How Those Who Have Should Give

Seven Marks of a New Testament Church9:20 AM This morning I have been meditating on 1 John 3:17-19, which addresses those Christians who are rich in this world. John says that if they see a need and refuse to provide help, God’s love does not “abide” in them. That’s a powerful statement. Over and over again the New Testament emphasizes the importance of meeting the needs of our fellow Christians. No genuine need should go unmet in the body of Christ. I find a similar theme in 2 Cor. 8:14, which I’ve been studying in my daily Bible reading. Paul mentions the need (chreia) of those in Jerusalem. Again, in Titus 3:13, he directs the church in Crete to help Zenas and Apollos on their way. The clear implication is that these men had needs which they themselves could not meet. The church is therefore asked to meet those needs.

Was Paul himself ever “needy”? In 1 Cor. 9 he discusses this topic, asserting that frontline evangelists and church planters have the right to receive financial support for their work. He himself accepted no gifts from the Corinthians because he was able to meet his own physical needs by the grace of God and through his own diligence. I think there are several principles at work here. If evangelists have legitimate needs, and if they cannot provide for these needs themselves, these needs can and should be met by the church. In such cases, our giving should be grace-driven, voluntary, generous, and according to or even above our ability (2 Cor. 8:2-3). In fact, Paul seems to imply that believers should not be asked to give; they should eagerly seek out ways to give to the needs all around them (2 Cor. 9:2), looking for opportunities where they can invest the resources that God has entrusted to them as stewards. (We own nothing.) Of course, no one should end up in debt through giving either (2 Cor. 8:13)! Paul’s main point is that no Christian should go without their legitimate needs being met.

What are the needs you see today? Are you in a financial position to meet them? Pray for wisdom to distinguish between those whose needs are genuine and those who are seeking a handout and mooching off the charity of the church (1 Thess. 4:9-12). Missionaries should consider tentmaking as a legitimate alternative to support, as did Paul. They should be aggressive in finding employment wherever they serve. This way they will be a position not to get but to give, which Jesus said is more blessed. Still, there will always be needs in the church. “Share what you have with God’s people who are in need” (Rom. 12:13). This is my life verse. Every generous act of giving, and every donation given, comes down from the Father who created the heavenly lights (James 1:17). May He receive all the glory as He gives through us!

 

Applying Amos

Seven Marks of a New Testament Church(From Dave Black Online. Reposted by permission. David Alan Black is the author of The Jesus Paradigm and Seven Marks of a New Testament Church, among many other books.)

10:06 AM Good morning to you on this sunny winter day! As you know, this week I will begin team-teaching (with Chip Hardy — a really smart guy who holds a doctorate from the University of Chicago) the book of Amos in both Greek and Hebrew. The course is officially listed as “LXX,” and I’m quite sure the Greek text can and should be read on its own terms, but LXX Amos is a translation of the Hebrew after all, and I think it will be helpful if we keep a close eye on the Hebrew as we work our way through its nine marvelous chapters. However, beyond the question of translation and exegesis — which itself could keep us very busy — there is the message of Amos to be dealt with, namely, the preservation of a covenant people of God until the day God raises up a Son of David in the person of Jesus Christ who shall right all wrongs and provide full and final salvation.

When Amos turned his gaze on the society in which he lived and worked, everywhere he looked he saw nothing but counterfeit religion — exercises in self-pleasure, protection of religious property, and careless indifference to the needs all around them. People lived for frivolity (think American football) and money, and the divine displeasure went completely unnoticed. Amos addressed himself to all who would hear his prophetic word that with privilege comes great responsibility, and that to whom much is given, much is required. Amos was a man gripped by a God of holiness, a God who loves His frail and needy people — His wrath-deserving followers — as much as any God ever could and yet who also insisted that whenever grace is abused and the law is forgotten, a terrible price is to be paid.

And what of today’s church? Is the Lord holding up his plumb line and measuring our lukewarmness? Has America reached the autumn of her probation? Amos was surely written for our admonition. Our God is a different kind of claimant. He demands our complete and undivided allegiance. This is the exclusivity that Jesus so often spoke of. There is no other God! — no matter how many times we hold our inter-faith services or acquiesce to a syncretism that would allow a Muslim call to prayer to emanate from a Christian bell tower.

And what of missions and evangelism? I wonder.

  • New Testament scholars attend their academic conferences, pursuing the intellectual (as well they should). But the true combination of humanitas and pietas, of intellectualism and spirituality, should be apparent in Gospel preaching as well as in the understanding Scripture.

  • Pastors continue to erect their magnificent temples (“churches”) as if God lived in houses made with human hands —  and the church in the Third World goes without. Don’t read Amos unless you’re prepared to have your priorities turned upside down.

  • Seminaries act more like watchdogs than gadflies to sting into action for change.

  • People in the pews remain indifferent to the sufferings of their brothers and sisters in foreign lands. I do not know of a better statement of our double standard than that made by W. A. Visser ‘t Hooft in 1968: “It must become clear that church members who deny in fact their responsibility for the needy in any part of the world are just as guilty of heresy as those who deny this or that article of the Faith.”

Church, we are playing it too safe. This very day there is a Christian orphan in India you can support for what it would cost your family to enjoy a monthly meal at MacDonald’s. I can hook you up today with an evangelist in northern India who, for a mere $60 in monthly support will take the Gospel fearlessly to a completely unreached people group on the border of Sikkim. Would you consider becoming like the apostle Paul — rather than asking for money for the mission work you do, trying your best to become self-supporting so that the resources of God might go to the needy in other nations?

Our Anabaptist forefathers of the 16th century understood this principle well, at least in its application to missions. They knew they would never reach the world with the Gospel if they continued to outsource the task to professional clergy, and so they all stepped out by faith to get the job done themselves. Our conservative churches today claim to “be like Jesus” — and we are when it comes to holding and defending a high view of Scripture. But Jesus was also a radical who wasn’t afraid to sweep away centuries of tradition so that God’s word might be understood and obeyed.

This Friday I am meeting with one of our former doctoral students at SEBTS who practices his trade as an academic in a country where Christianity is at best tolerated. As he lectures in his university, he shares his faith and develops friendships with a view toward Gospel conversations. I want to do everything I can to support and promote that kind of strategic work. In India, as you know, more and more missionary dollars are being sidetracked into charitable social programs by denominations that equate social action with evangelism. How far we have drifted from the faith of the apostles! There is a need for a revolution in missions today, and that change will begin when we admit that Western missionaries are less effective at evangelism, church planting, and establishing local churches than are the local missionaries and evangelists. Foreign governments may close their borders to foreign missionaries, but they cannot close them to their own people. The native missionary movement in Asia is one of the most exciting developments I have seen in my 38 years of missionary work. Week after week on this blog I continue with this one message: native missionaries are waiting by the thousands to be sent to the next village with the Gospel. All they need is our prayer and financial support. As I said, any family in the U.S. can do this. Pray about it, be sensitive to the Holy Spirit, and God will show you what to do.

Thus is the message of Amos. Special privileges involve special obligations. Special revelation requires special obedience. Special love requires special responsiveness. Jesus says (as Amos did long before Him) that it is of absolutely no consequence to say “Lord, Lord” and then to turn from doing the will of God when it comes to global evangelism. Jesus’ last words are lasting words (as Danny Akin is wont to say). We have our marching orders (Matt. 28:19-20). Millions of souls depend upon our obedience.

Thanks for listening,

Brother Dave

Professionalization of the Pastorate

(From Dave Black Online. Used by Permission.)

9:02 AM To follow up on Henry Neufeld’s insightful discussion of church leadership (Should Pastors Learn Textual Criticism?), I’d like to offer a brief word about the idea of “professionalization” and its bearing on eldership. I’ll use an analogy from aviation — an area of great interest to me seeing that I fly so much. The other night I watched a YouTube on the crash of Air France 447 in the Atlantic with the loss of all on board. That event, along with the crash of Asiana Airlines 214 in San Francisco and Colgan Air in New York, illustrated the need to retrain pilots to fly manually. There is no doubt that all three flight crews were sorely deficient in this area of training. In the case of Asiana 214, the NTSB determined that the probable cause of the incident was the flight crew’s mismanagement of the airplane’s descent during a visual approach and their inadequate monitoring of airspeed. Contributing to the accident was the pilot flying’s inadequate training in the planning and execution of visual approaches when the ILS (Instrument Landing System) glide slope was out of service, as it was on the day of the crash. In short, and as unbelievable as it may sound, the flight crew of Asiana 214 did not know how to manually fly a VFR (Visual Flight Rules) approach in perfect weather. They were frankly incompetent, and one of the reasons for their incompetence was their overreliance on automatics. Airlines have become so “automatics reliant” today that incompetent pilots slip into the system and are allowed to fly passengers whose lives depend on them.

asiana oroootot

I wonder. Could a similar argument be made when it comes to pastoring and teaching a local flock? Henry is probably correct when he asserts that a working knowledge of the biblical languages is an unrealistic expectation for a pastor today. Instead, the internet (automatics, if you will) has become the go-to source for knowledge about the biblical text. I have met many of my former students who, though they may have excelled in Greek 1-3, could not translate a single verse from their Greek New Testament today if their life depended on it. Proficiency is simply not expected. Many of us are content to run on “auto-pilot.” Just as expecting pilots to be able to hand fly a visual approach is an illusion today, so expecting pastors to do their study in the Greek and Hebrew is a pipe dream. This is indeed what some argue. Mastery of the languages simply takes too much work.

Unlike the flight crew of Asiana 214, the NTSB hit it right on the money: Asiana pilots need to be retrained. In this case, the pilots were both low and slow — a certain recipe for disaster. Flight Training 101 would have told them to apply power first. Instead, they pulled back on the yoke at stall speed without adding any additional thrust. The result? Three dead. And it could have been far worse.

Of course, I realize I’m showing my bias here. I love languages. I love studying languages. I love learning new languages. I work hard at keeping up the language skills I do have. At the same time, I don’t face the daily pressures that your typical pastor faces. As an emailer (himself a pastor) put it to me yesterday:

The pressure on today’s pastor is enormous to be all things to all people and be the best at that. The congregation doesn’t realize how they heap upon their pastor voluminous expectations of perfection and performance and then have the nerve to complain because the pastor didn’t speak to them or visit them this week while deacons sit at home, content that they have hired a religious expert to do the work of the ministry. “After all, that’s what we pay him for!!”

In the end, each of us has to decide what we will do with the languages. It is a very personal decision. Perhaps, as Henry argued, the best solution is team-leadership. Those without competence in the languages can learn from those who possess those skills. I’m all for that. I do know this. If ignorance is unacceptable when it comes to piloting a modern aircraft, I fail to see how ignorance is acceptable when people’s souls are at stake. Church and academy need to work better and wiser at training elders to “cut it straight.”

Luke 2:14 and Textual Criticism

9:10 AM Take your Bibles please and turn to Luke 2:14  — a Christmas verse if ever there was one. The critical text of the Greek New Testament reads as follows:

δόξα ἐν ὑψίστοις θεῷ καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς εἰρήνη ἐν ἀνθρώποις εὐδοκίας

We might paraphrase this as:

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men of [i.e., who enjoy God’s] goodwill.

What happened to “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth goodwill toward men”? There are two readings here in the Greek manuscripts, and they are very similar:

“of good will” (genitive case) = eudokias

“goodwill” (nominative case) = eudokia

The latter reading is represented by the KJV and the NKJV. The former reading has been adopted by most modern English translation. So which is it? What is the original text here? In his blog LXX Studies, John Meade has an excellent discussion of the variant. He concludes:

Thus the angels are pronouncing peace to men of God’s favor, not peace on earth, goodwill to men [indiscriminately].

I tend to agree with this conclusion. The external evidence for eudokias seems definitive. Meade takes it a step further and suggests that the reading is a Septuagintalism or Hebraism. This may or may not be the case. But his discussion raises several important questions:

1) If you are a pastor, can you follow this discussion? If you had to choose between the genitive or the nominative here, would you know what to do and how to proceed? If not, why not?

2) Assuming that a knowledge of Greek is necessary to be able to resolve this problem, what about textual criticism? Few students study this area of exegesis. Yet it is an essential part of our task as exegetes/teachers/pastors. In fact, the bottom portion of our printed Greek New Testaments (the so-called textual apparatus) sometimes takes up half the page, so important are textual variants in the study of the New Testament. Can you make an intelligent decision here, based on the textual evidence provided to us by the Greek manuscripts, the early versions (Latin, Coptic, Syria), and the statements of the early church fathers (the “patristic” evidence)?

3) Can the LXX shed light on New Testament Greek? I imagine John Meade would answer, “Much in every way.”

As the God-man, Jesus presented the sternest challenge ever made to humanity. He demanded peoples’ total allegiance and obedience. Here Luke reminds us that “peace” is available only to those who enjoy God’s goodwill, that is, those who comprise the new humanity that Christ came to establish, the people of God. “Christmas, then,” writes Meade, “is not an empty hope for world peace.”

It is remembering [he continues] how God in Christ actually brought peace on earth to the people of his favor in the past, and that past historical reality is the ground for a certain hope that he will act in the future, that he will indeed come again to establish his justice and righteousness in the consummation of his kingdom in the new creation. “World peace” is part and parcel of why we cry, ”Come, Lord Jesus!” It is not a lament or a gripe to God, as if the first advent of Christ had failed. The first advent brought peace through the blood of Jesus’ cross. The second advent will fulfill or consummate what Christ’s first coming inaugurated.

It’s worth thinking about.

 

Nomos in Romans 7 and 8

8:20 AM Last night I was having a discussion with someone about Paul’s use of the Greek word nomos in Romans 7 and Romans 8. On the one hand, the term refers to the capital L “Law,” that is, the Law of Moses. This is the Law that was “weakened” through the flesh and thus could not provide what God had to provide through the sending of His Son (Rom. 8:3). On the other hand, Paul can use the term to refer to a certain type of “power” or “principle” at work in the believer’s life, as in Rom. 8:2: “The power [nomos] of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power [nomos] of sin that leads to death” (so the NLT). Paul seems to be employing here the law of contrasts, if we can call it that. The righteousness of God is for Paul a noun of action. It is His power in relation to men and women who do not do what is right and who violate the rights of others in self-righteous aggression, as we saw yesterday in Pakistan with the horrific slaughter of school children and their teachers. Humankind robs God of His rights by smacking Him down in their pride and religious hubris. God’s righteousness is the power to disturb our status quo, to shatter imprisoning conventions and traditions, and to break into new paths of freedom. Where this imputed righteousness through Christ is not able to do its work freely, God then uses the instruments of “law” (small “l”) — including threats and punishment — to achieve justice. Luther once referred to this latter law as God’s opus alienum, His “strange work.” As we saw in Peshawar yesterday, there is a deep perversion in man. Our aversion to the righteousness of God assumes the form of preventing the future of others by seeking to use them for our own present good and security. God uses the pressure of law to get us heading in the right direction, in the direction of justice. He uses the law to cause us to serve each other rather than abuse each other.

Thus God works under contrary signs — law and Gospel. He is secretly and hiddenly working “behind our backs” as it were, and even the greatest tyrants of history can be made to do His will. The law is universally present as a pressure to drive us to do what is right, to give others their due, but this law is not the statement of an eternal will but an instrument on the way to the goal of God’s universal rightness kingdom.

Today the Pakistanis — indeed the whole world — is asking, “How could God have allowed this to happen?” This question has a theological basis. When God declares His righteousness, it takes the shape of a searing and searching light. It reveals the demonic powers at loose in the world, gripping it to keep it the way it is. It points us to the unconditional righteousness and love that were mediated into the world only through Jesus Christ. The church exists as an eschatological community of hope for the world. It declares that a new world — Godworld — is coming into being through the power of Christ’s death and resurrection. The church does not exist for itself. It exists as a sign of hope for the world for which Jesus died and rose again. Christians can neither separate themselves from this world nor merge with it. We cannot separate ourselves from the world because in one sense Godworld is already present in Jesus of Nazareth. We cannot merge with the world because then we would lose our distinctive calling as a light to the nations, as the new humanity foreshadowing the future universal kingdom of God. Any dimming or diminution of this eschatological consciousness results in the relaxation of our missionary existence in the world. The church exists as God’s eschatological mission for the world. When, therefore, the church becomes preoccupied with its own religious needs, when it becomes ecclesiocentric, it can no longer be authentically Christian.

The tragedy of our times is that the situation in the world is desperate (as we were reminded again yesterday) but the saints are not. If we were as desperate as the situation, something would happen. Times of emergency call for responses of urgency. A Laodicean complacency will accomplish nothing. So I urge us not to be alarmed at evil tidings, for our hearts are to be fixed on the Lord. But the times call for measures that are suited to the crisis. Just read Tit. 2:11-14. This is what we are here for. By life or by death, by what we do and by what we do not do, whether we eat or drink, our business is to glorify God by counting our lives as His and “losing what we cannot keep to gain what we cannot lose.” The Lord has much to say to us in these trying times. In the hour of extremity I urge us to live Spirit-empowered lives that place the Gospel first. Getting out among the “issues” and dragging in Scripture to support this or that “cause” is something else altogether. Don’t create “issues.” We have one already. Christ is what matters, and everything else — even the world’s greatest tragedies — are to be judged in the light of Him.

 

Taking the Plunge

8:55 AM When I was a kid and learning how to dive from the high dive into the swimming pool, I would stand at the edge of the diving board petrified of what lay below me. Eventually I took a big breath and — I made the plunge. “Gee, this is fun!” I told myself as I clambered my way back up the diving board steps. But the real heroes of this story are my friends who stood on the pool deck and encouraged me to step out in faith.

I find that learning to trust God for change in our very traditional churches is like learning how to dive. The hardest part is simply letting go of our doubts and reservations and trusting God. Let’s say your church is currently having to decide between take a step of obedience to what the Scriptures clearly teach or else maintaining the traditional set-up. You may agonize over your uncertainties and insecurities, but the easiest way forward is simply to step out and take the plunge. God is there to support those who trust, not in their own security and certainty, but in His.

In this regard, I find it interesting that Paul mentions three groups of Christians in the Thessalonian church (see 1 Thess. 5:14). There were the “idlers,” the “fainthearted,” and the “weak.” Let’s look at the “idlers” for just a moment. The term Paul uses here often carries with it the notion of “not in order, not conforming to the established law or practice, being insubordinate.” Apparently these people were insisting on their own way and were “out of step” with Paul’s injunctions. Some perhaps were also lazy and were refusing to obey the command of Paul to “work with your own hands.” In any case, these good folk had to be dealt with, and dealt with directly.

Now please notice the verbs that Paul uses with reference to each of these groups:

  • The idlers are to be “admonished.”

  • The fainthearted are to be “encouraged.”

  • And the weak are to be “upheld.”

There is something very important going on here, and it is easy to miss. The verbs must match the nouns. In other words, we fail in our duties should we, say, admonish the fainthearted or uphold the idlers. People in rebellion against God are not to be coddled. They are to be admonished (noutheteo). This verb is a Pauline word, occurring 7 times in his writings. It always has a sense of correction, but the correction is always based on instruction. It can never be correction alone or instruction alone. And it is never to be done in a vindictive or judgmental spirit.

If you are a church elder, you know exactly what I’m talking about. There will always be people who will refuse to obey the Word, so steeped are they in tradition, or in sin, or in whatever. Sometimes these people have been in the church for years and years and believe they are above reproach — and correction. But the fact is that none of us is ever above correction in some area of our walk with Christ. We all act against the will of God in some form or another. But that is no excuse for passivity.

Another observation, and it too is vitally important. Please, please note that Paul is not telling the church leaders to “admonish the idlers.” A thousand times no! His exhortations in this verse have the whole church in view (“We appeal to you, brothers and sisters ….”). This means that, while our congregational leaders will obviously play a huge role in moving the church forward in obedience to God’s Word, the obligation to instruct and correct each other is ultimately the responsibility of the whole congregation. This means that I, who am not a local church elder, still have the privilege and responsibility of speaking up when I sense the Lord is leading me to offer instruction and correction, under the leadership of my elders of course. There is no evidence that Paul would have ever delegated this responsibility to the leaders alone.

Now think about your own local church. Many Christians find it hard to obey the simple teachings of the Scriptures. Moreover, they find it hard to accept advice, instruction, or correction from others. In such situations, Paul exhorts the members of the church to speak truth to one another and to do so in a patient and long-suffering manner. Let there be instruction! Let there be correction! Let’s move forward as congregations into those areas of obedience that are clearly taught in God’s Word. Our churches will be happier and healthier if we do so — together.

9781631990465

(From Dave Black Online, used by permission.)

11:30 AM I see that yet another book on New Testament ecclesiology is about to be published. I’m all for that. Every tradition of the church needs to be tested by every new generation of Christians. Does this mean that your church, or mine, can go back to the beginning and start all over again, ab initio? Hardly. Truth always comes to us in vessels of clay. That’s why, regardless of what our convictions are on “how to do church the right way” (and I have some very strong convictions, as you know), the structures themselves will always be relative. Some will scrap the institutional church completely. (I did this back in the 60s when I was part of the Jesus Movement.) Others will seek renewal within their churches. (This is my current stance on the matter.) But the tabula rasa approach is, in my view, utterly unrealistic. Christians can never build a new church from scratch, no matter how hard they try and regardless of how many times they assert that they are following “the” New Testament pattern. Right structure does not always result in proper functioning. “Simple” churches can easily turn inward, relativizing the importance of the Great Commission. Worse, they can become lifted up with pride, belittling the institutionality of the church. I’m reminded of the old German saw, “Operation glänzend gelungen. Patient leider tot.” There is no reason why churches of the Reformation should not be open to the possibility of rethinking the wineskins that Jesus talked about so much. My own local church has made tremendous strides in recent years to adopt what we consider to be a more biblical form of church structure and practice. But that’s not the real issue. By their fruits we will know whether a congregation is practicing the Gospel. The crisis in world missions today is not due to faulty structures alone. Rather, what lies at the root of the trouble is confusion about our priorities.

The Lord has much to say to us today. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches” (Rev. 2:7). Does my heart respond, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening”? Does your heart respond like that? We Christians ought to be setting the world on fire. Alas, it’s so easy to go from fire to frost, and one of the easiest ways to do this is to pat ourselves on the back over our ecclesiology.

 

Thinking about the Local Church

(From Dave Black Online. Used by Permission.)

4:06 PM Care to think about the church with me for a minute? My local church, like yours (probably), is constantly thinking about its ecclesiology. The main question — in my view, at least — is the degree to which our churches should be willing to adopt normative biblical principles and concepts that constitute the structure and life of the church. Questions include:

  • The level of involvement of the whole people of God in the life and witness of the church.

  • How leaders are to be chosen.

  • How “ordination” is understood and practiced.

  • The role of the “preacher” in the assembling of the church.

To people (like me) who deny a sacramental and sacerdotal priesthood, these questions are anything but theoretical. So here I offer a few random reflections. Feel free to respond on your blog.

1) The study of church history is absolutely vital if we are to return to biblical norms. For example, it was the Protestant Reformation that replaced the altar with the pulpit and the priest with the preacher. The New Testament, of course, sees the center of the gathering of the body as neither an altar nor a pulpit but a table. The apostolic church gathered explicitly to “break bread” (the telic infinitive; see Acts 20:7), not to listen passively to a sermon.

2) Moreover, the apostolic church was both a charismatic and Spirit-filled diakonia. Whatever organization there may have been in the early church, it existed in order to promote the proper and orderly interactions between the spiritual gifts (exercised freely). Ekklesia was a body of which Christ alone was the Head and in which each member was a fulltime minister-priest. After the third century, however, the charismatic ministry began to disappear and there arose in its place a hierarchical and institutional church. The stage was thus set for the spectatorism so evident in our churches today.

3) The New Testament believers did not have an abstract concept of the church but one that was dynamic and concrete. They saw it as their mission to manifest Christ to the world by becoming His representatives and by participating in His transforming of people’s lives. Energized by His Spirit, there were aflame for Him, and when they gathered, the members worked “together as a whole with all the members in sympathetic relationship with one another” (1 Cor. 12:25).

4) The church of the New Testament was nothing less than a partnership of grace in which every member had its function to fulfill, without jealousy or competition. Their gatherings were Christ-approved, Christ-centered, Christ-oriented, Christ-like, Christ-infused, Christ-exalting, and Christ-led. Remove Christ from the church and you might as well build a house on the sand (Matt. 7:24-27).

5) The Pastoral Epistles in particular need to be reevaluated. Neither Timothy nor Titus were pastors. They functioned as missionary-apostles and represented the church at large. Centuries later, the Anabaptists and other “radical” groups argued that the primitivism of the early church was normative in every age. The priesthood of believers was to be more than a dogma. They actually addressed each other as brothers and sisters. (Oh, how I wish we could do that today in our churches!). They insisted that Christ’s obedience to the Father should be exemplified in the life of every regenerate church member (Nachfolge-Christi).

6) Finally, ecclesiastical superstars didn’t exist. Pastors (i.e., shepherds) were also sheep. In fact, that was their primary identification. (Can you imagine if pastors today had secular jobs like everyone else and lived out in the world, as in New Testament times?)

So … where does my church, or yours, fit into all this? For starters, maybe we should reexamine our priorities when it comes to church finances. Any church building we construct must be purely functional in nature and should express a biblical understanding of the true nature of the church. Theologically, the church does not require a building. A church building has no more right to be called a “sanctuary” than a garage does. The body of Christ, the communion of believers, is the true tabernacle of God. Think and act this way today and you may well end up where the Anabaptists of the sixteenth century did — maligned or even persecuted. The need today is not to mimic the Anabaptists. The need is to renew our commitment to the New Testament Scriptures. Think of the followers of Zwingli in sixteenth-century Zurich. It was their allegiance to the New Testament (in Greek, by the way) that got them in so much trouble with their erstwhile teacher.

So the question is, “Is this pattern scriptural?” If not, a return to the New Testament may be the healthiest antidote to institutionalism.

P.S. I feel led to make an additional statement as a footnote. I know of many people who would never think of asking the church to help them pay for their summer vacation at Disneyworld or in Europe. Then why do so many of us automatically turn to the church to help pay (or even pay for entirely) the costs of our mission trips? I urge you to put aside money to that end, to even schedule your mission trip before you schedule your yearly vacation. If there’s any money left over, then you can enjoy Disneyworld or Paris. But please, plan ahead. Save if you can. Do not ask the church to do for you what you can (and perhaps ought to) do for yourself. Yes, it will take scrimping and saving. But the money is far better used in the Majority World than in paying for your airfare. I know not everyone can do this. But some can. Have you ever considered it?

 

Discontinuity Old Testament to New

10:28 AM Henry Neufeld has just posted two essays about the book of Hebrews and its instruction about the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures). Someday I would love to have a public dialogue with Henry on this subject. Any way, I have for many years been a big fan of Henry’s and I deeply respect him as a churchman, language scholar, and publisher. I think by reading his essays I better understand where he stands. He cares deeply about the Old Covenant (as I do) and is absolutely correct in saying that we Christians must never denigrate the Hebrew Scriptures in any way, shape, or form. So where do we disagree?

Well, I tend to see more discontinuity between the Testaments than Henry does. My theology, if you will, is more along Anabaptist lines than Reformed on this subject. The Reformers were unwilling to make a radical break with the past. Their churches remained established and the parish system was maintained. By contrast, the Anabaptists understood the example of early Christianity and the teachings of the New Testament to be the binding norm for Christians of all ages. For example, the Anabaptists argued that since infant baptism could not be found in the New Testament, it could not be used in a movement trying to emulate the life of the early church. To them the rite was non-apostolic and therefore an insidious shame to genuine Christianity. However – and this is a vital point – the real issue in baptism was not simply a return to the New Testament pattern. Rather, it involved a promise to walk in newness of life, that is, to live according to the Word of God by refusing to let sin reign in the mortal body. In other words, the local church, entry into which was through baptism, was to be a community of saints. The Anabaptists argued that without such concern for morality and genuine repentance, a slipshod practice of spiritual laxity would inevitably result. For the Anabaptists, only the New Testament contained the explicit teaching of Christ and His apostles. The Old Testament was not rejected, of course. It was simply subjected to the doctrines found in the Gospels and the Epistles. According to Pilgram Marpeck, the Old Testament must be distinguished from the New Testament as the foundation must be distinguished from the house. John Kiwiet summarizes Marpeck’s hermeneutics as follows (I give both the original German along with my own English translation):

Der alte Bund war eine Zeit des Suchens und des Dürstens und erst der Neue Bund eine Zeit des Findens und Stillens. Die Verheissung an die Alten geht im Neuen Bund in Erfülling [sic]. Die Finsternis wird zu Licht und der Tod zu Leben. Es ist wie der Unterschied zwischen gestern und heute; das Alte ist vorbeigegangen, und das Neue ist gekommon.

The Old Covenant was a time of seeking and thirsting and only the New Covenant a time of finding and stillness. The promise to the ancients finds its fulfillment in the New Covenant. Darkness turns to light and death to life. It is like the difference between yesterday and today; the old has gone away, and the new has arrived.

Marpeck’s point is that revelation was progressive and partial before Christ. He felt that the Reformers had mistaken the foundation of the house for the house itself. Marpeck’s two-covenant theology was based on Paul’s letter to the Galatians and the Epistle to the Hebrews, which taught that the highest court of appeal for all teaching concerning the church was the New Covenant. In short, he argued that the Scriptures must be interpreted Christologically.

Of course, I am not arguing that Henry fails to interpret the Bible Christologically. But I know some who do. This is one reason the Anabaptists looked with disfavor on professional pastors whose support came through tithes in the parish system. (Note: Henry has published a book by David Croteau that challenges the notion of tithing called Tithing After the Cross.) Unlike Old Testament Israel, their leaders were laymen, since Christ’s offering as High Priest was deemed to be exclusive. Their pastors, moreover, were chosen by the entire congregation according to the pattern established in the New Testament (Acts 14:23; 20:17, 28). They were supported by voluntary offerings (though many indeed supported themselves). As for the place of meeting, lavish sanctuaries were no longer necessary since Christ had abolished the Old Testament priesthood. John Darby, one of the founders of the Brethren church, encouraged the construction of simple chapels or assemblies with architecture that emphasized the priesthood of all believers. Pulpits and platforms were avoided. A typical chapel was a square room with a table and chairs for the speakers. Darby insisted on sitting among the members during the service and standing among them when he spoke rather than from behind the table. (Henry will recall that I requested to do the same when I spoke at his Methodist church in Pensacola several years ago.) The Anabaptists denied the significance of church buildings since physical structures were irrelevant to God. The buildings themselves were emblems of mere formalism. Large stone structures could never replace the true church of Christ that is comprised of two or three living stones gathered in His Spirit. They felt that with the addition of large numbers of extravagant temples the church had compromised with worldly standards of success. The Anabaptists energetically condemned this “externalization” of the Body of Christ.

Finally – and here is where I’m quite positive Henry and I would agree (based on the books he has published, many of whom are authored by “nobodies” in the world’s eyes, like my wife) – in Anabaptism appeal was made to the plain man’s judgment, unspoiled by the university. Those who toiled with their hands (craftsmen) or who worked in the soil (peasants) were presumed to be more receptive and teachable than those who had been corrupted by the folly of worldly wisdom. Here a certain irony arises, of course, for among the radical thinkers of Anabaptism there were not a few university trained men whose knowledge of the Scriptures and of the original languages of the Bible were unsurpassed. I think of my fellow Basler Conrad Grebel, who studied at the Grossmünster in Zürich for six years before becoming one of the 81 students to register at the University of Basel in the winter semester of 1514. At Basel he lived in the bursa (college) that was under the direction of the city’s leading humanist scholar, Heinrich Loriti (Glarean). From Basel he traveled to Vienna to continue his studies, and from there to Paris. Perhaps the Anabaptists’ attitude toward scholarship was based to a degree upon their work ethic. Hard work was considered a virtue. The peasant who worked with his own hands in cooperation with God’s nature was thought to have keener insight than the scribe with his multitude of books. So the Anabaptists might argue: “How can those who know the Master miss His simple and straightforward words in Matthew 23 condemning the use of honorific titles?” To the Anabaptists, use of such titles seemed the very culmination of worldliness and power. Their message was simple: Let the Reformers cling to the old ideas of Christendom. We will seek a thoroughgoing restitution of the church as it had been before the rise of Constantine.

Again, I’m not sure that Henry and I are very far apart on this subject. Indeed, we share very similar visions of the kingdom of God. Where we might differ is in our ecclesiology. The sixteenth century Anabaptists challenged the Catholic, Lutheran, and Reformed establishments of their day. (Sorry, Henry, but the Methodists weren’t around quite yet.) Centuries later Barth and Brunner would question the church-state system from within. Why, then, should it surprise us today when Christians engage in responsible criticism of their own denominations? The goal of the Anabaptists, as has often been said, was to cut the tree back to the root and thus free the church of the suffocating growth of ecclesiastical tradition. That this goal is being revived in our day should be the cause of great rejoicing.

 

Are You Keeping Your Greek Fresh?

6:55 AM In our doctoral seminar yesterday we talked about the need for Greek in doing exegesis and for teaching/preaching. Of course, it’s much easier to claim one knows Greek than to be a Greek reader. That’s the problem I’ve found with many of my former students. With that in mind, try an experiment. See what happens when you turn to Mark 6:30-32 (which is fairly simple prose) and start translating the passage without any helps. It can lead to a rather sobering discovery. Like many of you, I love foreign languages, but we need to work hard to retain what we have acquired. In France I insist on speaking French (much to the chagrin of my auditors). I love speaking German in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria (as well as in certain parts of Pennsylvania). I can order a burrito in Athens in Modern Greek. Of course, when I return to Hawaii, my birthplace, I find it easy to switch back into my mother tongue, Pidgin. I can also hold my own in England and Kentucky. (Lame joke.)

So what if you took three years of French in high school? The result? Can you even count to ten still? “Use it or lose it” is more than a cliché, friends. And that goes for Greek too.

(From Dave Black Online, November 5, 2014. Used by permission.)