From Dave Black Online:
In theology class recently we discussed the seventeenth chapter of John’s Gospel. Let me outline what I said. (Much of what we discussed was based on an essay I wrote several years ago for a somewhat obscure journal called the Criswell Theological Review. The essay is titled “Structure and Style in John 17.” If you would like a copy, let me know.)
The church consists of people who know God personally through Jesus Christ. These people come from many different cultures and backgrounds. There are as diverse as diverse can be. Yet they are all one, united in the very same way that Jesus is united with His Father. What does this unity look like? This is a question to which scholars have given many different answers. What is absolutely certain is that unity does not mean uniformity. It has nothing whatsoever to do with bland sameness. It involves a unity of spirit, an identity of purpose, and a commitment to brotherly love. One evangelical scholar argues that the church is like a huge army marching under different regimental banners. It is not supremely important what regiment we belong to. What matters is that we all follow the commanding officer.
I resonate with this analogy. For many years now I have reenacted the American Civil War. Each regiment has its own customs, flags, esprit, and idiosyncrasies. Yet despite the fact that the army marches under many different flags, each regiment is expected to obey the commanding officer and work together as a unit.
As followers of Christ, we must never forget that Jesus came into the world to inaugurate the kingdom of God. In this kingdom, national and tribal allegiances are unimportant. They are superseded by our loyalty to our Commander-in-Chief. If, by a miracle, unity ever became a “first order” category in our Bible-believing, evangelical churches, evangelism might become our one overmastering passion. I am told that as a Baptist I must fight for Baptist distinctives. Some would go further. They would say that I am not to eat the Lord’s Supper with those who hold to “wrong doctrine” — pedobaptism, for example. How avidly we cling to our distinctives! But our supreme aim can NEVER be to exalt our own regiment. The Commander asks us to follow Him. And if we make that our aim, surely we will realize that the things that unite us in the kingdom are much more important than the things that divide us.
In a word, evangelicals are to be a people who are united for the Gospel. The kingdom of God transcends every manmade barrier we can erect — race, education, gender, color, background, nationality. Think of the leadership of the church in Antioch (Acts 13:1). They had a Cypriot (Barnabas), a dark-skinned man (Simeon “the black”), a North African (Lucius from Cyrene), an aristocrat (Manaen, a member of the Herodian family), and a Jew (Saul of Tarsus). What made their joint leadership possible? I dare say that the “fellowship of the Spirit” (Phil. 2:1) was more important to them than their obvious differences. That humble attitude paid handsomely. The congregation at Antioch became a missionary sending church, as every local church should be.
I believe that most churches today could do a great deal more to encourage this outlook. We can hold city-wide meetings with other congregations, or we can combine services with the church next door, or we can come together for prayer meetings. Perhaps this would help us catch a glimpse of the true catholicity of the church. It is necessary to emphasize that we must depend completely on the Holy Spirit if we are to achieve such unity. The Spirit was given to us, not to make us comfortable, but to make us missionaries. It was the Spirit who drove Paul and the other early missionaries to “struggle together in one soul for the faith of the Gospel” (Phil. 1:28). It is He who dismantles our pride and enables the lovely fruit of the Spirit to take root in our lives. This, I believe, is what Jesus prayed for in John 17 — a church whose fellowship was real and vibrant, and a church devoted to evangelism.
When the Spirit is freely welcomed among us again, who knows what the results might be?
P.S. I should note that I do not reenact the Civil War because I seek to glorify that war or any war for that matter. Quite the opposite. I seek to educate the public about what life was like in the encampments of the period.
David Alan Black is author of The Jesus Paradigm and the forthcoming book Christian Archy from Energion Publications along with 20 titles from other publishers. This extract from his blog is used by permission.
It is here. This review should be of particular interest to Methodist readers, as it discusses questions that many Methodist readers have asked about the book.
… from Englewood Review of Books.
… Drawing heavily on the Anabaptist tradition of theology throughout, Black makes a convincing case that God’s people are in need of a radical transformation.
From Dave Black Online:
Had a discussion recently with a student about patriarchy. I shared with him my concern that sometimes even biblically correct positions can be reduced to a dogmatic narrowness, formalism, and fundamentalism. And this of necessity leads to a kind of fascism. Sadly many Christians gravitate to such black-and-white thinking, glad to find someone who can tell them what to do, someone who will “protect” them from society. Patriarchy-ism is becoming a beacon of authority precisely because it speaks to our insecurities in a time of incoherence. But is that not a danger of any of our “movements,” including agrarianism? This, at least, is what I argue in my forthcoming Christian Archy.
From Dave Black Online:
Do you have the “Athens Perspective”? Here’s what I mean. When I first visited Greece in 1981, I couldn’t wait to see the archeological treasures of its great capital. The Areopagus, the Acropolis, the Parthenon — I felt like I had gone to heaven so enraptured was I with all these wonderful sites. But when Paul and his adventurous missionary company visited the city on his second missionary journey, all he saw were spiritual needs. Paul would never have considered himself a “radical,” yet he was one of the most radical men who ever lived. “Radical,” of course, means going to the root, and Paul plunged through all the layers of history, philosophy, and architecture to the root of mankind’s need.
Yesterday Alvin Reid told the story of how he and his son once toured the great cities of Europe. He set as his personal goal to share the love of Jesus with at least one person every day on the trip. I can just see Alvin talking about Jesus in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, striking up a conversation and then moving beyond the distracting loyalties to the core of man’s emptiness.
There is a radical reformation taking place in our day. Many of us are a part of it. We are tired of debating the virtues of the NIV over the ESV (or vice versa). We are tired of You Tubes criticizing a certain pastor because of the way he pronounces “logos.” It’s time to get back to the essentials, to dare to put the Gospel first and to allow the Lordship of Christ to unsettle our morose self-centeredness.
What happened to Paul in Athens is happening in my own heart. God is beginning to remove any interest in my heart to see the “great sites” of this world. I want to look at the world as God sees it and evaluate everything in life from an eternal perspective. I’m thankful to be part of a missional revolution — a reordering of priorities in the Body of Christ, a rethinking of presuppositions, a recommitment to conserve the essence of life as Jesus taught us to live it.
The Athens Perspective: You either have it or you don’t. We are to be the essentialists of our day. In fact, if all we see when we visit Athens are great buildings, there’s something dreadfully wrong.
From Dave Black Online:
A thought about Labor Day: One of the current social fads is what we might call “post-church Christianity.” People are dropping out of church, especially young people who may have been converted in non-traditional settings. I must confess that much of what we see in the Body of Christ is indeed very unattractive: anachronisms, inconsistencies, hypocrisies. But I cannot agree that the solution is dropping out. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that we are obligated as believers to “stir one another up to love and good works.” How can refusing to meet with other Christians allow us to obey this command? Each Christian is a building block in the temple of the church. Each is necessary for the Body to grow. Each has a part to play. Sadly, the word “work” has become a four-letter word in many of our churches. There are too many shirkers and not enough workers. Even Jesus said the laborers are few.
If you are a dropout from church (for whatever reason, and you may have some VERY good reasons!), my simple advice to you is this: Get to work. Jesus said, “I will build My church,” and He had all of us in mind as His workers!
From Dave Black Online:
Another thought on Bible translations. I don’t care whether someone uses the KJV, NIV, or any other version. We honor God when we place His Word above every other word. The tragedy is that we prefer crackers and cheese when God’s table is loaded with blessing.
From Dave Black Online:
Pastoral ministry is highly demanding. I constantly realize, however, that the burdens we assume are often self-imposed. Trying to move toward a more biblical view of work and ministry can be overwhelming. How biblically ignorant I can still be! It’s particularly hard when people’s expectations get in the way. So there is much room to rethink the wineskins.
What does Paul say about work and ministry? That’s the assignment for next week in our New Testament Theology class. As always, I’m doing the assignment myself. Here are the verses I’ve gathered for my own inductive study. I think they’ll help me get the big picture. I have already written them out in Greek but I’ll list them for you in English:
1 Thess. 2:9: Don’t you remember, dear brothers and sisters, how hard we worked among you? Night and day we toiled to earn a living so that we would not be a burden to any of you as we preached God’s Good News to you.
1 Thess. 4:11-12: Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before.Then people who are not Christians will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others.
1 Thess. 5:12-13: Dear brothers and sisters, honor those who are your leaders in the Lord’s work. They work hard among you and give you spiritual guidance. Show them great respect and wholehearted love because of their work. And live peacefully with each other.
1 Cor. 15:10: But whatever I am now, it is all because God poured out his special favor on me—and not without results. For I have worked harder than any of the other apostles; yet it was not I but God who was working through me by his grace.
2 Cor. 6:5: We have been beaten, been put in prison, faced angry mobs, worked to exhaustion, endured sleepless nights, and gone without food.
2 Cor. 11:27: I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.
Eph. 4:28: If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need.
1 Cor. 9:1-8: Am I not as free as anyone else? Am I not an apostle? Haven’t I seen Jesus our Lord with my own eyes? Isn’t it because of my work that you belong to the Lord? Even if others think I am not an apostle, I certainly am to you. You yourselves are proof that I am the Lord’s apostle. This is my answer to those who question my authority. Don’t we have the right to live in your homes and share your meals? Don’t we have the right to bring a Christian wife with us as the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers do, and as Peter does? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have to work to support ourselves? What soldier has to pay his own expenses? What farmer plants a vineyard and doesn’t have the right to eat some of its fruit? What shepherd cares for a flock of sheep and isn’t allowed to drink some of the milk? Am I expressing merely a human opinion, or does the law say the same thing? For the law of Moses says, “You must not muzzle an ox to keep it from eating as it treads out the grain.” Was God thinking only about oxen when he said this? Wasn’t he actually speaking to us? Yes, it was written for us, so that the one who plows and the one who threshes the grain might both expect a share of the harvest. Since we have planted spiritual seed among you, aren’t we entitled to a harvest of physical food and drink? If you support others who preach to you, shouldn’t we have an even greater right to be supported? But we have never used this right. We would rather put up with anything than be an obstacle to the Good News about Christ.Don’t you realize that those who work in the temple get their meals from the offerings brought to the temple? And those who serve at the altar get a share of the sacrificial offerings. In the same way, the Lord ordered that those who preach the Good News should be supported by those who benefit from it. Yet I have never used any of these rights. And I am not writing this to suggest that I want to start now. In fact, I would rather die than lose my right to boast about preaching without charge. Yet preaching the Good News is not something I can boast about. I am compelled by God to do it. How terrible for me if I didn’t preach the Good News! If I were doing this on my own initiative, I would deserve payment. But I have no choice, for God has given me this sacred trust. What then is my pay? It is the opportunity to preach the Good News without charging anyone. That’s why I never demand my rights when I preach the Good News.
1 Tim. 5:17-18: Elders who do their work well should be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at both preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You must not muzzle an ox to keep it from eating as it treads out the grain.” And in another place, “Those who work deserve their pay!”
Acts 20:33-35: “I have never coveted anyone’s silver or gold or fine clothes. You know that these hands of mine have worked to supply my own needs and even the needs of those who were with me. And I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need by working hard. You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
Wow! This is very convicting to me. It seems that the Gospel fares better against outright opposition than against our frivolous and slothful lifestyles. A Paul slaving away night and day to support himself while doing ministry is a laughingstock. I am all for unity but today “togetherness” seems mired up in “conformity.” Is the status quo worth maintaining when it comes to our work ethic? That’s the question we’ll be asking next Wednesday. Please pray that the Holy Spirit will guide our discussion.
From Dave Black Online:
Next week in our New Testament Theology class we will be studying the theology of John’s Gospel. The subject is far beyond either my intelligence or my personal experience. This Gospel contains things so high I cannot attain them. How can one measure one’s life against the humility and self-abnegation of the Stooping Servant of John 13? Lew Ayotte, in his recent review of The Jesus Paradigm, bemoans his failure to live up to the example of Jesus. The reality is that the author of that book is the greatest failure of all. My ugly flesh reared itself up only last night as I spoke rudely to someone I love deeply. Becky saw it and immediately reprimanded me, as she should have. To ask for forgiveness was a crux (the Latin word for cross), a crucial moment in my walk with God. If only my readers knew how alive the old man is within me! And I am to teach the theology of John? Is there a more precious revelation of the heart of our loving Lord? Sovereignty silences my mouth. John is too high for me. So is Jesus.
Or is He? Does He not still stoop to serve His unworthy followers, motivated only by love? I know my own weaknesses, but He knows them better. What can I do except to choose to believe in this Foot-Washing Savior, to trust, to accept? That much I can do. He is still the God of this prideful New Testament teacher, this sometimes rude and arrogant husband and father, this sinner saved by grace.