Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Failure of Radicalism in the Church

I don't know about you, but I think that the effort of the primitive church to recreate Old Testament religion is nothing short of monumental. To read some of the New Testament, especially the Gospels and -- what I am starting to think of as part of the Gospels because it's from them that Jesus' Messiahship receives validity -- the Messianic prophecies, you might get the view that everything was now changed. The Spirit was to be our guide because the Laws of God were to be written on our hearts, we were all to be equal, the temple worship was to be subsumed into our new communion with the Father through the resurrected Christ, and the works of Jesus would be a commonplace (though revered) occurrence among us, because Christ's "not of this world" kingdom is breaking into our present reality. But their legacy is quite different.

For any number of reasons we now inherit the following: a new Torah and Talmud -- the Canon, Patristic writings and Canon Law, -- a hierarchy of priests, temples and ceremony and a varying experience of the miraculous, where either in their lifetime or after, those who experience the miraculous are considered more meritorious -- to the point of sainthood-- than the unwashed masses or written off as frauds, depending on your tradition. The pinnacle of this recreation of the Old Testament world was of course the unexpected success in the political arena. This not-of-this-world kingdom now could bask in the patronage of, exult in the new ability to influence, and languish under the equal and opposite force of control of the most powerful administration on earth. I'm sure they found it addicting.

The whole process looks very much like a slow motion sell-out, which is of course, not quite fair. The big picture that I am gleaning from the New Testament, especially from the Gospels, just wasn't at the fingertips of those who were doing the original work of spreading the word. Much of the material just hadn't been written yet and after it was, it took some time to disseminate. The hierarchical models of Church polity were what they had at hand. It was culturally relevant. Who can fault them for starting that way? But their successors should maybe have pondered Jesus' words in Matthew 23 which shout 'Equality!' or those so ready to excommunicate based on doctrine might have spent some time with John 14 where Jesus us gives the idea that "in" or "out" is dependent rather on obedience. Already ingrained practices could have been reworked. Instead, the practices remained and the words of Jesus ignored or explained away.

And the emphasis seems to have been on regimentation and control. After all, the government was now involved. Issues might have headlined like "Who's in and who's out,"  "Cornering the market on Grace,"  "Creating a new Torah" -- which was done mostly out of letters addressed by one us to specific groups of us suddenly pressed into service as letters by God to all of us. And the New Testament was highly important as doctrine and heresy increasingly came into the centre stage. If tenets of belief determine in and out, we must have a document to base the correct tenets of belief. So the church congratulated itself on the excision of the Nestorians and the Arians etc. And as time progressed, this church of "all brothers with only one Father" transformed into a hierarchy centered around increasingly arcane and intricate ceremonies which now could only be performed by clergy (those higher up in in the higher-archy) in beautiful temples. Nobody asked what had happened to the simple meal it was based on.

By the time of the Reformation, some were crying foul. The simplicity of Jesus' teachings had so obviously been traded for intricacy and convolution. Some kind of radical rework was necessary. And so the reformed church and the free church were born. Results varied, but the intent was the same, that being an attempted return to what the church once was or ought to have been.

Fast-forward to today. There is now a movement to return to the church that the reformers left, or if not that church, the eastern version of the same, all in the name of coming home to the true inheritors of the primitive church. It's an ongoing event that continues to trouble me. After all, the reasons we left haven't gone away. Worship and polity in these churches are still entirely unlike and largely impossible to derive from anything in Jesus' teachings or practice and what does correspond seems hopelessly embellished. (The same charge could be levelled against us that what we do is not very like Jesus' ministry. The only difference is that we don't view our ceremony as vital to salvation itself.) But the underlying reason for this re-exodus must be that the radicalism of the reformation has failed. Five hundred years or so later, we are in essentials the same as that which we left -- we're just a poor imitation. We kept the new Torah and built up our own Talmud around it. We've replaced images and symbols and icons with well, actually, more images and symbols and icons and... preaching, lots of preaching. Eventually one wants something different. And the claim of the 'ancient' churches to being the original, true, version of the church is hard for some to refute.

So where did we go wrong? I think it's a failure to recognize that keeping the new Torah as that which all truth must be built upon was a mistake. No, I'm not throwing out the New Testament. I'm just wanting us to recognize a few things about it. Firstly, it was written not by those somehow above us, but our equals (see Matthew 23). Secondly, there's no doubt about its inspiration (read it!) but this is the Church. Inspiration ideally abounds among us. To look back and say this is the only inspired writing is surely an offence against the promise of the Spirit's presence. It's akin to other cessationist positions, exalting the past over the present in despair, ignoring the picture of the ever more victorious church that Jesus paints with his allusion to 'greater works.' I would like to reform the Bible to include in the New Testament an index of ALL Christian writings that follow -- as a way of recognizing that the Spirit has not stopped communicating and that all Christians are part of the conversation. Thirdly, we need to have the simple right to disagree or at least take a grain of salt with some of what we read as we already do with other teachers and leaders today. The male chauvinism of some passages for example, is ingrained in the culture of the writer, and we need not spend the monumental effort some have spent to explain it away in the name of preserving the "inerrant Word of God." We have to realize that what is today, is more of the same of what used to be. The early apostles were not qualitatively different than we are. We sometimes make inspired statements which have a certain slant and so did they. Therefore, to forever use their words as the only starting point of our theology is a mistake. I think only Jesus' own words have that place.

I also think that we erred in carrying on the practise of judging "in" or "out" based on theology. An atheist sacrificing to do right by those for whom he is responsible might be closer to God than an idler whose theology is impeccable because the atheist is actually doing. According to Jesus, actions, not theory, are central. But for us, theology is the in or out determinator. Those leaving for the 'ancient' churches have been conditioned to put themselves in and others out by dint of their choice of theology. And now some cannot even take communion with brothers and sisters with whom they have previously laboured side by side in the kingdom of God. We can't blame them for such foolishness. It was taught them by the churches they are leaving. But is there not room for many different takes on the Christ event? And I mean takes that need not use the Epistles as a lens for the Gospels, but that look at the Gospels themselves first. Can we not take our equal place along side the apostle Paul, who, just like us, wasn't there to travel with Jesus on the roads of Palestine and see him die? Can we not, like him, gaze on the event and inspiredly speak of its meaning? And still not deprecate and denigrate other brothers and sisters who see other meanings..?

And where ought our radicalism have taken us? Well actually, our birthright is being where John the apostle spent the Last Supper. As close to Jesus as we can get. Intricate ceremony is to celebrate that which is distant. Formula, symbols and symbolism are of that which is barely accessible. Contemplation is about that which is not here. And the need for interaction with other mediators, such as priests and saints emphasizes how far we have strayed. But Jesus said he is with us always, and that we his sheep, hear his voice. What could be simpler, until our perception is that he's not and we don't? That's when it gets complicated. That's when you resort to ceremony.

The mistake that we of the reformation churches make is that we are free from all that. We're not. The church outside of revival must always eventually fall back into formula, until we "humble ourselves and pray" and he "hears from heaven." But now our formulae are tainted with the commercialism of the worship music industry and the book tables of the conference circuit. Can you blame someone for making the mistake of searching out other formulae? (I say "mistake" because really, it should be obvious that a change in formulae cannot possibly be the answer.) Especially when they offer such apparent authenticity and what they've come from is now so lame?

If I had to think of a way out of this mess I'd say it's got to have something to do with simplicity. I think the most important theological statement anyone can espouse is found in that famous Hindi gospel song (and yes it was written in Hindi first!) "I have decided to follow Jesus... No turning back." And somewhere in the mix, revival must come. A sudden increase of God's presence would bring a clarity that we are missing just now. One can only hope...

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Guest Post: To worship band members

The following came to me in an email and I asked the sender if I could use it as a guest post.

Unless we've played together, you don't know me. And no, this isn't an American Express commercial. And that's okay.

By trade, I am a software developer. By passion I am a learning addict. My main interests are, well, everything but all that is by the by for the moment. By habit borne of talent, persistence and passion, I lead worship. I do so on my own in whatever home group I've joined, if it suits what the group does. I worship at church when I'm not part of the band, but I'm part of the band pretty often and willingly: in bands large and small, high-profile and unknown. And I've been doing this for 30 years and maybe a bit more. In that time, I've gotten more opinionated -- and perhaps, just perhaps my opinions have become slightly more worth sharing.

If you're involved in worship in a church setting, the key question you need to know the answer to is this: "Why are you there?" Worship leaders great and small -- especially the worship leader you serve under -- are ready to give many and diverse answers to that question, and in the words of Huckleberry Finn, they "tell the truth mostly." Still, if you're normal there'll always be this nagging doubt that the things they say are at least partially self-serving: they want to fix you in place, to serve their interests, to prop them up. Since the heart "is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who [even a worship leader] can know it?" there's just the possibility that that's the case. So, I thought perhaps there's some sense in me, that you'll probably never see in a pulpit -- certainly never headlining a band "coming soon to a stadium near you" -- outlining what I've come to see as answers to that question, true enough to make you as effective in that role as you can be; as Papa wants you to be, for his own sake, yes, but just as surely for your own.

You, indeed the whole band and the worship leader are there for one primary reason -- and it's one that a worship leader I served under a long time ago highlighted repeatedly: It's like John the Baptist said when his disciples were disgruntled that Jesus was gaining more followers than he was in John 3:30: "He must become greater, I must become less." How much more should I say than that? But I will say a bit more on this and a few more points.

Whatever you do, your goal should be to draw attention to Jesus' beauty, to his glory. Go ahead and play the best licks, riffs and vamps that you can manage -- within what works for the arrangement, more on this anon -- but do whatever virtuosity you can manage with the heart of a kindergartener bringing home his crayon drawings of "Daddy at work", and do it in such a way as to make focusing on Jesus and to make deeply expressing love, honour, awe, praise, thanksgiving, supplication toward him easier for everyone.

Some modicum of modesty is indicated (ask yourselves, sisters, what would your granny approve of?) but probably not the narrowest definition ever (we are under grace, not Torah or Shari`a) -- walk this one out as your conscience and local scruples balance out.

Some level of physical expression is probably a good idea: break dancers would be distracting in many settings but triumphal notes and rousing words, such as the repetitions of "There is no God but Jehovah" in Robin Mark's "Days of Elijah" becomes comical when the worship band is as animated as zombies. You can find some balancing point between those two extremes in your own setting, so do so; something appropriate to the lyrical and musical content of the song being used and the congregation you're serving.

Serving, yeah... That's not just a nice religious word, it's what you're doing. And if you're not leading worship with serving in mind, then you're probably heading off the rails soon if you aren't already in the ditch. Whom are you serving? Primarily God, of course, but in your context, the band is serving the congregation (or the individual leading in a homegroup is serving the, um, homegroup) and you as a member of the band are also serving the leader and your fellow team-mates. So, sniping is out. Competing for spots is out. Ignoring the arrangement the leader said he wanted to follow is out. Even, ignoring the arrangement the leader is actually using is out. If the music says "A major" but the leader keeps playing "A minor" in that one place, and you notice it, following the music too closely is out. Do what he/she says (or does, in a case like the wrong chord) or the result will be distracting from the primary purpose: corporate worship.

This extends, especially for the older and/or more educated and/or more skillful members of the band to further issues. Sometimes the arrangements suck. For whole sets. Sometimes the songs suck. It's what the congregation loves but you're finding it cheesier by the week. Sometimes the same lame chord progression is used for the whole song. Including the chorus; AND the bridge. Sometimes secondary key signatures are introduced in the most bizarre fashion imaginable. Sometimes the theology of the lyrics is weak -- even bordering on heretical. Like "Lord I Lift Your Name on High" implicitly denies the resurrection. Like why are we singing about absolution? We're not Catholics or anything -- and I'll bet they wouldn't even use the word that way. Like how do you "walk upon salvation"? Tim Hawkins has highlighted some lovelies here. Do yourself a favour and look for him on youtube -- all I can say is "I can only eat margarine."

So what do you do? Step one is not "I quit." In fact, "I quit" doesn't show up on the list of things to do at all. You know that saying about making a silk purse out of a sow's ear? That's what you get to do. At least, sort of. The truth is, no worship leader's arrangements, songs or set -- unless the worship leader is about to be sacked by others for other reasons -- is really a sow's ear. But even if it were, we're working in the Kingdom Dimension now and it is Jesus' promise that every gathering of two or more of his loved ones will be graced by his presence, not just those that feature a "perfect" song set. So if it all sucks, suck it up, princess, and play your best for the Audience of One, in support of the ones around you, so that they, too, will be able to do their best in the same endeavour. It may leave you cold. You may long for something better to happen. But in the meantime, the Body will be blessed and that's what the job's about. Remember point one? When Jesus becomes greater and we become less, that's when the Body is most blessed.

Sure the worship leader likes every song to start in the same ways (or in too different ways that seem to jar when you play the set). Sure there are rhythm and/or tuning problems but the best response from YOU in that situation is to stay loyal to Papa's side in the fight, which for that moment means pulling together with the ones you're serving with.

Your day to dictate what should happen will come -- or maybe not. And whether it does or not (as it really hasn't for me; probably never will) God will use you to extend his kingdom in big and small ways. And please believe that whatever reason others might have for saying that, I at least am not saying this to keep you down. I'm saying it because this set of attitudes has blessed and sustained ME in my in-again out-again, up-again down-again career as a volunteer member of worship bands wherever it has been my privilege to contribute. And I'm sure they will be of benefit to you even if you never hear me say it in person.

Sometimes you'll be involved on the platform -- or even in a homegroup -- more, sometimes less. And maybe the changes will happen because of the carnality of the worship leader, like David was delayed in getting to the throne by Saul. So be more like David than like his son Absalom -- Tale of Three Kings, there's another book that helps outline what kind of a heart you should have within a worship band. Only not just in a band but in life generally: see to it that you're more like David away from the platform, too. To put it another way, live like Brother Lawrence did (skillfully re-set by David Winter in "Closer Than a Brother" if the medieval sounding translation of "Practice of the Presence" is too crusty for you): Jesus' presence is available to all of us individually. Speak into the silence when no one else is listening and wait. Answers do come.

Be skillful; be as skillful as you can be -- don't short-circuit that for anyone. It takes just as much skill to play well one way as another. It takes another set of skills to select from your toolbox things you don't typically choose to do because the setting demands it. Wait and look for opportunities to contribute your ideas when arrangements and sets are being developed, sure. But be even surer that the worship leader you serve with is correctly confident that whatever he does, even if it veers away from what he or she said would be done, that you'll do your best to follow so as to make the result sound as good as possible: again, not for anyone's aggrandizement but so that there should be a minimum of confusion in what is played so that the attention goes where it belongs: our beloved bridegroom.

There. Now I'll be like the rich man in James and "fade away, even while I go about my business..."

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Paul Event

I had a thought recently that with all the justifiable attention we pay to the Christ event, we might well miss the potential significance of the Paul event.

Think of hierarchy. Think of succession. Think of disciples. Think of those entrusted with Christ's own teachings. And then think of a compleat interloper having the majority say on the meaning of all that happened in the presence of those same guardians! Such a thing flies directly in the face of the whole concept of succession. It should have called into question the whole fantasy of the rule on rule, the whole quasi-talmudic approach where everything is built on something else. But instead, the early church got around the issue by declaring the interloper an Apostle after all. And we have since based much of our teaching on his. There's a weird irony around the word "Apostle." It's supposed to be the same as missionary, which Paul obviously was. The irony is the historical assumption that it also means something akin to "benevolent dictator for life," which I just don't think was Jesus' intent.

But really, doesn't it blow everything wide open, that someone so from the outside of everything could have a personal revelation of Christ and leave such a deep mark on a movement that he had nothing to do with starting? It says to me that actually we are all equal partners in the New Testament conversation after all. God starkly and astonishingly ignores the fledgling hierarchy of the church right at its outset. Maybe he was trying to help the church set aside any idea of hierarchy. Such an action on God's part means that potentially we all have a voice. We are nobodies in the church but Paul was less than nobody -- he was, to borrow a biological term, an antibody. If such a one as he can look on the Christ event and commentate on its meaning, ought we not also to be able to do the same?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Missing the point with Mary

Somewhere in my bible school music training one of the instructors quoted something like the following, which, regrettably, I can't immediately source:
Christians are more likely to sing heresy than teach it.
Well this Christmas, I am guilty. I'm part of a group that will be performing a chant that extols Mary as "Virgo semper intacta" which renders in English as "virgin ever pure." Now in one sense, that of redemption through the death, resurrection, and return of her firstborn, I have no problem ascribing to her any amount of purity. But the literal sense of the Latin doesn't lead us in that direction at all. "Intacta" signifies untouched, by which we may assume that she never, through long years of 'marriage,' ever copulated with her husband Joseph. And that idea I find viciously problematic.

Now the Gospels clearly state that the couple abstained until the birth of Jesus. And I wonder how anyone could extrapolate "never" from such a statement. I mean, why include the limiting preposition "until" if you really mean "never?" But that is by the by. I have been sometimes accused of being a grammar cop, but I shall try to avoid that here.

It's not the misuse of the text that is so problematic, but the damage that the eternal "purity," and (let's go ahead and say it) 'Immaculate Conception' of Mary does to the whole story of Incarnation. To me the point of Jesus' coming was for God to come as an everyman and not have any advantages that could compromise the worth of his sinless life. Think how much easier he had it, if throughout his whole upbringing, his mother was without any faults. How is that fair? And take yourself back to the time he lived in and imagine that he was the only boy in his neighbourhood of probable one room dwellings who had not experienced the childhood trauma of waking up to the sound of his parents' revels at midnight. "Go back to sleep, son -- no, everything's alright, we'll explain in a few years..." Paul's idea is "tempted in every way that we are" and I think he's right. I think he gets the Incarnation in a way that those who wish to ascribe all sorts of fairy tale virtues to Mary just don't.

In black and white, then, the more we embellish the character of Mary, more we detract from the redemption. If Jesus had some unique advantage, he can't be our Saviour and he can't be our Example.

But the quote stands. I will, as agreed, sing this heresy. But not without comment.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Rule on Rule

What do the Jewish Talmud, the teachings of the Catholic and Orthodox churches, the teachings of Bill Gothard, and many of the teachings that come out of the Charismatic movement have in common? My take is that much of all of these are based on stuff that is based on other stuff that is based on some original information or saying from the Bible.

The story of the Talmud is well known. It's a commentary on a commentary on commentary. And the rabbinical culture which produced it, produced much of the legalism that Christ had such a dislike for. I hope I am not wrong in the understanding that much of the that legalism is contained in the Talmud.

I'll skip over to Bill Gothard, since so much of my childhood Christianity was framed by his teaching. A clever man, that Bill. Could keep you listening to him for hours. Lots of helpful material, too. But when it came to overarching theory, it got a little sketchy. Bill liked to derive principles from the Bible and then derive principles from other principles and that's where he falls into the same camp as the Pharisees. My favourite was the reasoning behind his idea that rock music is evil. The whole idea comes from the mention in Paul's letters of spirit, soul, and body. Now Paul doesn't say that much about those three; in fact he was probably expressing the totality of human existence. But Bill had lots to say. For Bill, they represented not a totality but a hierarchy. Spirit on top, soul in subjection to spirit, body in subjection to spirit and soul. Based on this Bill constructed a theory of music. As follows: the spirit corresponds to the melody, the harmony to the soul (think "mind"), and the beat to the body. So rock music is obviously wrong because the body component of the music is emphasized. I'm guessing he probably didn't have much time for vocal jazz either, because the soul (think "mind") component is too prevalent in all those harmonies.

Two months or so ago, I had an extended discussion on Facebook about Mary as theotokos, or Mother of God. I questioned the use of the title, because it has always seemed to me to make Mary the originator of God. One response I got was, was I setting myself up against the third ecumenical council that declared her to be that? Well I finally looked up the council that declared her to be theotokos, (on Wikipedia -- hardly a primary source, but...) and the sense I got was not that it was focused on elevating Mary to a permanent exalted position in the Kingdom, but on proclaiming Jesus as God instead of merely Christ. The council was choosing between God-bearer and Christ-bearer. (And yes, the use of "bearer" instead of "originator," deals with my scruples about "Mother of God," but that's still an aside.) Assigning that title, though, to Mary has had its consequences. For centuries after, Christian worship has, to my mind, counter-intuitively included her in regular liturgy.

The point I am trying to make is that teachings that are second or third generation (based on stuff that is based on other stuff) is suspect. A small amount of bias in a primary teaching is forgivable -- we are all human after all. But error compounds upon error and soon you have something that is not recognizable as stemming from the original.

Take the Trinity for example. The Trinity is, to my mind, a best-guess label for the mysterious relationship and identity Father Son and Holy Spirit have together. From the Bible, it's easily defensible as a good working concept. But it's never explicitly taught. We've derived it from what we read, honestly and humbly enough. But then someone the other day was telling me that he was meditating on the perichoresis, a deeper concept which describes of the intricacies of that mysterious relationship (read up in it yourself.) But how, I ask, can there even be a perichoresis, when we don't even really know if there is a Trinity? Our humble best-guess has exalted itself into being the basis for a whole other teaching. We've strayed into what we can't actually know.

How quickly this process occurs in the Church is evident in the some of the practises that have arisen among Charismatics. "Binding Satan" in prayers is surely based on stuff that is based on other stuff. (You never hear Jesus or the early church praying that way.) Catchphrases abound. "Come into alignment," "plead the blood," etc. All had some traction at one time in context of someone's inspiring teaching. But they are hardly central and should really be discarded before someone bases anything more on them.

I have an Orthodox co-worker, who justly accuses me of minimalism. Guilty as charged, I say. The enormous jurisprudence of canon law terrifies me. I read the intricate distinctions of who can have communion, what kind of marriages are legitimate, (divorce is unlawful, but you can get an annulment) etc. and wonder how any of that is foreshadowed by Jesus and his ministry here on earth. It's not. It's rule on rule, rule on rule, a little here, a little there. (And for those who think that that's a good thing, reread the Isaiah passage where that phrase occurs.)

So I propose a sort of hierarchy of teaching. The original sources are more authoritative. First generation teachings based on those sources are less so. Second generation teachings based on the first are suspect. Third generation teachings should probably be discarded. I'm probably wrong, but it's where I'm at right now.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Praying to Saints

Some twelve or thirteen years ago, when I was first presented by the conundrum of a scholarly friend and his family forsaking what I will loosely call the free churches (a very subjective label in this case -- by which, forgive me, I mean churches I more or less understand) for the Roman Catholic church, one of the more bewildering issues to me was the veneration of saints. As someone who has always believed that worship was for God alone, I would tend to condemn such a practise as idolatry if I ever thought of it all. But here was someone I respected embracing it along with all the other -- for me -- Martian ideas and practices of Rome. And having asked about it, I was supplied the following more or less plausible rationale for the whole practise.
  • The word prayer in the context of the saints is closer to simple asking than the included worship we subscribe to God when we pray to him. A little archaic in usage, but possible. In the past you might have in the same way asked something of your friend in the form of, "I pray thee."
  • Saints are part of the "Cloud of Witnesses" that surrounds us. And they don't just surround us as from stands in an arena. They're actually very close -- close enough to hear us and interact with our lives.
  • We already single out certain friends -- still alive friends, I mean -- who seem to have special faith for praying for specific things. Why not ask the various saints to intercede on our behalf in our diverse times of need?
So the above was, for me, an interesting excursion into another worldview. Veneration of Saints is a classic sticking point for Protestants to argue against the Roman church, a too-easy fault to write the whole thing off because no effort had been made to understand the practise from the inside. What I saw in the above was that here was practise rooted in a medieval paradigm that made some sense in that context, and as someone who tries to allow other cultures their worldviews, I had to make room for it as possible. The explanation I was given was an attempt to bring it forward into the present day. And in discussions with fellow non-Catholics I would try to downplay that particular issue, because, as members of another culture, we couldn't really judge what was in their hearts when they 'prayed' to the saints.

A couple of days ago, in the context of a random discussion -- we have lots of them in our family -- I did a web search for Saint Peregrine. I figured there had to be such a saint, because of the popular fruit juice soda brand 'San Pelegrino' and I guessed rightly that the English version of his name must be Peregrine. And I found the following. When I read it aloud, someone made the comment that he had always found the practise of praying to the saints somewhat idolatrous. And you can easily glean the same from the verbiage in the prayer, which seems to me to be a pretty standard sort of address to a saint. And it certainly doesn't fit into the made-for-protestants explanation given me by my friend. The formalism, the titles, the 'buttering up' of the saint, all point in the direction quite the opposite to the "asking a friend to pray for you" model. But I'm going to try give this the benefit of the doubt and try to update the prayer a bit. Bear with me.
  •  "Hey Peregrine, you've had some success praying for miracles, haven't you? And you also sacrificed a lot to serve God and I appreciate that and frankly, I look up to you. You're a real role model. I'd consider it a favour if you would pray for me that I could have the courage to be like you. So much for the long term. In the short term, there are a few miracles I need. Can you please pray for [fill in the blank] and [fill in another blank]. Like I said, I'd sure appreciate your help if you've got the time."
What do you think? If you can get your head around talking to people who are gone on to where we all will await resurrection, I think it might work. I've made a conscious effort to not address Peregrine the way I address God, to avoid assigning titles -- Forgive me,I still take the Matthew 23 passage very seriously-- and to include at least some of the material of the prayer on the above web page.

The resurrection thing is an interesting point about saints, though. Jesus himself was not glorified until he was resurrected, and none of us, not even the saints, have been resurrected. It possibly kind of calls into question us depending on them as if they were glorified. But I'm not going to push on any farther in that direction. The whole thing is still just so foreign to me and there are far bigger issues to resolve before I would ever follow in my friends footsteps.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

A Bible Study: Sometimes, It's not Love, but Honour

The Luke 11 "Ask, Seek, Knock," passage has been on my mind recently. Especially the story about the man who wakes his neighbour. And I think that strange mistranslation has crept into most of our bibles in this story. The point of the story is not the knocking friend's persistence. The story is not about persistence at all or repetition or even as one bible puts it, impudence(!)

As a non-scholar in Greek, how can I say this? Well, compare the story with that of the father giving scorpions for fish. The two stories are a unit, that much is obvious. And equally obvious is that the intent of the second story is to horrify the listener with the idea of a father who will not supply his children with that which good, sustaining and life-giving, but rather that which indigestible, unclean and poisonous.

So I would propose that the first story was also horrifying (probably slightly less horrifying -- we are leading to a climax here) to Jesus' listeners. The idea that a friend and fellow villager would not help to take care of the newly arrived traveller was received, by this line of reasoning, was to them a horrifying thought. And as an aside, I'm not being very original here. I've heard this elsewhere, in some sermon or Bible School lecture. And five minute's googling turned up ample evidence that my memory is not faulty and that wiser heads than mine have said the same about this passage. Historically, care of travellers was a matter of honour. The whole village's reputation was at stake. The selfishness of the so-called friend's reply in the first story is a rhetorical device. He is saying what would never be said! --in the very same way that the earthly father in the second is doing what what would never be done. So whatever the word ought to be, it can't be 'persistence.' Hopefully, Greek scholars will bear me out on this.

So where am I going with this? It's clear to me that ultimately these two parables are pointing to one idea, which is that it concerns God's honour to answer our prayers. And to complete the thought, it concerns his honour to give the Holy Spirit to his children when they ask. I have to say that this is my favourite part of the passage, that it all points to the availability of the Holy Spirit to us and that it would be as horrifying for him not to give the Spirit as a father giving a scorpion when asked for an egg. But that's not what I'm getting at here. There's no mention in this passage of his love for us, great though that is. It's his honour, that is, his righteousness, that is highlighted here.

God is not a one-dimensional character. Yes, I'm being a bit hobby-horse-ish here but I defend myself by saying that it's only in reaction to others hobby horses. I see very much posted these days that filters everything through an all-encompassing idea of God's love. And I'm saying that even that single idea, grand though it is, is just like every other single idea when made the only lens through which God and all his acts and commands are viewed. Distortion ensues. Here's a passage about asking and receiving good things from our Father. Surely, some mention would be made about his love for us. But Jesus even downplays the friendship -- the love -- in the first story and makes it about the honour of the village (or so I argue above.) Well, I could go on and on about what I've covered in earlier posts about the necessity of God's wrath along with his love, assaulting motherhood, yeah, and apple pie with all the orneriness in me but instead I'll say this: I'm personally glad God has pledged not only his love, but his honour to being our good Father. It's something to take to the bank.