Glenn Beck Spouts Council-of-Nicaea Nonsense

June 5th, 2010

Ah, the Council of Nicaea.

The main issue at the Council was related to the Trinity & the exact nature of Christ’s divinity.  The issue was that a bishop, Arius, was teaching that Jesus was a created divinity (coming into existence at some point), instead of always existing.  It had nothing to do with the Bible’s canon (i.e. table-of-contents).  The opponents were not Gnostics, nor did it have anything to do with the Dan Brown’s picture of people teaching that Jesus was just a man.  (See What Really Happened At Nicea?)

But in the tradition of the Da Vinci Code, the Council is the subject of rampant speculation, and the target of every accusation of nastiness that anyone might think of concerning the early history of Christianity.  If you can imagine something bad being done by the early church, just say it happened at the Council of Nicaea, throw in Constantine’s name, and you’ll have an instant air of believability.

Perhaps we could call this condition “Nicene Tourettes”?

This week, Glenn Beck contracted the contagious condition.  I knew he had a reputation for populist rhetoric, but this is this first time I know of that he’s gone with left-wing myth & conspiracy theory. (I’d wonder if he’s been reading Dan Brown novels lately, but it has a more obvious source–his Mormon background.) On his radio show, Beck started talking about Council.  He brought up the Dead Sea Scrolls (which were actually buried in a cave before Christ), and the Apostles’ Creed (which preceded the Council by up to one or two hundred years), and said that Constantine used the Council to help him “cobble together an army” (which, you know, being the emperor, he already had.)

RazorsKiss has provided a transcript & response.  You can also hear it with a response by Dr. James White in this mp3, starting at timestamp 1:24.  I would add two things to the written response:

  1. Beck was probably confusing the Dead Sea Scrolls, which are pre-Christian Jewish documents, with the library found at Nag Hammadi, where we found early copies of Gnostic writings.   Dr. White said that some people have speculated that the Nag Hammadi library was a cache created in Constantine’s reign, hiding Gnostic writings to prevent them from being burned.  Beck probably heard that speculation, confused it, and is now repeating it as fact.
  2. Though Beck seems to be making up the executions, some Arians were banished after the Council.  However, see Dr. White’s discussion of the aftermath of Nicaea in the What Really Happened article.  the Council did not manage to suppress Arian teaching, and the power of government was not responsible for its defeat.  Nicene Christianity didn’t win by the power of the sword, as people often think today. After the Council, Arian teaching spread and dominated the empire.  The Nicene Creed won not by the sword, but by the Biblical arguments of the bishop Athanasius–who himself was suppressed by political power & assaulted by 5000 soldiers!

Why Social ‘Justice’ Isn’t Enough; or In Reluctant Pseudodefense of Glenn Beck

March 13th, 2010

I watched Glenn Beck’s foolish statement about “social justice” and the ensuing outcry with mixed reaction.   I agree with what motivates the outcry, mostly.  And I agree that Beck said something foolish. On the other hand, he didn’t say the foolish thing that most people seem to think he did.  (Some people came back with “He doesn’t understand the gospel,” “He doesn’t think we need to care for the poor,” etc.)

That puts me in the reluctant position of sort-of defending someone whose wild, dramatic antics & outrageous rhetoric generally bug me.

Three basic points:

  1. The Christian call. If your Christianity doesn’t move you to action–caring for people and working to fix injustices around you, then you’re not following Christ well.
  2. The term “Social Justice”. It’s strange to use “social justice” as the overarching term for social action. Sometimes, we mean ”compassion” or “love”–not “justice”.  If you only seek justice, you’re not all that you should.
  3. What Beck said. That strangeness of terminology was partly behind Beck’s statement.  He still said a couple foolish things, but he didn’t say anything like “Social action isn’t for Christians.”

The Christian call

Of course the Bible calls us to act, both Old and New Testament.

The prophets called us “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”  Jesus fleshed out the Golden Rule in multiple ways–the Good Samaritan, “whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me“, etc.  James pointed out the hypocrisy & vileness of religion that doesn’t care for the poor.  In Proverbs, the king is told:

Open your mouth for the mute,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
Open your mouth, judge righteously,
defend the rights of the poor and needy.

The term “Social Justice”

On the other hand, it’s strange to call it “justice” when you feed & clothe someone in need.

“Compassion” and “love” and “mercy”, yes.  But “justice” seems to assume that I’m acting to correct a wrong done against them.  When the Old Testament prophets cried out against injustice for the poor, in all the passages I’ve seen, the poor were being cheated.  (The prophets weren’t, as this pastor reads Amos, talking about our responsibility to care for the poor–not when they called for justice.)

Yes, sometimes, people are in need because they were abused & cheated of their rights.  Then it’s a justice issue.  But that’s hardly the case all the time.  And if we see a starving man or freezing homeless person who got there by their own choices, we should hardly turn them away with, “Sorry, you’re just getting what you deserve–and my mission is justice.  I’m going to go help that other guy who was cheated.”

Justice prevents people from being cheated, and it rights wrongs.  Compassion gives wherever there’s need.

And maybe you think I’m wrong. Maybe you want to argue that compassion for the needy is always a matter of justice, in biblical terms. (Like Scott McKnight did here–not persuasively, in my opinion.)  Just realize that we’re not disagreeing about the call to love & serve–but about how to describe it.

What Beck said.

I want to defend Beck this far:  He did not say to leave a church that teaches people to care for the poor and to work for justice in society.  On the contrary, he said the gospel does require us to care for people.  As I read it, Beck mostly said:

  1. The terms “social justice” and “economic justice” always mean socialist governmental policy, versus personal action.
  2. You should leave a church that advocates governmental redistribution of wealth.

I have some agreement and some objections on both ideas.

What about the past association of the phrase? In my past experience, most people who used the phrase were also advocating left-wing economic policy:  Government-based distribution of aid.  Conservatives who cared about the issue didn’t use the phrase, and pursued different solutions:  More focus on private & grass-roots charity & relief efforts.

So the term did tend to imply government-enforced redistribution of wealth.  A more “socialist” solution.

But I’ve seen it change.  The phrase is used more broadly these days.  You can’t make the automatic association.  (On the other hand, I’m not sure about the term “economic justice”. It’s not used as much.)

What about leaving a church?

It’s foolish to suggest leaving a church because they use a phrase.  What about leaving it because of political advocacy?

I don’t have a cohesive conclusion on this, but here are a few thoughts:

  • A church should be teaching biblical principles, including our responsibility to pursue justice & compassion.
  • That calls for personal action.  Sometimes it implies political action.
  • But advocating particular government policies?  That gets more dicey.  More questionable.
  • You shouldn’t assume “We need to care for people” implies that it’s good to do it through taxes.  Maybe it is, but maybe not.  Someone can oppose government programs without being a selfish nasty rich person who doesn’t want to help people.
  • Politics shouldn’t be the driving focus for a church, whether it’s left-wing or right-wing politics. (Members of the church might be focused on it, but politics isn’t what a church gathers for.)
  • There needs to be room for political disagreement in a church. As a friend of mine put it, “Christians should still respect one another and worship God together if they have a differing opinion on, say, universal health care.”

Wrap-up

Christ does call us to act.  Social action isn’t limited to “justice”, but also “compassion”.  I wish people wouldn’t say “social justice” when that means “care for those in need”.  Beck went too far and said something foolish, but he didn’t say everything that people are criticizing him for.

Study guide — Deep Church, Deep Truth

February 28th, 2010

We’re writing a study/discussion guide at my church, for Jim Belcher’s book Deep Church–an examination of the “emerging church” controversy.  I was writing my contribution, and since my blog has been lying fallow for a couple weeks, I thought I’d post it.

The author is trying to present both sides fairly on each area of the controversy, and lay out a balanced, faithful approach to each issue.  Someone summarized the book as:

  1. There are problems in the English-speaking church.
  2. There are fair criticisms of the church.
  3. There are faithful solutions to those questions.

If you’re interested in some reviews, check out: (1) A thorough summary & review by Kevin DeYoung (notice the comments left by Jim Belcher).  (2) A review from a hard-nosed conservative, Frank Turk, explaining what’s so good about this book, even though it’s too nice sometimes.  (This one includes an mp3 of a interview featuring both Turk and Belcher on a radio show.)  (3) A negative review from 9Marks.  (4) A response from Belcher, and a response from Frank.

I was assigned to make the summary & discussion questions for the chapter on epistemology–”Deep Truth”.  Here goes!

By the way, if you have any suggestions for more discussion questions, I’d love to hear ‘em.

(Keep reading…)

Says What Now? “Behold, I stand at the door and knock”

February 6th, 2010

Here we go with the first entry in the Says What Now? series!  I’m starting with a verse whose misuse is obvious, and whose real meaning is meaty–challenging, encouraging, and spurring us to live passionately.

The Verse

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20)

The Common Interpretation

People read this in the context of evangelism & the gospel.  Jesus is standing at the door with the gospel invitation–just open the door, and he’ll come into your heart.

The Context

14 And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.

15 “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”

The Meaning

Jesus isn’t talking to people outside the church–this is one of the messages to seven churches in Asia!  (There’s a question about what exactly “the angel of the church” means in these seven messages, which I’m going to ignore.)  So looking at the context immediately tells you that verse 20 isn’t about general evangelism.  What does it mean?

The first thing that strikes me is this: Christ is inviting people inside the church to let him “come in and eat with” us.  Is this some kind of higher level of intimacy or blessing?  If so, that should thrill us, and make each of us consider carefully.  How is he inviting us? How do we partake?  What’s actually going on?  Are we already there?  If so, who isn’t? (And how do we help our brothers & sisters enter into it?)

Laodicea the Lukewarm Church

Specifically, Jesus is speaking to the lukewarm–churchgoers who do not pursue God with passion & zeal.  Perhaps it’s people who “prayed a prayer” or “joined the group”–but they’re personally apathetic.  Jesus calls them to repent–not from active rebellion & hostility to God, but from lives of comfortable presumption that it doesn’t matter how they live.

Ephesians 2:8-9 is a standard passage in evangelicalism; we love it for the simple statement that we do not earn salvation–we’re saved by God’s grace, through faith, not as a result of our works.  I imagine the Lukewarm are those who bank on those verses, but who want to ignore verse 10–that we are created in Christ for good works, which God prepared beforehand for us to do.  We’re not saved by our works, but we’re saved for them.  The grace of God is not intended to give tickets to heaven to the lazy & comfortable–Christ “gave himself for us … to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:14)

Christ died to save us, and to change us, to live lives of reckless abandon for him.  This is what he is calling us toward–opening our eyes to see true riches.  (Not that we do this by our own strength–it’s part of God’s grace in our lives, Phil 2:12-18.)

The Carrot and the Stick

And this is not simply a pleading invitation–there is carrot and there is stick.  There’s reproof here–discipline coming from his love for us, but discipline nonetheless.  Namely: Because they are lukewarm, uncaring, Christ is ready to “spit you out of my mouth”.

It would be inconsistent with the Gospel to say that this means, “Meet a certain standard to earn your continued salvation, or you’ll be kicked out.”  But it is easy to see the connection with the common theme in Scripture of “fruit”.

  • That “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8)
  • That real faith shows itself in works. (James 2:14-26)
  • That who we are & our relationship to God is revealed by our fruit (Matt 12:33, Luke 6:43-44, 8:9-15, John 15:2, Gal. 5:21-24, 1 John 3:9-10), and every tree that bears no fruit is cut down, because it reveals they do not know Christ (Matt 7:15-23).

So, it is possible that the Lukewarm in Laodicea did not yet truly know Christ.  It’s possible that they know Christ, and this is what God used to transform them.  (Or, if those who think you can lose salvation are right, these could be true Christians in danger of falling from grace.  But I take Rom 8:26-30 to mean that God bends every event in the lives of his children to prevent that from happening.)  I assume that the church would include a mix.

In any case, we’re being called toward what we were created for–the life of joy & passion & love we’re meant to live.

P.S. “Crazy Love”

I haven’t read it myself, but my parents tell me their church is studying Crazy Love, by Francis Chan.  It discusses these issues from Revelation 3, describing both the Lukewarm Church, and a life of “crazy love”.

Says What Now? – A New Series

January 24th, 2010

This is probably not a new idea to you:  ”Pay attention to context.”  The easiest way to misunderstand a verse is to read it by itself, ignoring the context.  There’s a variety of pithy sayings, like “A text without a context is a pretext for a proof-text.”

My favorite comes from Greg Koukl:  “Never read a Bible verse.”

The point being, never read just one verse.  Always read the surrounding verses, too–to get a better idea of the topic, and to help understand what the main point is, and to help figure out ambiguous phrases.  (I wrote a post a couple years ago on this, called Understanding God’s Word.)  Sometimes it’s a jarring experience to read a familiar verse in context–because you discover that it doesn’t actually say what you always thought.  Maybe the idea is still found elsewhere in the Bible (i.e. maybe it’s just a case of “Right idea, wrong passage”)…or maybe not.  Either way, it’s a moment of dissonance.

I’m going to start a series.  Each entry will present a familiar verse from the evangelical world, describe the common interpretation, and look at the context.  Most of these will be very straightforward.

I’d like to highlight both (1) how important it is to be careful about context, and (2) how easy it is to avoid so many mistakes.  (Some things do require deeper study–but you can get a long way with simple, obvious habits. It’s not esoteric.)

Note: An internet friend of mine, Lisa Robinson, was talking on Facebook about doing some posts like this for Parchment and Pen.  So I’m sort of stealing her idea.  But my own blog has so few readers that I don’t think I’ll actually be stealing her thunder.  :)

What’s the Problem With Denominations, Anyway?

January 16th, 2010

What’s the problem with denominations, anyway?

Well… There’s a lot wrong with the way Christians sometimes interact with each other over differences of belief & practice–at the personal level and at the denominational level, within churches and between them.  We get hung up over small details.  We get defensive and prideful.  We get “factious”, as some translations of Titus 3:9-10 put it.  Individual churches split, whether for good or bad reasons.

And in the past–mostly when the State dipped its hand into the church, or vice-versa–this has led to violence, persecution, and death.  The Spanish Inquisition, the burning of John Huss, the execution of Servetus in Geneva, the persecution of Irish Catholics, or of Anabaptists by both Catholics and Lutherans.  Issues of orthodoxy being settled by the sword.

On the other hand, differences & potential divisions have also been handled with maturity, peace, love, and reconciliation.  Maybe that’s even been the dominant tendency.  (It’s hard to say, since scandalous behavior stands out so much.)  But doing this well is a personal, individual struggle.  It’s something we all must learn, part of our growth in love & maturity.  It’s an area that needs careful attention, with a lot to figure out on resolving conflicts & differences, both the personal & organizational levels.  (It’s what motivates the ecumenical movement–which has its own merits and flaws.)

And as one small piece of the large discussion, I want to ask:  Is the existence of denominations really a scandal, itself?

Denominationalism tends to be a main target any time we critique divisiveness.  After all, could anything epitomize division & separation more than denominations?

And yet… A couple questions:

I’m part of Hope Chapel, a non-denominational church in Austin.  Just down the street, there’s First Cumberland Presbyterian Church.  Does the fact that we’re not the same local church displease God?  The fact that they have the word “Presbyterian” on their sign?  The fact that they’re affiliated with other churches in a large-scale organization–one that doesn’t include us? (Some will say “yes” to the last–it displeases God.)

Is it a scandal that we don’t do everything the same way? As a Presbyterian church, they hold certain things in common with other Presbyterians.  They practice infant baptism, believing that it inducts children into the community of the church.  (My church doesn’t, believing that baptism is something consciously chosen.)  Their church is led by elders/presbyters, both “teaching elders” and “ruling elders”.  (We also have elders, in addition to our senior pastor.)  They believe that local churches should be grouped together in synods, providing oversight & mediation of disputes–and synods grouped in the general assembly.  (My church is independent.)

They hold to these things out of biblical conviction–they think it’s how God wants church to look.  Including the part that involves large-scale organization.  So is it really a scandal for them to group together, and have a name for the group?  Is it a scandal that we’re not part of that grouping, because we don’t do things the same way–since our understanding of Scripture’s guidance is different?

In the perfect world to come, we won’t have those differences.  They’re happening because somewhere, some of us are misunderstanding & making mistakes.  And someday, we’ll be with God more directly and won’t have those problems.  (The differences of principle will disappear, if perhaps not the differences of style.)

But in the meantime, where does the scandal come in?  From the very existence of different denominations?  Or is it possible to have a God-honoring unity in spite of our denominational differences?  A unity rooted in Christ & the Gospel?  A unity reflected in the way we interact with each other, across our denominational lines?

As we seek to treat one another as brothers & sisters in Christ in this world, ridding ourselves of a divisive spirit, will that actually require dismantling denominations?

Which Bible-reading plan will *you* abandon?

January 1st, 2010

As I said on Twitter recently, now is the time of year when Christians across the nation are deciding which read-the-Bible-in-a-year plan they’re going to give up on in February.  Teehee.

To encourage Discipline and avoid Discouragement, we have:

1.) My choice:  The Discipleship Journal Bible Reading Plan.  It’s a member of the “read from four different sections of the Bible each day” species of reading plan.  Benefits:

  • Scope. I love the read-from-different-sections plans.  Among other things, it makes it much easier to slog through the rougher patches, like Leviticus, Number, & Deuteronomy.
  • Flexibility. There are four readings for each day–but you can do just one, or two, or three.
  • The most awesomest super-cool feature: Good for slackers! It only has 25 days worth of readings for each month, giving you free days to catch up if/when you fall behind.
  • It’s also recommended by both my own pastor, and John Piper. So it’s gotta be good.

2.) Good news for those of us who look to the ESV Bible as the One True Translation™ (I kid, I kid): The ESV.org people have put together a fantastic site with 10 different reading plans.  Including a podcast feature for listening to the readings!  According to Justin Taylor, the plans can be accessed by:

  • web (a new reading each day appears online at the same link)
  • RSS (subscribe to receive by RSS)
  • podcast (subscribe to get your daily reading in audio)
  • email (subscribe to receive by email)
  • iCal (download an iCalendar file)
  • mobile (view a new reading each day on your mobile device)
  • print (download a PDF of the whole plan)

Here’s all 10 ESV Reading Plans

JT also explains how to sign up for these plans as podcasts in iTunes.  (They don’t show up in the music store, but you can still easily add them.)

3.) Finally, we  have The Bible Reading Plan for Slackers and Shirkers.  It doesn’t mark the readings by date, so you can never tell that you’ve “fallen behind” if you missed a day.  There’s no such thing as falling behind!

The advantage of this plan is that it provides guidance as we read each day but does not put us on an internal guilt trip if we miss a day – we just pick up with the next reading on the day it happens to be.  Also, this plan allows us to see the many interconnections between sections of Scripture. So, as Margie puts it, on the same day you may be reading about God’s covenant with Abraham in Genesis and a few days later read Paul’s commentary on the Abrahamic covenant in Romans.

4.) A couple other suggestions from Facebook friends:  Jennifer Lawton pointed out that having other people to encourage you can help keep you going.  And LaNette Lathem said that reading from an unfamiliar translation can keep things fresh.  (If you’ve got any other suggestions for avoiding the doldrums–or if you have a favorite plan I missed–then please leave a comment!)

Good luck to you all!  Er, I mean, “Good providential outworking of God’s plan for your life!”

“Jesus Never Talked About X”

December 29th, 2009

So, Jesus was a Jew.  He didn’t come to begin a religion; he came as the culmination of the Old Testament, in its prophecies & promises.

With that in mind, does anybody really think Jesus had to repeat everything from the Old Testament in his teachings–or we can dismiss it?  That would be a pretty odd expectation.

And yet, modern religious discussion seems to have a new trump-card:  ”Jesus never talked about ______.”  If Jesus never talked about [insert traditional/conservative/disliked belief], then supposedly it has no place in true Christianity–it’s just man-made.  (The argument also has a more reasonable form, which I’ll talk about below–but first I want to look at the dismissive form.)

It might be used against any view seen as “traditional”–anything part of widespread assumptions about Christianity.  As an experiment, I googled “Jesus never talked about”.  Six of the first ten results were on homosexuality.  Another says that all sex-related rules are just man-made.  (That one’s odd, since Jesus did talk about sexual morals.)  Another says that Paul can’t be legit, because Jesus never talked about him.  I tried again, excluding “homosexuality” from the results, and came up with:  Original sin, “saying The Prayer”/”becoming a Christian”/”salvation”, legislating morality, and purgatory.

The Problems

Does anyone really think that if Jesus didn’t explicitly, directly mention something, it’s not sin? Did he talk about rape?  Child abuse?  Did he mention the common infanticide practiced in the Roman Empire?  Did he mention bestiality?

We know he spoke about murder, and sexual immorality in general.  But we don’t know that he ever mentioned these.  Does that mean he condoned them?

So where does this thinking go wrong?

The first problem:  The written gospel accounts don’t pretend to record everything Jesus said.  We can’t say, “Jesus never mentioned X.”  We can only say, “The gospel writers didn’t include anything about it.”  Each gospel writer included and emphasized different portions of Jesus’ teaching; they don’t claim to include all of it. (On the contrary.)

Even if Jesus himself actually did directly mention every moral issue during his time on earth, we don’t have everything he said.

The second problem: Red-letter Christianity.

Sometimes, modern printings of the Bible put the words of Jesus in red letters.  And some people view the red letters as the only part that’s really Scripture, really God’s word.  Oddly, people will reject Jesus’ own view of the Scriptures.  He appealed to the Old Testament as the word of God; he affirmed Moses and the Psalms and the prophets.  They spoke by the Spirit of God–the same Spirit by whom the apostles & prophets of the New Testament spoke.

If you try to separate Jesus from the Scriptures, reading only the red letters, you can’t get very far.  You have to excise all the red letters that talk about Scripture and the Holy Spirit.  (That’s exactly what Marcion tried to do.)

And that takes us back to the third problem: Jesus didn’t come to create a new religion.  He’s not dropping in out of the blue and starting with a blank slate.  Jesus is a Jew; Christianity continues & builds on Judaism.  And according to Jesus, he didn’t come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it.

Jesus’ birth in Israel wasn’t an accident of history.  He’s not a moral teacher who just happened to appear in Israel, and when he spoke about the Law he wasn’t simply commenting on the prevailing morality of his surroundings–he certainly wasn’t affirming some and discarding the rest.  (It’s not as though he set out to ratify the valid parts of Old Testament morality and ignore the parts he didn’t like.)  The Law was from the Father, with whom Jesus is one.  When he criticized the prevailing morality, it was because they departed from the Law for the sake of man-made traditions.  But the Law itself was the word of God.

If we take Jesus in the gospels seriously, we have to take the rest of the Bible seriously.  Jesus, the Word of God, affirmed Scripture as the word of God.  You can’t separate its teachings from his.

On The Other Hand…

More reasonably, “Jesus never mentioned ___” does raise a question about importance and emphasis.  It’s silly to assume that Jesus mentioned every moral issue and theological truth, but he did specifically teach about his purpose in coming, the kingdom of God, and the central meaning of the gospel.  So it seems reasonable to expect that the main things would show up coming from Jesus himself.

It’s a slippery question, but at least it raises food for thought.

Aside from that, the criticisms people are making might still be valid, even though “Jesus never mentioned X” is a bad argument.  Going back to the list from Google, I certainly agreed with some of the critiques–against purgatory, against some forms of legislating morality, against “praying-the-prayer”-as-magical-words-that-grant-eternal-security.

But to make a valid critique on anything, you need a lot more than this argument from Jesus’ supposed silence.

To Sum It Up

Saying “Jesus never talked about ____” isn’t a good trump card.  It doesn’t do much, though it can raise food for thought.

“Jesus Didn’t Come to Start A Religion”, or “Jesus is a Jew.”

December 25th, 2009

“[The mystery] was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” Ephesians 3:5-6

If you say, “Jesus didn’t come to start a religion,” where do you put the emphasis?

Usually, people put the emphasis on “religion”.

  1. They might be saying, “I think he was just a good moral teacher”. (In which case they have to disagree with much of what he taught about himself, or dismiss the idea that he really said any of it.)
  2. Or they might be evangelical Christians using some form of the saying, “Christianity is a relationship, not a religion.”  (And that saying can be either helpful or inane, depending on how you flesh it out.)

Today, on Christmas, I want to put the emphasis on “start”.  Jesus didn’t come to startnew religion.

Jesus is Jewish.  The Messiah.  Jesus came to inaugurate the new covenant–hinted at in the Torah, foreshadowed in the Psalms, promised in the prophets.  He came to live the life we couldn’t and die our death so we needn’t.  He came to reveal–in the flesh–the mystery of how the Jews would be a blessing and a light to the nations.

Today, we should remember–not the beginning of a religion, but its continuation and gracious expansion.  Today, we celebrate Jesus, our foundation, the cornerstone of inclusion:  The inclusion of the Gentiles into the covenant of the promise made long ago by the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Today, we remember how we Gentiles are grafted in, becoming children of Abraham, God’s chosen people.

Today, we remember:

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.

In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

Ephesians 2:11-22

Communion: Discerning The Body

December 7th, 2009

Yesterday, I led communion at my church, Hope Chapel of Austin, TX.  It was an honor and a responsibility, and I’m very happy that Pastor Geno entrusted me with it.

I think it went well.  It was both easy and difficult to prepare.  Easy, because of some excellent sermons & commentary on the Lord’s Supper that were percolating in my brain.  Difficult, to condense it to a concise, clear reflection.  The material on it in 1 Corinthians 10-11 is fairly rich, and I couldn’t begin to do it justice in 5 minutes.  I focused on an element that has not been emphasized, in my past church experience:  How communion relates to community and love and relationship, and what it means to examine ourselves.

There was so much more, though.  I’d like to do a series of posts expanding on it, from the gospel accounts and from more of 1 Corinthians.  I’ll try to get it done during the month of December.

You can listen to or download the recording at our sermon archive, if you’d like.  Or, here’s the transcript.  Also, here’s the short description from the archive:

What does it mean to examine ourselves, judge ourselves rightly, and discern the body? The answer is rooted in Christ’s physical body–his sacrifice–and in the gathered church as the body of Christ. We unite in love to participate in Christ, proclaiming the gospel and showing its power.

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Good morning, Hope Chapel, my name is Tim Margheim.  Please hold the elements until we all partake together.  If you’re a guest, know we invite all Christians to join with us.  Parents, we leave it to you to determine whether your children are ready to participate.

Today I’d like to speak from 1 Corinthians 11, Paul’s discussion of communion, in order to draw out something that wasn’t often emphasized about the Lord’s Supper, in my upbringing.

We know that the Lord’s Supper is a thing of joy and grace.  But Paul wrote in disappointment with the church in Corinth, saying, “In the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse.”  They were taking this meal in a way that turned it from a blessing to a curse.  He cautioned them, saying,

Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.  Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged.

So Paul is concerned about the way we approach the Lord’s Supper.  What does it mean to examine ourselves, judge ourselves rightly, and discern the body?

The more familiar part of the answer is that we should take the meal seriously, remembering Christ and his sacrifice on the Cross, in our place, for our sins.  And judging ourselves rightly means that we know we can’t make ourselves worthy.  He didn’t say, “Only come if your life is where God wants it to be,” or “if you pray enough”, or “if you read your Bible enough”, or “if you’ve done enough good deeds”. There is a worthy manner of celebrating, with humble, repentant awareness of Christ’s sacrifice for our sin.  But we come depending on God’s gift, in the middle of our failures.  This is the gospel, the central meaning of the Supper.

But it might be less familiar that Paul’s main criticism was about the way they were treating each other.  He said, “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat,” and “when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you”.  Some ate full meals while others went hungry.  Paul asked, “Do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?”  They came together, but they came divisively.

In this light, what does it mean to examine ourselves and “discern the body”?

In the fall, our elder Cotton Hance pointed out a double-meaning in the phrase, “discern the body”: On the one hand, there’s Christ’s physical body–his sacrifice.  On the other hand, we are the body.  And when they came divisively, they twisted the meaning of the Lord’s Supper.

If we remember the work of Christ to save us, we should remember what he saved us for.  He died, not just to save us as individuals from hell, but also to bring us together into a family.  He says “discern the body”, and in the very next chapter he says that we are one body, with many members.  That we need each other, and are called into the most excellent way of love–the love of the Spirit, by which all the world will see that we are Christ’s disciples.  We’re called to be servants, opening our lives and surrendering our time, allowing God to knit us together in true relationship–not just here on Sunday, but throughout each week, in Hope groups, in phone calls, in meetings in coffee shops, in inviting each other into our homes to share meals. This love, this community, where God’s kingdom is breaking into the world, is intended to be a light of hope, both proclaiming the gospel and showing its power, to a broken world of sinners in desperate need of salvation.

So now, having come together, let us examine ourselves.  Let us be one, in humble repentance, remembering the gift of Christ’s sacrifice, and rejoicing in the gift of his work among us.  Let’s pray.

Father, we receive, and we thank you for your work among us.  Please Father, continue your work of love.  Give us the peace and freedom of loving each other well.  Help us not to keep records of wrongs, and forgive us for sometimes failing each other, and give us hope for new change.  May we approach this meal today with love, and with openness, and with reverence; it is Christ’s body and blood, for us.  And may we approach our relationships with one other with something of the same importance, because together, we are Christ’s body.  May our lives display the work of your love, and may the world see Christ in us.  May we be quick to speak the words of life, the words of good news, calling the world to repent and receive this gift.   May we have the joy of baptizing many into the body of Christ, to be part of your family, adopted through Jesus.  And Father, may every celebration of this table be a renewal and a reminder and a proclamation of all the grace and peace and truth and love that is in Christ.  In the name of Jesus, as his body, by his work, we pray, amen.

So let us eat together, from Christ’s body, broken on the Cross for us.

And let us take the cup together, and drink from Christ’s blood, the new covenant with God, poured out for our sins.