: The law is made of the books of the entire Torah. In the Hebrew bible in the time of Jesus and Paul the Law was the torah. That means Genesis too. It is clear that there exists an ongoing purpose of the law for the church. We the church and the Hebrew people were never intended to attempt to follow the law in order to achieve our own salvation. The reason the Law remains a part of our revelation of God, Man, and all of life is for the ongoing development of individuals and communities who are learning to love God and love people. Or in Jesus’ words, the Kingdom.

Much more could be said, for part three will will look more in depth at the idea of Gods Faithfulness to Covenants. The Law being only one of the 5 possible covenants located in the OT. So really the ongoing discussion will be to extend the third point here in this post. It could be said like this, “The goal of the covenants (Law) was that people would get saved. The means of Salvation is something that gets worked out in the language of the covenants. Particularly in the Abrahamic Covenant it is understood that the moment of Salvation for Abraham came when he believed in Gods promise. In other words Faith in the God who makes covenants and is faithful to them makes men righteous. Salvation becomes available to more when both God and man show faithfulness to the covenant. Cool thing is, God proved his faithfulness to the covenants and brought completion to them by introducing a brand new covenant that embodies the old ones. In other words, we still have a covenant in which we are called to be faithful to. A covenant built firmly on the faithfulness of God, and not man. The new covenant is both a free gift and a big responsibility for those who receive it. There is still much to learn from previous covenants that helps us gain clarity about the current one.

We will go more in depth in the third part.

Categories: Bible, Context, Doctrine, New Testament, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Origins of Christian Tradition the Destiny of Christian Aspiration

For those seeking to affirm tradition need to be sure they are full acquainted with true Christian Tradition. For those seeking liberation from tradition the same aught to be required. Perhaps it is not liberation you seek but reformation to the basics of traditional Christian orthodoxy. For instance if you are looking at the church of 1400 AD you will see it littered with problems, and compromise. Most know this. However, you will also see an orthodox position for almost every issue in Christian belief. If you were outside of the orthodox position you were in danger of losing your place within the power structure of the Church of Rome.

But if you go back to the beginning you will find a more narrowed positive orthodoxy. Such as a the basics of Trinitarian theology. Early battles of the church against Gnostic Heretics were well worth the efforts to expel such teachings and if need be the teacher[s].

Original Church thought can be easily observed today on a number of free online sites. The Ante-Nicene Fathers works is public domain. If you read along in their letters to the church you will find two distinct features of the early churches accountability to a specific set of beliefs. Both features come under the same observation. By making note of each time men like Ignatius, Iraneaus, and Erasmus, quote the apostles. This constant observation emphasis two points; 1) The early apostles authority on matters of Christian Doctrine. 2) The ongoing use of the works of these apostles as inspired sacred text.

Thus, I suggest you begin with what is Holy Sacred and God Inspired. Begin with the Gospels, Acts, and the Epistles. Then check out the stuff using this link.   http://www.studylight.org/his/ecf/ant.html

Perhaps However, you are not looking at 1400 AD, rather 2013 AD. Good luck attempting to grasp the problems in the church. At best its problems can be blanketed as apathetic, indistinguishable from society, exclusive, or irrelevant. Certainly these blanket statements are true of different parts of the body. But can not be true of all parts. Perhaps there is a common denominator in western Christianity. Each of these struggle with the same issue, how to respond to post-modern man. Do we immerse ourselves further into Christian orthodoxy, and hold the world at an arms length? Do we embrace the world void of any actual Christian position on morality, meaning, purpose or destiny? The issue is whether we believe truths in scripture to be relevant for today, or perhaps if we believe in truth at all. Perhaps we are apathetic, holding to the Christian Position, observing the sad state of affairs, daunted by the issues facing our generation and dumb.

Probably yes to one of those. Probably yes to at least understanding our struggle with these issues. So does the “Christian Position”, “Orthodoxy”, “WorldView” actually have something to offer post-modern man? The answer will not be complex. The issues are complex, the questions are complex. The answer is Jesus Christ. He will not disappear from History. As aptly summarized by Bruce Shelley;

“no other person in recorded history has influenced more people in as many conditions over so long a time as Jesus Christ. The shades and tones of his image seem to shift with the needs of men: the Jewish Messiah of the believing remnant, the Wisdom of the Greek apologist, the Cosmic King of the Imperial Church, the Heavenly Logos of the Orthodox Councils, the World Ruler of the papal courts, the monastic Model of the apostolic poverty, the personal savior of evangelical revivalists.”

Though his titles change, the truth of what he did and said has endured for all generations. The answer for the church today remains the same as it always has. Jesus Christ in us.

Deesis_Hagia_Sophia

Mosaic of Jesus Christ in Hagia Sofia, Istanbul, Turkey
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Women in Church

Let me first begin by clarifying the reason for which I am posting on this issue. One) Its not because I am looking to engage in a theological debate on the issue. In fact, though I have had thoughts on this issue for the past 7-8 years of my Christian walk I have not sought to refute any of the teachings I had heard on the topic since committing my life to the service of Christ and building his kingdom. I present these views as humbly as possible. I am not angry over this debate. I recognize good people, family, and friends who hold to an other view.
That said, it is not my desire to simply present the opposing view but to better understand each side and give those seeking to come to the truth on these matters an advantage in doing so. In other words, Im not just presenting a more superior rhetoric.

I do not as well hinge my evidence on personal experience which I recognize is or can be subject-able to those who have not had my experience.

Final I undertake this as an aid to my younger brother Timothy and his wife Christy. I am hoping it helps them to continue to grow closer to God together and remain unified to their ‘small body/church’ and together become men and women of Godly influence for this generation.

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I will use a range of scripture. I will seek to drag each passage used through its original cultural and historical context. Also we will observe a few of the words a little closer to better dissect their meaning for us today. As I have already made conclusions of my own on the issue I am not making it up as I go rather I will be explaining how I got to such conclusions. I hope that they are fair to all who engage in this study with me.

To begin with there are two main passages I will be using. Both by Apostle Paul. His first letter to Corinth, and his first letter to Timothy. Some extra biblical context will no doubt be gathered from Acts and Romans.

  • 1 Corinthians 14:33-35 As in all the churches of the saints, women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.
  • 1 Timothy 2:12-14  I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.

The first inclination that I have been aware of since a young age was to read the bible, accept what it says literally, and apply it to your life. As a student of the bible I have sought to understand scripture ‘literally’, however, in its original context. This is more difficult, it takes more time and research. Which means this should take up no small number of words. Bear with me.

I think number one it is so important to understand the culture of 1 Century Roman/Greek world and even a bit of the Jewish culture regarding the role of women in general, and the value given to women. A third cultural layer to add in that influences Paul’s inspired words to the church is to consider the influence on the Greek world from Oriental Faiths. So Jewish, Greek & Roman, and Eastern thinking influences the literal understanding of Paul’s letters.

  1. Jewish Rabbinical ‘Philosophers’ are known to have valued women about as much as they did slaves, and Gentiles. This in my opinion came from misinterpretation of the OT scriptures and a result of human pride.
  2. Oriental Faiths often deified the women as a goddess, often a goddess granting secret knowledge, higher spirituality, and favor through sexual practices with priests or devotees. Some of the oriental faiths brought new philosophies concerning even the OT creation story, that women was greater then man because she was the one whom knowledge was revealed to in the Garden. She then went and shared it with the man and he too became enlightened.
  3. Greek and Roman times highly overvalued the male role in society even to the point that the image of sexuality was the male image rather then the female as it seems to be in our own day. It was legal for a male Roman citizen to commit infanticide with any new child for having defects or especially for being a girl. Like with many things Paul addresses as cultural problems that influence the church he does not suggest a 180 degree turn; unless on issues of sexual immorality and direct sin, Paul has another approach. Paul is worried that chaos in the church; “women all asking questions because of their ignorance would disrupt the service.” (I say ignorance because it was just that, women were not educated both in Greek culture and Jewish culture.) Women in Greek culture were were viewed as far inferior to men, according Aristotle and women was an incomplete man and was to be treated as such. On par with their views and treatment of slaves. Women and slaves were as they were because of inferior nature. Ok, so all of that to bring us to the first century church. Wild enough women were driven to the church because in Christian sub-culture they enjoyed a much higher status. This is a historical fact. Probably due to the placement of women in key roles in the early church as seen in Romans. (Romans 16:7 Junia=Apostle)  (Romans 16:1 Phoebe = Deacon) Another interesting example is from Acts 18:24-26 the couple Priscilla and Aquila took aside Apollos to better explaining things concerning Jesus to him.

However, my main point is more of a historical one. That sheds needed light on the passages we are all eager to take as literal. That main point being that the greater culture of Greek/Romans, Jewish and the perversions of the Oriental Faiths leave women clinging for dear life to any such sub-culture as the early church was. This is no doubt a major reason so many women joined the Christian Churches. So looking at Paul’s scenario he is addressing has a different feel. Its helpful to notice what he is encouraging, beyond that he may be saying that women are to submit to the man.

  • First, Paul is likely addressing the chaos in the church created by a higher ratio of unlearned women experiencing greater levels of freedom then could possibly have been enjoyed at all in their greater cultures. Paul then is not discouraging what women may add to a service. For instance in 1 Corinthians 11:5 Paul mentions women who prophesy in church. It is a practice already encouraged for anyone who has come into the family of God where there is no more walls of separation, no more Jews/Gentile, Male/Female, slave/free…
  • Second, Paul is encouraging the men to see to the education of their wives at home. So that services are not disrupted by the many questions these women would have, now that they are experiencing the freedom to be in the same place as their husbands while in public and to be engaging together with a community of men, women, and children. This as Paul says would be shameful if services were nothing but women asking questions. The issue at hand is the lack of understanding women had in the early church and their need to be taught at home so the experience of a worship service would be a blessing for all in attendance.

Lastly I want to address Paul’s use of the creation story. In the passage quoted from Timothy as well as a more extensive reference from Paul’s letter to Corinth concerning ‘head coverings’ in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. First I will answer what is meant by Paul in calling man “The Head” of the women and that meanings direct connection to Gods given order from creation.

  • First, “Head” can be translated in two ways; Origin & Authority. Man is either the origin of women or the authority of the women. Personally I see that both of these are valid ways of understanding the word “Head” however, both of these need to be grasped to appreciate the roles of both men and women in their relationship to each other. If Origin is the correct understanding then we aught not get up in arms about the whole issue because Paul is not calling man the authority over the women. Rather he is explaining the origin, and even the order of creation. Remember Paul is already addressing the issue of dis-order in the church concerning the freedom and status of women. So in the beginning God made Adam, a man and gave him dominion over all of creation, this was not a license from God to abuse all things under him. No, as Adam was without sin in that moment it was God entrusting him with a great responsibility to care for those things which by nature were less superior to himself being made in the very image of God. But then God saw that Adam/Man was not complete. Therefore unlike Aristotle is was not women who is incomplete it is man who is incomplete without the women. Together they make life. A new kind of ‘man’ is created from the original man. Adam does not have the same kind of superiority to Eve as he does to the rest of creation. But his job is still the same, because he was created first he must care for all of creation. Eve would become his partner in this work. After the fall of man Adam would  maintain his superiority as being in Gods image but he and the women had fallen. Both were perfect before and both were now corrupted by their rebellion to God. Mans role remains, as Paul describes, he came first, he cares for the women.
  • This is what leads me to the possibility of the word “Head” meaning ‘Authority’. If that is so then what does authority mean. Well just like in the order of creation mankind was given a dominant role. This word like authority is corrupted by sinful men abusing that power that comes with the title. Authority as in this same passage is related to being like Christ to the church. The answer then is love, care, commitment, compassion, understanding, patience, trustworthy. When man functions as Christ does for his bride she can rightly humble herself to the guidance/leadership/authority of the man. This of course if hard for non-Christians to try, and it is hard for those Christians who have a hard time walking out a Christlike marriage.

All that to say, I am still working out a conservative christian position that the man aught to lead in a marriage, to have authority. But to outright quench the work of the spirit in women for the glory of the kingdom of God is not right. Its not biblical. Think of two of the earliest and most successful missionaries. The Samaritan women at the well, and Marry Magdalene. The Samaritan brings the good news of the messiah to her entire town who believes. Marry brings the good news of Christ’s resurrection to the unbelieving disciples.

Finally considering the big picture of Paul’s work in writing to Corinth he is advocating for a better way in working through the tough issues of the time. What is the most loving way? I am saddened by two things the suppression of the role of women in the kingdom of God and the Godless approach of over emphasizing feminist agendas in our culture. Again, I’m not so much angry or bent out of shape as I am sad to see that these two extremes are unloving in their approaches to creating better communities. If however, your understanding of the leadership/authority of the man in Christian communities is important then the Love of Christ must be ever stronger in those communities and the practice of men loving their wives as Christ loves the church must always be stressed. Not the other way around, stressing women’s submission over mans love, care, commitment, compassion, understanding, patience, and trustworthiness.

The wrong approach would be to either despise the feminist movement and embrace the error of Christian groups downplaying the role of women in community.

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To despise the Christian communities way of suppressing women and join arms with the feminist movements who have plenty of their own issues.

Rather we should seek a literal understanding of the text in its original context. I hope this helps just a little. Much more could be done to get into the context or expound on verses.

– Jesse Evans

Categories: Women | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

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