Monday, October 22, 2007

Justification: an eschatological blessing

As most of you know, I have been studying the doctrine of justification recently. I began studying it in response to a recent stir generated by John Piper's new book The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright.

The more I've read about justification the more I realize how deep the rabbit hole goes. Justification has of course been a central doctrine of debate and research since the Protestant Reformation. As such there have been incredible number of books, articles, blog posts, etc., written from innumerable paradigms and perspectives regarding this doctrine. I feel like I've read most of them, but I know I have just scratched the surface. Despite the daunting nature of this task I actually feel like I've made good progress.

George Ladd and Ardel Caneday have been the most helpful because they have alerted me to the eschatological nature of justification - something about which I was completely unaware previously. This, of course, is not without controversy but I feel it is one point upon which the debate turns and therefore important to discuss.

In my mind one cannot understand justification without first understanding eschatology.

Eschatology comes from the Greek eschaton which means something like last things. Therefore eschatology is the study of the "last things." However, this this can be somewhat misleading because the "last things" aren't things like "the rapture" or the "second coming" as some may think. Rather the "last things" are things like "salvation," "redemption," and "the Holy Spirit." In other words, eschatology deals with ideas that we routinely discuss and are important to our day-to-day lives.

The reason we talk about "last things" right now is because of Jesus Christ. Jesus was an eschatological Messiah inaugurating an eschatological Kingdom meant to deliver an eschatological salvation. To explain this statement I must to introduce George Ladd.

For Ladd, eschatology is a central, unifying paradigm. If I understand him correctly, he sees it as the lens through which the Biblical writers viewed the world, and his arguments are so compelling I find it hard to disagree. His argument is wrapped around the "Kingdom of God" which was so loudly proclaimed in the Gospels. For Ladd, "the Kingdom" was synonymous not with a physical or political kingdom (although it has implications for such kingdoms) but rather the sovereign rule of God in Christ. It was the object of Old Testament promises. The reason that "the Kingdom" can be described as eschatological is because its arrival marked the end of "this age" and the beginning of "the age to come" during which all of God's covenant promises would be fulfilled (e.g. the wicked would be judged and God's people would be vindicated). Hear Ladd in his own words from his A Theology of the New Testament:

...the framework of Paul's entire theological thought is that of apocalyptic dualism of this age and the Age to Come. It is clear that this was no Pauline creation, for we find it emerging in Judaism in the first century; and the Synoptics represent it as providing the basic structure for Jesus' teachings.

However, we have seen that Paul as a Christian made a radical modification in this temporal dualism. Because of what God has done in Jesus' historic mission, the contrast between the two ages does not remain in tact. On the contrary, the redemptive blessings brought to humankind by Jesus' death and resurrection and the giving of the Holy spirit are eschatological events. This means that the Pauline eschatology is inseparable from Paul's theological thought as a whole.

The events of the eschatological consummation are not merely detached events lying in the future about which Paul speculates. They are rather redemptive events that have already begun to unfold within history. The blessings of the Age to Come no longer lie exclusively in the future; they have become objects of present experience. The death of Christ is an eschatological event. Because of Christ's death, the justified person stands already on the age-to-come side of the eschatological judgment, acquittal of all guilt. By virtue of the death of Christ, the believer has already been delivered from this present evil age (Gal. 1:4). He or she has been transferred from the rule of darkness and now knows the live of the Kingdom of Christ (Col. 1:13). In his cross, Christ has already defeated the powers of evil that have brought chaos into the world (Col. 2:14f).

The resurrection of Christ is an eschatological event. The first act of the eschatological resurrection has been separated from the eschatological consummation and has taken place in history. Christ has already abolished death and displayed the life and immortality of the Age to Come in an event that occurred within history (2 Tim. 1:10). Thus the light and the glory that belong to the Age to Come have already shone in this dark world in the person of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6).

Because of these eschatological events, the believer lives the life of the new age. The very phrase describing the status of the believer, "in Christ," is an eschatological term. To be "in Christ" means to be in the new age and to experience its life and powers. "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come" (2 Cor. 5:17). Believers have already experienced death and resurrection (Rom. 6:3-4). They have even been raised with Christ and exalted to heaven (Eph. 2:6), sharing the resurrection and ascension life in their Lord...

...the new life of believers is an ambiguous experience, for they still live in the old age. They have been delivered from its power, yet they must still live out their lives in this age, although they are not to be conformed to its life but are to experience the renewing powers of the new age (Rom. 12:1-2)...

Therefore the transition from the sin and death of the old age to the life of the new age is as yet only partial, although it is real. All that the new age means cannot be experienced in the old age. It must pass away and give place to the Kingdom of God in the Age to Come when all that is mortal is swallowed up in life (2 Cor. 5:4). Thus believers live in a tension of experienced and anticipated eschatology. They are already in the Kingdom of Christ (Col. 1:13), but they await the coming of the the Kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:50). They have already experienced the new life (2 Cor. 2:16), but they look forward to the inheritance of eternal life (Gal. 6:8). They have already been saved (Eph. 2:5), but they are still awaiting their salvation (Rom. 13:11). They have been raised into newness of life (Rom. 6:4), yet they long for the resurrection (2 Cor. 5:4).

I think it's safe to say that we live in an "already-but-not-yet" eschatological age. The time between Jesus' inauguration of the Kingdom and its final consummation when He returns once more.

With that broad introduction to eschatology out of the way let us focus on "justification" and its place in the eschatological puzzle. Here's more from Ladd:

One of the most important facts that will provide an understanding of the Pauline doctrine is that justification is an eschatological doctrine. We have seen that in Judaism people will be judged according to their works in the last judgment. God is the righteous lawgiver and judge; and it is only in the final judgment when God will render a judicial verdict upon each person that the individual's righteousness or unrighteousness will be finally determined. Only God, who has set the norm for human conduct, can determine whether a person has met that norm and is therefore righteous. The issue of the final judgment will either be a declaration of righteousness that will mean acquittal from all guilt, or a conviction of unrighteousness and subsequent condemnation. The essential meaning of justification, therefore, is forensic and involves acquittal by the righteous judge.

This eschatological significance of justification is seen in several uses of the word dikaioo. When Paul says, 'Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies; who is to condemn?' (Rom. 8:33,34), he is looking forward to the final judgment when God's verdict of acquittal cannot be set aside by anyone who would bring an accusation that might result in condemnation. When we read that it is not the hearers of the Law who in God's sight are righteous by only the doers of the Law who will be justified, we must look forward to the day of judgment when God will issue a verdict on the conduct of humankind in terms of obedience or disobedience to the Law (Rom. 2:13). The temporal orientation of he words 'by one man's obedience many will be made righteous' (Rom 5:19) is the future judgment when God will pronounce the verdict of righteousness on the many. The 'hope of righteousness' for which we wait is the judicial pronouncement of righteousness, i.e., the expectation of acquittal in the day of judgment (Gal. 5:5).


In the eschatological understanding of justification, as well as in its forensic aspect, the Pauline doctrine agrees with that of contemporary Jewish thought. However, there are several points at which the Pauline teaching is radically different from the Jewish concept; and one of the essential differences is that the future eschatological justification has already taken place. "Since therefore we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God" (Rom. 5:9). "Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God" (Rom 5:1). "You were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 6:11). In these instances the verb is in the aorist tense, expressing an act that has been accomplished. Through faith in Christ, on the ground of his shed blood, people have already been justified, acquitted of the guilt of sin, and therefore are delivered from condemnation. Here again we find a further illustration of the modification of he antithetical eschatological structure of biblical thought. Justification, which primarily means acquittal at the final judgment, has already taken place in the present. The eschatological judgment is no longer alone future; it has become a verdict in history. Justification, which belongs to the Age to Come and issues in the future salvation, has become a present reality inasmuch as the Age to Come has reached back into the present evil age to bring its soteric blessings to human beings. An essential element in salvation of the future age is the divine acquittal and the pronouncement of righteousness; this acquittal, justification, which consists of the divine absolution of sin, has already been affected by the death of Christ and may be received by faith here and now. The future judgment has thus become essentially a present experience. God in Christ has acquitted the believer; therefore he or she is certain of deliverance from the wrath of God (Rom 5:9) and no longer stands under condemnation (Rom. 8:1).

...Justification is one of the blessings of the inbreaking of the new age into the old. In Christ the future has become present; the eschatological judgment has in effect already taken place in history. As the eschatological Kingdom of God is present in history in the Synoptics, as the eschatological eternal life is present in Christ in John, as the eschatological resurrection has already begun in Jesus' resurrection, as the eschatological judgment has already occurred in principle in Christ, and God has acquitted his people.

Here Ladd describes the eschatological nature of justification and its "already" aspect. To discuss the "not yet" aspect I will interject thoughts from Ardel Caneday. Ardel and Tom Schreiner wrote The Race Set Before Us which is about perseverance (which includes justification). Ardel maintains a blog on which he posts articles related to topics he has covered in the book. Over a year ago now he began a series of posts (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 - be sure to read the comments too!) on the "now and not yet" aspect of justification (i.e. its eschatological nature). I will cut/paste the best from the series (which is quite a lot).

From Caneday's second post in his series:

Paul solemnly avows that when God judges, he will reward everyone according to their deeds.

To those who by persevering in a good work seek glory and honor and incorruptibility, he will give eternal life. But upon those who act out of selfish ambition and who disobey the truth and instead submit to unrighteousness, he will inflict wrath and anger. There will be tribulation and distress for every person who does what is evil, both the Jew first and also the Greek, but there will be glory and honor and peace to everyone who accomplishes what is good, both to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God (Rom 2:7-11).

Using two sets of designations–"eternal life" and "glory and honor and peace"–Paul affirms twice in this passage that God will reward perseverance in good deeds with "salvation." This causes no small dilemma for interpreters who want to avoid the notion that the apostle contradicts his own clear statement that "no flesh will be justified by the works of the law" (Rom 3:20). However, the dilemma is in the eye of the reader, for Paul plainly affirms that the principle of God’s impartial judgment is integral to his gospel, for he speaks of "the day when, according to my gospel, God shall judge the secrets of humans, through Christ Jesus" (Rom 2:16). So, "judgment according to one’s deeds" is not alien to his gospel but an essential element of it. Paul echoes the principle of Ezekiel 18, for both the apostle and the prophet insist that God is an impartial judge who will render his judgment in keeping with one’s deeds. Paul confronts the same problem Ezekiel faced: Israelites who possess the Law but fail to obey the Law. This is what Paul denounces in Romans 2. But in the midst of his prosecution of disobedient possessors of the Law, he reaffirms God’s thoroughly impartial principle of justice that holds out hope for all who do the things the Law requires, because "not the hearers of the Law are righteous before God, but the doers of the Law shall be declared righteous" (Rom 2:13). This is not a fictional offer that no one attains, nor is this salvation based upon one’s own works. Though it is true that he speaks of judgment and justification, here Paul is not speaking of the legal basis or ground of justification, for the basis is the obedience of Christ alone (Rom 5:12-19). Rather, he speaks of the kind of person whom God will justify in the Day of Judgment. It is the obedient, not the disobedient person. It is the doers of the Law, not the possessors of the Law. Who are these "doers of the Law"? At the close of chapter two Paul explains their identity. They are people who, though they may not even have the Law, do the things the Law requires. They are ones who, though perhaps not circumcised in the flesh, have hearts circumcised by the Spirit of God. Therefore, Paul succinctly summarizes his argument of Romans 2 by reiterating the principle of his gospel that the true Jew is not one who possesses the Law and who is circumcised in the flesh; but the true Jew is one who keeps the requirements of the Law from a heart circumcised by the Spirit. This person "will receive praise from God," which is another way of saying "will be justified" (Rom 2:13) or "will be reckoned as circumcision" (Rom 2:26).

Therefore, since he indicts unfaithful Israelites for failing to keep the Law which they possess by privilege from God, and since Paul orients his discussion to the eschatological Day of Judgment, his primary concern is to answer one question: "Who will be justified?" Like the prophet in Ezekiel 18:21-23, the apostle Paul answers that one who will be justified in the heavenly courtroom of God is the person who does what God requires. The promise of eternal life is conditional, but the condition must not be confused with the basis of one’s right standing before God. This is because Paul does not confuse the two. He makes it clear that God’s righteous judgment laid his wrath upon Christ Jesus in order that God might be just when he justifies all who belong to Jesus Christ (Rom 3:21-26). So, Paul does not answer the question “On what basis will one be justified?” until Romans 3:21ff. In Romans 2 Paul makes one thing clear: God’s promise of salvation is conditional. On the Day of Judgment God will award eternal life to those who persevere in good works (Rom 2:7, 10), because God does not justify hearers of the Law but doers of the Law (Rom 2:13). Praise from God belongs to all who keep the requirements of the Law, to all who obey from hearts circumcised by the Spirit (Rom 2:26, 29).

This is from his third post.

Always orienting his view of salvation eschatologically, that is toward the last day, Paul announces in his gospel that God has revealed his righteous judgment in the “present time” (Rom 3:21-26). God has already begun his good work in us (Phil 1:6), by calling us to believe “in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead” (Rom 4:24). God has brought the verdict of the Day of judgment forward, into the midst of redemptive history, for God has graciously revealed his righteousness through the gospel (Rom 1:17), which announces that God’s obedient son, Jesus Christ (Rom 5:19), has already appeared in the flesh (Rom 1:3f) and has already borne God’s wrath for us by becoming a sin offering on our behalf (Rom 8:3). Because God condemned his own Son in our place, he has already rendered his judgment, vindicating his own righteousness, so that he now justifies all who embrace Jesus Christ (Rom 3:26). Thus, God already gives the eschatological gift of righteousness in advance of the Day of judgment (Rom 5:17). Therefore, as far as the believer is concerned, the verdict of God’s judgment is already in, though the Day of judgment has not yet arrived. The verdict is acquittal (Rom 5:1; 8:1). This verdict is irrevocable for all whom God has called to believe (Rom 8:30), for because Christ Jesus died and was raised and now intercedes for us, God’s verdict is final; God will not hear any further charges against his chosen ones, for his verdict stands (Rom 8:34).

True as it is that Paul’s gospel announces that God’s judgment is already rendered in Christ at the cross, the apostle never relinquishes the Old Testament eschatological orientation toward the coming Day of judgment, for God’s Son has come and he will appear again to call everyone to judgment (Acts 17:31). For Paul, justification remains fundamentally the eschatological verdict of acquittal. For while God has already revealed his righteousness by subjecting his own Son to his wrath (Rom 3:25), God discloses his final justice at the present time only in the gospel which explains what God did in Jesus Christ on that dark and dreadful day of his death to save sinners. For while God presently reveals his wrath against human unrighteousness “from heaven” (Rom 1:18), that is from a distance and not as he will in the last day, he restrains his wrath in the present time as he patiently abides those who spurn his kindness. Those who snub God’s kindness accumulate wrath against them in preparation for the day of God’s wrath when he will reveal his righteous judgment (Rom 2:5; cf. 12:14-21) and will execute judgment in keeping with the secrets now concealed in human hearts (Rom 2:16).

We who believe in Jesus Christ receive God’s righteous verdict of forgiveness before the Day of judgment arrives, but not publicly as we will in the Day of judgment when his justice and wrath will come upon all who disobey the gospel and will also give us relief from our present afflictions (2 Thess 1:5-10). Though it is true that God has summoned us all to give account of ourselves (Rom 14:12), the Day of judgment has not yet arrived in which the eternal Judge will announce his verdict in keeping with our deeds, until that day, we now stand justified in God’s courtroom by faith only. By his Spirit whom he gives to all who believe, already God secretly speaks acquittal, life, peace, reconciliation, and adoption (Rom 5:1-11; 8:1-17). Therefore, Paul admonishes us who believe to fasten our gaze upon the Day of judgment in hope that we shall receive the promised salvation (Rom 2:6-10; 8:23-25; 13:11-14). For the Day of judgment is the day of salvation for all who believe. It is the day of redemption (Rom 8:23; Eph 1:14; 4:30). It is when our adoption as God’s children will be complete (Rom 8:23). It is the point of entrance into eternal life (Rom 2:7; 6:22; Gal 6:8). It is the day of salvation that has drawn closer than when we initially believed (Rom 13:11), the day when salvation will be ours (Phil 2:12; 1 Thess 5:8, 9) and when God will reveal our justification which we now have secretly by faith as he crowns us with justification, openly and publicly (2 Tim 4:8). For, while we already have received God’s justifying verdict by faith, by faith we yet await through the Spirit the hope of receiving this same verdict in that day (Gal 5:5).

Many of the rest of the posts elaborate on these ideas, but none in much depth aside from the seventh. The seventh includes forty theses which may be the subject of another post.

My concluding thoughts come from the article on justification from The Dictionary of Paul and His Letters:

How does justification relate to other Pauline soteriological terms? It is tempting to adopt a simplistic approach to the matter. For example, one could attempt to force justification, sanctification and salvation into a neat past-present-future framework as follows:

Justification: a past event, with present implications (sanctification)
Sanctification: a present event, dependent upon a past event (justification), which has future implications (salvation)
Salvation: a future event, already anticipated and partially experienced in the past event of justification and the present event of sanctification, and dependent upon them.

But this is inadequate. Justification has future as well as past, reference (Rom 2:13; 8:33; Gal5:4-5), and appears to relate to both the beginning of the Christian life and its final consummation. Similarly, sanctification can also refer to a past event (1 Cor 6:11) or a future event (1 Thess 5:23). And salvation is an exceptionally complex idea, embracing no simply a future event, but something which has happened in the past (Rom 8:24; 1 Cor 15:2) or which is taking place now (1 Cor 1:18).


Justification language appears in Paul both with reference to the inauguration of the life of faith and also its final consummation. It is a complex and all-embracing notion, that anticipates the verdict of the final judgment (Rom 8:30-34) by declaring in advance the verdict of ultimate acquittal. The believer's present justified Christian existence is thus an anticipation and advance participation of deliverance from the wrath to come, and an assurance in the present of the final eschatological verdict of acquittal (Rom 5:9-10).

I am presenting these ideas as the fruit of my research, though not necessarily as the conclusion of my research. Much discussion still needs to take place regarding these doctrines. Therefore, let us commence.

Saturday, September 29, 2007


Awhile back a friend let me borrow In the Father's House: A Member's Guide to the Local Church by Wayne Mack and David Swavely. It was highly recommended so I began reading it with great interest. However about half way through I put it down to pursue other interests because while it seemed promising in the beginning I was unable to overcome the authors' presuppositions. The very reason I wanted to read the book was to gain insight into my own presuppositions, but it seemed to me the authors were writing to those who shared their own presuppositions if indeed they even recognized them.

Recently Jonathan mentioned that he was reading through it so I picked it back up to refresh my memory. Hence this post.

To illustrate my point let me quote a few passages.

The book started well. The foreword (by John MacArthur) stated:

...All these metaphors feature the common characteristics of unity and shared life and fellowship.

Believers compose one priesthood, one nation, on race, one temple, one plant, one flock, one family, and one body. We have all been made one spiritually, and we belong together in communion, living out that oneness in local churches.

I was encouraged by this statement. I hoped it foretold a deep exploration of these metaphors.

The Introduction was likewise appetite whetting:

church (church) n. 1. a building for pubplic worship 2. public worship; a religious service 3. a particular sect or denomination of Christians 4. church government, or its power, as opposed to civil government 5. the profession of the clergy 6. a group of worshipers

Those definitions of the word church, taken from the Student Edition of Webster's New World Dictionary (1981) betray the confusion that exists in our day regarding that institution. We reflect the first five definitions when we say things like, "It's about time to redecorate the church," "I enjoyed church today," "My church is the Lutheran church," and "I believe in the separation of church and state." But not one of those meanings of the term church can be found in the Bible. Rather, the Greek word translated in that way (ekklesia) is used over a hundred times in the New Testament, and it always refers to "a group of worshipers," which is the last definition mentioned in Webster's!

The church, according to Scripture, is not a building, a denomination, or an activity - it is a group of people...So throughout this book we will be referring to "the church" in that sense - the local body of believers who meet together to worship God and serve one another.

Technically speaking, those people do not worship "at a church" or participate "in church" - they are the church! And if you are a member of the body of Christ, you do not "go to church" or "sit in church" - you are a part of the church who comes together for worship with the rest of the body. This is important to understand because the quality of a church is therefore not measured by the condition of its buildings or the appeal of its services, but by the state of the people themselves. They are the church, so the church is only as good as they are.

If you have read Discipleship and the Institution you may imagine my reaction to the previous quotation. I was incredibly excited. They basically summarized the whole article in 4 paragraphs! Here were two guys (Mack and Swavely) that "got it." Or so it seemed.

Three paragraphs later was this:

Not only is the meaning of the word "church" misunderstood today, buy many Christians are ignorant or confused regarding their roles and responsibilities in a local body. For example: Do you know why most church have a membership process, and is there any substantial difference between a "member" and a "regular attender"? What kind of church should a Christian attend, and what are good reasons to leave one for another? What kind of relationship should you have with the leaders of your church, and what role should they play in your life? How can you keep the Sunday services from becoming routing? And how can you either cause or prevent a "church split"?

There's some good stuff here, but a close look at this paragraph will reveal some important presuppositions.

First the good stuff:

  • The meaning of church really is misunderstood, not least by Christians.

  • Many really are ignorant/confused regarding their roles and responsibilities.

  • I would like to see a solid defense of why many churches have a "membership process."

  • I would like to read about relationships with church leaders and the role they play in the lives of those they lead.

That which reveals presuppositions:
  • The idea of a "regular attender" presupposes there is something (like the typical "service") that is available to be attended regularly. This doesn't seem to fit with their previous definition of church. A "people" is made up of members, but the idea of someone regularly attending a "people" doesn't make sense.

  • The idea of "leaving" a church connotes images of a church as a place rather than a people. This is just semantics, but I think a more accurate phrase would be "breaking fellowship" with a church.

  • Attempting to keep "the Sunday services from becoming routine" presupposes that such services are something that the church necessarily conducts. Even if its granted that services are necessary, the services are not the church. They would be a second-order matter.

The rest of what I read (through chapter 5 or so) hits on these presuppositions over and over. That isn't to say there isn't any good material in the book. There is much to commend, but most of it is stuff that we all have heard before.

I may continue my review of this book in subsequent posts, but my aim was to get a discussion about our presuppositions going.

What presuppositions do you think we have about "church"? Where do we contradict ourselves? How do we illuminate our presuppositions? Once illumined, how do we overcome them?

Hopefully I'll have time soon to post my own answer to these questions, but my laptop battery is running low. I'll see you guys tomorrow.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Towards a definition of "Church"

In our discussion of the Kingdom of God and his work among us, our efforts to define church will be, in my estimation, particularly helpful. Unfortunately, I think that it is also going to be particularly challenging. Last night I gave some thought and writing to this. Below is a first effort toward a definition.

The "Church" is the assembly of the covenant people of Yahweh. By nature of being in Christ and having fellowship based on our common Union with Christ, we are the "church".

Defining ekklesia as the "assembly of the covenant people of Yahweh" makes sense of usages of ekklesia that most modern definitions of "church" do not. For example, in Luke 7, Ekklesia is used to refer to ancient Israel and her assembly. Yet it is not translated "Church". It was the gathering/assembly of the covenant people of Yaweh. The marker of that covenant was circumcision and by nature of being descendants of Jacob, they were the ekklesia of God. The marker of the new covenant is the Holy Spirit and by nature of being 'in Christ' we are the ekklesia of God. It is our common union with Jesus that is the basis for our fellowship and 'defines' us as the ekklesia.

In this discussion, I am hesitant to even use the word 'church' for two reasons. First, there are so many strong and misguided ideas associated with that term. Our minds naturally turn to services and buildings when the term is used, yet there is no evidence in the New Testament that it evoked those ideas for the people of God in the first century. They certainly would not have thought of starting a non-profit organization registered with Caesar, calling it First ______ of Antioch, and then initiating a building campaign. Such readings of the text are woefully anachronistic. Secondly, I don't think that 'church' is the best translation of the word ekklesia. As I mentioned previously, Israel is referred to as the Ekklesia, yet it is never translated 'church'. Also in acts 17, ekklesia is used to refer to a rioting mob that has gathered in Ephesus because of Paul and his fellows. That mob is referred to as an Ekklesia, yet it is not translated "church". In both of these instances the term assembly most often used. Ekklesia ("Church") was not a new word that appeared in the Greek language after the resurrection of Jesus. It was a term that was used to refer to all kinds of assemblies. The different assemblies did not have different technical names (eg church), but were qualified on the basis of their fellowship. The usage of ekklesia in the New Testament is no different. Ekkesia was not used as a technical term to refer to a group of people with a specific religous affiliation. Modern Americans could say that they were a part of the "church" and people would understand that we were referring to the Christian faith. Paul could not simply say that he was a part of the "ekklesia". He would quickly be asked, "Which One?" The would wonder if he was referring to some sort of political assembly or perhaps an association of workers or a religious assembly. Simply by using the word ekklesia, they would not know. The word would always have to be qualified, unless the context was understood. Paul was a part of the assembly of those in Christ. The qualifying preposition would tell you everything you needed to know about what kind of assembly it was. That qualifying preposition was needed precisely because ekklesia was not a formal term in the Graeco Roman world, including Palestine and the world of first century Christianity. It is for these reasons that I think that assembly is the best translation of the greek term ekklesia. We are the assembly of those who are in Christ.

There are some more thoughts that I would like to add, but not enough time at the library! I look forward to seeing you guys tomorrow night.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Ekklesia resource

I have created a small document detailing the definition and all the New Testament uses of ekklesia. Hopefully it will be a useful resource as we study.

Discussion this Sunday...

As an FYI I will think I'll continue in the "fear" theme that Brandon initiated 2 weeks ago. More specifically, digging deeper into the phrases "fear of the Lord" and "fear of God". See you soon!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Witherington on the Lord's Supper

I saw over on Jollyblogger that Ben Witherington is coming out with a book soon on the Lord's Supper. Apparently his take is going to be that the Lord's Supper was a full meal. Check Ben's post for more details. I'm eager to read it.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

the "mealness" of the Lord's Supper

This was going to be a comment on the last post on the Lord's Supper but it kept growing and growing so I've turned it into its own post...

It would seem that most if not all of us understand the Lord's Supper ("LS" henceforth) as a "token meal" by default. That is what we were taught. That is what we practiced. That is how we see the text. In some ways this is why I am arguing so hard for the "full" meal understanding - to combat years of momentum. I don't necessarily favor the idea of a full meal, I simply want us to weigh all the evidence regardless of our past experiences and understanding. My goal is to understand the text of Scripture, and that involves challenging ideas that I already hold. If it truly espouses a "token" meal then that's what I will heartily embrace. If not, then I'll embrace the "full" meal or perhaps something altogether different - whatever the text says!

Most if not all of us agree that the immediate backdrop of the LS is the Passover feast. It was while Jesus and the twelve were eating the Passover that Jesus instituted the LS (Luke 22:8-20). The Passover of course is rich with symbolic meaning just like the LS.

However I think most of us would agree that there is a greater context in the Old Testament for meals in the presence of God. As Wayne Grudem explains in Systematic Theology,

...when the people of Israel were camped before Mount Sinai, just after God had given the Ten Commandments, God called the leaders of Israel up to the mountain to meet with him:

Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel...they beheld God, and ate and drank (Ex. 24:9-11)

Moreover, every year the people of Israel were to tithe (give one-tenth of) all their crops. Then the law of Moses specified,

Before the Lord your God, in the place which he will choose, to make his name dwell there, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, of your win, and of your oil, and the firstlings of your herd and flock; that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always...You shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household. (Duet. 14:23, 26)

But even earlier than that, God had put Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and given them all of its abundance to eat (except of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil). Since there was no sin in that situation, and since God had created them for fellowship with himself and to glorify himself, then every meal that Adam and Eve ate would have been a meal of feasting in the presence of the Lord.

For Jesus and his contemporaries there was an even wider context for the importance of meals. Ancient near eastern culture (Jewish culture not least) placed special significance on meals. As I. H. Marshall explains in his article on the LS in The Dictionary of Paul and His Letters,

Communal meals were important in both Judaism and Hellenistic religions. They served a social purpose in bringing the adherents together, and they functioned religiously in a variety of ways (see Food).

For the Jews in general each and every meal was "religious" to the extent that it was accompanied by the giving of thanks to God for the food. The main evening meal at the beginning of the Sabbath (which commenced at sunset on the previous day) had a special character, and there were special meals associated with Passover and other festivals...Festal meals on special occasions, including Sabbaths, other festivals and gust-meals, included wine (which was not drunk at ordinary daily meals). Thanks were offered for each cup of wine (Klauck 1982, 66-67). At the Passover meal a more elaborate procedure was followed. An important element was an explanation of the symbolism attached to the various parts of the meal (including the lamb, unleavened bread, and bitter herb). This verbal proclamation (cf. katangello, 1 Cor. 11:26) intended to make the occasion a remembrance (Ex 12:14, 13:9; cf. anamnesis, 1 Cor. 11:24-25) of what God had done for his people

The situation in the Hellenistic world has been described fairly exhaustively by Klauck (1982), who discusses in turn meals associated with religious offerings and sacrifices, meals held by associations, meals with various mystery religious both in Hellenism and also in Judaism, and cultic meals in Gnostic sects. He notes that the communal meals held by associates were particularly important and that they maintained a religious character. Individual Christian converts could well have been familiar with any of these types of meal and also with some of the practices of the different mystery religions.

Jesus' ministry was peppered with meals (Matthew 8:11-16, 11:19; Mark 2:13-17, 6:30-44, 8:1-10; Luke 7:36-50, 10:38-42, 11:37-54, 14:1-24, 15:1-32, 19:1-10, 24:13-35; John 2:1-11, 21:1-14). Some of his most significant Kingdom revelations were in the context of a meal. I haven't studied any of these meals at length, but Lewie has recommended Craig Blomberg's Contagious Holiness for deeper exploration

Then there is the meal that we will share with Jesus at the end of this age. Grudem continues,

...the Lord's Supper looks forward to a more wonderful fellowship meal in God's presence in the future, when the fellowship of Eden will be restored and there will be even greater joy, because those who eat in God's presence will be forgiven sinners now confirmed in righteousness, never able to sin again. That future time of great rejoicing and eating in the presence of God is hinted at by Jesus when he says, "I tell you I shall not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom" (Matt. 26:29). We are told more explicitly in Revelation about the marriage supper of the Lamb; "And the angel said to me, 'Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb'" (Rev. 19:9). This will be a time of great rejoicing in the presence of the Lord, as well as a time of reverence and awe before him.

In my opinion all of these facets combine to form an incredibly rich context in which to understand the LS. I do not believe it is simply coincidence that the meals in this context were "full" meals and not "token" meals. If we do conclude that the LS was a "token" meal I think we need to give an account of our reasoning that encompasses the context I just outlined. However, I am less convinced of the tokenness of the LS than I am of its fullness.

In the previous post about the LS Jonathan made the point that "wine and bread" are clearly part of the definition of the LS whereas a fuller meal is not. I wonder if the Gospel writers and Paul were keen on mentioning the "wine and bread" specifically because those were new, special elements in the "full meal" - a "full meal" which was implicitly understood because of the rich context I have already described. The combination of the bread and wine was a new twist, different from the lamb/bread/herb combination present in the Passover meal, and was therefore of special note. I agree with Jonathan that the bread/wine combo appears to be a lowest common denominator or a "minimum requirement," but I do not think that precludes other elements from the "Lord's Table" that would be part of a full meal

One of the most common arguments against the LS as a full meal are Paul's statements in 1 Corinthians 11:22, "...Do you not have houses to eat and drink in?..." and 34, "...if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home..." Many conclude from these statements that the LS was not meant to satisfy physical hunger and by implication cannot be a full meal. I think that conclusion is a non sequitur. In other words, it doesn't logically follow that just because the LS is not meant to satisfy physical hunger it is not a full meal. I agree with the statement, "the Lord's Supper is not meant to satisfy physical hunger." In my opinion however that statement isn't about the practical outworking of the LS which would lead me to infer it can't be a full meal. Rather, that statement is theological. It is about the meaning of the LS. Let me explain.

While the Passover and other old covenant meals (the closest analog we have to the LS) were full meals, none of them were about satisfying physical hunger. The point of those meals was dining in the presence of Yaweh, fellowshipping with Him, remembering and celebrating what he had done for them. Satisfying hunger was a consequence of the meal, but not the meaning of the meal. As is, I currently believe, the nature of the LS.

Why then does Paul make those statements in 1 Corinthians 11:22 and 34? Let me paint a picture of what I think is a highly plausible interpretation (also supported by other scholars I've read). The LS was meant to be focused on remembering Jesus and bringing unity to His body. The Corinthians had failed in both these areas. Instead of remembering Jesus the rich appear to be focused on fulfilling their personal desires while the poor were neglected. Likewise, this lack of concern of the poor by the rich enflames the economic divide between them. In effect, the Corinthians have turned the LS on its head, accomplishing exactly the opposite of Jesus' goal for his supper. Paul therefore admonishes the rich (as they were likely the only ones such alimentary means) to eat in their homes before they gather. This was a practical way they could avoid focusing on their own desires, opening the door for selflessness toward the poor when they gathered as a church. It was a specific recommendation by Paul to the rich Corinthians on how to solve their problem, not a statement with general implications about the nature of the LS.

I posted a comment on the previous post about the LS emphasizing the role of the LS in explicitly remembering Jesus and bringing unity to the body. Jonathan responded, "I agree on the emphasis of the explicit remembrance of Jesus and unity of the Body. The bread and wine facilitate the former and a meal can facilitate the latter." I can only agree with that statement if a full meal and a bread/wine ritual are complementary components of a single custom that we call "the Lord's Supper." In other words, I cannot accept that statement if only the bread/wine ritual is considered "the Lord's Supper" and the full meal is a separate, coincidental custom. Why? Because the Scripture makes clear that it is the LS itself that facilitates unity among the body, not some other coincidental custom. This brings me to my next point.

Whatever consensus we reach on the LS (whether token or full) we must not only agree with Scripture that it facilitates unity but we must explore how it facilitates unity. It is easy to see how the LS helps us remember Jesus, but not so easy to see how it facilitates unity. I mention this point here because I think it's easier to see how a full rather than a token meal facilitates unity. We have examples of this from Scripture. Jesus' own table fellowship with "sinners" helped establish his mission to heal the sick, to reconcile and unify them with himself. Table fellowship between Jews and Gentiles was forbidden, but Jesus' death and resurrection inaugurated His kingdom and abolished such distinctions bringing unity to all peoples in Christ (see Acts 10 for the story of Peter's vision and subsequent trip to Caesarea to see Cornelius). For a specific example of this see Galatians 2:12 for an account of Cephas (Peter) curtailing his table fellowship with Gentiles out of fear - illegitimate fear that Jesus has conquered through the Gospel.

Further, when I think of the full meals we observe when we gather on Sunday evenings its easy to imagine those facilitating unity because there is conversation, serving one another, laughter, etc. (basic, personal relationships through which Jesus may flow in love) not to mention the bread/wine ritual (when we choose to observe it) that makes our time together intentional and explicitly focused on Jesus. Contrast this to the token meals that most of us grew up observing, meals that really had no fellowship whatsoever. I cannot imagine how such meals might foster unity among the body except perhaps in some kind of abstract, doctrinal sense. To be clear, I do not believe that just because I can't imagine a token meal facilitating unity doesn't mean it can't. My imagination or lack thereof is definitely not the bottom line. I just wanted to make the observation.

As of this moment I see the full meal and the bread/wine ritual like notes in a chord. The notes by themselves do not make the rich, beautiful sound of a chord, and a chord that is missing a note or two is a different chord (or not a chord at all). In essence, I do not feel that the meal and the bread/wine ritual should be separated for all the reasons I outlined above.

Let's discuss!

Friday, July 27, 2007

our generation and the church

hey guys... I found this from another missionary's blog and thought this was a great explanation.

Here are two articles recently written by friend and fellow Jesus-follower, Doug Cooper ( ).

What I'm learning about Twenty-Somethings…
Here are some things I'm learning as I build relationships with, and coax honesty out of, twenty-somethings. I invite you to add to, contend with and converse on these ideas:

1. There is a lot of despair among them. A general sense of insecurity, jadedness and instability can often lead to seasons of lonely despair that robs hope and joy. This generation has only known a life of terrorism, corporate scandal, governmental paralysis, disingenuous Christianity and bad-news-overload. They need to find places of stability, people of honesty, stories of perseverance, and times of celebration to remind them that good exists in the world and that purposeful living is worth pursuing.

2. Their menu of life-options is overwhelming. Because of the global awareness that exists, and due to our cultural obsession with being busy and entertained, the options for living out the moments of life are so numerous they are almost paralyzing. Choices for how to spend the evening, how to invest energy and passion, and how to choose an occupation, fly directly at this generation like a flock of birds. Catching just one or two is so tough that it is almost easier to not try to catch any at all. Too many choices can end up in a temptation to shut down or jump off.

3. Commitment is tough for them. See Points #1 and #2. This is not a lazy or ambivalent generation, but feelings of hopelessness blended with impossibly numerous life-options have made commitment overwhelming and frightening. Questions that are asked internally are "By committing to one option, what am I missing from another option?" or "Will I commit to this just to be let down?" or "What if I fail in my part of the commitment?" A softer approach to commitment might need to be employed where young adults are allowed to be involved in relationships, organizations and initiatives for longer periods of time, at lower levels, before commitment is invited.

4. Christian philosophies and perspectives are shifting. The conventions of evangelicalism are not being automatically embraced by this generation. The traditional stands on the interminglings of Christianity with corporatism, environmentalism, patriotism, ethics, morality, finances and globalism are being challenged. This "Why" Generation engages in a healthy questioning of past interpretations of Christian thought, lifestyle and expression and is trying to look through others' interpretations to adopt those that are pure and based on the original as they understand scripture. A greener, more relational, more global, less legalistic, more expressive, less patriotic, more organic Christian culture is emerging.

5. They want to be directly involved in making a difference. There is a strong desire to be able to see tangible results of their giving and to be hands-on in serving. Right or wrong, there is a strong desire to give money and time to efforts that allow them to connect with those that are being served, and with the results that occur as a result of their giving. Groups and causes that are best at depicting the stories and realities of the people in need of support are having the most success with this generation. Those causes that use a "give-and-trust-us-to-know-what-to-do-with-your-money" aren't cutting it with this group. This includes many local church budgets wherein a clear giving-to-results path is not seen in a tangible way.

6. They see the world as a global community. Because of the access to the whole world through technology, media, and travel, the world has become much smaller. Events, plights and movements anywhere in the world are as real as those going on next door. Issues with worldwide or continental impact get more attention than in the past. See points #4 and #5. Young adults have real propensities to help those in need who are beyond the local church/civic community. World issues and events are occupying a much higher proportion of young adults' conversation and concern.

7. Leadership is defined differently. The hierarchical authoritative leadership forms have lost much relevance with young adults. First, effective leadership is seen as coming from within a group, not from above it. Leadership is more of the "team captain" model than the "manager" model. Credibility and authority are earned by doing and by being among the group instead of by education and title. Leaders are often seen as those who have an idea or calling and that gather a team for a temporary season. This is in contrast with the more traditional view that leaders can lead anything and that they can be assigned to initiatives, callings or organizations purely because they are leaders. This really affects the way leaders are identified, mentored, sustained, supported etc.

8. They need to be parented. Young-adulthood is the new adolescence. This group has had a lot handed to them as far as material things, but they are lacking the parental stability and involvement that used to be taken for granted. They have been very insulated, in many ways, from the realities of the world, delaying their coming-of-age to early to mid-twenties. As they are jumping into the real world, they need parental figures to help them with the all of the details and pit-falls.

9. They want to be passionate about something. This generation is looking to invest all of themselves into a purpose that is worthy of every part of them. They are hesitant to open themselves to something that appears to be benign or that only engages a part of their being. The true message and purpose of Christ holds appeal for this generation beyond any we've seen in our Modern history. The challenge is that young adults have to see that followers of Christ believe what they espouse and are willing to dive headfirst into the Movement. This means that, where Christianity seems passive, inert, or compartmentalized, young adults will probably either seek other passions or will adopt the inertia they see around them. This is a great reason for any community of Christians to check their own calling and passions and expressions to see if they can live them out with authenticity (See Point #4).

When Changing the Church…
Lately, I've sensed and heard a lot of healthy spiritual unrest and dissatisfaction among twenty-somethings. So much of this restlessness is coming from people who have been around churches for a while and a good deal of their frustration is focused on church as an institution or organization. There seems to be a growing perception of inconsistency between the timeless, Jesus-spoken mission of the Church and the established mindsets and patterns that are distracting churches from that mission. It is creating a vacuum and a quest for a purer, simpler, more original expression of Christian life for the young community of believers.
I encourage this quest, and I think it is our hope for the future Church. If you are an individual, or are part of a group, who is on this quest, please don't give it up. If you have this burning gut- ache that begs to get back to the heart of Christ and His mission for His people, I want to cheer you on. This sense of holy impatience and anticipation is what revivals are made of. The Church is called to constantly pursue purity and refinement. Please keep these things in mind, as you are a part of this Movement:

Nobody's perfect, so no body's perfect
We can't let this be a cop-out, but we have to know it's a reality. Whenever two or more gather together in His name, there is imperfection. Our hearts have a built-in desire for the paradise that we were made for and that's what we groan for deep inside. We're looking to church as a place to experience this paradise, but it won't be found in any group of people. Nor will it be totally experienced here in the current chapter of our spiritual lives. We always have to hope for and strive for the best as a body, but we can't expect total satisfaction…for now.

Prayer is vital
Prayer is simply getting in synch with God. If we want to be personally in line and in relationship with Him we have to pray individually. Better yet, if we want to know God's will for the church as a body, we need to pray as a community…together…often. If we want to know what God wants, we need to get past our awkwardness about prayer and come together and converse with Him, expecting that He will answer. When He answers, the more of us that are there to hear him together, the more we'll be on the same page together. Then we will be unified and less involved in convincing others that what we heard from God is for real. There isn't clearer instruction in the Bible than to pray together, and yet we are doing poorly. Movement together toward revival and refinement probably won't happen without it. It's God's job to transform our minds together. It's our job to respond together.

The Bible should be the filter
A lot of whacky things have been dreamed up and done in the name of God. Many of them are in practice in the modern church because we've haven't learned how to part with the things that were never meant to be sacred. We all probably have a list of things in mind that have become like a bunch of red tape wrapped around Jesus, and it's stuck. We know that it shouldn't be there, but we fear removing it. There are other things that are so obviously missing from our communities - we see them directly addressed in the Bible - but we are afraid to suggest them because people "in charge" seem to be fine without them. When it comes to pursuing a pure expression of the Body of Christ, we have to have the guts to let the Bible be the filter - not the "owner's manual" (barf) - but the filter. We have to have the courage to blow things up that are distractions from authentic Christian community and we have to have the nerve to pursue things that are sacred to God. An honest look at the Bible will point things out, but we are keepers of those things, for the most part.

The fruit of the spirit matters
We can't really influence anyone deeply if they don't know we love, like and respect them. When it comes to communicating our criticisms and suggestions for the Church, it has to be wrapped in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. Mean-spirited, judgmental, condescending people usually only meet resistance and defensiveness. Our message will be heard best when it is comes in the form of a respectful conversation with people who know our hearts and who know we like them and are committed to them. If we want to have influence, it needs to ride in on the profound humility and selflessness that Jesus showed.

There will be friction
When Jesus talked about old wineskins and new wine not being compatible, he wasn't just spouting a clever analogy. His metaphor is meant to point out a practical reality and to serve as a heads-up to anyone who has enough guts to call people back to God. Pollster George Barna has predicted that young adults will imagine and introduce all kinds of new and relevant expressions of faith into the church. AND, he predicts that as that happens, it will cause even more friction and distance between the older generations and this new one. The current generation of twenty-somethings are foreigners to the established world. Your mindset, needs, orientation, and ways of expression aren't just a product of your stage in life. The world that birthed you had a cultural earthquake and you ended up a refuge in someone else's world. People of previous generations don't think like you and don't know how to take you. Honestly, they aren't quite sure what to do with you. And yet, there is great hope in this generation. This age has been compared culturally to the time right after Jesus ascended, when people were ripe to hear the untainted Good News. Your generation, with your questioning, and scaling down, and sobering up is poised to be bearers of that untainted Good News. But there will be trouble as older generations will not comprehend your ways and will often take your call for change personally. Just realize that this is part of the mission field you've been dropped in, and realize that other generations are not your enemy, but you may frustrate one another.

This means you
If God has placed a spiritual uneasiness inside of you that makes you feel like something just isn't right when you encounter church, He has issued a personal call to you. He has not called you to complain, snipe, or cherry-pick. He has not called you to dropout or give-up. He has called you to jump into the current of the historic stream of believers who have given themselves for the Gospel. The first bend in this river might be to help nurture the Church back to relevance and purpose, but it is headed out to the sea of people in this world awaiting the love and grace of believers who have been invited to help change, renew and save them. God will empower you and equip you for this role, but He will not force you into it. Participation in this change is voluntary. You can sit out, but you shouldn't and you won't want to. BUT…God leaves it up to you to jump in. He won't push you or pull you in. I hope you're ready to jump together!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Piper on Institutions

Awhile back I was reading A Godward Life by John Piper and I came across an interesting chapter entitled "Hazardous and Helpful: The Danger of Trusting in Your Horse." In it he talked about institutions and their Kingdom utility. Here it is (here's hoping I'm not violating copyright):

A comment about Karl Marx set me to thinking about how ideas shape life. "Marx has had more impact on actual events, as well as on the minds of men and women, than any other intellectual in modern times. The reason for this is not primarily the attraction of his concepts and methodology but the fact that his philosophy has been institutionalized in two of the world's largest countries, Russia and China." [1] In other words, one of the factors that preserves and lengthens the influence of ideas is whether they are institutionalized.

A religious example of this is the Princeton Theology (the Reformed, Calvinistic, God-centered, Bible-based vision taught by men like B. B. Warfield and Charles Hodge). Mark Noll points out that "the Princeton Theology sprang from the minds of its exponents, but it flowed outward from Princeton through institutions which vastly transcended those individuals." [2] The institutions he has in mind are Princeton Seminary itself (for more than a century), Princeton College (for much of the nineteenth century), several scholarly Princeton journals, and the Presbyterian church. For almost a hundred years (before the influence of the modern mistrust of the Scriptures), the institutions embodied the spread of the God-centered, Bible-saturated vision of the founders.

The question arises: Is it God's will, revealed in Scripture, to advance the influence of biblical truth through human institutions? Institutions like seminaries, colleges, parochial schools, mission agencies, publishing houses, journals, newsletters, hospitals, relief agencies, musical groups, drama troupes, conferences, camps, counseling centers, evangelistic associations, coffee houses, and radio and television networks, stations, and programs.

The reason the question is urgent is that institutions by nature develop self-sustaining power as opposed to God-sustained power. There are human expectations, human employees, procedures, traditions, money, brainpower, real estate, facilities, reputation, and a constituency. These all can keep an institution going even if the Holy spirit has withdrawn. In this way, Christian institutions can become contradictions and artifacts of divine power that once was.

Thus the Bible repeatedly warns against relying on powers resident within human culture (institutional power). For example, Psalm 33:17: "A horse is a false hope for victory; nor does it deliver anyone by its great strength." Military institutional power is not to be trusted for deliverance.

On the other hand, the Bible does not say that institutions are therefore evil or useless. On the contrary, Proverbs 21:31 says, "The horse is prepared for the day of battle, but victory belongs to the Lord." Recognizing that institutions are not the decisive force for the triumph of truth does not mean that they are no force.

God never commanded Israel to abolish its army, but again and again he warned the people against relying on it when they went to battle. "Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, and rely on horses, and trust in chariots because they are many, and in horsemen because they are very strong, but they do not look to the Holy One of Israel, nor seek the Lord!" (Isaiah 31:1).

It seems to me that institutions are virtually inevitable not just where people settle comfortably into this fallen world with self-reliant structures, but even more, wherever passionate believers dream of new ways to declare the Glory of Christ among the nations. Therefore I expect that until Jesus comes back there will always be tension among believers over where the line is crossed between God-ordained, Spirit-sustained institutional life and human-designed, human-sustained institutionalism.

Therefore let us be alert to the possibilities and the pitfalls of institutions. If you are part of one, ponder these things. Let us labor to permeate all our human structures with prayer and with a heartfelt reliance on God, "[who] gives to all men life and breath and everything" (Acts 12:25, RSV).

[1] Paul Johnson, Intellectuals (New York: Harper and Row, 1988), 52.
[2] Mark Noll, The Princeton Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983), 18.

I agree with Piper's sentiments here. As I said in the Discipleship and the Institution FAQ in regards to the church as an institution or organization:

...I am mainly against the subtly subversive distortion of the church in which it is perceived mainly as an organization or institution rather than as a people. Of course, the church can still be organized and not be an organization. As I explained in the “towards and answer” section, I believe Scripture’s family analogy (among others) provides a rich context for such organization.

I think a great deal more could be researched and written about institutions in Western society. One thing is for sure, our "structures" (whether a more rigid institutional structure or a more flexible relational structure) do not guarantee any particular result. They are merely present to facilitate a result. We must therefore ask ourselves, "What is our goal?"

What do you guys think?

Piper on Bonhoeffer on Community

I recently ran across this Piper sermon again and it reminded me of when I myself read Bonhoeffer's Life Together. I read it not long after I left the institutional church in 2003. I borrowed it from Lewie so I wasn't able to keep it for reference, but I remember that it resonated with me. I read The Cost of Discipleship when I was in Brazil and both books are imminently quotable (although sometimes meandering).

Piper's sermon struck a chord with me because "helping each other endure to the end" (as Piper puts it) is something to which I pointed in Discipleship and the Institution as one of our greatest privileges and responsibilities (in the "why is this important?" section). I recommend reading (or listening to) Piper's exhortation as I think it is of particular relevance to our community.

It is clear from the sermon text that Piper is encouraging the service attendants to become part of a "small group." I have listened to countless hours of Piper's sermons and read many more (he was a life-line to me while I was in Brazil). I have found Piper to be very consistent in his emphasis on love and relationships. More than any other "preacher" I have heard (except for Lewie) I believe he understands the New Testament's emphasis on love (exhibit a). This emphasis (among other factors) leads me to believe that despite Piper's clear institutional affiliation he would heartily approve and encourage our efforts to be the church. But I digress.

Does anything from his sermon stick out to you guys?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Conversation with Jeff Meyers about the Lord's Supper

I found this post recently, and it really resonated with me. I decided to engage the author (Jeff Meyers) in a discussion about the nature of the Lord's Supper. I was pleasantly surprised to find him so responsive. Unfortunately it seems our conversation has ended with some questions unanswered. I am providing a link so that perhaps we may answer the questions ourselves. it more than bread and wine?

Monday, July 9, 2007

Read Posts More Easily

If you use the Firefox web browser, you are probably familiar with its "add-on" capability. Per the Firefox Add-on website, "Add-ons are small pieces of software that can add new features or tiny tweaks to your Firefox. They can add new search engines or dictionaries in other languages, change the look of Firefox with a new theme, or much more."

The reason I am posting this is because you can use the "Greasemonkey" add-on with the "ESV Bible Refalizer" script to read posts on this blog more easily.

The script turns normal Bible reference text like "1 Cor 14:40" into a link like "1 Cor 14:40." It does this for basically any web page you read. It makes looking up references incredibly easy so you can understand the Biblical support for someone's argument much more readily.

I have enjoyed using it, and I thought I would pass it along.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Some Pauline Thoughts on Leadership

Since Brandon recently posted about some of Jesus' thoughts on leadership I thought I would offer up some of Paul's thoughts on leadership.

This is from the Dictionary of Paul and His Letters from the "Church Order and Government" article:

Differences between Modern and Ancient Mentalities. For modern people questions of order and government are often of primary interest. Organization and leadership are central concerns in any democratic and bureaucratic-rational society. This is also the case in church life, which is more democratized and bureaucratic than in previous times. In our social and religious arrangements we prize order: it is not only a preoccupation but a virtue, not only a means but an end. We are also fascinated by the issue of leadership, with chains of command, lines of authority and so forth. As a result we are in constant danger of reading the priority we accord these matters in to Paul's ideas about the church. He was certainly concerned that the church conduct itself in an orderly manner and that members were properly cared for and guided. But except where these were inadequate or threatened in some way, he says very little about them. For him they appear to be secondary rather than primary issues. Where more fundamental aspects of church life are given priority, church order and government should largely look after themselves.

Order as a Secondary Concern. If we begin by looking simply at the basic words Paul uses in speaking about these issues, what first strikes us is the infrequency of terms related to organization and to authority. The word order (taxis), appears infrequently in Paul (1 Cor 14:40; Col 2:5), and only once is it clearly associated with the church, coming at the close of his instructions to the Corinthians about what should happen in their meetings (1 Cor 14:13-40). This usage of order sums up a series of appeals relating to different aspects of the Corinthians' gatherings; appeals designed to prevent confusion from reigning (1 Cor 14:13-19, 22-23, 27-30, 34-35). Interestingly Paul does not use the word in connection with abuses surrounding the Lord's Supper (1 Cor 11:17-34). The opposite of order is "unruliness" (akatastasia), which is associated with disharmony (1 Cor 14:33; cf. 2 Cor 12:20). Paul never suggests that it is the role of certain people in the assembly to regulate its gatherings. Unlike the Greeks, he does not use the word taxis of an office that is responsible for ensuring that order is maintained (Epictetus 1.29, 39; Jesephus Ant. 7.15 §36). This is everyone's responsibility as they share what the Spirit grants them (1 Cor 12:7-11) and discern what the Spirit is contributing through others (1 Cor 14:28, 30, 32). The church's "liturgy" is a communal construction. Order stems from a highly participatory and charismatic process that is not determined in advance by a few. Through neither purely spontaneous nor fully egalitarian, it is dynamic and mutually created. It is not constitutive of the church but functional and instrumental.

Authority as a Background Issue. The idea of authority is a key sociological category in any discussion of government. It has to do with the way power is interpreted and communicated. The word authority (exousia) appears several times in Paul's writings in a specific sense of a reward for service performed (1 Cor 9:4-6, 12, 18; 2 Thess 3:9), a right he does not take up (2 Cor 11:7-10). Only in two places does Paul use the word more broadly of his own position - never of those in leadership in local churches - and only then when his apostolic link with a church is under challenge (2 Cor 10:8; 13:10). In view of the widespread use of this term in Greek for those in positions of influence over others, Paul's reticence in using the term can only be intentional. At Corinth he certainly wishes to reestablish his unique relationship with the church as its founder (2 Cor 10-13), but he wants to disassociate himself from the authoritarian way the "false apostles" conduct themselves. He does not seek to influence the members by improper means (2 Cor 10:3), boast to them of his preeminence (2 Cor 10:12-15), dazzle the church with rhetoric (2 Cor 11:5-6), or manipulate and control his converts (2 Cor 11:16-19; cf. 2 Cor 1:24). The "authority" God has given him is for "building up" not "tearing down," and he does not wish to use it in a harsh way when he arrives. Indeed he gives the church an opportunity to correct their attitude beforehand so that there will be no conflict when he arrives. This type of authority is basically charismatic, and therefore different from that found in traditional societies or in modern organizations: it is the authority of an unusual founder figure, though one who does not normally assert his position.

Immediately following this section the author beings a new section in his article under the subheading "Metaphors and Models." He states that the main Pauline metaphor for the church is a family. Secondary metaphors that Paul uses for himself in relation to the church include a builder and farmer. Lastly (and very briefly), the author mentions the "body" metaphor.

In regards to models, Christ is the focus. Sometimes Paul refers to himself as a model but only insofar as he is himself an imitator of Christ. The author continues:

Believers are also encouraged to imitate those among their number who, like Epaphroditus, "almost died for the work of Christ" (Phil 2:28; see Imitation). Even other churches as a whole should be imitated (2 Cor 8:1-7; 1 Thess 1:7-10). Others, like Stephanas and his household who "devote themselves to the service of the saints" (1 Cor 16:15), are not so much held up to be imitated as to be recognized, or to be regarded as the one under whom the people are to "order" their own corporate life. Since the world household generally refers to slaves, this group in the church at Corinth crosses status lines (see Social Setting). Indeed Paul goes on to say that "everyone who joins in the work, and labors at it" should be so regarded (1 Cor 16:16).

So then, the list of examplars is open ended. The criteria for who can become a role model are functional, not formal. It does not depend on a person's being appointed to a position in the church. Paul's emphasis upon models rather than positions itself indicates that it is the person, not the office, that is central for him and that government of the church has more to do with a way of life that a designated post.

Paul does not treat authority, then, as something official or sacral. He views it primarily in relational and functional terms. It does not result in the formulation of a leadership elite, formally marked off from others in the church. Only Christ has this distinction and he is the ultimate criterion of who should be regarded as a fundamental role model for others. Aspiring to this is apparently open to a wide range of people, including those with lower social status, and can be embodied in a group as well as individuals.

There is a lot to analyze here. Do you agree or disagree with the author's assertions? Why?

Let the discussion begin!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Who Leads?

Lately, I've been thinking about Jesus and leadership. One question I have been asking myself is, "Does Jesus ever address leadership issues among his disciples?" I've been directed to a few verses where Jesus appears to be addressing the form of leadership among his disciples, or he is at least commenting on how the disciples should interact with each other. I would consider the disciples the early leaders of the church, and, therefore, I consider Jesus' comments regarding how they should relate to each other as comments on the type of leadership his body should mirror.

I'm not sure what comes first... leaders and then organizational structure built around the leaders or organizational structure and then leaders that mold to the organization. I tend to lean towards the former. If its the former, then leaders in the Kingdom of God have a critical impact on the form of the church, and this issue is not to be dealt with lightly. If its the latter, then we need to be sure about the teaching on the organization of the body. Either way, the idea of leadership has to be dealt with.

The way I see it, we can view leaders in the Kingdom of God in one of two ways. First, we can consider a leader a person who exhibits the character/quality of Jesus and His teachings and responds to life as Jesus would without regard for the traditions and demands of any organization. Second, we can consider a leader a person who has been trained to fit into the organizational office and functions in accordance with its demands while trying to exhibit the character/quality of Jesus. Can the two be combined? Probably, but I'm not ready to concede that yet. Am I splitting hairs by making them separate? Maybe, maybe not. Again, I'm not ready to make the judgement. What I am ready to do is to take a long hard look at what the Bible teaches.

I think I should start with the gospels since no one would know better how leadership within the Kingdom of God should look than Jesus. What did He teach His disciples? I know of at least once when two of the disciples asked to be leaders at His right and left hands, and Jesus made a point to correct their concept of leadership. That's what I am trying to get a grip on. I'm on the hunt for encounters like that and other teachings within the gospels that might give me some insight into the concept of leadership within the Body of Christ.

I'm sure there are other "leadership" verses in the New Testament, but right now I want to start with these. The following verses are the ones I am currently thinking about:

1. Matthew 20:25-28
2. Luke 22:25-26
3. Matthew 23:8-12

I have not reached any solid conclusions yet, and I would like to solicit comments from any readers concerning these verses. Once I have pondered them for a while, I'll post again.


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

What is "Soma Redux"?

Follow me through the maze...

: Greek for "body." Body as in "the body of Christ" (i.e. the church).
Redux: "Brought back" as in re-opened for discussion.

Under the leadership of the Spirit every generation must take a fresh look at Scripture, history, and the best scholarship, and come to grips with what it means to be the body of Christ. This blog is a practical mean to that end. It is a forum for discussion about anything related to being the Church of Jesus Christ.

Doors are open

The "Soma Redux" doors are now open.

I pray that this will be a profitable outlet for discussion (and fun).