Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Learning the habits of a royal priesthood

It's interesting to study the scriptural account of the early church at worship in the Acts of the Apostles, which describes the first Christians drawing on the Psalms and other scriptures to celebrate God's love and power and to be strengthened and sustained in mission.  
...In particular, of course, a church that is learning the habits of the royal priesthood will celebrate the sacraments -- those occasions when the life of heaven intersects mysteriously with the life of earth, not so that earth can control or manipulate heaven (that would be magic, not faith) but so that the story of heaven may become concrete, physical reality within the life of earth, catching up human beings within a world where all sorts of things make sense that don't otherwise, and all sorts of other things that might have appeared to make sense do so no longer.  
All of this life of worship is something to be learned. Communities can grow into liturgy and sacraments, and can take delight in discovering that these things can become, as it were, habits of the community's heart as well as of the individual's. Shared worship is part of what it means when we compare Christianity to team sport. It is together that we are God's people, not as isolated individuals. 
That being-togetherness does not, of course, mean uniformity. What counts is precisely the coming together of people who are quite unlike one another in everything except their commitment to the God we know in scripture and ultimately in Jesus.1

1.  N.T. Wright, After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters [Harper One: New York, NY; 2010] p. 223

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Good Christian Liturgy

Good Christian liturgy is friendship in action, love taking thought, the covenant relationship between God and his people not simply discovered and celebrated like the sudden meeting of friends, exciting and worthwhile though that is, but thought through and relished, planned and prepared -- an ultimatley better way for the relationship to grow and at the same time a way of demonstrating what the relationship is all about. 
...Good liturgy is also eager to discover better and better ways of singing and praying Psalms together, so that they come to be "second nature" within the memory, imagination, and spirituality of all the worshipping faithful, not just of a few musically minded leaders.1

1.  N.T. Wright, After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters [Harper One: New York, NY; 2010] pp. 222-223 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Learning to be a gardener

N.T. Wright comments on the fruit of the Spirit:
The "fruit of the Spirit" does not grow automatically. The nine varieties of fruit do not suddenly appear just because someone has believed in Jesus, has prayed for God's Spirit, and has then sat back and waited for "fruit" to arrive. Oh, there may well be strong and sudden initial signs that fruit is on the way. Many new Christians, particularly when a sudden conversion has meant a dramatic turning away from a lifestyle full of the "works of the flesh," report their own astonishment at the desire that springs up within them to love, to forgive, to be gentle, to be pure. Where, they ask, has all this come from? I didn't used to be like this. That is a wonderful thing a sure sign of the Spirit' working. 
But this doesn't mean it's all downhill from there. These are the blossoms; to get the fruit you have to learn to be a gardener. You have to discover how to tend and prune, how to irrigate the field, how to keep the birds and squirrels away. You have to watch for blight and mold, cut away ivy and other parasites that suck the life out of the tree, and make sure they young trunk can stand firm in strong winds. Only then will the fruit appear. 
And, in case anyone should think I am imposing an alien note on Paul's cheerful list of these wonderful characteristics... we note the final characteristic in the list: self-control. If the "fruit" were automatic, why would self-control be needed? Answer: it isn't, so it is: it isn't automatic, so it is needed. All the varieties of fruit Paul mentions here are comparatively easy to counterfeit, especially in young, healthy, happy people -- except for self-control. If that isn't there, it's always worth asking whether the appearance of the other sorts of fruit is just that, an appearance, rather than a real sign of the spirit's work.1 

1.  N.T. Wright, After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters [Harper One: New York, NY; 2010] pp. 195-196

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Perfected in Weakness

He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater
He sendeth more strength when the labors increase
To added affliction He addeth His mercy
To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace

When we have exhausted our store of endurance
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father's full giving is only begun

Fear not that thy need shall exceed His provision
Our God ever yearns His resources to share
Lean hard on the arm everlasting, availing
The Father both thee and thy load will upbear

His love has no limit; His grace has no measure
His power has no boundary known unto men
For out of his infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth and giveth and giveth again

"He Giveth More Grace"

And He said unto me, 
     'My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.' 
     Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Paul of Tarsus 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Galatians 5:18

"If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law." Someone today catching just that snatch of conversation is very likely to hear it in terms of the strong implicit debate between those who think you should order your life by "rules" and those who think that what matters is "doing what comes naturally," living "spontaneously" or "authentically." And it isn't just our cultural climate that makes us assume that's the sort of conversation we're overhearing. For four hundred years the religious and theological climate has conditioned us to hear a religious version of the same point. Ever since the Reformation at least, a large number of Christians have assumed that the foundation of Paul's thinking goes like this: He spent the first part of his life trying to keep the rules of his religion, and then discovered not only that he couldn't but that rules weren't the point. God didn't want rule-keeping; he wanted "spontaneity." God had forgiven him all his rule-breaking, in and through Jesus Christ, and was now giving him his Spirit, who would produce the "fruit" without all that horrible moral striving.  
But is that what the conversation at the next table was really all about? 
In this way of interpreting... Paul's message, within this way of thinking, is, "You're free from all that! The Spirit will guide you from within, and you don't need to bother about all those rules that come at you from somewhere else, from tradition or philosophy or the Old Testament! Stop worrying about all that moralism; lighten up and be spontaneous. You don't have to try!1

Shortly thereafter, N.T. Wright describes what Paul really meant:
"If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Mosaic Law." This has nothing whatever to do with preferring spontaneity to rules. It has everything to do with the new covenant in which God is pouring out his Spirit upon those who are "in Christ" so that in them the life which the Law wanted to produce, but could not, will at last be fulfilled (see Romans 8:1-11). ...In other words, you do not have to become a Jew... to be a flourishing and fruitful member of God's people.2

1.  N.T Wright, After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters [Harper One: New York, NY; 2010] pp. 190-191
2.  Ibid.,  p. 193

Friday, October 26, 2012

Surreptitious Takeover

Another passage which sits tightly alongside Romans 12 is found near the start of the letter to the Philippians: 
This is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you can figure out properly things that differ from one another, so that you may be blameless and innocent for the day of the Messiah, filled with the fruits of righteousness which come through Jesus the Messiah to the glory and praise of God. (1:9-11) 
The part I have put in italics show how the same theme works out. Thinking of and praying for his beloved people in Philippi, Paul wants them, of course, to grow in love; but this love is not a matter of "undisciplined squads of emotion," but a thought-out habit of the heart -- the heart knowing why it approves what it approves and why it disapproves what it disapproves.  
...Part of the problem in contemporary Christianity, I believe, is that talk about the freedom of the Spirit, about the grace which sweeps us off our feet and heals and transforms our lives, has been taken over surreptitiously by a kind of low-grade romanticism, colluding with an anti-intellectual streak in our culture, generating the assumption that the more spiritual you are, the less you need to think. 
I cannot stress too strongly that this is a mistake. The more genuinely spiritual you are, according to Romans 12 and Philippians 1, the more clearly and accurately and carefully you will think, particularly about what the completed goal of your Christian journey will be and hence what steps you should be taking, what habits you should be acquiring, as part of the journey toward that goal, right now.1

1.  N.T. Wright, After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters [Harper One: New York, NY; 2010] pp. 157-158

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Mental Homework

Commenting on the book of Romans, N.T. Wright says:

For Paul, the mind is central to Christian character: virtue is the result of thought and choice. ...[T]his helps us... to understand the exhortation in chapter 6 to "reckon yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (6:11). This is calling for an act, not of guesswork, nor of fantasy or speculative imagination, but of mental deduction: you are in the Messiah; the Messiah has died and been raised; therefore, you have died and been raised; therefore, sin has no right to hold any sway over you. That mental homework, and that alone, is the basis for the appeal which follows instantly: "So don't let sin reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its desires" (6:12). All of this -- and much more, actually, but at least all of this -- stands now behind Paul's deceptively brief instruction at the start of chapter 12: don't let yourselves be squeezed into the shape dictated by the present age, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.1

1.  N.T. Wright, After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters [Harper One: New York, NY; 2010] pp. 154-155 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Renewal of the whole

According to N.T. Wright’s interpretation of Paul’s epistle to the Romans, “Paul summons to let the mind be renewed, and so to be transformed all through.”  He then quotes that passage in its entirety, only with his own translation from the original Greek text. His translation appears below with some helpful insights of his own following thereafter:
So, my dear family, this is my appeal to you by the mercies of God: offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. This is your true and appropriate worship. What’s more, don’t let yourselves be squeezed into the shape dictated by the present age. Instead, be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you can work out and approve what God’s will is, what is good, acceptable, and complete. (12:1-2)
…Paul sees that in Jesus Christ the long-awaited age to come has already begun. And that is where Christians must consciously choose to live.  …God’s new age has come thundering in through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but the present age acts as a powerful undertow, preventing the incoming waves from having their full force. The undertow of the continuing present age does its best to persuade those who through faith and baptism are already part of the age to come that in fact nothing much has changed, and that they should simply continue as they were, living the same life that everyone else is living.  “The way the world is” is a powerful, insidious force, and it takes all the energy of new creation, not the least of faith and hope, to remind oneself that the age to come really is already here, with all its new possibilities and prospects. 
The antidote to the power of the present age, then, is to have the mind renewed so that one can think clearly about the way of life which is pleasing to God, which is in accordance with God’s will, good and acceptable and (here it is again) “perfect,” teleios, complete.  This renewal of the mind is at the center of the renewal of the whole human being, since the darkening of the mind was identified as central to the problem of idolatry, dehumanization, and sin in an earlier chapter of Romans.1

1.  N.T. Wright, After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters [Harper One: New York, NY; 2010] pp. 148-149, 152

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Domesticated Jesus

In After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters, Bishop N.T. Wright makes the following observation concerning Jesus as the great "moral example" to be copied. He writes:
Many people, reading a chapter about Jesus and virtue, would expect a discussion of Jesus himself as the great example. Surely, many will think, part of the point of his life was to show us how it's done?
...Making Jesus the supreme example of someone who lived a good life may be quite bracing to contemplate, but it is basically safe: it removes the far more dangerous challenge of supposing that God might actually be coming to transform this earth, and us within it, with the power and justice of heaven, and it neatly helps us avoid the fact, as all four gospels see it, that this could be achieved only through the shocking and horrible events of Jesus' death. Jesus as "moral example" is a domesticated Jesus, a kind of religious mascot.  

... [Jesus himself] doesn't go about saying, "This is how it's done; copy me." He says, "God's kingdom is coming; take up your cross and follow me." Only when we learn the difference between those two challenges will we have grasped the heart of the gospel and, with that, the taproot of a reborn virtue.  
...The way of life he was modeling was precisely not something that could be reduced to rules... Nor, certainly, was Jesus saying that people should "do what comes naturally": indeed, what comes "naturally" from the heart, was precisely the problem, as far as he was concerned. The only way we can get to the heart of understanding the moral challenge Jesus offered, and offers still today, is by thinking in terms not of rules or of the calculation of effects or of romantic or existentialist "authenticity," but of virtue. A virtue that has been transformed by the kingdom and the cross.1

1. N.T. Wright, After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters [Harper One: New York, NY; 2010] pp. 125-127, 132

The way to & The way of

The way to the kingdom is the way of the cross, and vice versa -- as long as you remember that "the kingdom," once again, is not "heaven," but the state of affairs in which God's kingdom has come, and his will is being done, on earth as in heaven.

-- N.T. Wright, After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters [Harper One: New York, NY; 2010] p. 116

Sunday, October 21, 2012

By the Brook Cherith

                                                   "...hide thyself by the brook Cherith... 
thou shalt drink of the brook...
                                                            And it came to pass after a while, that the brook dried up..."
                                                                                                                   (1 Kings 17:3-7)

When flowed the brook of Cherith, God sent Elijah there,

And fed him by its waters, though all the land was bare.

While flower the brook of Cherith, Elijah rested there,
No drought could touch his fountains, nor blight his soul with care.

When failed the brook of Cherith, beside its channel bare,
What thought Jehovah's prophet?  Did faith become despair?

But God had long provided new sources of supply,
The morsel that should waste not, the cruse that should not dry.

When fails some brook of Cherith that long for us availed,
Do we recall His promise and think that too has failed?

Nay, He has other rivers whose waters will not dry;
His love is ever meeting new need with new supply.

When dries our brook of Cherith and leaves its channel bare,
The cruse, long since made ready, is waiting.  He knows where.

                                                                       -- Annie Johnson Flint
                                                                       "By the Brook Cherith"

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Eden's Courtesy

One of my favorite poems by C. S. Lewis:

Such natural love twixt beast and man we find
That children all desire an animal book, 
And all brutes, not perverted from their kind, 
Woo us with whinny, tongue, tail, song, or look;
So much of Eden's courtesy yet remains.
But when a creature's dread, or mine, has built
A wall between, I think I feel the pains
That Adam earned and do confess my guilt.
For till I tame sly fox and timorous hare
And lording lion in my self, no peace
Can be without; but after, I shall dare
Uncage the shadowy zoo and war will cease;
Because the brutes within, I do not doubt,
Are archetypal of the brutes without.1

1.  C. S. Lewis, Poems [Harvest/HBJ edition; 1977] p. 98

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Retrogression Part II

In the previous post, I mentioned a discussion between two Reformed friends; and I was one of them. I also mentioned that I requested his permission to post our discussion on my blog for future record, and that my request was granted favorably. Also, as noted before, the discussion was heading in the direction of a major dispute until the point in which I asked some questions. My questions focused upon his assumption that certain reformed leaders, such as  John Calvin, John Knox, and John Owen, were all opposed to formal liturgical worship services. In essence, I was questioning his belief that "The Reformers" (as he called them) were anti-liturgy.

My friend also proceeded to argue that most of the Westminster Divines were opposed to liturgy, but for the remnant who favored formal liturgical worship throughout the reformation, they were allegedly stuck in the rut of "medieval thinking" and "popish" traditions without enough discernment to realize the dangers inflicted upon future generations by their cowardice. Again, the claims of cowardice, as noted in the earlier post, are his words, not mine.

Well, I had a few more words to discuss with him about the convenience of using such loaded derogatory claims as "medieval thinking" and "cowardice", especially without any further evidence - other than his claims - to present in defense of his position. But now that the week is over and I've had some more time to reflect upon our discussion, I feel like I can focus upon his concerns by posting a few relevant insights that are not my own, but rather are from a very well respected Reformed Christian scholar. Robert Letham is that scholar, and he has written a tremendous book about the historical context surrounding the Westminster Assembly, detailing many of the controversies surrounding the Calvinist communities of England, whose theology continued to be the backbone of the Church of England until the 18th century.

In his book, The Wesminster Assembly: Reading its Theology in Historical Context, Letham writes concerning the modern 21st century notion that the regulative principle, as presented within the Westminster confessional standards, was anti-liturgy:
We need to appreciate how the regulative principle functioned in the historical context of the [Westminster] Assembly. ...The focus of these statements cannot be understood apart from the draconian legislation that governed worship in the Church of England, whether it was observed more in the breach or not. The Act for the Uniformity of Common Prayer (1559), which restored the Book of Common Prayer of 1552, specified:
That all and singular Ministers, in any Cathedral, or Parish-Church, or other place, within this Realm of England, Wales, or marches of the same... shall... be bound to say and use the Mattens, Evensong, Celebration of the Lord's Supper,... and all their common and open Prayer, in such order and form as is mentioned in the said Book.1
If any Minister decided to rebel against this legal demand and refuse to use the precise order and form of the latest edition to the Book of Common Prayer, or even "declare or speak anything in the derogation... of the said Book ...and shall be thereof lawfully convicted, according to the laws of this Realm, by verdict of twelve men, or by his own confession ...[that person] shall lose and forfeit... all his Spiritual Benefices, or Promotions, coming or arising in one whole Year next after his Conviction."2

Letham points out that an offender would also face imprisonment for six months without bail for the first offense, and upon the conviction of a second offense, the penalty was imprisonment for one full year and the removal of all ministerial promotions. On a third offense, the person would receive life imprisonment. Even the layman, the common ordinary person with no ministerial status, could be punished for sedition against that Act of Uniformity. The fines for publishing articles or pamphlets against the Book was punishable by a fine of 100 marks, the second offense by 400 marks, and the third offense requiring the offender to "forfeit to our Soverign Lady, the Queen, all his Goods and Chattels, and shall suffer Imprisonment during his life."3

Letham then concludes with these interesting observations:
When we reflect on the drastic imposition of the Book of Common Prayer by the Elizabethan settlement and its aftermath, we see why the Assembly produced a directory of worship giving freedom to individual ministers to conduct worship services within the boundaries of the regulative principle of Scripture. It was the binding legal requirement, imposed by the crown, with penalties attached, that was the real nub of the problem with the liturgy for Puritan minds. While opposing the legal imposition of set liturgies, the [Westminster] Assembly was not abandoning liturgies as such. The Directory for the Publick Worship of God [produced by the Westminster Divines] contains a range of model prayers to be used in the regular service, at the start, before the sermon, after the sermon, before and after baptism, during and after communion, at the solemnization of marriage, in visiting the sick, and at public solemn fasting. Even John Owen, a few years too young to have been appointed to the Assembly, when writing on liturgies, stressed that he was not opposed to them or to the Book of Common Prayer, but to their imposition by law, with the forbidding of the slightest deviation from the set words. The standard practice of the Reformed churches had been to have a liturgy with set prayers; the problem for the divines was the rigid imposition and the repressive, punitive sanctions for failure to comply.4
But what about the Divines antagonism to liturgy, and the "medieval thinking," "popish traditions," and generally ill-discerned "cowardice" of those who sympathized with liturgical forms of worship? My friend has yet to post the sources of information in favor of his perspective.

1.  Robert Letham, The Westminster Assembly: Reading its Theology in Historical Context [P&R Publishing: Phillipsburg, NJ; 2009] p. 301-302
2.  Ibid. p. 302
3.  Ibid.
4.  Ibid., pp. 303-304 Explanations in brackets are mine

Monday, October 15, 2012

Retrogression Part I

In some confessionally Protestant churches, the regulative principle of worship is purportedly the basis for rejecting formal liturgical worship services (and books), such as covenant renewal worship (and the Book of Common Prayer).  Some even go so far as to presume upon all liturgical traditions as though some form of compromise has been made with "popish" and pagan traditions -- traditions saturated with doctrines that stand against the "truths" of Scripture.

I am mentioning all of this now because I was recently reminded by a dear brother and Protestant friend, albeit in a polite manner, that the church in which my own immediate family attends regularly and are members, does not worship "biblically," and never can because we promote one of the many formal liturgical forms of covenant renewal worship. By adhering to covenant renewal liturgy, not only have we been accused of worshipping contrary to the Scriptures, but we are assured that the Scriptures only promote the Regulative Principle of worship as understood by the Reformers. They brought to light what was buried in darkness by "popish" and pagan traditions for too long!

My friend also appealed to "the Reformers'" rejection of liturgy, noting such famous works as John Owen's Discourse Concerning Liturgies, and  The Chamber of Imagery in the Church of Rome Laid Open. Of course, God's Word itself was projected as the ultimate appeal of authority (as it should), but unfortunately, in our discussion it was almost always with the proviso that the new covenant of God's Word only promotes a regulative principle that is anti-liturgy. He meant well in teaching me this, as he assured me. But regardless of whether someone endorses the regulative principle of worship or not, or even John Owen's polemics, how is a christian brother supposed to respond to such allegations?

I did respond to his questions and we did have a healthy discussion for about ten more minutes. After our conversation was over, I asked him if I could post our discussion on my blog and even answer his questions online for future review. He said yes, as long as he is allowed to respond to my posts. I agreed. So to continue where we left off, I have included a sampling of a few things I mentioned to break the ice and steer our conversation in a healthier direction. I hope this helps others too (especially those who share the same Reformed persuasion as my friend).

First of all, I asked who the "Reformers" were that (he claims) "properly understood" the regulative principle? He responded, "Calvin, Knox, Owen" as though his response was rehearsed. And so I continued to ask, "What makes you believe that the 'Reformers' like Calvin, Knox, and Owen didn't continue to worship with liturgical books and formal liturgical patterns of public service? I mentioned that Martin Luther did. John Calvin did. Martin Bucer did. John Knox did. And that John Owen wasn't opposed to prescribed liturgies per se, but rather the legally binding imposition of prescribed liturgies which violated the conscience of individual Ministers. I think that caught his attention, because there was no other rehearsed response to the contrary. Instead, his response was simply, "I'm not so sure about that. I'll have to look into that and get back to you."

I then proceeded to ask him what he thought about the Westminster Divines and their views about formal liturgical worship. I asked, "Do you believe the Westminster Divines were opposed to liturgical books and worship services?" I asked this because I suspected his awareness of the Westminster confessional standards being used among modern adherents of the anti-liturgical approach to the regulative principle of worship. His answer was basically yes, but with a certain caveat attached. He proceeded to argue that most of the Divines were opposed to liturgy, but those who were not were stuck in the rut of "medieval thinking" and "popish" traditions without enough discernment to realize the dangers inflicted upon future generations by their cowardice.

I'm not kidding, and neither was he; That was his argument.

Again, how is a christian brother supposed to respond to such allegations?

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Liturgy: Not just a book

In the book, New Creation: A Liturgical Worldview, Frank Senn discusses the comprehensive scope of liturgy and what it generates when routinely imbibed:
When one speaks… of the Roman rite or the Byzantine rite orthe Lutheran rite, one means the whole way in which these communities of faithinitiate and form members, choose leaders and exercise roles in the assembly,care for their members in crisis situations and reach out to non-members, andreact to the crises that constantly affect the community as a result of itshistorical journey. Liturgy understood as ritein this sense is not just a particular order of worship or a system of rubrics.It is not just a book. …When liturgy is consistently and routinely done, itgenerates its own way of life, its own culture, which may be critical of thecultures of this world, but is not itself uncultural. Nor are the people whoconstitute the assembly called out of the world unearthly, disembodied spirits.They are cultural beings who bring their cultural expressions and practices tothe assembly with them. However, these expressions and practices aretransformed by their use in the liturgy.1

Understanding Christian liturgy as a rite in this sense, how important is liturgy to you?

Should it be more important than it currently is in your life?

1.  Frank C. Senn, NewCreation: A Liturgical Worldview [Fortress Press: Minneapolis, MN; 2000] p.8

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Perfecting One's Own Ruin

In the year 1692, Thomas Shepard, the Puritan, published a masterpiece of spiritual insights titled The Sincere Convert.  Midway through that book, Shepard proposes a scenario where the question is asked, "How [do] men plot and perfect their own ruin?".

He lists four answers to that question, the second of which is: "By reason of man's carnal security, putting the evil day from them, whereby they feel not their fearful thralldom, and so never groan to come out of the slavish bondage of sin and Satan."1

Many pages later, Shepard continues this train of thought concerning the second answer, maintaining the same Puritanical candidness:
God may absent Himself from men weeks, months, years, [and] men shed not one tear for it, because they never tasted the sweetness of his presence. It is strange to see men take more content in their cups and cards, pots and pipes, dogs and hawks, than in the fellowship of God and Christ, in word, in prayer, in meditation; which ordinances are burdens and prison unto them. What is the reason of it? Is there no more sweetness in the presence of God's smiling in Christ than in a filthy whore? Yes; but they know not the worth, sweetness, satisfying goodness of God.2 
[The] false spirit, having given a man comfort and peace, suffers a man to rest in that state; but the true Spirit, having made the soul taste the love of the Lord, stirreth up the soul to do and work mightily for the Lord. Now the soul crieth out, What shall I do for Christ, that hath done wonders for me? If every hair on my head were a tongue to speak of his goodness, it were too little. (Neh. vii. 10,) "The joy of the Lord is our strength." (Ps. li. 12,) "Uphold me with thy free spirit;" or, as the Chaldean paraphrase hath it, thy "kingly spirit;" the spirit of adoption in God's child is no underling, suffering men to lie down, and cry, My desires are no good, but flesh is frail.  No, it is a kingly spirit, that reigns where it liveth.3

There is something about Shepard's insights which makes me wonder why many Christians don't express a desire to have this 'kingly spirit'.  

Why are many Christians quick to acknowledge the sweetness and satisfying goodness of God (as Shepard does), but not in a manner which exemplifies a kingly spirit in themselves?

If Shepard is correct in his insights, might not the absence of a kingly spirit indicate that a slavish spirit of bondage to sin remains in one's life?

1.  Thomas Shepard, The Sincere Convert and The Sound Believer [Soli Deo Gloria: Morgan, PA; 1999; reprint of the 1692 edition] p. 68
2.  Ibid., p. 91
3.  Ibid., p. 87

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Christ's Body: Broken or Given? Part VI

As noted in the previous post, there is no theological contradiction between Paul's statement that Christ's body was broken and John's statement that not one of Jesus' bones were broken. But the discussion still ended with some lingering questions:  Even if there is no theological contradiction, what are we to make of Luke's account which does not say the exact same thing as Paul's?  Which statement did Jesus actually say?  Did he say "broken for you" or "given for you"?

I will attempt to answer this particular concern in this post.

When this series of posts began, I mentioned in passing that there seems to be an assumption that both Paul and Luke were attempting to provide an exact quotation of what Jesus said. Certainly, it is often assumed, Luke was quoting Jesus' exact words! Or, certainly Paul was. Really? Certainly?
What if neither of them were quoting Jesus exactly? Well, one may then object that it's impossible to know what Jesus actually said. At least, that's the allegation.  But let's back up the truck a bit. Is it impossible to know what Jesus actually said when instituting his Supper?  From this point forward, I am going to approach this concern with as much deductive reasoning as possible. My hope is that, in the end, the reader can, in fact, know what Jesus actually said, and might possibly be willing to go one step further by betting on that conclusion.

First, notice that Matthew's gospel doesn't record the exact same words as Mark or Luke. In Matthew's account (26:26), Jesus merely says "Take, eat; This is my body." In Mark's account (14:22), Jesus merely says "Take; this is my body." If this was all the textual evidence that we were left with, should we therefore assume that they both were intending to quote the exact words of Jesus in full?  Should we even assume that such assumptions were at least Matthew's, simply because his account has the longer reading (i.e. "Take, eat...")?

Let's pretend for a moment that we didn't have Paul's account, but we did have Matthew and Mark, as well as Luke's account which simply says, "This is my body given for you...". Should we therefore assume that Luke intended to quote Jesus' exact words simply because he provides the longest quotation? Certainly Luke was more likely to quote Jesus' exact words because his account is more complete, or so they say. To doubt Luke's more complete account of Jesus' words would be as foolish as doubting Thomas, or so they may say. Actually, the inverse is true. To doubt like Thomas is more like doubting that Luke's account is not a full quotation of what Jesus said. Thomas doubted because he assumed too much about two very different accounts: Jesus alive, and Jesus standing in front of him alive after dying. Likewise, sincere Christians assume too much about two very different accounts: the "full" account of Luke, and the "full" account of Luke after reading the accounts of Matthew and Mark.  Obviously, from the very texts themselves, Luke didn't find it necessary to insert the exact same words as Matthew and Mark. Matthew and Mark both say "Take, eat"; but Luke doesn't. Therefore none of them can contain the "full" quotation of Jesus if we assume that at least two of the three synoptic authors faithfully quote Jesus at all. All three can't be quoting Jesus in full. And so, isn't this prima facie1 evidence that our assumptions about Luke's quote being the full quote are mistaken?

Consider the alternative quotation from Paul's account in I Cor. 11:24. Look at the evidence in favor of the rite which he offers:
  1. Paul was an Apostle of the Lord Jesus. The only other account recorded for us by the hand of an apostle is Matthew. (Even though Mark accompanied Peter, and one can safely assume that Mark's gospel was aided by Peter, there is no evidence that Peter's own hand wrote it's content.) And we know, simply by comparing the synoptic gospels, that it's obvious Matthew did not intend to record Jesus' words at the Last Supper in full or with exact precision. Paul's account, therefore, carries some weight as the last remaining apostle to hand-write Jesus' words.
  2. As was noted in an earlier posts, both here and here, the textual evidence also favors Paul's record, which says "Take, eat; this is my body broken for you...".
  3. Paul's words include every single word which Matthew, Mark, and Luke record, with the exception of the word "given" in Luke's gospel.
  4. Neither Matthew, Mark, or Luke go out of their way to claim or even imply that they intended to quote Jesus in full, or with exact precision. Rather, from their own omissions, it is conclusive that none of the synoptic authors intended to give a full, exactly precise quotation of Jesus' words, but rather the essential meaning of Jesus' words. After all, it's not like the exact words which Jesus used are magical. If one word is missing from Mark's gospel (i.e. "eat"), the message of Mark remains just as valid as Matthew's account, as well as the rite itself. Likewise, Luke omits the words "take, eat". This does not mean that Christians should freak out when their pastor chooses to consecrate the elements with Matthew's insertion of "take, eat". Both rites are proper and authoritative, and both accounts convey the same essential meaning of the rite which Jesus instituted.
  5. Paul does, as a matter of fact, go out of his way to both claim and imply that he intended to quote Jesus in full. Whether he intended to do so with exact precision, must be left to conjecture. In I Cor. 11:23-24 (NKJV) Paul says:  "For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night in which he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "Take, eat; this is my body which is broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me." Not only does Paul include everything contained within the synoptic gospels, but also, by saying rather clearly that he has delivered and is delivering unto them what he received from the Lord, he is saying, in essence, that this is what the Lord said, so continue to heed what He actually said.  
  6. Also, Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians years before Luke wrote his gospel, which lends some more credibility to Luke's expansion of Paul's rite, as well as what Matthew and Mark recorded (assuming that Matthew and Mark's letters were available for him to give an orderly account, Luke 1:1-4).  Interestingly enough, we know that Luke was a companion of Paul's second missionary journey, and was with him in Corinth. It is also very likely that Luke was as an amanuensis of Paul during his missionary journey,2 which means that it is certainly possible, if not probable, that Luke modified the rite which Paul delivered unto the Corinthians. In other words, if we assume that one of two people, either Luke or Paul, had to modify the other's words, Luke is the most likely candidate. Luke may very well have been aware of the rite which Paul delivered unto the church of Corinth, having been there with him, and yet he chose to deliver his gospel with a variant form of Paul's rite. By modifying Paul's rite, "this is my body broken for you" to read instead, "this is my body given for you", the essential message remains the same. If such a modification was made by Luke, it was possibly, if not probably, for the purpose of avoiding any unpleasant connotations of the word "broken" to his audience, the "most excellent Theophilus" (Luke 1:3).
  7. If Jesus really did actually say "broken", not "given" as it's found in Luke's account, there still remains no contradiction in meaning, because the meaning of the rite which Paul delivered to the church of Corinth conveys the same idea as Luke's account: the broken loaf of bread represents Jesus' broken body given for them.

If I were a betting man, I would call the bluff of modern translations concerning I Cor. 11:24 because the evidence is stacked in favor of the KJV translation. If the pot was higher than usual, I would then raise double that Paul records the actual words which Jesus said "the night in which he was betrayed".

1.  prima facie is Latin for "first appearance", and it describes something which, based on one's first impression of the evidence, should be accepted as correct until proven otherwise.
2.  For a convincingly detailed historical and textual account of these claims, see David Allen, The Lukan Authorship of Hebrews [B&H Academic: Nashville, TN; 2010]; Also, among the wide variety of discussions on the internet, a few of them caught my attention in the past: