Teaching Ministry of the ICOC

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Jesus, the Master Discipler

by Gordon Ferguson -- Dallas, Texas, USA 

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If you have the world's most important message and you want to get it to the most people, how do you do it? Jesus had that conviction, and he had that concern. However, most Bible readers make some very erroneous assumptions about the ministry methods of Jesus. For years I was one of those people. I was very impressed with the times the Master Teacher worked with large crowds. I thought about how great it was for him to have exercised such magnetism that he was able to attract thousands at one time. 

And yet, Jesus spoke to the crowds more as a means of training his apostles and other future evangelists (such as the seventy-two) than to "convert" the crowds. Of course, he was vitally interested in sharing God with those multitudes, but he wasn't naive enough to suppose that teaching in those large groups was going to really do the job of changing their lives. He realized that a more individualized approach was going to be necessary, and he was preparing some very special men to provide just that approach. 

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How We Learn Spiritual Truths

Most of what we learn in life is learned by OJT (on-the-job-training). We watch big brother tie his shoes, and then we imitate him. We watch Dad change the tire on the car, and we quickly know far more than if we had spent a couple of hours reading the manual. Becoming a carpenter is a process: a journeyman repeatedly shows an apprentice how to do carpentry. Just about everything we learn in the early years of our lives is learned in this manner, as is most of what we learn in the later years. It is the fastest and easiest way and in many cases the only way to learn. Nowhere is this principle more important than in learning spiritual truths. Discipling is all about learning from someone else as they are following Jesus. 

As we study the Scriptures, we see that there can be no "loner" Christians. We play an absolutely essential role in each other's lives. The gospel cannot be spread effectively without the human demonstration at the heart of it, nor can those who accept it be brought to maturity without those relationships (Matthew 28:19-20). 

The Bible alone is sufficient to reveal the content of the truth to man, but to grasp its power, we must read it both in black and white (pages) and in black, white, brown, red, and yellow (people). Can you see the point here? Discipleship has not been tried and found wanting; it has simply been found difficult and not often tried. However, when it is put into practice, lives change radically, and others are drawn to that magnet of visible change. Discipling works! And it is all that works! It was and is, without question, the plan of Jesus Christ for the salvation of the world. 

The Plan of the Master 

Years ago, when I was first learning about discipling, I read a very helpful little book entitled The Master Plan of Evangelism. Coleman shows quite conclusively that the Master's method was men, plainly and simply. He poured his life into men, especially the Twelve, and when he returned to heaven, he left them to evangelize the world. They very effectively carried out his mission because they followed the same plan of pouring their lives into the lives of others, who repeated the same process over and over and over. 

Christ's purpose was never to personally convert the masses, for in a physical body he was limited to one place at one time. However, through his spiritual body, the church, he could be everywhere at once. The masses are converted one by one. As I shared my faith yesterday with a young couple in a restaurant, disciples all over the world were doing the same. And as I slept last night, members of Jesus' body were carrying out his mission all over the world. Yes, the plan of Jesus was certainly the master plan! 

The basics of his plan were as follows. First, he called men to follow him (Mark 1:14-18). Second, he kept men with him in order to train them and later send them out to share his message (Mark 3:14). Third, the training process included practical assignments, for we truly learn and retain only that which we practice. Finally, Jesus gave his life for what he had taught. Until we have something worth dying for, we have nothing worth living for. 

After Jesus had been resurrected from the grave, he spent forty days preparing his trained men for the coming of the kingdom and the task of spreading it all over the world. He then ascended back to heaven, leaving these few ordinary men with the extraordinary task of being (not just preaching) Jesus to the world. As Paul put it in 2 Corinthians 5:20, "We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us." Jesus' method was to pour his life into men, and once they were fully trained, they would be like him (Luke 6:40). Having been thus discipled, they were able to "go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19-20). It was a simple plan with a high price tag of a tremendous personal investment in training individuals -- but it worked. It remains the same simple plan, and the price tag is just as high. No other plan has ever worked, can ever work, will ever work. We either do it this way, or we fail miserably. 


Reprinted from The Greater Houston Church Sunday Bulletin, January 21, 2018, No. 02


Photo credit: Carpenters: KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Tech. Sgt. Kalon Pang and Master Sgt. Cindy Dickson, instructors assigned to the I.G. Brown Training and Education Center on McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base, assemble a doorframe August 18, 2015, that will be used in a home building project. About a dozen military volunteers took part in the two-day Habitat for Humanity project here inside the organization's wood shop. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Mike R. Smith/Released)

 

The Teaching and Practice of Submission in the Life and Ministry of Jesus

by Cynthia P. Fetherman -- Denver, Colorado, USA

Introduction

"Yet you, Lord, are our Father.  We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand."—Isaiah 64:8

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Perhaps no analogy best exemplifies the spirit of submission as the molding of clay under the hands of the potter.   In this paper, the teaching and practice of submission in the life and ministry of Jesus will be discussed.  Submission will encompass several other names:  obedience, subordination, allegiance, reverence, trust and self-denial.  Submission is at the heart of discipleship.  It acknowledges the lordship of Jesus over every aspect of life.  The concept of submission involves relinquishing one’s individual rights in favor of another.  It is only through complete submission that a follower of Jesus is able to open one’s heart so the Holy Spirit may be received and dwell in it.  Partial submission is not an option for one who calls Jesus Lord.

Submission, self-denial, obedience and any other name by which this spiritual discipline is called requires progression.  Spiritual formation will be viewed through transformation—from hard clay to a vessel fit for use under the guidance of God, the potter.  As clay goes through several steps, so does the individual who yearns for the inner transformation promised by the prophet Ezekiel:

"I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.  Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.  They will be my people, and I will be their God." – Ezekiel 11:19-20

Upon reading this paper, I hope the reader walks away knowing that total submission is indispensable to the Christian walk.  The gift to be transformed from within is from God, as He gives the believer a new heart.  But the practice of the spiritual discipline of submission puts the believer on the path of making it possible to receive that gift.  Submission is not something obtained when someone becomes a Christian or a disciple of Jesus but a lifelong practice that paves the way for the transformation of the individual who is being changed from within-- from mere dust to a useful vessel under the hands of the Creator.  

The Teaching and Practice of Submission

"If anyone wants to be My follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me and the gospel will save it." – Mark 8:34-35 (HCSB)

As a spiritual discipline, Thomas à Kempis (1955) defines submission as follows:  “…but if we desire that God be among us, we must sometimes set aside our own will (though it seem good) so that we may have love and peace with others” (p.40).

Submission is servanthood.  Submission is self-denial.  It is obedience and disregard of one’s own will in favor of another with the goal of establishing peace.  It is the pledge of allegiance to someone else.  It is the essence of discipleship to Jesus Christ.  

The word submission only occurs six times in the scriptures, yet underneath the entire story of the Bible lies the concept of submission.  The closest Hebrew root for reference is יָד yâd, (yawd), meaning “to give the hand, to pledge the fidelity of the giver.”  In the New Testament, the Greek root word of εὐλάβεια eulábeia, (yoo-lab'-i-ah), means, “reverence toward God, godly fear, piety.”  It is also used in the context of ὑποτάσσω hypotássō, (hoop-ot-as'-so), “to subordinate… be under obedience.”  Á Kempis (1955) notes:

"An old habit is not easily broken, and no man will readily be moved from his own will; but if you cling more to your own will or to your own reason than to the humble obedience of Jesus Christ, it will be long before you are a man illumined by grace" (p. 48).

Further, À Kempis (1955) speaks of Jesus’ example of obedience as:  

"I made Myself the humblest and lowest of all men, so that you would learn to overcome your pride through My humility.  Learn, therefore, you who are but ashes, to be humble for my sake; learn to break your own will and to be subject to all from the heart” (p.124).

I grew up playing with clay pots.  Not every girl in my neighborhood wanted a set.  But I did.  I remember my mother coming home one day with a clear, plastic bag in her hand filled with used newspaper.  I unwrapped them gently from the paper protecting them.  They were brown, clay pots, shiny from the glaze and painted with flowers.  They came with lids and a stove.  They were beautiful, a little girl’s treasured possession, and I showed them to anyone who would pay attention.  They eventually broke.  I outgrew them as I entered adolescence but the memories of playing with them are remembered fondly.  As I became a follower of Jesus later in life, my fascination of pottery was reignited as I read the scriptures.  Obedience to God is the ultimate act of submission.  As clay in the potter’s hands, we are to submit ourselves to the potter’s molding:

"Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?" – Romans 9:21

Old Testament

From creation, God has laid before man the choice of submission—obedience or disobedience.  From the story of Adam and Eve to the nascent nation of Israel, submission has been presented as a choice between life and death.

"See, I Set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.  For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands… and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess." –Deuteronomy 30:13 (NIV)

From patriarchs to judges, kings to prophets, we see people called by God to submission.

Genesis 12:1-4—Abraham’s ready obedience testifies to his submissive spirit to God’s plans for him and his family

Judges 7:15—Gideon displays self-denial as he sets aside his fear and trusts in God’s deliverance

2 Samuel 7:18—David sets aside his plans and expresses gratitude for God’s guidance at a time in his life when he may be most tempted to assert his power as king over Israel and with the people favorably disposed towards his leadership

Isaiah 6:5-8—Isaiah surrenders to God’s plan for him despite his acknowledgement of his personal shortcomings

Jeremiah 1:4-10—Jeremiah submits to God’s appointment despite difficulty of his external circumstances

New Testament

In the New Testament, submission is practiced and taught by Jesus.  We see the radical call to submit to Jesus’ discipleship in John 12:24-26:

"Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed.  But if it dies, it produces many seeds.  Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be.  My Father will honor the one who serves me."

"Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all."—Mark 9:35

"In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything cannot be my disciple".-Luke 14:33

"Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me."—Luke 9:23

More than teaching about submission, subordination, allegiance and self-denial, Jesus lived it to the point of sacrificing His own life:

“'Abba, Father,'” he said, 'everything is possible for you.  Take this cup from me.  Yet not what I will, but what you will.'”—Mark 14:36

"… Christ Jesus, 'who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!'” -Philippians 2:5-11

Submission is at the heart of discipleship to Jesus.  Beyond teaching about obedience, Jesus’ lifestyle was one of submission and obedience.

F.F. Bruce (1979) notes, 

"The person who enlisted in His cause, He taught, would need to deny himself (34), i.e. abandon the attitude of self-centeredness, and take up his cross, i.e. be prepared to face martyrdom, ….  He would have thus to be willing to lose his mortal life; and all this, for Christ’s sake and for the gospel (35), i.e. for the sake of spreading abroad the good news of the kingdom of God; for only in this way would he attain the true life, that of the age to come" (p. 1167).

"During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.  And he learned obedience.  Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered…."—Hebrews 5:7-8

We see the practice of the spiritual discipline of submission in:

John 1:30-John the Baptist makes way for Jesus and acknowledges Him as the Messiah spoken of by the prophets and awaited for by Israel.  Rather than keeping his band of followers, John the Baptist points them in Jesus’ direction.

John 3:30—John the Baptist tells his followers, “He must become greater.  I must become less.”

Mark 14:36-Jesus surrenders to God’s plan for His death and crucifixion.

Luke 23:46-Jesus surrenders His spirit to God on the cross.

Submission in the Gospels

It seems odd to pick the parable of the prodigal son to talk about submission, but the story has elements that highlight a lack of it—self-centeredness, a lack of regard for others, irreverence towards authority and allegiance to one’s interests alone.  Yet in the end, the story highlights the transformation which God is able to perform on the heart of one who takes the path of submission.

Jewish culture considered, "honoring your father and mother," a command of utmost importance.  The beginning of the parable sees this command violated as the younger son asks for his portion of the inheritance.  Moreover, Jesus’ audience was shaken from its cultural view of the younger son being the rightful heir (think: Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, David and Joseph over their older brothers).  By highlighting the profligate ways of the younger son, Jesus’ audience is being asked to change their way of thinking.

As the younger son wastes away his inheritance, he reaches a point where his choice lands between starvation and going back to his father’s home, albeit in a different capacity.  His internal dialogue in vv. 17-19 shows that, while his previous actions may have been to cut off his family ties (vv. 12-13), in his time of need, he recognizes that he is still his father’s son (emphasizing the father-son relationship in vv. 17-19).  On his return journey, the son takes the path that would bring him home to his father.  The younger son recognizes the condition by which he must present himself before his father—unworthy, capable only of being a hired servant, a sinner who has dishonored and severed his allegiance to his family.  On this same path, the father meets the son and restores his position, regardless of how unworthy the son may be.  

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This story teaches us about the path—how the practice of the spiritual discipline of submission paves the way for God to meet us where we are transformed, not by anything we do but by how the Father treats us.  “It’s not the disciplines themselves but God at work through them that enables us to love him and love our neighbor more and more” (Johnson, 2017, p.79).

In the practice of spiritual disciplines today, we ought to develop an awareness of our own unworthiness as we make our way back to God.  We are sinners, servants who can only do our jobs.  Yet in practicing submission and obedience, God meets us along the way and transforms us—from how we view ourselves to how He views us—as children who belong in His family, worthy of the fattened calf, of restoration to His family, regardless of how we may have mistreated Him in the past.  In God’s story, the reconciliation facilitates the transformation.  It is a story of the prodigal father more than that of the prodigal son.  It expresses the lavish, extravagant scale by which God loves us—unconditionally—the gift we receive for the price of our submission.

It is the same call throughout the scriptures—travel the path of submission.  In this calling, one is asked to relinquish his own self-interest and submit to God to find life everlasting.  As God called Israel to submission in Deuteronomy 30, so Jesus calls all nations to discipleship in Mark 8:34-35:

"Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.  For the Lord is your life…."—Deuteronomy 30:19-20

"For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it." – Mark 8:35

Conclusion and Application

The practice of spiritual disciplines is merely a path.  On the journey to be reconciled to God, the practice of submission puts us on that path.  Submission is the physical manifestation of denying oneself, not giving in to our pride, not promoting self-reliance, but rather allowing submission to nurture hearts that would be open to being transformed into hearts of humility.  Submission allows us to take the journey back to God, to acknowledge our decisions’ shortcomings when we choose to live away from God’s family, and, recognizing our inherent need for God, to belong to His family; and that a life outside the family of God leads to spiritual starvation and death.

Calhoun (2005) lists the desired outcomes of the spiritual discipline of submission as follows: 

  1.  being free from the need to be in charge, 
  2.  teachability, 
  3.  esteeming and honoring others more than yourself, 
  4.  being free from a rebellious and autonomous spirit, 
  5.  surrendering and losing your life to find it, 
  6.  developing approachability, gentleness, humility, and 
  7.  expressing a deep regard for others and what they might have to offer (p. 118).

In the discipline of submission lies a heart of trust, obedience, self-denial, allegiance, subordination and reverence for the One who desires to reconcile all to His family.

The parable highlights the heart that God has displayed to His chosen people from the beginning—His prodigal love for Israel as He brings them out of Egypt, His prodigal promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3, His prodigal love to all nations as He sends His only Son, making reconciliation possible.  It teaches that God will meet us halfway, if not more, when we submit and take the path back to be reconciled to Him.  

In the story of the prodigal son, I find myself as the younger son, concerned about myself and how I’m going to survive, how I’m going to live, and going back to my father so he can provide for me.  Like the younger son, even when I have tried to walk the path back to God, it is because I recognize that I need Him for how he can provide for my wellbeing.  What I fail to see is the extravagance of the father’s love as I have continued to love myself and looked to God to take care of me.

In St. John of the Cross’ spiritual direction, it is the internal purity of the soul—the destruction of all self-love for the love of God above all—rather than the externals of life’s action that are of paramount importance.

"For God, although he resides in the soul as a hidden God, cannot fully occupy the soul with the lustrous radiance of His love when there remains in it anything of a selfish self-love; a self-love or attachment to anything even to the slightest degree, which excludes love for Him and for His greater glory" (Kozlowski, 1998, pp. 336-337)

As I strive to get rid of all self-love in my heart and submit all of my self, relinquish all my desires and align my will to that of God’s for my life, I am reminded of similar vows I made to my husband when we got married—that all my thoughts, love and desires have been pledged to him in this life.  Comparing this allegiance to my marriage, my acknowledgement of Jesus’ lordship in my life demands that all my desires, all my love be submitted to Jesus as well.  The parable of the prodigal son reminds me of my shortcomings in my understanding of the greatest commandment:  to love the Lord with all my heart, mind, soul and strength.

    Like the younger son, I have walked this path.  I had pledged my allegiance to God and made Jesus Lord of my life.  At some point in my discipleship, I decided to walk away from the Father.  Living an immoral life where I took control of my choices rather than choosing to be obedient to God and continuing to be a part of His family, I made my way back to the world with the illusion of having the freedom to make my own choices.  Along the way, I broke relationships, dishonored my pledge, severed my ties with God’s family.  It was months later when I finally broke down and realized how empty my pursuit has been.  I found myself with nowhere to turn except back to God.  The heart of the younger son in vv. 17-19 resonated with me.  I resolved to go back with the heart that I had nothing to offer God but my sinful life and my broken heart.  I would ask him to take me back and face whatever consequences came my way.  It has been over 20 years since He took me back.  I have been welcomed with the fattened calf, I have partaken of the great banquet and been restored to the family of God.  Truly God is gracious:  he took my sinful life and made it beautiful.  He took my broken heart and made it whole.  The privileges I enjoy now, being married to a son of God, having a family of my own, the gift of purity in our relationship, are expressions of the extravagance of God’s love for me.  I had nothing to do with it.  I only made the decision to take the path back to God—with a heart that was willing to submit and obey.

"…whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven."—Matthew 5:19

Submission has not been an easy path for me.  A single mother in a matriarchal family raised me.  When I became a disciple of Jesus, my lack of submission showed in the way I treated authority, especially male authority.  This weakness showed in my relationships.  I justified my lack of submission with scriptures like Ephesians 5:21, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ,” or with other religious-sounding arguments or twisting of the Scriptures’ meanings.  Over the years, I have studied, sought advice and practiced what I thought were ways that helped me develop a more submissive spirit.  The study of spiritual disciplines has shown me that I have quite a way to go on this path.  As I have grown older, I have come to rely on outward practices rather than dealing with my heart.  I have been content with outward expressions of submission rather than true reverent piety towards God.  As I reflect on my life, I look back on the innumerable times God has continued to open His arms and welcome me back when I have strayed from submission.

"Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life." – Proverbs 4:23 (CSB)

I have a very humanistic approach to my relationship with God.  I tend to deal with external behaviors and evaluate my faith accordingly.  As such, I tend to work from the outside and then make my way inside.  It is self-reliant.  I have found that spiritual formation is not an easy journey.  But perhaps the easy yoke Christ speaks of in Matthew 11:28-30 is a place for me to start.  I need to look at the spiritual disciplines as the true means to taking up the ‘easy yoke.’  This can start with the practical steps recommended by Calhoun (2005):

  •  seeking God’s will (no matter where it leads) and doing it
  • allowing others to mentor, disciple, teach, correct and guide you
  • being a good follower
  • laying aside the need to be in charge
  • willing and eager obedience to God and those to whom you owe obedience
  • being an eager learner, trainable and tractable (p. 118).

"Godly submission is rooted in God’s good and loving intentions for each one of us. …  Therefore, biblical submission does not … rob them of their freedom.  Submission is a way we allow God’s kingdom agenda to shape our choices, relationships and vocations.  And it always works in conjunction with personal freedom" (Calhoun, 2005, p. 119).

Corporally, we could emphasize imitating Jesus individually more rather than organizing activities that only serve to make us look like every church in our community.  In practicing submission, our congregation could nurture relationships in the family of God that would promote healthy guidance in our “one-another relationships.”  Our emphasis on external, corporate activities tends to drive the individual away from practicing spiritual disciplines as we lack the time and direction to develop them personally.  

We are part of an increasingly-connected global environment.  Every moment of our lives can be documented or filled with entertainment at the touch of a fingertip.  Peace comes at a premium as people tend to want to go to far-flung places, secluded and away from all that civilized life offers in order to find a break from the pace of their lives.  Living in a society that moves at such a frenetic pace, the parable of the prodigal son offers the world the peace that counters the prevailing culture—freedom through submission, victory in surrender, a full life if you relinquish everything.

To help us reach the world for Christianity, I believe the story of the prodigal son helps us understand that reconciliation with God is not dependent on our transformation of ourselves.  There is nothing we can do on our own to facilitate the transformation of our hearts.  It would be exhausting work if it was left up to us.  A heavy yoke versus Jesus’ easy yoke.  In the same way, sharing with others about God is not about what people ought to ‘do’ in order to be reconciled to God.  Rather, we ought to teach of the most important decision that the younger son has taken—that of walking the path that would take him home to his father.  God will do the rest.

"Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker, those who are nothing but potsherds among the potsherds on the ground.  Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’…."—Isaiah 45:9

In pottery-making, kneading is a very important first step.  After taking clay, water is added to it.  Water is distributed evenly but if the clay is really hard, it needs to be soaked in water.  Only after this step does the clay become moldable.  Likewise, it is only after the believer is immersed in the waters of baptism is one’s heart ready to be transformed by God.  

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The next step is molding.  When a potter makes something, you learn to love everything about the finished product.  You love it because you made it—every curve, every contour, every shape, every imperfection.  In this way, God already loves us even as He makes us into His finished product—every shape, every imperfection is lovingly formed.  Working with clay also produces the best result when one works daily.  Working on it inconsistently would return the clay to its harder form thus requiring more effort from the potter next time.  So it is that the spiritual practice of submission aims for consistency.

In molding, the pressure needs to be even AND gentle—not too soft, not too strong.  The good potter knows that the pressure on the inside of the clay vessel needs to be the same as the pressure on the outside.  At times, we may feel hard-pressed but God knows how much pressure to put—inside and outside—as He molds us for His use.

Once it has taken the shape that the potter intended, the pottery is now put through the heating process.  The heating process allows the clay particles to stick together.   At the end of the first heating process, the pottery is not ready for use yet.  It’s formed but brittle.  One could compare it to our younger years of discipleship as God gently forms us and molds us. 

In order to be useful, it has to go through another heating process that requires more heat.  The temperature required during the heating process depends on the purpose or intention of the potter for the vessel.  The times in our lives when we feel the most ‘heat’—of suffering, persecution, we are being molded according to God’s purpose for our lives. 

Finally, the potter applies glaze to the pottery.  Glaze is not inherent in clay.  It can only come from the artist.  This is the grace we receive from God.  It is Jesus’ blood, the sacrifice of His life that covers us so we are reconciled with God.  It is not something we can do on our own; it can only come from the Father.  

When the potter is done, the original clay is no longer visible—only the glaze.  So it is with our lives, when God, the potter, is done molding us and transforming us, it ought to be Jesus who is on display.

"But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.  We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed, perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body."– 2 Cor. 4:7-10

It is easy to fight the process of submission, to fight the process of being transformed.  But as the clay needs to remain under the hands of the potter in order for the transformation to occur, so we should practice the spiritual discipline of submission for the inner transformation of our hearts to happen.  Let us then imitate our Lord’s attitude towards submission, as death was set before him: 

"Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say?  ‘Father, save me from this hour?’  No, it was for this very reason I came to his hour.  Father, glorify your name!'” – John 12:27-28

 

 

Bibliography:

À Kempis, Thomas. (1989). The Imitation of Christ. Gardiner, Harold S.J. (Ed.) New York, NY: Image.

Bock, Darrell. (1996). Luke, Vol. 2, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament.  Silva, Moisés (Ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. (1995). The Cost of Discipleship. (Munchen, Verlag & Fuller, R.H., Trans) New York, NY: Touchstone.  Original work published 1937.

Bruce, F.F., gen. ed. (1986). The International Bible Commentary with the NIV.  Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Calhoun, Adele Ahlberg. (2005).  Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us.  Downers Grove, IL: IVP.

Easton, Burton Scott. (1926).  The Gospel According to St. Luke: A Critical and Exegetical Commentary.  New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

Eerdmans Bible Commentary Third Edition. (1987).  Grand Rapids, MI: WM B Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Ferguson, Gordon. (1995).  The Victory of Surrender.  Woburn, MA: DPI.

Foster, Richard & Griffin, Emilie, ed. (2000) Spiritual Classics.  San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco.

Foster, Richard J.  (1988). Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth (2nd ed.).  San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco.  

Johnson, K.D. (2017).  Practices of Love: Spiritual Disciplines for the Life of the World.  Christianity Today, 61(7), 77-79.

Kinnard, Steve G. (2006). The Way of the Heart: Spiritual Living in a Legalistic World.  Newton, MA: IPI.

Kozlowski, Joseph Paul. (1998)  Spiritual Direction & Spiritual Disciplines.  Goleta, CA: Queenship Publishing.

Levine, A. (2014).  A parable and its baggage: what the prodigal son story doesn’t mean.  The Christian Century, 131(18), 20-23.

Powell, John S.J. (1978). Unconditional Love.  Allen, TX: Argus Communications.

Rolheiser, Ronald. (2014). Sacred Fire: A Vision for a Deeper Human and Christian Maturity. New York, NY: Image.

Tobkin, M.J. (1998).  The tension between justice and mercy in the parable of the prodigal son.  Journal Of Theta Alpha Kappa, 22(2), 26-43.

Willard, Dallas. (1988).  The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes

Lives. New York, NY: HarperOne.

Williams, B.J. (2010.  Brotherhood motifs in the parable of the prodigal son.  Restoration Quarterly, 56(2), 99-109.

Wirt, Sherwood, ed. (1983).  Spiritual Disciplines: Devotional Writings from The Great

Christian Leaders of the Seventeenth Century.  Westchester, IL: Crossway.


About the author, Cindy Fetherman:

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I was baptized in the US territory of Guam 24 years ago.  After moving to Denver from four wonderful years in Cambodia, I started pursuing my MABT in the Rocky Mountain School of Ministry and Theology.  I recently transferred to Lincoln Christian University and hope to pursue a MA in Biblical Languages as well.  My husband and I currently serve in our youth and family ministry and we hope to use what we are learning to serve in smaller churches in the future.

The Teaching and Practice of "Sanctifying the Ordinary" in the Life and Ministry of Jesus

With Special Attention to "Befriending Death"

by Renee Rheinbolt Uribe -- Bogota, Colombia

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“Why the World Needs to Get Ready for People Dying” -- today’s BBC news headlines. I believe that,  as believers, we need to take this a step further: “Why the church needs to get ready for people dying.” Not in terms of evangelism, but in the context of the body of Christ. As we well know, we do not “retire” from being a follower of Christ; he calls us to follow him until our last breath. Rolheiser describes this stage in the spiritual path as the season of Radical Discipleship: the struggle to give our deaths away. An important message for the modern followers of Christ. 

Definition of “Sanctifying the Ordinary” 

Harrison Warren (2016) gives a descriptive definition pointing to a sign she saw at a prominent New Monasticism community house, “Everyone wants a revolution. No one wants to do the dishes” (p. 35).  Kinnard (2018) writes, “To sanctify,” means ‘to set apart or to make holy.’ When we sanctify the ordinary, we take the commonplace, regular, everyday actions that make up the day and make them holy acts. We dedicate them to God. By doing this, we change our attitude about the small things”(Lecture Notes).  Canlis (2017),  in her book, A Theology of the Ordinary, adds:

"Have you ever been struck by the domesticity of the incarnation? When He comes to earth, God places Himself not in a palace but in a family. Faced with a world going to hell in a hand basket, God’s rescue mission is ... to be born? How ordinary is that? It is here, in the confines of a little family, unnoticed by the whole world, the new creation has begun. … This is how God works. This is His rule, not the exception. God enters into creation and engages with us there on creation’s terms. God works with our regular responses to Him in our ordinary lives. Mary’s visitation by the angel was extraordinary—to be sure—but no more extraordinary than the life of a girl who had already habituated herself to surrender, over and over again, to God in her daily life."

As Willard (1998) states, “There truly is no division between sacred and secular except what we have created," (p. 214). 

Definition of “Befriending Death”

The reality is,  “Many Christians have an inadequate theology of ordinary life,” writes Gene Veith (1999). If we are not practicing the spiritual discipline of “Sanctifying the Ordinary;”  we are not truly ready to be followers of Christ to the end. The topic of death is not a favorite topic in our day and age, as Nouwen (1979) states, “Most people in our society do not want to disturb each other with the idea of death” (p. 68). But we are missing out on an incredible opportunity as followers of Christ by discussing this amazing stage of radical discipleship! I find wisdom in Nouwen’s (2015) teaching of “befriending your death.” He shares, “I have a deep sense that if we could move from a denying to befriending our death before we die, if we could relate to death as a familiar guest instead of a threatening enemy, we would be freer of fear, guilt, and resentment. (p. 104)

Biblical Overview  

Elijah, 17th century Polish icon

Elijah, 17th century Polish icon

What is evident throughout the Bible is that people die. The only ones mentioned that did not go through this last “dark journey of the soul” are Enoch and Elijah. Old age is a common theme throughout the Bible as well. The Biblical Narrative is bursting with older people serving God until “their dying day”. [It must be kept in mind that historical, anthropological, cultural,  and medical reasons might change the concept of what is “old” between ancient biblical times and now. Even modern societies face extreme differences.] The most common stories we are familiar with are Abraham (Gen. 21:1-5, Rom. 4:19 and Heb. 11:11); Moses & Aaron (Ex.7:7); Joshua and Caleb (Joshua 24:29; 14:6-11) and Daniel (Dan. 1:21). These are the most common example of spiritual “productivity” in the older years. The one that I have heard quoted the most is Caleb’s bold statement in Josh. 14:11-12: 

I am still as strong today as I was on the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war, and for going and coming. So now give me this hill country of which the Lord spoke on that day; for you heard on that day how the Anakim were there, with great fortified cities; it may be that the Lord will be with me, and I shall drive them out, as the Lord said.” (NRSV)

Alternatively, there are many examples of other elderly people, including Isaac, who became blind and weak in his old age (Gen. 27:1) and was manipulated by his wife and their younger son, Jacob. Joseph gave specific instruction in his old age as to what do to with his bones (Gen. 50:25, Heb. 11:22). Moses did not “Sanctify the Ordinary” on several occasions, including getting angry at the Israelites and hitting the rock in anger (Num. 20:9-13). The consequences of this is the denial of his entrance into the Promised Land (Deut. 34:4). 

Samson did not live a sanctified life but he did finish his life in an event that later had him put in the list of the faithful in Hebrews 11. He sanctified that moment by using all the strength God had given him to destroy the pagan temple and kill many enemies of God. 

Naomi “Sanctified the Ordinary” when returning heartbroken to her homeland; guiding her faithful daughter-in-law through the norms of the day of acquiring food and seeking a husband (Boaz). Referring to her grandson, Ruth 4:15 reads, “He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him” (NRSV). Her “Sanctifying the Ordinary” not only gave her profound happiness in her old age but also eventually led to the birth of Christ. 

The book of Job addresses the conditions of pain and weakness better than any other. Yancey (1999) reveals, “the best man on earth suffering the worst, with no sign of encouragement or comfort from God” (p. 68). How did he deal with this powerlessness? As Job. 2:13 narrates, his three friends sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights, with no one saying a word to him. Sitting on the ground, without saying anything is sanctified here. And then, in Job 42:11, after Job comes to a place of peace with his suffering and prays for his friends, what does he do? He invites everyone he knows over to eat. The cooking and serving of a meal is sanctified! 

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Yancey (1999) reminds us that Ecclesiastes is a “profound reminder of the limits of being human” (p. 161). The author of Ecclesiastes repeats time after time the importance of living the “ordinary” aspects of life with God in mind. In Ecc. 2:24-26, we read that with God’s help we can find satisfaction and enjoyment while eating, as well as in Ecc. 3:12-1; 4;18-20; 8:15-17; 9:7-10. Time after time the importance of the main aspect of life--eating --  is pointed out. Eating is an “ordinary” activity we must partake in several times a day, from birth until death! Eating would not be sanctified, if there were not all the other “ordinary” aspects of the process--planning, buying, cooking, killing animals (a must in biblical times), serving, washing dishes, etc. Summarized by these four words, a lot of work! Along these lines Schaeffer (1971) notes, “Food cannot take care of spiritual, psychological and emotional problems, but the feeling of being loved and cared for, the actual comfort of the beauty and flavour of food, the increase of blood sugar and physical well-being, help one to go on during the next hours better equipped to meet the problems.” (p. 124) 

Paul in his letter to the believers in Colossae expresses the same sentiment, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17, NRSV). He writes as well as to the Corinthian believers, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.” (1 Cor. 10:31, NRSV) 

Another New Testament teaching concerning “Sanctifying the Ordinary” is found in 1 Cor. 7:33-34,

"But a married man is concerned about the things of the world, how to please his wife, and he is divided. An unmarried woman or a virgin is concerned about the things of the Lord, to be holy both in body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the things of the world, how to please her husband." (NET)

Married believers are instructed to view their commitments, due to their martial situation, as a service to God.   It is often helpful to look at the women in the Bible within the context of their Judeo culture.  Martha Peace (1997) shares illuminating information on this subject.  According to the Mishna, the ancient codification of Jewish law and tradition, the married Jewish woman was in charge of every detail of the running of her household—from grinding the flour to make fresh bread, to raising and teaching the children, making the wool for the family clothes, caring for the extended family, especially her mother-in-law, overseeing the work of the servants, and the list goes on and on (p. 115).  

Also in 1 Peter 3:1-4, it is interesting how silence is sanctified, in this situation of Christian women married to non-believing husbands:

"Wives, in the same way, accept the authority of your husbands, so that, even if some of them do not obey the word, they may be won over without a word by their wives’ conduct, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.  Do not adorn yourselves outwardly by braiding your hair, and by wearing gold ornaments or fine clothing;  rather, let your adornment be the inner self with the lasting beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in God’s sight." (emphasized added, NRSV) 

Arnold adds, “People who love one another can be silent together,” (as cited in Willard, 1988, p. 165). 

The woman in Biblical times would understand well what it meant to “Sanctify the Ordinary,” since their daily activities would not change, but the heart in which they were carried out would. In the study of early Christian history, so many of these women who had no choice but to “Sanctify the Ordinary” (there was not an option of “forget dinner,” let's go through the drive- through at McDonalds) ended up being involved in the amazing transformation as Christianity spread like “wildfire.” This apparently small and obscure sect of Judaism ended up attracting millions of people from the many races and cultures which composed the Mediterranean world (Latourette, 1975, p. 65). From their homes they were able to influence so many of the pagan world’s “barbarous practices: abandonment of the elderly, abortion, child sacrifice, infanticide and exposure, the degradation of women, gladiatorial combat, cannibalism, slavery and many more social ills (Jacoby, 2006, p. 91). 

Barton confirms, ''But, perhaps above all else, Christianity brought a new conception of humanity to a world saturated with capricious cruelty and the vicarious love of death'' (as cited in Stark, 1997, p. 214). The Epistle to Diogenetus expresses the early Christians' sentiment and activity:

"Or, how will you love Him who has first so loved you? And if you love Him, you will be an imitator of His kindness. And do not wonder that a man may become an imitator of God. He can, if he is willing. For it is not by ruling over his neighbours, or by seeking to hold the supremacy over those that are weaker, or by being rich, and showing violence towards those that are inferior, that happiness is found; nor can any one by these things become an imitator of God. But these things do not at all constitute His majesty. On the contrary he who takes upon himself the burden of his neighbour; he who, in whatsoever respect he may be superior, is ready to benefit another who is deficient; he who, whatsoever things he has received from God, by distributing these to the needy, becomes a god to those who receive [his benefits]: he is an imitator of God." (as cited in Camp, 2003, p. 179)

This Christian application of loving one another was felt deeply in the deeply pagan culture of the Roman empire. Stark (1997) declared, 'This was revolutionary stuff'' (p. 212). Christianity taught a different concept than the Roman philosophers, that regarded mercy and pity as defects in a person's character. For example, Plato removed beggars from his ideal state. This was the moral climate in which Christianity taught that mercy is one of the primary virtues--that a merciful god requires humans to be merciful. And in this climate, a deep compassion was developed for the weak and elderly.

“Sanctifying the Ordinary” in Jesus’ Powerlessness Prior to Death

The Gospels can be loosely placed in the genre of “ancient biography.” It is important to comprehend why there are not that many details of Jesus’ daily routines and why there is insufficient data. Powell (2009) reveals that the objective of ancient biographies was “to relate accounts that portrayed the essential character of the person who was the subject of the work. Indeed, the purpose of the biography was to define that person’s character in a manner that would invite emulation” (p. 84). Tenney states that though the Gospel of John emphasizes the deity of Jesus, no other Gospel delineated his humanity so clearly. He also describes this Gospel as “strongly theological, and it deals particularly with the nature of his person and with the meaning of faith in him." He also states,  “The discourses of Jesus in it are concerned chiefly with his person rather than with the ethical teaching of the kingdom. Personal interviews are multiplied, and Jesus’ relationship to individuals is stressed” (p. 188).  

“Everything He did during His earthly life was holy: he converted them into prayer and his ordinary daily activities had a divine and redeeming value.” (Fr. Rolly A., priest of Opus Dei) 

Jesus had to eat, sleep, perform normal bodily functions and other “ordinary” activities, some examples of which are mentioned in passing within the Gospels. I believe the women who followed him around helped him financially, but also helped with some of these “ordinary” and necessary functions always done by women in that culture: cooking, washing clothes, etc. (Matt. 27:55-56, Mark 15:41 and Luke 8:2-3); in other words, ''performed for them those solicitous domestic functions which are the supreme consolation of male life'' (Durant, 1945, p. 564). Also, Jesus lived in weakness when he came to this earth in human form. He was defenseless in the womb, as a baby, as a child and had to live an “ordinary” life, with others doing things for him. Harrison Warren (2016), “The one who is worthy of worship, glory, and fanfare spent decades in obscurity and ordinariness” (p. 16). Rolheiser (2014) succinctly describes, 

Up to his arrest, the Gospels describe Jesus as active, as doing things, in charge, preaching, teaching, performing miracles, consoling people. Then, after his arrest, all the verbs become passive: he is led away, manhandled by the authorities, whipped, helped in carrying his cross, and ultimately nailed to the cross. After his arrest, like a patient in palliative care, he no longer does anything; others do it for him and to him. He is passive, a patient. And in the manner he endured that passivity, he gave his death for us (p. 287).

I list some “ordinary” tasks which highlight Jesus’ passivity, not the outright violent acts:

John 18:28--was led by others (Matt. 27:2)

John 19:2--was dressed (in a purple robe) by others (Matt. 27:28 says that they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him and Matt. 27:31 they took the robe off and put his own clothes on him again)

John 19:17-- starting with carrying his own cross (then Simon was forced to carry it Matt. 27:32)

John 19:23--soldiers took his clothes John 19:25-27--gave final instructions for his mother and his dearest friend

John 19:28-29--was thirsty and drank wine vinegar from a sponge put on a stick 

Main Text for Exegesis

John 21:17-19:

 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.  Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.”  (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me” (ESV).

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After Jesus’ resurrection, he returns to visit many of his followers. The account in John 21 is a beautiful, “tightly unified narrative” (Wiarda, 1992, p. 1),  recounting his encounter with his closest friends -- especially Peter. First, he joins them in “ordinary” activities, including helping them with advice for the task at hand, fishing. Then, while they finished their fishing, he starts a fire and cooks a breakfast of fish and bread. “Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast’” (John 21:12a, NRSV). After all these necessary but “ordinary” tasks, he speaks directly to Peter’s heart.  

“Peter’s encounter with Jesus by the Sea of Tiberius represents the first substantial conversation that is recorded in Scripture between the two of them following Peter’s denial of Jesus. As such, this may reflect the tension that appears to permeate their reunion” (Poon, p. 53)

He asks him three separate times, “Peter do you love me?” I would like to note loving Jesus is not dependent on physical strength.  But Peter is now certain: “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you” (John 21:17b, NRSV). Jesus repeatedly confirms that love for him implies love for others: “feed my sheep” (vs. 15b); “take care of my sheep” (vs. 16b) and “feed my sheep” (vs. 17b). In this context, how did Jesus show this care for his sheep? In many ways, by partaking in “ordinary” activities: being out with them in the early morning, helping them out with their job (with timely and practical advice), making a fire and subsequently, cooking bread and fish for their breakfast and concluding with a “heart to heart” talk. 

The author of Hebrews highlights Jesus’ attitude, which overflows in his interaction with Peter, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet is without sin.  Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:15-16, NRSV). And “He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness” (Heb. 5:2, NRSV). 

As I research this text, it seems used more than anything as example of spiritual leadership. This is summarized in They Smell Like Sheep by Lynn Anderson (1996) “After modeling shepherd leadership, Jesus passed the model on to the apostles. Three times in one brief conversation, Jesus charged Peter (possibly as a representative of the entire apostolate): ‘Feed my lambs,’ Take care of my sheep’ and Feed my sheep.’ By implication he is saying “Adopt my spiritual leadership style” (p. 18). Davids (1990) parallels this text with 1 Peter 5:2-3,“to tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it—not for sordid gain but eagerly. Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock” (NRSV). He brings up some important points:

"After all, none of God’s acts of humanity was done out of necessity, but voluntarily, out of grace (p. 179). . . .  In fact, one could well argue that, following the pattern of the ancient world and especially of Judaism, teaching and leading was for the NT basically a matter of example rather than of lecture or command. Being an example fits well with the image of ‘flock,’ for the ancient shepherd did not drive his sheep, but walked in front of them and called them to follow." (p. 181)

I find there are two camps that use vs. 18 as an example in distinct manners of radical discipleship. “But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go” (NRSV). There are scholars and Christian writers who emphasis the prophecy of Peter’s death as a martyr, highlighted as the “last act” of radical and extraordinary discipleship. And then others, emphasize the ordinariness and powerlessness of the situation, more along the lines of living the last “journey through the dark night.” Rolheiser (2004) describes, “we are meant to give our deaths away, not just at the moment of our deaths but in a whole process of leaving this planet in such a way that our diminishment and death is our final, and perhaps greatest, gift to the world” (p. 19). Stott (2010) combines both ideas, “John tells us that Jesus’ words had a specific reference to Peter and his death but they embody a principle of wider application to growing old” (p. 109). Calvin in his commentary amplifies the passage as follows: 

"Another will gird thee. Many think this denotes the manner of death which Peter was to die, meaning that he was hanged, with his arms stretched out; but I consider the word gird as simply denoting all the outward actions by which a man regulates himself and his whole life. Thou girdedst thyself; that is, "thou wast accustomed to wear such raiment as thou chosest, but this liberty of choosing thy dress will be taken from thee." 

The Greek word for gird is zonnumi: to dress, clothe oneself, put on a belt or sash. Calvin adds another layer of meaning to this text, “gird as simply denoting all the outward actions by which a man regulates himself and his whole life.” This brings to mind Francis de Sales words,

    

 

 

"The great virtues and the small fidelities are like sugar and salt. Sugar may have a more    exquisite taste, but its use is less frequent. Salt is found everywhere. The great virtues are a rare occurrence; the ministry of small things is a daily service. Large tasks require a great sacrifice for a moment; small things require constant sacrifice. . . In the realm of the spirit we soon discover that the real issues are found in the tiny, insignificant corners of life. Our infatuation with the "big deal" has blinded us to this fact. The service of small things will put us at odds with our sloth and idleness." (cited by in Foster, 1998, p. 135) 

In the context of Calvin’s interpretation, Peter had the option to add “salt” to his life daily. Springing from his profound love for Christ, he would care for the sheep, maybe most of the time in small and insignificant ways. But the context of the “being led” and “being dressed”  message, I find, Stott (2010) describes as follows: 

"Jesus himself taught dependence grows as we grow. . . . We come into this world totally dependent on the love, care and protection of others. We go through a phase of life when other people depend on us. And most of us will go out of this world totally dependent on the love and care of others. And this is not an evil, destructive reality. It is part of the design, part of the physical nature that God has given us." (p. 109-11)

Brother Lawrence, whose impact on believers has been noted for centuries with his teachings on “Sanctifying the Ordinary,” adds, “We begin to need His help with every little thing and at every moment, because without it we can do nothing. The world, the flesh, and the devil wage a fierce and continuous war on our souls. . . . Although this total dependence may sometimes go against our human nature, God takes great pleasure in it” (1980, p. 60).

Old Man in Sorrow

Follow Me (Jesus). . . “Only A Suffering God Can Help”(Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

Nouwen (2015), when discussing the theme of old age, uses Van Gogh’s (1890) Old Man in Sorrow to illustrate this stage, “The old man is ‘worn out’, Vincent notes ‘on the threshold of eternity’” (p.  103). Following Christ can lead us to places we do not want to go: excruciating, vulnerable and even haunting places. In the US Evangelical context, following Christ has a message of “doing great things for Christ” and “winning the world in this generation.” I have not perceived a message of preparation for old age and powerlessness.  Martyrdom, yes, but not “getting old for Christ.” Nouwen  (1979) has a few choice words in this regard, “ Thinking about martyrdom can be an escape unless we realize that real martyrdom means a witness that starts with the willingness to cry with those who cry, laugh with those who laugh and to make one’s own painful and joyful experiences available as sources of clarification and understanding” (p. 72). Even though with Billy Graham's recent death at the age of 99, there could be greater interest. That is why I am highlighting Jesus’ words to Peter “but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” and then Jesus continues with a short command “follow me.” Jesus had just given Peter a full-blown personal example of how to let others do “ordinary” tasks for you with an obvious sanctification “stamp.” As Nowen (2015) so beautifully expresses, “Our lives are not problems to be solved but journeys to be taken with Jesus as our friend and finest guide” (p. 6). 

Tagliaferre (2010) provides insight:

"Curiously, one of the last things spoken by Jesus as recorded in the Gospel of John to Simon Peter was, “I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” (John 21:18) Studies indicate that physical dependence is the great fear among aging steeple. Aging requires that one adapt to physical deterioration and awareness of pending death while relinquishing leadership to future generations. But more than that are the changes in intellectual, relational, and spiritual transitions that also must be accommodated with age.” (p. 257)

In a personal way, I find this teaching extremely helpful as I face the later part of my life (and my husband’s), as well as my parents’ (and in-laws) elderly years. The focus on this paper is not to discuss projects for the elderly but the spiritual call for each follower of Christ as we approach this next stage of discipleship, radical discipleship. To follow Christ’s example when facing the powerlessness that accompanies terminal illness and old age is our ultimate charge. Ecclesiastes illustrates what is coined by St. John of the Cross as the “dark night of the soul:” 

Remember your creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come, and the years draw near when you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”; before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return with the rain; in the day when the guards of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the women who grind cease working because they are few, and those who look through the windows see dimly; when the doors on the street are shut, and the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low; when one is afraid of heights, and terrors are in the road; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along and desire fails; because all must go to their eternal home, and the mourners will go about the streets (Ecc. 12:1-5, NRSV).

Those ordinary things in this stage are sanctified, even if someone else must do them for us--if we are doing them out of our spiritual walk and journey. I am someone who needs to hear this lesson. I am renewing a “more productive” time after dedicating almost twenty years of serving God with the ordinary, as a mother and wife. If it were needed to again focus much more on the ordinary, to possibly care for my parents or my in-laws (who all live in the US), if the need were to arise, this would come at a price, leaving our mission work in Latin America. But as I have experienced extreme weakness due to prolonged illness, challenging pregnancies and for other reasons, all these experiences and lessons (past, present and future) are all building blocks to prepare for the last stage of my walk with Christ. 

Villacorta (2017) describes this inner struggle within the context of our Western culture, which flourishes within our congregations, “The external forces of a power production driven society are counter to the idea of a spirituality of waiting” (p. 60). He continues, “Since our human nature resists powerlessness it will do most anything to strike back even to the point where our character, spiritual life and relationships with others are compromised” (p. 67). Brunner (1955), when discussing hope, shares, “There is no optimism in the New Testament; optimism is the mark of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries” (p. 50);  also, “That is one of the fairy tales of our age, --that men need the idea of progress to make them active. What we really need to make us active is love and if we have love we need no other stimulus” (p. 57).  Nouwen (2002) illustrates the struggle at hand, “the long painful history of the church is the history of people ever and again tempted to choose power over love, control over the cross, being a leader over being led.  Those who resisted this temptation to the end and thereby give us hope are the true saints (or true carriers of  Jesus' legacy) ( last words are mine, pp. 77 & 79).  

Rolheiser (2014) brings up, “Aging: an art form?”(p. 298). Nouwen does make it sound like that! He also mentions “our death is meant to be our last and greatest gift to our loved ones” (p. 285), and brings up the question, “How can I live now so that when I die, my death is an optimal blessing to my family, my friends, the church, and the world?” (p. 285). If we are willing, following Christ leads us down a road of accepting death, not fearing it, “Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil),  and set free those who were held in slavery all their lives by their fear of death” (Heb. 2:14-15 NET).

Within my spiritual community in Bogota, Colombia, where I have been an active member for two and-a-half decades, there are many applications of this spiritual discipline of “Sanctifying the Ordinary,” especially in the extreme-illness or in the old-age stage. But many people here have been examples to me, they are actually why I am aware of this application of this specific spiritual discipline. I have been close to many brothers and sisters who have passed away during all these years, but two women who passed away last fall have touched me in an especially profound manner.

One was a woman who was baptized almost 25 years ago, Virgelina. She was already almost 50 years old at the time and, at around 60 years of age, was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. For her last 15 years she had been such an amazing example of a spiritual woman, even when bedridden: devoted to prayer; always willing to love more one more person; soft of heart, always giving her best. She was poor, but so rich in heart. Her life touched so many people throughout the years. At her funeral it was so obvious that her death was a blessing to her family, friends, the church, and even to people who had not ever met her! 

The other person is my sister-in-law, who died at the young age of 48. She lived two decades in a lesbian lifestyle and one day called me up and said “I am ready to turn my life over to God.”  Soon after this she got baptized. Six months after her baptism, she found out that she an aggressive type of breast cancer. She bravely faced her surgeries and chemotherapies, while touching people’s lives with God’s love at every turn. Every Sunday she would sing out to God in worship with so much enthusiasm!  During this time, she helped so many people she knew come to know God and get baptized (including one of her former partners). A month after her total recovery from the breast cancer, it was discovered she had lung cancer (that later metastasized to the brain). As she realized there was no other road for her life but to “befriend death”, her example of radical discipleship was amazing! [Even though she was rebuked by many a Christian accusing her of insufficient faith.] Her last few weeks, others had to help her with dressing, eating and getting from here to there. It was obvious that these ordinary tasks were sanctified! Even though it was challenging for her to lose the ability to care for herself, she made such an effort to thank each person for every little or big thing they did for her. I had the privilege of observing what Nouwen describes as, to “go through the birthing canal,” while her closest family and friends were encouraging to “push through.” To her last breath, she was encouraging others, even joking. During her lifetime we were not that close, but observing her last journey into the “Dark Night of the Spirit” was a gift to me, personally, as well as for hundreds of others. The funeral home was too small for the hundreds of attendees. It was a sad time but simultaneously, so happy! It was as if we were unwrapping the gift that she had given us, through the way she lived and the way she died. 

In the way these women lived and died they paved the way that shows, “the effective and full enjoyment of active love of God and humankind in all the daily rounds of normal existence where we are placed.” (Willard, 1988, p. 138). The core teaching of Jesus and his last words to Peter come alive in the lives of Virgelina and my sister-in-law. This teaching of the spiritual discipline in “Sanctifying the Ordinary” is vital as we grow older as followers of Christ;  but we must start NOW. Chambers cautions, “If we refuse to practice, it is not God’s grace that fails when a crisis comes, but our own nature. When the crisis comes, we ask God to help us, but He cannot if we have not made our nature our ally. The practicing is ours, not God’s. God regenerates us and puts in contact with all His divine resources, but He cannot make us walk according to His will” (as cited in Willard, 1988, p. 118).  But we must continue or return to the “path” of spiritual discipline and realize the joy ahead of us when we are experiencing powerless in the elderly stage of life or due to extreme illness.  Remembering the example of Jesus,   as Peter did:

"Keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set out for him he endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Think of him who endured such opposition against himself by sinners, so that you may not grow weary in your souls and give up (Heb. 12:2-3, NET). 

4959216347_04ccd5ca29_b.jpg

There is joy in depending on others for the ordinary tasks of life, because if our heart and mind are in the right place, we continue in our worship of God. Nouwen (2015) expresses these closing thoughts like no other could: 

"Remember: You belong to God from eternity to eternity. You were loved by God before you were born; you will be loved by God long after you die. Your human lifetime -- long or short -- is only a part of your total life in God. The length of time doesn’t matter. Life is just a little opportunity for you during a few years to say to God: “I love you, too.” (p. 48)

 

References

(n.d.). Retrieved from http://biblehub.com/commentaries/calvin/john/21.htm

Anderson, L. (1997). They Smell Like Sheep: Spiritual Leadership For The 21st Century. Howard Pub.

Brunner, E. (1955). Faith, Hope, And Love. Lutterworth Press.

Camp, L. C. (2004). Mere Discipleship: Radical Christianity In A Rebellious World. Brazos Press.

Canlis, J. (2017). A Theology Of The Ordinary. Godspeed Press.

C. (n.d.). Posts about Sanctification of ordinary life on Catholics Striving for Holiness. Retrieved from https://catholicsstrivingforholiness.com/category/sanctification-of-ordinary-life/

Davids, P. H. (2009). The First Epistle of Peter. Eerdmans.

Durant, W. (1944). Caesar and Christ: The Story of Civilization III. Simon and Schuster.

Foster, R. J. (1988). Celebration Of Discipline: The Path To Spiritual Growth. HarperSanFrancisco.

Horton, M. (2014). Ordinary: Sustainable Faith In A Radical, Restless World. Zondervan.

Jacoby, D. (2006). The Letters of James, Peter, John, Jude: Life to the Full.  Discipleship Publications International.

Kinnard, G. S. (2006). The Way Of The Heart: Spiritual Living In A Legalistic World. Illumination Publishers International.

Kinnard, G. S. (2018). Sanctifying The Ordinary: 24-7 Discipleship. Lecture notes in LCU course BT 654. 

Latourette, K. S. (1975). A History Of Christianity. Harper and Row.

Lynch, E. K. (1974). The Practice Of The Presence Of God. Carmelite Press.

Nouwen, H. J., Christensen, M. J., & Laird, R. (2015). Spiritual Direction: Wisdom For The Long Walk Of Faith. HarperOne, a division of HarperCollins.

Nouwen, H. J., Christensen, M. J., & Laird, R. (2015). Spiritual Formation: Following The Movements Of The Spirit. HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins.

Nouwen, H. J. (1979). The Wounded Healer. Double day.

Peace, M. (1996). The Excellent Wife. Focus Pub.

Poon, R. (2006). John 21: A Johannine Model Of Leadership. Journal Of Biblical Perspective In Leadership. Leadership 1, no. 1 (Fall 2006), 49-70.

Powell, M. A. (2015). Introducing The New Testament: A Historical, Literary, And Theological Survey. Baker Academic.

Rolheiser, R. (2017). Sacred Fire: A Vision For A Deeper Human And Christian Maturity. Doubleday.

Rolheiser, R. (2014). The Holy Longing: The Search For A Christian Spirituality. Image.

Schaeffer, E. (1971). The Hidden Art Of Homemaking. Tyndale House.

The School of the Parish. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://world.regent-college.edu/profile/the-school-of-the-parish

Sleeman, D.K. (2018, March 02). Why The World Needs To Get Ready For More People Dying. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/health-43159823

Stark, R. (1997). The rise of Christianity: How the obscure, marginal Jesus movement became the dominant religious force in the western world in a few centuries. Harper Collins.

Stott, J. R. (2015). The Radical Disciple: Some Neglected Aspects of Our Calling. IVP

Tagliaferre, L. (2010). Lessons From Sedona. iUniverse. 

Tenney, M. C., & Dunnett, W. M. (1987). New Testament Survey. Eerdmans.

Veith, G. E. (2010). The Spirituality Of The Cross: The Way Of The First Evangelicals. Concordia Pub. House.

Villacorta, W. G. (2017). Tug Of War: The Downward Ascent Of Power. Cascade Books.

Warren, T. H. (2016). Liturgy Of The Ordinary - Sacred Practices In Everyday Life. Intervarsity Press.

Wiarda, T. (1992, 04). John 21.1-23: Narrative Unity and Its Implications. Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 14(46), 53-71. doi:10.1177/0142064x9201404604

Willard, D. (2002). Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ. NavPress.

Willard, D. (1999). The Spirit Of The Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives. HarperSanFrancisco.

Yancey, P. (2002). The Bible Jesus Read. Zondervan.

 

Photo Credits

Christ appears to his disciples. https://www.flickr.com/photos/waitingfortheword/5671097233Chr

Elijah, By Janmad (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a9/Elijah_17th_c_Weremien_Sanok.jpg

https://nomadicboys.com/vietnamese-savoury-pancakes-recipe-banh-xeo/

J James Tissot, Baked Fish 2, https://www.flickr.com/photos/waitingfortheword/7022212959

Death of Peter, Luca Giordano [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Martin LaBar, Joy Poster. https://www.flickr.com/photos/martinlabar/4959216347

 

Renee Rheinbolt Uribe was born in Little Rock, Arkansas but raised in Guatemala by medical missionary parents. She has been a follower of Christ since the young age of 13 and a missionary in Latin America for over three decades (serving in Mexico, Venezuela, Argentina and Colombia). Her undergrad degree is in International Relations. Due to her lifelong love of learning,  with her three kids now in college, she has gotten her MA in Intercultural Studies (Missiology) as well as a MA in Bible and Theology. She met the love of her life on the mission field, Flavio Uribe and they have been based in Bogota, Colombia for over 25 years. She is currently taking Masters courses at Lincoln Christian University in ministry and biblical studies. 

An Introduction to the New Testament Text

by Dave Pocta  --  San Antonio, Texas, USA 

Teachers' Corner BerkLOGO.jpeg [360x360] [288x288].jpg

When we open our bibles, we often take for granted what is in front of us. For centuries, scribes and scholars have meticulously unearthed ancient texts.  They have preserved, catalogued, studied and compared them to accurately provide us with God’s Word.  This paper is a very brief introduction to the languages, manuscript history, early translations, and textual criticism that laid the foundation for the blessing now known as the New Testament. 

Biblical Languages

The original twenty-seven books of the New Testament were written in Greek.  There are four major stages of the Greek language: classical, Koine, Byzantine, and modern.  The New Testament was written in Koine, which was the common, everyday language of the time. Documents in the original language are called manuscripts and copies of them are transmissions. Documents in other languages are called versions as they are translations

Languages vary in communication style, flow, and structure. We would therefore prefer to possess the earliest manuscripts in the original language to ensure accuracy and avoid the translators’ interpretation. The two extremes in translation would be “word for word” translations which tend to be more literal but often can lose the exact meaning of the text or “thought for thought” translations which attempt to capture the meaning but lose the nuances of specific words. This makes evident the difficulty in translating a translation. (I.e. Translating the New Testament from Latin into English introduces the difficulties of moving across two language barriers instead of translating from Greek directly into English.) The science of studying manuscripts to remove scribal copying errors and obtain the most likely original text is known as textual criticism. The intention of textual critics is to provide a precise original language text that can be used as a basis for translation into any language.

Manuscript History

As of the year 2005, we possessed over 5700 hand-written manuscripts that pre-date the 15th century (before the printing press). They are divided as follows:

    Papyri            116 manuscripts

    Majuscules        310 manuscripts

    Minuscules        2877 manuscripts

    Lectionaries        2432 manuscripts

Papyri were written on sheets made from the papyrus plant. They were less expensive than the other writing surfaces and were used until the 8th century. The papyri are the oldest remaining witnesses of the New Testament writings. The John Rylands fragment is a papyrus dated to around 125 A.D. and contains John 18:31-33, 37-38. If the Gospel of John was written in 85 A.D. as many suppose, this copy was written only forty years after the original! 

Papyrus Greek 458. John Rylands Library, Manchester, UK.

Papyrus Greek 458. John Rylands Library, Manchester, UK.

Codex Vaticanus, 2 Thess. 3: 11-18

Codex Vaticanus, 2 Thess. 3: 11-18

As Christianity became a legal and state-recognized religion in the 4th century, scriptoriums appear and more money became available through the churches to start copying the scriptures on parchment. Parchment was made from animal skins and vellum was the highest quality of parchment. It was from this period that we have the earliest codices, Codex Sinaiticus (4th century) and Codex Vaticanus (4th century). Codex Sinaiticus is the oldest remaining complete New Testament but the text is inferior to Codex Vaticanus due to some careless scribal errors. Vaticanus is superior in text form but is missing Hebrews 9:14 and onward. These manuscripts were written in capital letters and are called majuscules

Around the 8th century, we begin to see copyists switch from majuscules to minuscules (Greek cursive). We also see the use of lectionaries appear more frequently. Lectionaries divided scripture into passages to be read during the liturgy. Different scripture was mapped out for different worship services. The minuscules and lectionaries were often ornately decorated.

Early Translations

Early versions of the New Testament begin to appear as early as 180 A.D. and were prepared by missionaries to help carry the gospel message to people that spoke different languages. These translations bring witness to the early text (2nd and 3rd century) but are used with care as the translator didn’t always have command of the Greek language. 

We have disappointingly few early Latin manuscripts even though Tertullian often quoted the New Testament in Latin (he was believed to have translated his quotations directly from the Greek). We do know from Augustine (turn of 5th century) that many people obtaining Greek manuscripts would freely translate them into Latin, regardless of their knowledge of Greek. This provided a vast array of different Latin versions and prompted Pope Damasus in 382 A.D. to commission the church’s greatest Hebrew, Greek, and Latin scholar, Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus (today known as St. Jerome) to create an authorized version for the church. He translated directly from the Hebrew to Latin for the Old Testament (putting aside the Septuagint) and compiled the most reliable Latin translations to compose the New Testament. This version became known as the Latin Vulgate.  

Scholars have identified five major versions of the Syriac. The Syrian scholars were energetic and passionate about translating the gospel into their language. Manuscripts have been found from Lebanon, Egypt, Sinai, Mesopotamia, Armenia, India, and China! Other major early translations include Coptic, Gothic, Armenian, Georgian, Ethiopic, and Old Slavonic.

Textual Criticism

As the Greek manuscripts were copied as the church spread for general use, no universal standard existed to protect the process. Variants were introduced almost immediately and spread as these copies were copied. Obviously the early Christians had an extremely high regard for the transmission of these manuscripts but the human factor certainly came into play.


We do see different families of manuscripts developing in different geographic areas. By the 2nd century, the Western text appeared to be the loosest textual family as some paraphrasing was introduced. At the other extreme, the Alexandrian text represents a thorough and controlled exercise in the copying of manuscripts. This is not surprising as the city of Alexandria had a scholastic reputation.  It was known for its completeness and lucid readings. When scholars look at the early manuscripts, they are often able to categorize the manuscripts based on these and other families. 

How could variants be introduced into the text? There are many possibilities. Some variants were accidental and others were very deliberate. Accidental variants could include misspelling, leaving out words, repeating words, or skipping lines with similar endings. Deliberate variants generally were an attempt of the scribe to “correct” a perceived error. Scholars would sometimes “smooth out” bumpy variants; sometimes by conflation (combining the two variant readings into one) and sometimes by harmonizing divergent parallel passages. This happened primarily in the gospels. 

The invention of the printing press reversed the increasing number of variants in the Greek text because now scholars could possess multiple manuscripts. Whenever a hand-written manuscript was copied, more opportunities for human error entered. These manuscripts were spread over thousands of miles so scholars were only able to look at a few of them at any given time. This would make it difficult to analyze them for the best reading. The printing press “froze” the text in time. Human error was no longer a factor. Manuscripts could be collected and printed so that scholars could compare many different readings. If the first 1400 years of textual transmission continued to introduce variants and weaken the text, our last 600 years have strengthened the text. Scholars have developed textual criticism to analyze variants and determine through external and internal evidence which would most likely be original. This process has brought us to a very reliable Greek text today.

Today’s Greek Bible

The first bible printed was a Latin version known as the Gutenberg bible somewhere between 1452 and 1456. In 1514, the first Greek bible was printed. In 1516, Erasmus, the great humanist of Rotterdam, published another version of the Greek text that became very famous. Unfortunately Erasmus relied on 12th and 13th century Byzantine manuscripts that had a poor text. He had earlier majuscules available to him but didn’t consult them! This version of the Greek text became known as the “Textus Receptus” or “received text.” It remained the text that scholars used for 300 years and was used to translate the King James Bible in 1611. Over the last 400 years, many significant discoveries have been made (including the discovery of Codex Sinaiticus) that have shed more light on the early Greek text of the New Testament. Today, two versions of the Greek text are used by scholars that reflect thorough textual criticism and scholarship; the 27th edition of Nestle-Aland and the 4th edition of the Greek New Testament (GNT - published by the United Bible Society and often called the UBS). The text of these is identical but the apparatus varies. The apparatus is all of the notes at the bottom of the pages that reference the various variant readings. 

Modern translators of the New Testament use these texts as the basis for their work. We are blessed to have so many scholars that have worked so diligently to bring us such an accurate Greek text!

Gutenberg Bible

Gutenberg Bible

Bibliography

Aland, Kurt, and Barbara Aland. The Text of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995.

Bruce, F.F. The Canon of Scripture. Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 1988.

Jacoby, Douglas. How We Got the Bible. 2005.

Lightfoot, Neil R. How We Got the Bible. Third. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2003.

Metzger, Bruce M., and Bart D. Ehrman. The Text of the New Testament. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Photo Credits

File:P. Rylands 458.jpg

File:Codex Vaticanus B, 2Thess. 3,11-18, Hebr. 1,1-2,2.jpg

File:Gutenberg Bible, New York Public Library, USA. Pic 03.jpg, 

 

Permissible, Beneficial, Constructive

by Fred W. Faller -- Burlington, Masschusetts, USA

In the life of any church, there will be times when there needs to be settlement about issues that are dividing people. Typically, the division has already existed in the hearts of those dividing from one another long before it surfaces to be dealt with. In this discussion, I am assuming that both sides of the divide are composed of hearts that are good, albeit differing because of personalities or perhaps perceptions or simply have different ways of approaching the word of God. I do not intend to deal with the issue of division where the hearts are bad: selfish and stubborn. That is for another discussion.

It did not take long for the young church in the book of Acts to run squarely up against a brewing division where Gentiles were coming into the Kingdom of God and the children of Abraham were struggling, with their heritage as the old covenant people, in letting these despised outsiders in.

The first significant confrontation on a large scale takes place in Acts 15, where some of the Jewish Christians were beginning to insist that the gentile converts had to be circumcised and obey the Law in order to be part of the church. It was an "old school-new school" conflict where the old school folks were insisting on traditions and practices that no longer applied under the new covenant.

Without quoting all the significant passages, there are several things worthy of note about how this conflict was resolved:

Jerusalem city walls  

Jerusalem city walls 

1.      The elders and apostles gathered in Jerusalem. Barnabas was there also and shared, so we see that it was not exclusively the elders and apostles. One could argue that Barnabas was a teacher (Acts 14:1-5) and had earned the right to be called evangelist. There may have been other prominent contributors in the discussion. We also see that by the end of the discussion, the whole church was finally involved (verse 22) but we don't really know at what level and when they came in.

2.      Peter opened the discussion with the clear explanation that God had made it very clear that He had accepted the gentiles and had made no distinction between their salvation and that of the Jews. He basically explained the command of God that the Gospel was for everyone.

3.      Next Paul and Barnabas shared many examples of how the Gentiles had come to God and what God had done through them.

4.      Finally, James stood up to speak. His argument from the Scriptures finalized the resolution. It was a bit of a compromise: the people were to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, sexual immorality, meat that was strangled and from blood. The implication was one of freedom from the law, but with several nods to the law in the message. This is clear from James’ final argument: "For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”

5.      The BIG issue at hand, circumcision, was not even addressed. The discussion centered on a much more basic problem: that of tradition and law and how it was bound on people in the lives of the new covenant church. Circumcision was resolved by silence, that is, not saying anything about its prohibition, but only saying what should be prohibited, the silence arguing that Jews who wanted to circumcise could do so and Gentiles who did not want to do so, did not have to. If they had specifically prohibited circumcision, it would have tread on the freedom of the Jewish Christians to do so, and by assumption, would have stepped over a line that the Spirit did not want them to step over.

6.      When the letter was sent out, the wording shows an interesting sensitivity to the issue:

a)     "It seemed good to us and the Holy Spirit ..." -- this was not a set of new ironclad laws like in the law of Moses.

b)     "...not to burden you with anything beyond the following ..." -- we are only recommending what we consider to be the minimum burden.

c)     After repeating the list of abstinences, the letter said, "You will do well to avoid these things." These are not laws. There is nothing hard and fast here. There really aren't any strict rules, but this would be beneficial to you -– it would be well for you to stick with this. We find later that Paul certainly allowed people to eat meat sacrificed to idols, even claiming (I Cor 8) that knowledge allowed him to do so, and in Romans 12 it is clear that he considered meat eaters "stronger" than those who refrained.

7.      Paul and Barnabas were part of the team that took the letter to Antioch.

There is no doubt that Paul's involvement in this kind of discussion was consistent with his teaching in his letters. Paul fought courageously for the Gentiles in the face of the Jewish culture that often dominated the church. Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians...nearly all Paul’s letters would deal with the freedom of being in Christ, apart from the law, and how that freedom manifested itself in the church, and multiple appeals for peace between Jew and gentile converts.

Paul recognized the differences between people: Jew, Gentile, Slave, Free, Man, Woman, New Convert and Mature Disciple. In all his letters, he addresses issues of these differences, not only culturally but developmentally. Here are a few passages that stand out in this area.

I Corinthians 6:12 "Everything is permissible for me" – but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible for me" – but I will not be mastered by anything. The context of this passage is Paul's assault on sexual immorality that was prevalent in the church. What is most interesting is that he is contrasting not what is right and what is wrong, but he is making his argument by saying that even if something is permissible, the challenge is whether it is beneficial. Even if something is permissible, is it something that is taking over our lives? that is mastering us? I believe that Paul is trying to make a very positive argument, refraining from laying down absolutes, even when some of these behaviors perhaps should be absolutes. Instead he is initiating an argument that says, "Even if this were permissible, it is not beneficial. Even if this were permissible, if you engage in it, it will master you and steal your soul."

Corinthian statue of goddess Aphrodite, 4th century BCE

Corinthian statue of goddess Aphrodite, 4th century BCE

This kind of thinking threads its way throughout the letter as Paul continues: In chapter 8, he addresses the issue of meat that was being sold in the marketplace that had previously been sacrificed to idols. People knew this and it was an issue in the church about whether this spiritually tainted meat should be consumed by the disciples. Look carefully at Paul's argument about knowledge:

I Corinthians 8:1ff - "Now about food sacrificed to Idols: We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up but, love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know." There is nothing wrong with knowledge. Knowledge is permissible, but knowledge is not as beneficial as Love.

Paul goes on to describe the true knowledge about the meat that is sacrificed, how it has no spiritual portent at all. This knowledge is good and it leads to freedom. But the exercise of your freedom might not be beneficial if someone else is still struggling with their lack of knowledge. Paul goes on to say that it’s possible to do something permissible, that actually destroys another person’s faith. When this happens, we are sinning against Christ (8:12). Paul volunteers at this point to never eat meat again if it causes a brother to sin. This is a stunning attitude about the length he is willing to go to do what is beneficial, over what is permissible.

In I Corinthians 10:23ff, Paul says this yet again! "Everything is permissible" – but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible" – but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good but the good of others. Paul goes on to discuss the issue of meat sacrificed to idols again. He concludes with another startling statement. After strongly suggesting that one should refrain from eating meat if another man's conscience is violated, he asks the rhetorical question:

"For why should my freedom be judged by another man's conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for? So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church or God. - even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good, but the good of many." (I Corinthians 10:29b-33)

The answer to Paul's question is, of course, that my conscience is essentially bound up in the lives of the people around me. They cannot be separated. I lay down whatever it is I am holding onto to serve and meet the needs of others, even if it means purposely restricting my own freedom in Christ to do it.

As in many issues like this under the new covenant, Paul addresses this most thoroughly in his letter to the Romans. In Romans 12, after thoroughly vetting the many spiritual issues, he addresses the church in Rome about the practicals of life in the church. He launches into his discussion with a call for disciples to be living sacrifices, not pandering to the pattern of the world. This was particularly true of the church, that was supposed to be different.

He calls for humility (12:3) and an appreciation for the differences that exist in the church and the need to allow those differences to co-exist for the benefit of the whole, followed by a call to love, honor, service, tolerance and peace (vs 9-21). It’s all about submission, Paul seems to be saying, and he addresses the issue of our submission extending beyond the boundaries of the church in the first half of chapter 13, and then expounds on more examples of love for one another within the church. "Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore, Love is the fulfillment of the Law."

All this is bound up in Paul's view that "all things are permissible – but not all things are beneficial". Even the commandments fall under the guidance of the overarching rule of Love.

In Romans 14, Paul goes into even greater detail of the need for understanding these concepts in the community of believers.

Paul starts his appeal with the simple statement: "Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters." Paul acknowledges that there are people in our midst who have weaker faith, who have not matured as much and his appeal is one of acceptance. The "acceptance" is not toleration, but wholesale embracing of the person, even in their weakness. Paul is generalizing here. A few verses later, he will talk specifically about several issues, but here he gives no way of telling who is weaker, but only that there will be stronger and weaker among us.

He then appeals to the two sides differently:

·       The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not.

·       The man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does. Why? "Because God has accepted him! Who are you to judge someone else's servant?" (Romans 14:3-4)

Paul then observes that each person will stand or fall before God. I am a servant of God and as a servant, God is able to make me stand, and stand I will! Paul goes on to explain that the differences I focus on, that I get so frustrated with, will all be sorted out when I face judgement, where I will give an account for who I am and what I have done. It is God who will judge, not me, so it is not my place to pass such judgment in the church. Stop doing that!

But Paul does not stop there. He says there is an alternative that we should do! "Instead," Paul says, "Make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way."  (Romans 14:13) This is a conscious activity. I look at my brother who is so, so different than me, perhaps less mature in certain ways, less knowledgeable, perhaps, and as the more mature brother, I make up my mind to not do anything that would cause him to have trouble. He brings up the foods issue again and concludes the argument with:

"If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love! Do not by your eating, destroy your brother for whom Christ died." (v 15)

This is a very strong echo from I Corinthians 10 – a very consistent message about love for your brothers, overriding your personal freedoms, convenience and conscience.

Then Paul makes a stunning statement, the first half of which I have never heard taught in the churches – ever! "Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating or drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit." (Romans 14:16-17)

Paul seems to be giving the disciple the authority to rebuke a brother who would condemn something of which he has become convinced by faith."Let us therefore, make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification." (v 19) There it is again. All things are permissible – we have huge freedoms in Christ, but the focus is on that which is edifying – that which is constructive. Don't destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All foods are permissible, but if it causes another to stumble, it is wrong, it is not beneficial. It’s better to lay aside your personal freedoms and not do anything that causes your brother to fall! Paul wraps up the whole discussion with this idea set, undoubtedly aimed at producing harmony:

·       Whatever differences you have – whatever you have come to believe, keep it between you and God.

·       The man who is un-conflicted about this is blessed.

·       The man who doubts (is conflicted) is condemned if he eats, because he is not fully convinced (he does not have faith)

·       Anything in a man that does not come from the full conviction of faith, falls short of God's desire for him and he sins.

Now, it is clear that Paul is using the example of food and who has the faith to eat what, and who is sinning if they eat or don't eat. But I think that in spite of this example, Paul is arguing a much greater cause. He heads the whole discussion with a very generalized argument. "Accept people who are weaker, without passing judgment." The undercurrent of all of it is love and how love compels us to accept without judgment –- to love unconditionally and to go the extra mile, to make up our mind, not to create stumbling blocks, to not distress our brothers with our action. This is the character of Love.

Overarching Observations:

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1.      In all these passages, Paul develops a common theme, and that is that the good of my brother in my heart. I go out of my way to listen and take into account those needs and I go out of my way not to offend or cause him to stumble.

2.      The decision by the apostles, the elders and others in Acts 15 was overarching and totally minimalist. It did not even address the central issue of circumcision and left most of what they could have discussed open to the freedom of believers. When the other churches received the letter they were refreshed, possibly because it said so very little.

3.      Paul publically and specifically addressed failings in the church and called for each disciple to take responsibility to accept differences, love others unconditionally, to be fully convinced, and to accept fully the convictions of others.

4.      Paul did not leave the interpretation, enactment or enforcement of his rule of love and its implications to a small group of people who would decide for the others. The letter was written "to all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints." When he wrote to the Corinthians, it was "to the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, - their lord and ours." There were probably elders, evangelists and teachers in Rome, and the other churches to which Paul wrote, but these letters are not to them and there is no indication in them that there was specific jurisdiction of any individual or group of people who made such decisions. Each member was expected to grow and mature and patiently wait for others and accommodate others in that process. We know historically that these letters were read publicly as often as they could be read, for as long as people could listen, and it was read to the whole church, not digested and re-taught by an appointed minority.

5.      Paul was convinced that the church, as a collective, was mature enough to handle his directives. In Romans 15:14 he stated "I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another." Paul believed that the church was capable of handling his "bold points", to discuss them and respond to them appropriately. He had faith that God was able to work in individual hearts to accomplish his goals.

6.      Paul expected them to go out of their way, to make every effort, not to offend others.

Practical Matters:

The way people read the bible, the hermeneutic and the conclusions that are drawn from it, are widely varied. It is no surprise that in a large church, with members ranging from the newly baptized to those thirty-plus years in the forming, that there will be huge disparities in knowledge, maturity, love, acceptance and sacrifice. So how does this all apply? How do I fully accept others without making judgements on their faith and maturity? How does one keep what he believes between himself and God and allow all others to do the same?

This task is much easier in matters that are largely personal – clothing tastes, ways of dealing with sin, entertainment preferences, prayer habits, fasting, personal disciplines and things like these. Where it gets complicated is where personal tastes manifest themselves in a more corporate environment, for example in the assembly of the church. How are we to know when something that we are doing is offensive, hurtful or not respectful of another's faith? How do I decide when it is time to give up my preferences for the sake of others? Is it the right of the elders, teachers, and evangelists to decide this for the church? When do I know when a person is just being stubborn or has a bad heart? Does that even matter?

In Paul’s writing, he does not answer any of these questions. Why is that? It is a distinct possibility that Paul never had to answer those questions. Maybe the early church never faced them because it was different than what we have developed. Perhaps if we made more of an effort to research and restore the new covenant understandings and assemblies, then the problems of our church would be more clearly answered by the Scriptures – by Paul's writings. As it is, Paul's answers seem almost foreign to our way of life because we are not being what the church was then.

I believe the key is in what Paul taught the church: that he would gladly relinquish his right to things he knew to be permissible for the sake of one who struggled with it. He considered it not beneficial to pursue his right in that context. He considered it not constructive or edifying. I have no doubt that Paul was not opposed to healthy dialog on such issues. He opened such dialog in I Corinthians 8 where he clearly argues that his knowledge about the nothingness of idols was correct –- that eating meat sacrificed to them was permissible, but that is the same passage where he volunteers "never to eat meat again" if it is an issue that remains for someone else. If the apostle Paul lived this way and called others to do so, should not this be the standard for my fellowship also?

How would this work? Paul was pretty clear to the Corinthians in I Corinthians 14:26 – 40 (By the way, the NIV heading "Orderly Worship" was added by someone else).  Nothing in the directive of these verses claims to be or fits in the category of worship, as Paul and Jesus saw it. After giving simple instructions, Paul concludes with this authoritative statement in verse 36:

"Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord's command. If he ignores this, he himself will be ignored."

Why would he say this? Paul says this through the spirit of God, because we are prone to invent our own ways of doing things and rearrange what God has ordained to our own desires. We go out and find teachers who support what we want, and inject the teachings of men into our practices, rather than the teachings of God. Paul is being very strong here. He is basically pre-empting anyone who would teach otherwise and he is teaching it as the Lord's command. Is he not saying that if anyone teaches someone differently they should be ignored?

Paul did not tell the church to organize "worship leaders" and have them "lead" the congregation in some "amazing way" with "vertical worship". Since Paul's vision was that God had seated us in the heavenly realms with God, that there was no need for anyone to "lead us into the presence of God" since we were already there. There were no polished presentations with minute by minute timelines and professional speakers with a time slot, and trained song leaders, or groups of people spending hours hauling around sound equipment for displays of "talent" to entertain the people who have not been properly taught what worship is. There was no claim that this was worship at all! It consisted of saved believers, gathered together, who each had something to give and by giving it, would build the church. In their eagerness to do so, Paul gave simple instructions about respect and process so that it would be orderly, and then he gave that final warning that this was God's command.

After I have had dialog about whether I should consider these alterations to God's command to be permissible, I then have to have the discussion about whether is it beneficial or constructive. According to Paul's multiple addresses on this topic, this is determined by whether it is offensive or hurtful to another person's faith in the assembly, in which case, the mature disciple would restrain their freedoms for the sake of conscience of those they see as less mature. At the same time, they would open sincere dialog about the issues while patiently waiting for each other to mature.

My faith is simple. Although I have never actually seen this, it does not mean that it would not work and I have to believe it would work. Paul had this faith. Shouldn't I be striving for that? My Protestant history, and modern culture, particularly American culture, is driven by the paparazzi mentality, that speaks to our psyche, that we must choreograph everything, that it must be "professional", that it must be "produced" or the small-minded, sound-byte-trained audience will get distracted. We perpetuate this idea that the people are not mature enough to figure this out and we have small groups of persons who figure it out for us. This is simply not the biblical teaching nor practice and we must grow in our faith in this area. The Bible teaches that if we do what God wants, the unspiritual man will come into our midst, see what we are doing and fall on his knees and worship God saying, "God is surely among you!"


Photo Credits

Jerusalem City Walls, CC Wikipedia

Corinthian terra-cotta statue of Aphrodite

Bronze Statue by Max Pixel. Creative Commons Zero - CC0  

The Sinner's Prayer

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A Brief History of a Novel Practice

by Steve Staten -- Chicago, Illinois, USA 

https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prayer#/media/File:Albrecht_Dürer_Betende_Hände.jpg

C.S. Lewis used the term “a great cataract of nonsense” to describe how people use a modern idea to construe Bible theology.  One such example, perhaps the best example, is a conversion method called the Sinner’s Prayer. It is more popularly known as the Four Spiritual Laws.

Lewis used this term to describe what happens when someone looks backward at the Bible based only on what he or she has known. Instead, an evangelical should first discern conversion practices from Scriptures and then consider the topic in light of two thousand years of other thinkers. As it is, a novel technique popularized through recent revivals has replaced the biblically sound practice. 

 

Today, hundreds of millions hold to a belief system and salvation practice that no one had ever held until relatively recently. The notions that one can pray Jesus into his or her heart and that baptism is merely an outward sign are actually late developments. The prayer itself dates to the Billy Sunday era; however, the basis for talking in prayer for salvation goes back a few hundred years.

Consider the following appeal:

“Just accept Christ into your heart through prayer and he’ll receive you. It doesn’t matter what church you belong to or if you ever do good works. You’ll be born again at the moment you receive Christ. He’s at the door knocking. You don’t even have to change bad habits, just trust Christ as Savior. God loves you and forgives you unconditionally. Anyone out there can be saved if they ... Accept Christ, now! Let us pray for Christ to now come into your heart.”

Sound familiar? This method of conversion has had far-reaching effects worldwide as many have claimed this as the basis for their salvation. Yet, what is the historical significance of this conversion? How did the process of rebirth, which Jesus spoke of in John 3, evolve into praying him into one’s heart? I believe it was an error germinating shortly after the Reformation, which eventually caused great ruin and dismay in Christendom. By supplying a brief documentation of its short, historical development, I hope to show how this error has served as “a great cataract of nonsense”.

The Reformation

Although things weren’t ideal after the Reformation, for the first time in over a thousand years the general populace was reading the Scriptures. By the early 1600s, one hundred years after the Reformation was initiated, there were various branches of European Christendom that followed national lines. For instance, Germans followed Martin Luther. There were also Calvinists (Presbyterian), the Church of England (Episcopalian), various branches of Anabaptists and, of course, the Roman church (Catholics). Most of these groups were trying to revive the waning faith of their already traditionalized denominations. However, a consensus had not been reached on issues like rebirth, baptism or salvation--even between Protestants.

The majority still held to the validity of infant baptism even though they disagreed on its significance. Preachers tended to minimize baptism because people hid their lack of commitment behind sayings like “I am a baptized Lutheran and that’s that.” The influence of the preachers eventually led to the popular notion that one was forgiven at infant baptism but not yet reborn. Most Protestants were confused or ambivalent about the connection between rebirth and forgiveness.

The Great Awakening

The Great Awakening was the result of fantastic preaching occurring in Europe and the eastern colonies during the early to mid 1700s. Though ambivalent on the practice of baptism, Great Awakening preachers created an environment that made man aware of his need for an adult confession experience. The experiences that people sought were varied. Jonathan Edwards, George Whitfield and John Wesley furthered ideas of radical repentance and revival. Although there is much to be learned from their messages, they did not solve the problems of the practices associated with baptism and conversion.

By http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/obf_images/32/1b/2cc571d981947dadf12de2ffd110.jpgGallery: http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/image/V0006868.html, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36424508

Eventually, the following biblical passage written to and inspired for lukewarm Christians became a popular tool for the conversion of non-Christians:

"To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation. ....Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:14-20 NIV)

This passage was written explicitly for lukewarm Christians. Now consider how a lecturer named John Webb misused this passage in the mid-1700s as a basis of evangelizing non-Christians: 

“Here is a promise of Union to Christ; in these words, I will come in to him. i.e. If any Sinner will but hear my Voice and open the Door, and receive me by Faith, I will come into his Soul, and unite him to me, and make him a living member of that my mystical body of which I am the Head.” (Christ’s Suit to the Sinner, 14)

Preachers heavily relied on Revelation 3:20. By using the first-person tense while looking into the sinner’s eyes, preachers began to speak for Jesus as they exhorted, “If you would just let me come in and dine with you, I would accept you.” Even heathens who had never been baptized responded with the same or even greater sorrow than churchgoers. As a result, more and more preachers of Christendom concluded that baptism was merely an external matter--only an outward sign of an inward grace. In fact, Huldreich Zwingli put this idea forth for the very first time. Nowhere in church history was such a belief recorded. It only appears in Scripture when one begins with a great cataract of nonsense. In other words, it only appears in the New Testament through the imagination of readers influenced by this phenomenon.

Mourner’s Seat

A method originated during the 1730s or ‘40s, which was practically forgotten for about a hundred years. It is documented that in 1741 a minister named Eleazar Wheelock had utilized a technique called the Mourner’s Seat. As far as one can tell, he would target sinners by having them sit in the front bench (pew). During the course of his sermon “salvation was looming over their heads.” Afterwards, the sinners were typically quite open to counsel and exhortation. In fact, as it turns out they were susceptible to whatever prescription the preaching doctor gave to them. According to eyewitnesses, false conversions were multiplied. Charles Wesley had some experience with this practice, but it took nearly a hundred years for this tactic to take hold. 

Cane Ridge

In 1801 there was a sensational revival in Cane Ridge, Kentucky, that lasted for weeks. Allegedly, people barked, rolled over in the aisles and became delirious because there were long periods without food in the intense heat. It resulted in the extreme use and abuse of emotions as thousands left Kentucky with wild notions about rebirth. Today it is generally viewed as a mockery to Christianity. 

The excesses in Cane Ridge produced expectations for preachers and those seeking religious experience.  A Second Great Awakening, inferior to the first, was beginning in America. Preachers were enamored with the idea that they could cause (manipulate) people into conversion. One who witnessed such nineteenth century hysteria was J. V. Coombs who complained of the technique:

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“The appeals, songs, prayers and the suggestion from the preacher drive many into the trance state. I can remember in my boyhood days seeing ten or twenty people laying unconscious upon the floor in the old country church. People called that conversion. Science knows it is mesmeric influence, self-hypnotism … It is sad that Christianity is compelled to bear the folly of such movements.” (J.V. Coombs, Religious Delusions, 92ff).

The Cane Ridge Meeting became the paradigm for revivalists for decades. A lawyer named Charles Finney came along a generation later to systemize the Cane Ridge experience through the use of Wheelock’s Mourner’s Seat and Scripture.

Charles Finney

It wasn’t until about 1835 that Charles Grandison Finney (1792-1875) emerged to champion the system utilized by Eleazar Wheelock. Shortly after his own conversion, he left his law practice and would become a minister, a lecturer, a professor, and a traveling revivalist. He took the Mourner’s Seat practice, which he called the Anxious Seat, and developed a theological system around it. Finney was straightforward about his purpose for this technique and wrote the following comment near the end of his life:

“The church has always felt it necessary to have something of this kind to answer this very purpose. In the days of the apostles, baptism answered this purpose. The gospel was preached to the people, and then all those who were willing to be on the side of Christ, were called out to be baptized. It held the place that the anxious seat does now as a public manifestation of their determination to be Christians”

Finney made many enemies because of this innovation. The Anxious Seat practice was considered to be a psychological technique that manipulated people to make a premature profession of faith. It was considered to be an emotional conversion influenced by some of the preachers’ animal magnetism. Certainly it was a precursor to the techniques used by many twentieth century televangelists.

In opposition to Finney’s movement, John Nevin, a Protestant minister, wrote a book called The Anxious Bench. He intended to protect the denominations from this novel deviation. He called Finney’s New Measures “heresy”, a “Babel of extravagance”,  “fanaticism”, and “quackery”. He also said, “With a whirlwind in full view, we may be exhorted reasonably to consider and stand back from its destructive path.” It turns out that Nevin was somewhat prophetic. The system that Finney admitted had replaced biblical baptism, is the vertebrae for the popular plan of salvation that was made normative in the twentieth century by the three Bills --- Billy Sunday, Billy Graham and Bill Bright.

Dwight Moody and R. A. Torrey

However, it wasn’t until the end of Finney’s life that it became evident to everyone and to Finney himself that the Anxious Bench approach led to a high fallout rate. By the 1860s Dwight Moody (1837-1899) was the new apostle in American evangelicalism. He took Finney’s system and modified it. Instead of calling for a public decision, which tended to be a response under pressure, he asked people to join him and his trained counselors in a room called the Inquiry Room. Though Moody’s approach avoided some of the errors encountered in Finneyism, it was still a derivative or stepchild of the Anxious Bench system.

In the Inquiry Room the counselors asked the possible convert some questions, taught him from Scripture and then prayed with him. The idea that prayer was at the end of the process had been loosely associated with conversion in the 1700s. By the late 1800s it was standard technique for ‘receiving Christ’ as Moody's influence spread across both the United States and the United Kingdom. This was where a systematic Sinner's Prayer began, but was not called as such until the time of Billy Sunday.

R. A. Torrey succeeded Moody’s Chicago-based ministry after his death in 1899. He modified Moody’s approach to include “on the spot” street conversions. Torrey popularized the idea of instant salvation with no strings attached, even though he never intended as much. Nonetheless, “Receive Christ, now, right here” became part of the norm. From that time on it became more common to think of salvation outside of church or a life of Lordship.

Billy Sunday and the Pacific Garden Mission

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/eb/Billy_Sunday2.jpg

Meanwhile in Chicago, Billy Sunday, a well-known baseball player from Iowa, had been converted in the Pacific Garden Mission. The Mission was Chicago's most successful implementation of Moody’s scheme. Eventually, Sunday left baseball to preach. He had great public charm and was one of the first to mix ideas of entertainment with ministry. By the early 1900s he had become a great well-known crusade leader. In his crusades he popularized the Finney-Moody method and included a bit of a circus touch. After fire and brimstone sermons, heavy moralistic messages with political overtones, and humorous if not outlandish behavior, salvation was offered. Often it was associated with a prayer, and at other times a person was told they were saved because they simply walked down his tabernacle’s "sawdust trail" to the front where he was standing. In time people were told they were saved because they publicly shook Sunday’s hand, acknowledging that they would follow Christ. 

Billy Sunday died in 1935 leaving behind hundreds of his imitators. More than anything else, Billy Sunday helped crusades become acceptable to all denominations, which eventually led to a change in their theology. Large religious bodies sold out on their reservations toward these new conversion practices to reap the benefits of potential converts from the crusades because of the allure of success. 

Both Dwight Moody and Billy Sunday admitted they were somewhat ignorant of church history by the time they had already latched on to their perspectives. This is highly significant because the Anxious Seat phenomenon and offshoot practices were not rooted in Scripture nor in the early church.

Billy Graham, Bill Bright

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Billy Graham and his crusades were the next step in the evolution of things. Billy Graham was converted in 1936 at a Sunday-styled crusade. By the late 1940s it was evident to many that Graham would be the champion of evangelicalism. His crusades summed up everything that had been done from the times of Charles Finney through Billy Sunday except that he added a respectability that some of the others lacked. In the 1950s, Graham’s crusade counselors were using a prayer that had been sporadically used for some time. It began with a prayer from his Four Steps to Peace with God. The original four-step formula came during Billy Sunday’s era in a tract called Four Things God Wants you to Know. The altar call system of Graham had been refined by a precise protocol of music, trained counselors and a speaking technique all geared to help people ‘accept Christ as Savior.’

In the late 1950s, Bill Bright came up with the exact form of the currently popular Four Spiritual Laws, so that the average believer could take the crusade experience into the living room of their neighbor. Of course, this method ended with the Sinner's Prayer. Those who responded to crusades and sermons could have the crusade experience at home when they prayed, "Lord Jesus, I need You. Thank You for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life and receive You as my Savior and Lord. Thank You for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. Take control of the throne of my life. Make me the kind of person You want me to be."

Later, in 1977, Billy Graham published a now-famous work, entitled, How to Be Born Again. For all the Scripture he used, he never once uses the hallmark rebirth event in the second chapter of the book of Acts. The cataract (blind spot) kept him away from the most powerful conversion event in all Scripture. It is my guess that its emphasis on baptism and repentance for the forgiveness of sins was incompatible with his approach.

The Living Bible and Beyond

By the late 1960s it seemed that nearly every evangelical was printing some form of the Four Spiritual Laws in the last chapter of their books. Even a Bible was printed with this theology inserted into God’s Word. Thus, beginning in the early 1960s, as portions of the Living Bible were being released, this paraphrase was becoming the translation of choice for the crusades. The New Testament was released in 1967 and the entire New Living Bible in 1971. A favorite Scripture often quoted in those crusades is found in the Gospel of John:

“Even in his own land and among his own people, the Jews, he was not accepted. Only a few welcome and received him. But to all who received him, he gave the right to become children of God. All they needed to do was to trust him to save them. All those who believe this are reborn! --not a physical rebirth resulting from human passion or plan--but from the will of God.”(John 1:11-13, Living Bible, italics mine)

The italicized words have no support at all in the original Greek. They are a blatant insertion placed by presuppositions of the translator, Kenneth Taylor. I’m not sure that even the Jehovah’s Witnesses have authored such a barefaced insertion in their corrupt Scriptures. In defense of Taylor’s original motives, the Living Bible was created primarily with children in mind. However, the publishers should have corrected the misleading verse in the 1960s. They somewhat cleared it up in the newer LB in the 1990s, only after the damage has been done. For decades mainstream evangelicals were using the LB and circular reasoning to justify such a strong ‘trusting moment’ as salvation, never knowing their Bible was corrupted.

A whole international enterprise of publishers, universities and evangelistic associations were captivated by this method. The phrases, “Receive Christ,” and “Trust Jesus as your personal savior,” filled airwaves, sermons, and books. James Kennedy’s Evangelism Explosion counselor-training program helped make this concept of conversion an international success. Missionaries everywhere were trained with Sinner’s Prayer theology. Evangelicalism had the numbers, the money, the television personas of Graham and Kennedy and any attempt to purport a different plan of salvation would be decried as cultic and “heresy.”

Most evangelicals are ignorant of where their practice came from or how Christians from other periods viewed biblical conversion. C.S. Lewis regarded it as chronological snobbery when we don’t review our beliefs against the conclusions of others:

“Most of all, perhaps, we need intimate knowledge of the past. Not that the past has any magic about it, but because we cannot study the future, and yet need something to set against the present, to remind us that the basic assumptions have been quite different in different periods and that much which seems certain to the uneducated is merely temporary fashion. A man who has lived in many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village; the scholar has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of his own age.” (Learning in Wartime, 1939)

While most do this unknowingly, evangelicals are skewing church auditoriums all over the world from a clear picture of conversion with a nonsensical practice.

Stephen Francis Staten

stephenfstaten@gmail.com

This article is an overview of an ongoing research project.

 

Concise Bibliography

Murray, Iain, The Invitation System, Great Britian, Hunt Barnard & Co, booklet.

Nevin, John W., The Anxious Bench (upd), New York: Garland, 1892, 1977.

Gritsch, Eric, Born Againism: Perspectives on a Movement, Philadelphia: Fortress, 1982.

Torrey, R.A., How To Bring Men to Christ. New York: Fleming H. Revell. 1893-1910.

Toon, Peter, Born Again: A Biblical & Theological Study of Regeneration, Grand Rapids, Baker, 1987.

McLendom, H. R., The Mourner’s Bench, Southern Baptists Theological Seminary, 1902.

Flavel, John, Christ Knocking At The Door of Sinner’s Hearts, New York: American Tract Society, 1689.

Brooks, Oscar S., The Drama of Decision, Hendrickson: Peabody, 1987.

Graham, Billy, How to Be Born Again, Waco: Word, 1977.

Webb, John, Christ’s Suit To The Sinner, Early American Imprint Series. 

Morris, George E., The Mystery and Meaning of Christian Conversion, Nashville: World Methodist Council, 1981.

Photo Credits

Praying Hands by Albrecht Dürer, public domain

John Wesley open-air preaching by http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/obf_images/32/1b/2cc571d981947dadf12de2ffd110.jpgGallery: http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/image/V0006868.html, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36424508;

Cane Ridge Meeting House, By Chris Light (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ACane_Ridge_Meeting_House_P6200054.JPG

Billy Sunday, 1908, "Who Will Lead The Way?" By C. U. Williams (Joyce Images) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Billy Graham, April 11, 1966, By Warren K. Leffler [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Billy Graham crusade crowd in Duisburg, Germany, 21 June 1954, Bundesarchiv, Bild 194-0798-24 / Lachmann, Hans / CC-BY-SA 3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons from Wikimedia Commons

Teaching the Importance of Women Teaching Women

The following transcription is part of a lesson entitled, "Maturing Our Churches -- Lord, Teach Us," taught on Thursday, July 7, 2016, at the Reach Summit in St. Louis, Missouri, USA. You can listen to the audio recording of this lesson here. (Please note that a small subscription fee to DTV is required to access the lesson.)

Kay McKean -- Sterling, Virginia, USA 

 

I’m so thankful for this opportunity to speak because women need to teach, too; and women need to hear women teach.
There is a big difference between men and women. There’s a difference in how we hear things, in what we want to hear about. Women understand each other. Women understand, (for example) that crying can be fun. Women understand -- going to the bathroom in groups. Women understand --  sometimes you just have to drive to another gas station because this one is just "too icky!"
Women need a little bit of help to be happy. It’s kind of easy for men to be happy: they have one mood, all the time. For men, wrinkles add character; a five-day vacation requires only one suitcase. Men can do their nails with a pocket knife; and men have freedom of choice concerning growing a moustache.
Women know that any conversation with women will eventually lead to something about menopause, childbirth, or the monthlies – it will just go there. 
So we need to hear from women; and women need to teach.
Teaching others is the greatest act of optimism that we can do. When you teach, you learn twice.
I am grateful for the men in our fellowship who are providing opportunities for women to teach women. I am grateful for the brothers on the Teachers Service Team who have welcomed the women’s input, who want to hear the women’s voices, want to hear the female perspective. I am thankful for my husband, Randy McKean, who always wants to provide an opportunity for the women to teach. He’s always saying, "the women need to teach the women."  I hope that brothers across the fellowship will realize that it takes planning, creativity, sometimes it takes money, to allow the women to teach.  
Jesus knew that women want to be taught. In Luke, chapter ten, when Jesus is teaching Mary, it says, “Mary sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.” She took a disciple’s posture to the rabbi, sitting at his feet, I’m sure in that conversation Jesus wasn’t just talking about female topics, he was talking about devotion to God, how to live their lives. 
In John 4,  Jesus engaged in a religious debate with the Samaritan woman, and then that woman went off and she asked a question, which I think sometimes we overlook.  She told the people in the village, “Could this be the Christ?” That indicates to me that she had an understanding, a learning, of what the Messiah was going to be like, and she wanted to talk to other people about it.
In Luke 24 at the resurrection, when the angels said to the women, “Remember how he told you that he would be killed;” if you look at the context of when Jesus had said that,  it was in the context of teaching a lot of things. I think it’s important to understand that women teaching other women shouldn’t just be about female-oriented things; it’s deeper, it’s theological. We want to learn, we want to study. 
It helps us to learn from other women. We love hearing the men, we’ll never stop loving hearing the men; we also need to hear from one of our own.
1 Peter 4:8 reads, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” I am not sharing this scripture for this reason, but since I just read it, Randy and I just wrote a book called Radical Love. You can find out more about it here. 
In this scripture, 1 Peter 4:8 (NIV), it goes on to say, “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” The point I want to talk about today is the fact that when we teach, the women who do teach, we need to give it our very best, give it our very heart, we need to know that we are teaching something so wonderful, we have this opportunity to share the best news in the world and we need to do it well.
We need to speak it clearly: Colossians 4:4. We often talk about speaking boldly,  but Paul also said “clearly,” and that requires planning and foresight, study and research, looking things up and really digging deep, so that we can provide for the women something more than a clever little three-point alliteration of something. Women want something deep, they need it, they’re hungry for it and they want it.
There was a period of time when I was in a particular church,  attending midweeks. I wasn’t in the full-time ministry at the time, I was working (a secular job),  attending midweeks.  You go home, you try to fix dinner, you go to midweek,  and it’s -- blah. Somebody threw something together at the last minute. And I remember feeling: I wanna be fed! I need something, I need God’s word tonight, I’ve been beat up by the world, I need to be built up by God’s  word! And I thought, if I ever get the opportunity to teach again, I’m gonna learn from this. I’m going to know that, in my little church, when the  women come together, they have been fighting traffic, they have been working at a hard job, they run home, they feed their kids, they grab them into the car, they get to church — I don’t want them to come and not be fed and given to, I want them to know it’s worth it!
I also want to expect a little bit of them too: I want them to learn something. My own personal opinion:I love the fact that we have technology. I love seeing the scriptures up on the screen, but I love seeing people say, “Oh, he said 1 Timothy, let me turn there.” It can be a paper Bible, an electronic Bible, an iPad, iPod or whatever, but people need to look at it, they need to turn to it, they need to know where in the world is 1st Timothy. They don’t do that if we just flash scriptures up on the screen and don’t give them time. I want to follow along, that’s what really appealed to me as a young Christian.  I was thinking, “I can learn this.” We used to sit there with our Bibles and our notebooks, we were engaged!” Just my opinion. 
There’s a song I love: “I love to tell the story of unseen things above, of Jesus and his glory, of Jesus and his love; I love to tell the story, for those who know it best seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest.” I love to tell the story. Can I just ask that we remember, when we tell the story, it’s good news? Sometimes the way we tell the story is -- blaaaahhhhh! We need to lift people up when we speak to them, and help them to know it’s good news. 
Here are some examples of a few of the curriculum pieces that I’ve developed over the years.  I’ve done studies on:

  • Genesis , chapter by chapter 
  • Esther 
  • Questions that Jesus asked. a whole year of studying the questions that Jesus asked people, and talking about how those are questions to us as well 
  • I’ve done studies on women of the Bible (It would be really great for the men one day to do a study on the women of the Bible) 
  • For a whole year in our church we had a theme of “Believe;” and so for the women’s classes we spelled our the word “Believer.”  B was for Beginning; E was Enmity; L was for Land, I was for Instruction; E was for Entrance; V (we did several classes) on villains and heroes (the books of Judges and Kings); E stood for Exile and R for return, we went through the whole Old Testament in a year. It was a great deeper study. 
  • I’m doing a series on “I’m Possible” right now.

I hope that you agree and appreciate the need for women to teach, to find the opportunities, to make it good. 
I love teaching.  I don’t think I’m the most scholarly or anything; I always say I go to the Teachers’ meetings —  I don’t have any letters after my name.   I’ve just been reading the Bible a long time, that’s all I can say.
There’s a legendary cellist named Pablo Casals, who was asked, when he was 90 years old,  why do you keep practicing day after day, you’re 90 years old! His response was, “because I think I’m making progress.” And that’s how I feel about teaching. I keep doing it, I think I’m making progress, but I have a long way to go.   
Thanks. 

Including the Context of Redemptive Grace in our Teaching and Preaching

The following transcription is part of a lesson entitled, "Maturing Our Churches -- Lord, Teach Us," taught on Thursday, July 7, 2016, at the Reach Summit in St. Louis, Missouri, USA. You can listen to the audio recording of this lesson here. (Please note that a small subscription fee to DTV is required to access the lesson.)

Ed Anton -- Hampton Roads, Virginia, USA 

Ed and Deb Anton

Ed and Deb Anton


I come to you from a perspective, really, chiefly, as an evangelist, as a church leader. A lot of times I find myself incidentally in the Teaching Ministry. We all teach, whether we’re leading a Bible talk or putting on an MTA (Ministry Training Academy) or similar event.  We all do teach in some way or another.
More importantly than just teaching, the big picture is that we want to see the church grow up into the full stature of Christ. This is massive, and we have an amazing opportunity to take the church from an adolescent phase, in some cases, to a bullet-proof, rock-solid maturity where we can stand, and not just stand, but make a stand, to really change the world. 
In Colossians 1: 3 (ESV) Paul writes, “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints,  because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel…”
We can hear the word “gospel” and it can kind of just fall off of us, with familiarity, and the contempt that comes from familiarity. But every time we hear “gospel,” we should be blown away that we get to have the gospel! It’s the most counterintuitive construct of religion that has ever existed under heaven, and we’ve got it! There is no other approach to man and God that is an approach of a covenant of grace, and that’s the good news, that’s the gospel: that we’re saved not by works, we’re saved by love. Because God loved us, and intervened and disrupted and interrupted, before anything that we could have done that was wondrous or Spirit-filled, we, in our depravity, were saved by love. And not only that, he arranged time and space so that our eyes could be flung open and we could even see how it is that he saved us by love, and ultimately be brought to a place where we surrender over completely to that, and live forever in that covenant.


We’re pretty good as a movement – as a matter of fact, I would say that we are phenomenal as a movement -- at being able to help people appreciate how big grace is, as they come to the waters of baptism. Nobody, nobody can touch it. Do you think that somebody who has this kind of little-surfacey-altar-call has actually instilled the beauty of love and the beauty of grace and the beauty of debt-free living by just -- “Come forward??” Thoughtlessly, in some cases, or only with emotion? But we, unlike any other great pursuit of Christianity right now, we really do understand, as the woman in Luke 7 understood: she who has been forgiven little loves little, but she or he who has been forgiven much loves much. And when we are forgiven, my goodness, we get it!
I was having a discussion with a group of  very mature brothers the other morning, and we were in Hebrews 9, where there is this beautiful passage that talks about how, in the Old Covenant, the blood of bulls and heifers could not cleanse the conscience; but it did actually cleanse from the outward manifestation of sin. But in the New Covenant, we are cleansed not only from unintentional sin, but from sins that lead to death. That’s the difference in Hebrews 9 there: not only does it cleanse our debt, but also cleanses us from sins that lead to death. By the way, in the Old Covenant, do you know what the recourse was, if you committed an intentional sin? Death. Or Goodbye from Community.
But we actually have the mechanism through grace, by which, not only is our debt forgiven, but our consciences are clean. Why? It says, so that we may serve the living God. So we grow up in that kind of maturity, we head into baptism with that kind of maturity, realizing we have been saved by love -- and boy, have we been saved, and how much it is that we have been saved by!
I asked the brothers at this breakfast, “Do you have any conscious issues that hold you back from serving God from sins that you committed prior to your baptism?” And one after another with an honest take, they said, I do not. I said, that’s terrific. How about sins that you committed after baptism? and everyone said,  “Oh I do. Over the top. I even wonder if I should even be at this breakfast right now having a discussion with you guys.” 
So something is happening with our maturity. My goodness, we come out of the gate great! Our “K-through-Eight” education in the Kingdom of God, we got it going on! But when you get to the secondary school level, then something happens, the wheels fall off the cart. We have not been able to appreciate the power of grace after baptism.
I think one of the things that’s helpful for us to realize too, If we’re going to be brought from “Immature” to “I Mature,” is the idea that Christ died for my sins (Romans 4:25) but he was raised -- for what? 
He was raised for my justification.
He died for my sins, but was raised for my justification. 
There’s two really amazing things that happen (among many others) when you are regenerated in Christ. When you are baptized, not only are your sins credited to Christ, but his righteousness is then credited to you. Not just credited to you, but then, through the Holy Spirit, the ability to attain to that righteousness, and not just to claim it as a legal standard, but actually to grow into and live out that righteousness, is given to you as well. You come out of that baptism not just-as-if-I’d-never-sinned, but you come out of that baptism, really regarded in the heavenly realms, just-as-if-I’d healed the leper; fed the 4000; fed the 5000; raised the widow of Nain’s son, so she could have life and family again; just-as-if -I’d brought Lazarus back; just-as-if-I’d lifted the woman bent over for all of those years; just-as-if-I’d…!
Jesus came as a man and lived an entire life of street-cred righteousness, not for no reason -- he was even baptized – why? To fulfill all righteousness. Why? Because he was bundling all of that up and giving it to you. As you rise up. But most of us, we walk out of our baptism thinking: “Yes! I’m a blank slate! I’m a vacuum! Yes! I have nothing on my record whatsoever!” 
But you do. You have the righteous record of Jesus and the Spirit that will only accelerate that in your life. But when we don’t recognize the addition portion of grace and only the subtraction portion of grace, it’s very easy to remain rather immature. So what we’ve been trying to do is, in this past year, really help in everything we do, whether it’s a quiet time or a discipleship time, a devotional, or in some public discourse of preaching and teaching, to bring home the gospel of grace. Going on here in Col 1:6, it says, this gospel  “which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth.” (ESV)
Now I know we say this all the time, “Oh I don’t get grace, in the church we don’t get grace.” I really think we can nail this thing. I think that we are in such a great position as a body of Christ to be able to take grace and to see it turbo-charged, not only for the benefit of our maturity but also our spread of the good news as well. 
Why?  because other churches, or families of churches,  that may go after grace, they’ve never actually gotten obedience. We already have that down: “What’s the Bible say? I’m getting after it, halleluia, amen, I love it, it’s clear, I’m getting it, and I’m fired up about it, 
And yeah, on some bad days I may feel dutiful;  but if it’s obedience, I’m getting after it.”

Do you realize how rare that is?? But that is our culture! Yes! the blessings of obedience! Yes, the clarity of what we need to do with the word of God! Now what if we poured gasoline on that, and created a fire with the grace of God burning within us?

Here’s, sadly, what I’ve neglected in all of my Biblical exegesis teaching, expository preaching, and teaching.  I have completely neglected the redemptive or the grace context of the Bible. What do I mean by that:  Do we not believe that this whole Bible is orchestrated together, just right, by God? Do we not? Do we not realize that all of it is fitting together and all of it tells a vital story? And that story is: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back and they live happily ever after. There is an epic narrative that is the story of God and you. Creation, fall, redemption, restoration. Fall, redemption, restoration – restoration, of course, being the consummation of all things. 
Here is what I have neglected as I have tried to teach the Bible in probably the last 15 to 18 years: as I teach context, context, context, over and over again, as I teach, how to read the Bible, context, context, context, and my context is historical: what was the historical setting, who was writing to whom, where did they live, what was going on, was there idolatry, was there pagan religion, what was the situation that was there? Learn it,  bring it to life, make it memorable, let the movie of your mind play as you hear what it was that they heard, as they listened to Jesus at his feet, or as they received the letter from Paul in their fellowship -- what must that have been like? I felt like I was pretty good at that.  I knew where to go and to get the resources and really bring it to life. 
And then the literary context as well: why this, why here, how does it flow in the bigger story, what is going on, how does it connect, to see some of the really cool connections within the flow of that book or argument or psalm, or song,  how does this help us to understand the greater whole? 
But that’s where it stopped. And for anyone who would then go and walk back and try to look at the redemptive context, I was critical of those people. I was thinking they were freewheeling it a little bit too much. Just get in the text, stay in the text, trust the text, and that’ll do the trick. 
But that was my own definition of what it meant to “be in the text, stay in the text.” To “be in the text and stay in the text” is to look at the full text. It’s to look at the whole story, the full story of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back and ultimately they live happily ever after. 
There may be things in the Old Testament that may not look at all like grace or like “boy gets girl back” or “they live happily every after.” You may not see any of that there. But when you watch a romantic comedy and you watch it a couple of times, and then you see the bone-headed move by that guy, and how he pocket-dialed the girl --  all it is showing is the fallen nature of that relationship. Knowing what’s going to happen later, it helps you appreciate, despite that bone-head move, that there’s still going to be the white picket fence, the happily ever after. Despite that call that he made and left on her answering machine. That’s what the Bible is for us, it’s not just a one-act play. We need to look at it in its totality. If we take our eyes off that, we’re going to stop marveling. We’ll end up looking at the little story, and you know what we’ll have? All we’ll have is: “You need to be careful that you don’t dial somebody in the middle of the night.”  And then the lesson becomes a moralizing lesson. “You need to put up better boundaries, you need to fix your phone, You need to be more diligent about not calling in the middle of the night.” But that’s not the gospel of grace. And if that’s all that we preach – “Don’t call in the middle of the night, be like Joseph, be like David,” wihout looking at the full context, then all we’re doing is what’s called “moralizing.” We’re putting together a moral tale, and what we’re saying, is, if you try harder, if you do better, then I’m going to approve of you better, and so is Jesus. 
“Ding!” 
And subtly, when we do it, then I do it in my quiet times as well, and in my discipleship times. I think, here’s a great scripture. Now try harder. Here’s another great scripture, now try harder. If that’s what it’s going to be, we’re going to be forever young. And that’s not a good thing. We’re going to be the Peter Pan church of Christ. But I believe, as we can start to be able to appreciate the fullness of the redemptive context, we can move from a gospel of grit -- “if I do good, then I’ll be worthy” – to a gospel of grace: “I am worthy, therefore I do good.”

Even the way Paul does it: if we’re looking at Ephesians, in Ephesians 1, 2, and 3, there is not a single command in all those chapters. No imperatives, almost all indicatives, and it’s all amazing. You’re chosen, you’re predestined, you’re Spirit-filled, you’re marked, you are adopted, you are redeemed, you’re his sons, you’re the ones he loves, you are his workmanship, you are his masterpiece; therefore -- and in Chapter Four is the pivot point -- therefore live a life worthy of the calling by which you’ve been called. “Live a life worthy of the calling to which you’ve been called” is in the context of,  “look at who you are, you have been redeemed, this is who you are in Christ.” Identity drives duty, duty doesn’t develop identity; and with that identity given to us, the more we can recognize this, we think, oh my goodness, this is who I am, what wouldn’t I do for Jesus? Oh my goodness, I want to run through a wall for Jesus! Knowing who I am right now, come on! Bring on the commands, bring on the clarity, I can’t wait to see it, I wanna go after it and live the life that I was always meant to live, knowing what it is that I have been made in Christ! And when that fire begins to burn, and we preach the gospel to ourselves, over and over and over again, every quiet time, every discipleship time, not leaving out the greater redemptive context in all that we do…[we will become mature].
One last thing I want to mention here: grace is an interesting concept, because you may think that there is much of Christendom that is better than you are at preaching grace. But let me level it. I don’t really think they are. And it’s not because I am chauvanistic in this, but because I really have tried to study this. And basically, the best that most of Christendom has done, to try to make grace more of a motivator, is to make grace a credit card with a higher limit. I think you can go ahead and test that – whatever sermon, book, whatever you want to look at. It is kind of a simplistic way of putting it, what it comes down to. In the first century, the people that would have heard “charis,” grace, they would have understood it as something very different [that what most of Christendom understands today]. As a matter of fact, “charis” – it’s like, today we say money makes the world go around. In the first century you would probably say, “charis” makes the world go around. Because “charis” is the idea that grace -- (when you get a chance, read through 2 Corinthians 8 and you’ll see all aspects of this) -- “charis” is not only the free gift, given from a benefactor to a beneficiary, but it’s more. 
This is the way it would have been understood through the ears of someone living in Corinth or Athens or Berea or wherever; it would not only be the gift given, but when you use the word grace, it would have been applied to the welling up in your heart of gratitude. That was also called “charis.” The reception of it and the gratitude was grace. 
But that’s not where it ended, there was another aspect of grace that was immediately part of the equation and could not be ripped away, and it was the immediate overwhelming desire, even beautiful obligation, to give in return. How can I give back in return, someway, somehow? How is it that can I do that? It creates a tighter and tighter bond of intimacy that gets ever deeper and strengthens the relationship between the two parties. It is, in the first century, in an honor-and-shame society, one of the great shames, to break that cycle of grace. And likewise for us. 
So grace actually has teeth, beautiful teeth – teeth that bring you -- or hooks, even -- that bring you to a place where you always wanted to be. It creates a wonderful obligation of intimacy and excitement. 
I recently had this as an experience. Deb and I had a van. It had 331,000 miles, it died, it was too bad, we were going to go down to one car. But then we had a brother in our ministry come to us and say that he was going to trade in a really nice car that he had, a big car (and we needed a big car) and he said, you know, instead of trading it in, I’m going to give it to you guys. We’re like, Aaaah! You know, you feel weird in those situations, you get weird, you get proud; but we decided: we’re going to kind of swallow deep and receive this gift. You know what it did to our relationship? It didn’t weird it out. My ears were always open to what encourages that family: Yes!! we found something that encourages them! Not like, ‘Ohhh, we gotta make the donuts…” It was like, Yes! We found something! Let’s do this! Let’s go by! Let’s do this! Let’s share! Let’s mention! And then to see the joy in their eyes as well; and then it created that dance of grace that only strengthens things again and again and again. If we can understand this, I think this is a component of grace that we’ll look forward to developing more over time. 
Let me just close with this idea, that if we’re going to go on to maturity, I’m not suggesting that we throw out any old hermeneutics or any old exegesis, I’m just saying let’s do the extra work, not just the historical or literary context. Do the extra work and really look at the redemptive context. Maybe this makes it more profound, how boy lost girl, and it makes you appreciate it what’s going to happen later when boy gets girl back. Or maybe it is actually a picture of them living happily ever after, and we paint that beautiful picture of Jesus’ return and what that’s going to be like for us, and with that identity, my goodness, what wouldn’t we want to do to be able to serve this great God! But if we don’t make this our culture, every quiet time, every discipleship time, every public discourse, then we are going to so easily fall into a pattern of performance. Not because it’s our church’s issue, but because it’s everybody’s issue. This is not unique to us. You didn’t get an A in Physics from your teacher on Day One, and then he said,  “Wow, I bet now that you know that that’s your identity, you’re really going to live up to it.” Nothing happens that way in the world! This is a rare, counter-intuitive thing, we have to really fight to be able to get to this place.

 

Salt

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Part 1 of 2
By Kay S. McKean -- Sterling, Virginia, USA


“The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears, or the sea.”
Isak Denison

salt-hand-food-white


     An old French folktale tells of a mighty king who adored his only daughter. The princess returned his love, and one day as they were dining together in the great hall, the princess declared: “I love you like salt!” The king was confused, and then angered by this statement. Salt is just a useless rock, he thought. It’s nothing important!  He felt so slighted by this statement that he banished the princess from his kingdom. She tearfully ran away, never to be seen again. Years later, the king was at war with the surrounding kingdoms, and his castle was besieged. He could not receive the supplies that he was reliant on, even the things that he did not know he needed, and one of those things was salt. Without it, the livestock and the people were sick and dying. Only then did he realize the value and depth of his daughter’s love. 
     When Jesus said, “Salt is good,” (Mark 9:50 NIV), he knew what he was talking about. Although we are bombarded with warnings about too much salt in our diet, it’s a mistake to assume that salt is bad. In fact, almost every part of the human body contains salt. Salt is a necessary component in the functioning of our cells. Without both water and salt, our cells cannot get nourishment and we would die of dehydration. Salt is sodium chloride (NaCl); chloride is essential for digestion and respiration, and sodium, which the body cannot manufacture by itself, causes the body to transport nutrients and oxygen. We lose salt from our bodies constantly through bodily functions, and it must be replaced in order for us to be in good health. Salt has been needed from ancient times to preserve foods, to provide flavor, and as an antiseptic to cleanse wounds. Throughout history, salt has played an important role in economics, politics, and medicine.
     Of course, in modern times so many of our processed foods contain too much sodium, and therefore salt has been given such a bad reputation. But from ancient times, both animals and humans knew they needed it. Many of the first trails that humans followed were made by animals looking for a “salt lick”. How they knew they needed it is a mystery. If a person is starving, they experience hunger and understand the need for food. But if someone is salt-deficient, they will get a headache and feel dizzy, while never really experiencing a “craving” for salt. 
     Today, salt is something that is so easy to obtain, so inexpensive and so common. We can easily forget that in Jesus’ time, it was one of the most sought after commodities. Unfortunately, like salt today, Christianity is often portrayed as common and cheap. But true Christianity is valuable, needed, and crucial for survival. Some people are yearning for that salt, but they don’t know why. They can’t figure out what’s causing that empty, longing feeling. If they don’t discover what they need, they will die. 
   

  “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” (Matthew 5:13 NIV) Knowing what we now know about salt in Jesus’ day, this scripture takes on greater significance. Christians are the salt of the earth. Salt is used as a preservative. So Christians have the same role: we are to protect ourselves and others from corruption that comes about by sinful forces in this world. Salt is used in flavoring. So Christians “spice things up” in this world, bringing flavor and savor to the world. Salt also produces thirst. Our presence in this world should make others thirst for Jesus. Without devotion to Jesus and dedication to live according to his word, we lose that saltiness. 
     In the context of Jesus’ approving statement about salt, we understand that he is not giving dietary advice. He is warning us about losing something so valuable that life can’t exist without it. While salt itself doesn’t change its character, it can be diluted and lose its saltiness. Satan works hard to dilute the knowledge and reverence for God, His son Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. It is our faith in Jesus, our devotion to Him and to His will that demonstrates the nature of God to our families and friends. WE ARE the salt of the earth. WE ARE what will change the world for the better. We must not lose that quality by diluting our saltiness! What good are we if we blend in to the world?
      “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Colossians 4:6 NIV) Can you imagine what life would be like if this was the goal of every conversation? Our speech should be full of grace, which implies that we are merciful and generous to each person we meet, and when we talk about others we haven’t met. But we also are told to “throw a little salt” into our talk. I take that to mean that I must say something that will make people just a little bit thirsty for something more. And of course, that something more is God.
     Interestingly, the Bible doesn’t say to make sure our conversations are seasoned with sugar. We are not on this earth just to be good, nice people, although of course we must be good and nice! We aren’t called to be the sugar of the world, but the salt of the earth!

 

 

References:
http://time.com/3957460/a-brief-history-of-salt/
https://www.britannica.com/science/salt
Mark Kurlansky, “Salt: A World History” Published by Penguin Books, 2003

Photos courtesy of www. pixabay.com. All pictures are released under Creative Commons CC0 into the public domain

Jesus and the Poor, Part One

Part One of a Three-Part Series 

Part One of a Three-Part Series 

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             Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you...” -- Matthew 26:11 (NIV).  Also in Deut. 15:11 we read, “There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore, I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.”

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            Therefore, it is a given that there will always be impoverished people in the world. A study from the Southern Baptist Convention states, “Nearly one billion people, almost one out of every four persons on earth live in a state of 'absolute poverty.' They are trapped in conditions so limited by illiteracy, malnutrition, disease, high infant mortality and low life expectancy as to be denied the very potential with which they are born. Almost 20 million people die each year of starvation or hunger related illnesses.”[1]

            But, why should we care? Why should we respond to the needs of the poor?

            There are many social movements around the world that respond to the needs of the poor. But we are Christians. We aren’t a social movement. So, why must we as Christians respond to the needs of the poor?

The question is not, “Why are there so many impoverished people?” (Although that’s a good question.) The question isn’t, “Why are the poor poor?” (Although that is a question worth considering.) The key to proper motivation is answering the question “Why?” Why should I respond to the needs of the poor in the world?

The short answer is—as Christians, we are to live as Jesus lived. In his life, Jesus responded to the needs of the poor. Therefore, we must “Go and do likewise.”

Where do the steps of Jesus lead?  They lead many places.  They lead to a lost world that needs saving.  They lead to young or weak Christians that need discipling.  They lead to families that need strengthening.  But there is one place where the steps of Jesus always lead—to the poor.  He stepped forward, stepped toward, and stepped up to meet the needs of the poor.  He stepped toward the sick, the hungry, the naked, those in prison and the dispossessed, the blind, the deaf, the demon-possessed, and those suffering from leprosy.  Jesus stepped toward the poor because he had a compassionate heart.  His heart shows us the heart of God.  He was a living picture of who God is—a compassionate and loving Father. 

Jerry Shirley, a Baptist minister, tells this story:  One day a little girl was drawing a picture, and even skipped recess because she was so focused upon it. Her teacher asked what she was doing and she said she was drawing a picture of God. “Oh honey, you can’t do that...no one knows what God looks like.” The little girl held up the picture and said, “They do now!”[2]

            That’s what Jesus does for us.  He draws us a picture of what God looks like.  He shows us who God is.  God is compassionate.  Jesus is compassionate.  Jesus ministered to the needs of people.  If we are following in his steps, we will minister to the needs of people as well.  That’s who Jesus was.  It’s who his people ought to be. 

 

             Let’s look at the beginning of the ministry of Jesus to get a picture of what his life and ministry were like.  Let’s read Matthew 4:12-25.   Verse 23 summarizes the ministry of Jesus.  Matthew writes, “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.”  The ministry of Jesus can be thought of as having three tiers or layers—teaching, preaching, and healing.  Think of it as a triangle.  Look again at Matthew 4:12-25, where all these elements are present:

"When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee.  Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali—  to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:

'Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,

the way to the sea, along the Jordan,

Galilee of the Gentiles—

the people living in darkness

have seen a great light;

on those living in the land of the shadow of death

a light has dawned.'

 From that time on Jesus began to preach, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.'

 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.  'Come, follow me,' Jesus said, 'and I will make you fishers of men.'  At once they left their nets and followed him.

Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them,  and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.  News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them.  Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him." -- Matthew 4:12-25 (NIV)

 

            Jesus took care of the whole person.  In the words of Matthew, Jesus met the needs of  “all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed.”  Jesus healed the hurts of people.  That was who he was.  He was compassionate and loving.  He touched lepers, restored sight to the blind, caused the lame to walk, brought the sick back to health, freed the demon-possessed, allowed the deaf to hear. Whole towns showed up at his doorstep.  People came from miles and miles to know and experience his compassionate touch.  The hurting cried out when Jesus walked by to make sure they got his attention.  He healed hurts.  Jesus is known as the great Physician for a reason. 

            Jesus went out “teaching, preaching, and healing.”  These were the three aspects to his ministry.  We can’t neglect any one of these aspects of the ministry of Jesus today. 


[1] “Issues and Answers: Hunger” (Nashville: The Christian Life Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, n.d.), p.1

[2]  “How Big Is Your God?” Jerry Shirley,  accessed October 12, 2016, http://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/how-big-is-your-god-jerry-shirley-sermon-on-commandments-idols-124460.asp

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Jesus and the Poor, Part Two

Part Two of a Three-Part Series 

Part Two of a Three-Part Series 

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            What does Jesus have to say about our response to the poor? Consider the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37.  Please take a moment and read the parable.

            This is one of my favorite stories in the Bible.  It has influenced the world so much that when you say someone is a “Good Samaritan,” everyone knows what you mean.  That’s a person who goes out of his or her way to help someone they don’t even know.  Wouldn’t it be great if the word “Christian” were held in such high esteem as the phrase “Good Samaritan!”  Christians and “Good Samaritan” should be synonymous because both should mean, “we love our neighbor as ourselves.” 

            This old Jericho road still exists today.  One day, my wife Leigh and I took the kids and another couple and we had a devotional there, reenacting the story of the Good Samaritan.  My kids wanted to be the robbers and not the Good Samaritan.  I should have known we were in for trouble at that point.  Thanks to God’s grace, they are both trying to be Good Samaritans today.    

            Jesus commands us to love our neighbor.  That is a direct command.  To justify himself, the lawyer in the parable asks, “Okay, Jesus, but who is my neighbor?”  Does it sound a bit like some of us who ask, “Now who exactly are the poor?  Are they the poor in the church or those outside it?  Who am I obligated to help?”  Jesus shows what it means to love our neighbor.  To love our neighbor means to help those who are in need and to step outside nationalistic, religious, ethnic, social, cultural borders to do so.  To love your neighbor means you step up to meet needs. 

            The priest and the Levite are callous to the needs of the injured man.  They step back, step around, and step away from him.  They don’t step where Jesus would have stepped.  Here’s the “Aha” moment of the story—a Samaritan loves his neighbor.  Someone outside the covenant community demonstrates the love of Jesus, while those in the covenant community are hard-hearted and callous. 

            The priest and the Levite literally turned away from their own flesh and blood.  They stepped back, stepped around, and stepped away from the man who was hurting.  A Samaritan was the neighbor who loved.  And at the end of the discussion is the directive of Jesus.  “Go and do likewise.”

            The priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan each had the capacity and means to help the needy man. Each had the opportunity to help.  What was the difference between the religious leaders and the Samaritan?  Heart and action.   On the one side we have callousness, apathy, and coldness.  On the other, compassion, care, and concern. On the one side, inaction. Stepping back, stepping away, stepping over, and stepping around. On the other side, action. Stepping toward, stepping forward, and stepping up.  Stepping in the steps of Jesus.  Jesus extols the Good Samaritan and commands his disciples to imitate him saying, "Go and do likewise."

            “Go and do likewise.”  That is the teaching of Jesus on meeting the needs of the needy.  “Go and do.”  Which will you be -- the priest, the Levite, or the Good Samaritan?  Which will we be as the church -- the priest, the Levite, or the Good Samaritan?  Will we step back, step away, step around, and step over the poor, the needy, and the hurting?  Or, will we step up, step forward, step toward those who need our help?  Will we walk in the steps of Jesus?  The steps of Jesus lead to the sick, the blind, the crippled, the leprous, the demon-possessed, and the poor.  Jesus stepped up, stepped forward, and stepped toward those in poverty. 

            We must evangelize the world. We must strengthen, teach, and disciple our churches.  We must minister to the needs of the poor.  None of these are optional.

            Allow the words of Jesus at the conclusion of the Good Samaritan to ring in your ears, “Go and do likewise.”  “Go and do likewise.”

 

 

 


Jesus and the Poor, Part Three

Final Installment of a Three-part Series 

Final Installment of a Three-part Series 

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            Some have stated that they fear that if we emphasize the healing ministry of Jesus too much, then we will lose our focus on evangelism.  If we give too much of our resources to help the poor, then we won’t have enough to evangelize the world.  But Jesus did both.  He is our model.  We are to walk in his steps.  God has the resources for us to evangelize the world and to help the poor.  Psalm 50:11 says the whole world is God’s and everything in it. 

            I have a different fear.  I fear the greed and materialism of our Western world crushing our compassion for the poor and the lost.  I fear us becoming a big, fat, greedy, materialistic institutionalized denomination that has stopped practicing the compassion and love of Jesus because we are disconnected from the poor, the starving, the sick, the naked, the uneducated, and the dying, hundreds of thousands of people on this planet that we step over, step away from, and step around each day, instead of allowing our hearts to be moved by their situation and stepping up to help them.  That’s what I fear.

            I fear the “American Dream,” that says we are entitled to enjoy our wealth while others fight to survive on nothing.  The “American Dream” might be our worst nightmare.  I fear us getting so enamored with nice things that we lose sight of the millions and millions of people who have no-thing.  Jesus never challenged us to fear helping the poor, but he did challenge us to be aware the deceitfulness of wealth.  Perhaps if we would get back into the Bible and be a people of the Book then we would learn what we ought to be afraid of -- namely, materialism, the love of money, the deceitfulness of wealth, the hoarding up of possessions, and greed, which is idolatry.  Helping the poor, seeing the faces of the poor, caring for the poor, will remind us of those materialistic evils that can destroy our hearts and cost us our souls.   

            There is always the potential to drift away from the teaching of Scripture. I get that.  That’s why we have to constantly go back to the Word and check what we are doing with the Word.  It’s always safe to take it back to the Bible.  It’s always safe to take it back to Jesus.  What would Jesus do?  Where do the steps of Jesus lead?  As I get older, all I want to do is to learn more and more to be and act like Jesus.  I want to sit at his feet and learn from him.  I love the gospels and spend most of my time in the gospels.  I want to be with Jesus, not just in the hereafter, but in the here and now. 

            If I want to walk in the steps of Jesus, his steps lead to the poor. His steps don’t lead around the poor or away from poor. They lead directly to the poor. Jesus went preaching, teaching, and healing. We need to embrace the healing ministry of Jesus and do our part to go and live as Jesus lived.