The effort to express Christian unity appears hindered by numerous
considerations. As such, it encounters something analogous to speed bumps. In
some ways this is more obvious than others, but encourages a discussion of
Jesus earnestly prayed for those who would become his disciples “that all of
them may be one” (John 17:20). One in fact; one in devotion, one in resolve, and
one in experiencing God’s blessing. As a result, providing a corporate witness.
While all too often they appear fragmented, unrelenting, and inhibited.
It goes without saying that those in Christ—to employ Paul’s signature
expression—are summoned into community. So as to experience life together. For
better and worse, without exception.
Not that they are admonished to withdraw into some secure sanctuary. Thus out of
sight, and out of mind. “You are the salt of the earth,” Jesus declared. “A city
on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a
bowl. Instead, they put it on a stand, and it gives light to everyone in the
house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your
good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:14-16).
Not for self-adulation, but to glorify God. Neither via depreciation, which
amounts to a negative expression of pride. In that it gives undue attention to
one’s self, rather than reflecting on God and others. Far better to dwell on the
Lord’s amazing grace in response to our genuine contrition.
Thus the good news is proclaimed by word and deed. Not one to the exclusion of
the other. But as coupled together in a credible manner, as if a light shining
in the darkness. Thus encouraging persons to press on toward the celestial city,
rather than straying from the demanding course of discipleship.
This prospect terrified C. S. Lewis’ fantasy demon Screwtape, whose intent was
to keep it hidden. While focusing on the more obvious defects in the Christian
community. Although often of trivial nature, such as an annoying habit;
nonetheless useful in the demonic strategy.
Some of the following discussions are more aptly illustrated by Scripture than
are others. This allows for a functional diversity, which seems best to suit our
purpose. Rather than a contrived alternative.
All of which brings to mind that one of my Nigerian students allowed, “I do not
think of you as an American but as a Nigerian.” Thus sensing a common bond
between us that transcended ethnic considerations. If an incident is worth a
thousand words, this instance would qualify. As such, it provides an added
stimulus to a realistic appraisal of Christian unity—along with related issues.
Not that we will touch on any of these in great detail, but to lay a foundation
for further reflection. Then invoking some repetition, as a means of emphasis.
All in keeping with the saying, “The past is prologue.
We initially entertain the appeal to constructive diversity within the faith
community. “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts,” Paul
observes (1 Cor. 12:12). Consequently, the foot can’t say to the hand, “I have
no need for you.” Since each serves a select purpose, as was God’s intent.
Consequently, we are thus alerted to the fact that Christians are bonded
together in Christ. Although otherwise diverse. Diverse ethnically, sexually,
and socially. Then unique individually.
Two unacceptable alternatives are thus revealed. First, conformity does not
qualify as unity. Since it suppresses legitimate diversity. Whether with good
intention or to serve some less commendable purpose.
Second, divisiveness obviously does not qualify as unity. Although some would
give this impression by agitating for some cause without regard for its negative
effect on the Christian community. For instance, the apostle enjoins his
readers: “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become
a stumbling block to the weak” (1 Cor. 8:9)
The weak are those troubled by some issue in question, while the strong think it
permissible. In this instance, it pertains to eating meat offered to idols. It
goes without saying that idolatry was prohibited. Moreover, persons were not to
give the impression that they worshiped idols. So in Jewish tradition, if
someone were to inadvertently drop currency in front of an idol, he was to turn
away before bending over to recover it.
However, meat appearing in the marketplace no longer had an explicit association
with idolatry. So that some thought it permissible to eat, while others were
less certain. As for the former, the apostle encourages them to partake, unless
it proves offensive to others. In that instance, they were to refrain—out of
consideration for them and in keeping with life together.
In a more subtle fashion, the weak are also cautioned against pressing this
divisive issue. Lest the cultivation of community suffer. In more graphic terms,
community is a two-way street.
In greater detail, there was the fellowship of believers. “ They devoted
themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to the fellowship, to the breaking of
bread and to prayer” (Acts2:42). Everyone was filled with awe, and many
miraculous signs were attributed to the apostles. “All the believers were
together and had everything in common.” So they sold their possessions, and
provided for those in need.
As a result, they enjoyed “the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to
their number daily those who were being saved.” “Luke presents in this paragraph
an ideal picture of this new community, rejoicing in the forgiveness of sins and
the gift of the Spirit. The community, the apostolic fellowship, was constituted
on the basis of apostolic teaching.”1
Thus we are introduced to the apostles. The term derives from the notion of
being sent. As such, Jesus commissioned them to cultivate a fledgling community,
and engage in heralding the good news. Their teaching was considered
More to the point, the unity of the fellowship was rooted in its apostolic
character. While other kinds of unity might be imagined, they do not serve as
legitimate alternatives. The New Testament was thought to embody the apostles’
teaching, its entries having been written by them or those closely associated,
and therefore normative in matters of faith and practice.
In particular, there was the apostle Paul. “For I am the least of the apostles,
and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church
of God,” he allows. “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me
was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the
grace of God that was with me” (1 Cor. 15:9-10).
“The opening words, ‘I am the least of the apostles,’ affirm both that he is an
apostle and that, as they probably view him, he is the least ranking of them
all.”2 By way of contrast, he has labored harder than the rest. Yet not alone,
but as enabled by the grace of God.
Then there was Corinth. As a Greek city-state it flourished before being
destroyed by Rome in 140 B.C. The city laid dormant for about a century, before
being resettled as a Roman colony. “Since Corinth lacked a landed aristocracy,
an aristocracy of money soon developed, along with a fiercely independent
spirit. But not all would strike it rich, hence thousands of artisans and slaves
made up the bulk of the population.”3 These benefitted to greater or lesser
degree from the accumulated wealth of the city.
The church appears to be largely a cross-section of the culture. In this regard,
the apostle observes: “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one
body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit
to drink” (1 Cor. 12:13). From many, they were one.
Finally, there was the correspondence. “Paul had spent an extensive period in
the commercial center of Corinth. He now received a letter requiring a response.
However, of seeming greater concern for him was troubling news from independent
sources. Such as indicated that there was division and contention with the
The salutation of the first of his two letters is informative. “Paul, called to
be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,” he
allows. “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus
and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name
of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours. Grace and peace to you from God
our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:1-3).
It was Jesus’ call; not that of the apostle. For reasons best know to him. From
among the many that might have been chosen.
To those who were similarly called to be holy. Having responded to God’s
gracious invitation, now set aside for his purposes. In concert with others who
call on the name of the Lord. Although separated by distance, they were bonded
May grace and peace accompany you, as if two guard dogs tending the flock. With
the Shepherd in the lead. Thus prepared for any eventuality.
“Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly, mere infants in
Christ,” Paul later laments (1 Cor. 3:1). “Such as might be expected of them
when they were first converted, but not as mature believers. It would appear
that the apostle thought the Corinthians resembled rambunctious children,
squabbling over inconsequential matters. In this condition, unable to help
themselves, and ill-equipped to aid others.”5
The expression in Christ occurs 165 times in the Pauline correspondence. As
noted earlier, it thus serves as his signature expression. It was applicable to
all within the Christian fellowship, bonding them together.
Paul continues to monitor the situation at Corinth, resulting in additional
correspondence. “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in a triumphant
procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the
knowledge of him,” the apostle rejoices (2 Cor. 2:14). Christ is thus portrayed
as leading the procession, having been acclaimed as victor over sin and death.
Others follow, as if tokens of his abounding grace.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation,” the apostle
subsequently exclaims; “the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor. 5:17). A
new creation, and hence not to be enslaved by the past. A new creation, and so
alive to new and exciting opportunities.
With such in mind, we pick up Paul’s train of thought with chapter 12 of his
initial letter to the Corinthians. “Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do
not want you to be ignorant,” the apostle allows (1 Cor. 12:1). He has,
beginning with chapter 8, been focusing on Christian worship. So that the
current shift in his thinking seems by way of extension.
“It was universally accepted in antiquity that some people, who were in
specially close touch with the divine, had special spiritual endowments. At
times they behaved in unpredictable ways, threw themselves about, spoke in a
frenzied manner, and so on. By comparison the practice of Christian virtue
seemed staid and colorless.”6
Then, too, there was from the beginning within the Christian fellowship
miracles, associated primarily with the apostles. Along with ecstacy and the
speaking of tongues, the abuse of which Paul deals with subsequently. Which
serves as a reminder that some things we may think of as unique to Christianity,
prove not to be. While genuine spirituality is better measured by more
The apostle proceeds by way of contrasting their former experience as pagans,
led astray by mute idols, with their current status in Christ. Along with the
observation that no one prompted by the Spirit declares that Jesus is accursed.
While no one can affirm that Jesus is Lord except as attested by the Spirit. “He
is saying that the words can be uttered with full meaning only under the
influence of the Holy Spirit. The Lordship of Christ is not a human discovery.
It is a discovery that is made and can be made only when the Spirit is a work in
“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit,” the apostle
continues. “There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are
different kinds of working, but the same God works in all of them in all men.”
Different kinds of endowment generates varied service, along with differing
results, while motivated by the same Spirit. The gifts are thus portrayed as
means to achieve God’s benevolent purposes, rather than an end in and of
“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.”
Not that the recipient is excluded, but included on the basis of his or her
association with the fellowship. Thus are we alerted to the fact that their
common ground was meant to result in their common good.
“To one there is given through the Spirit the message for wisdom.” To another
that of knowledge, faith gifts of healing, miraculous powers, prophecy,
distinguishing between spirits, different kinds of tongues. “All these are the
work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he
Wisdom accents the practical application of knowledge. Faith likely pertains to
those who are given to expect great things from God. Moreover, to undertake
great things in his name. Gifts of healing recalls that in Jewish tradition God
heals us from all our ills but the last. Consequently, those gifted in healing
serve his purpose.
Moreover, miraculous powers allow for select instances. Whereas prophecy
pertains to divine disclosure. This may or may not include recourse to the
future. Distinguishing between spirits was of critical importance to the pagan
background of Paul’s readers. Whereas different kinds of tongues may be taken in
a comprehensive sense to embrace both known languages and ecstatic utterance.
Given such great diversity, these are orchestrated by the same Spirit. Which
recalls an incident some years ago, during my second short term teaching
assignment in Nigeria. My wife and I decided to attend a newly organized church,
to observe how it fostered growth. Time passed with little noticeable increase
When I inquired about the lack of response, I was told that this initial period
served as a means to recognize the gifts of its membership, and how best to
utilize them. I was then assured that when the womb was prepared, the child
would be birthed. Growth was thus portrayed as a natural consequence of careful
preparation, given the ministration of the Holy Spirit.
Conversely, it was not the result of human ingenuity. Which recalls the
pertinent text, “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain”
(Psa. 127:1). Without exception, and with promise.
There follows the passage concerning one body—made up of many parts, cited at
the outset (cf. 1 Cor. 12:12-31). As an incentive to search for constructive
diversity, as critical means to furthering the Christian witness. Without which
our good intentions will assuredly flounder.
In this regard, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is
honored, every part rejoices with it.” An imagery can be readily illustrated. I
sprained my ankle on one occasion. It became necessary to tape it in order for
me to participate in a basketball game. This adversely affected my efforts, so
that I could not run the court. Nor could I push off when shooting. As a result,
my contribution was seriously hindered.
Conversely, I was honored by receiving a Teacher of the Year award. While
questioning my credentials, I was deeply appreciative. In a manner of speaking,
I felt good all over. As a result, there was a spring in my step and a smile on
my face. Such imagery should speak for itself.
“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is part of it,” Paul
concludes. “And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second
prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of
healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration and
speaking in different kinds of tongues” (1 Cor. 12:27-28).
First, second, and third appear ranked in order of their significance. Apostles
first, given their unique commission to foster the fledgling fellowship in life
together, and concerning its outreach. Prophets second, since they were
associated with divine revelation. Teachers third, because it was their task to
clarify and make application. The remaining entries seem mentioned in
conjunction with one another, as if to suggest that they take precedent when
“Are all apostles?” Obviously not. “Are all prophets?” Apparently not. And as
for the rest, of similar intent. “But eagerly desire the greater gifts.” Such as
available, given the common good.
“And now I will show you the most excellent way,” the apostle adds. Not as a
digression, but as integral to his rationale. Not as exercising the spiritual
gifts, but cultivating that which is available to all—the way of love.
“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only
a resounding gong or a clanging symbol,” Paul protests. “If I have the gift of
prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith
that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I
possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I
gain nothing.” (1 Cor 13:1-3).
The ability to articulate effectively, while lacking love, resembles meaningless
noise. Insight coupled with confidence amounts to nothing, if lacking love.
Generosity and sacrifice are to no avail, unless accompanied by love. Since love
provides the context in which the gifts are to be exercised And is thus
essential to achieve constructive diversity.
“Love is patient, love is kind,” the apostle continues. “It does not envy, it
does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is
not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” So that without love, envy,
pride, lack of civility selfishness, anger, and retaliation are cultivated.
“Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects,
always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” By way of contrast, it does not
delight in evil but rejoices with truth. In addition, it always protects, hopes,
and perseveres. Always and without exception. Thus deserving of confidence and
“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned
like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” As indicative
of our limited understanding. “Now I know in part, then I shall know fully, even
as I am fully known.” When love has achieved its intended purpose.
“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is
love.” Since love remains a constant, after faith and hope are no longer
applicable. As if a familiar and trusted companion.
“Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts: (1 Cor. 14:1). Not
one to the exclusion of the other, the critical importance of love
notwithstanding. Especially such gifts as allow one to minister to others.
Rather than that which is calculated only to enhance one’s own spiritual life.
In this regard, “Now, brothers, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good
will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or
word of instruction?” “So it is with you. Since you are eager to have spiritual
gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church.” Out of concern for that
which they hope to achieve as a result of a corporate endeavor.
“I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. But in the church I
would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand
words in a tongue.” This may suggest that speaking in tongues should primarily
be associated with private devotions rather than public worship. Or, in any
case, it should be practiced in a context of edifying others.
As noted earlier, speaking in tongues could pertain to ecstatic utterance, known
language, or some combination of the two. Since persons speaking in tongues at
Pentecost were heard in the native language of Jews of the diaspora, this would
seem to rule out the first of these three options. Recent studies have shown
that persons can express ecstatic catches of language they have heard and
suppressed. However explained, the imagery would suggest a reversal of the
diffusion of language at the Tower of Babel, signifying the bestowal of divine
favor on the assembly.
“Over against their preference for tongues, he asserts that it is prophecy, with
its intelligibility and revelatory character, that functions as the sign of
God’s approval, of God’s presence, in their midst. The evidence of this is to be
found in the very way that it affects unbelievers.”8 So that they will prostrate
themselves, exclaiming: “God is really among you!” Thereby encouraged to join
the fellowship of believers.
“What then shall we say, brothers?” the apostle rhetorically inquires. “When we
come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a
tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of
the church.” This recalls a church which took his advice to heart. So it was
that its pastor would post his sermon topic the first of the week. After which,
persons offered to contribute to the worship service in one way or another: with
special music, a scripture verse, reading, prayer, or some other means. These
features would be sorted out, and the order of worship established.
The apostle’s subsequent admonition that women keep silent in church may be
related to the fact that they were generally uneducated. And in Jewish
tradition, persons who gave instruction were meant to be well informed and
articulate. In any case, order was to be preserved.
“Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in
tongues,” Paul sums up. “But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly
way.” While in keeping with constructive diversity, in pursuit of common ground
among those who bear witness to their commitment of Christ. Along the line of a
A FUNCTIONAL FAITH
A council was convened in 2000 by the Catholic Church and Lutheran World
Federation to consider the highly controversial doctrine of justification. The
resulting document observes, “Opposing interpretations and applications of the
biblical message of justification were in the sixteenth century a principal
cause of the division of the Western church and led as well to doctrinal
condemnations. A common understanding of justification is therefore fundamental
and indispensable to overcoming that division.”9
As a result of the extended dialogue, it was reported that the participants had
reached a substantial agreement concerning what was involved. Consequently, it
was their intent to inform their respective denominations of the results—so as
to guide them in future deliberations. As such, it was a declaration which
recognized the magnitude of the division created by the controversy, and its
lingering results. It is with this in mind that we approach the issue of a
functional faith as a further effort to cultivate common ground for Christian
The topic naturally brings to mind Paul’s polemic epistle to the Galatians. Some
of the more technical issues regarding the context of the letter need not
concern us. Suffice to say, certain persons were insisting that Gentiles be
circumcised—citing Jewish precedent. This called into question the validity of
Paul’s apostolic credentials.
Consequently, he addresses the objection at the outset: “Paul, an apostle—not
from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from
the dead—and all the brothers with me” (Gal. 1:1). As in the previous study, the
critical importance of the apostles’ teaching for establishing unity is allowed.
Moreover, he attests to his apostolic calling. Regardless of those taking issue
with him. Then as an appeal to reach a common understanding and enhance their
After which, Paul continues to focus their attention on God our Father and the
Lord Jesus Christ, “who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present
evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever
and ever. Amen.” “While the name ‘God’ denotes his omnipotence and his
transcendent glory, the designation ‘Father’ suggests that his will is based not
solely on the wisdom and omnipotence, but also equally of his disposition of
love. Father and Son thus acting in perfect harmony in the death of Jesus
Christ, as also in Paul’s call to apostleship.”10 Along with the continual
bestowal of grace and peace on the fellowship of the redeemed.
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the
grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel,” he protests. We are thus
alerted to the fact that not all differences can be reconciled within the
framework of the apostles’ teaching. Since an effort to do so would seriously
compromise the message. It remains to determine which alternatives fall into
this category, and what can be done to rectify ths situation.
“As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a
gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned.” The
strident nature of the apostle’s words indicates the seriousness of the
situation. In addition, it insists that there can be no radical revision of the
“Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God?” he rhetorically
inquires. “If I were still trying to please men, I would not be the servant of
Christ.” Accordingly, he seems to allow that there was a time when this
criticism would have been appropriate. But no longer, as a servant of Christ.
Perhaps with the implication that his opponents were still seeking the approval
of man, rather than the Almighty.
Paul then recalls his “previous life in Judaism, he intensely persecuted the
church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many
Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.”
But was called by God as an apostle to the Gentiles. After which, he documents
in detail how he was obedient to that calling.
Having rigorously defended his apostolic credentials, he turns to a defense of
the gospel. “You foolish Galatians!” he exclaims. “Who has bewitched you?”
(3:1). “Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what
you heard?” Not by the law, since “clearly the Spirit is not a prize to be won
by trying to obey the law’s demands; the Spirit is God’s free gift. Then how was
the Spirit received? By hearing the good news of the gospel, and by accepting
the promised gift in simple faith.”11
“Consider Abraham: ‘He believed God, and it was credited to him as
righteousness.’ Understand, then, that those who believe are children of
Abraham.” As he was informed: “‘All nations will be blessed through you.’ So
those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.”
Worthy of note, his faith prompted him to leave the security of his familiar
environ, and set out for the land of promise. Also to offer his son Isaac in
keeping with God’s instruction. Thus giving evidence of genuine devotion. Or as
expressed early on, it was a functional faith.
This, in turn, recalls Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s classic text The Cost of
Discipleship. “Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church,” he allows at the
outset. “Grace without price, grace without cost! The essence of grace, we
suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been
paid, everything can be had for nothing.”12
Conversely, “Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace
because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man
his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is
costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner.”13
Elsewhere, he confirms this thesis, “for all have sinned and fall short of the
glory of God,” but “are justified freely by his grace through the redemption
that came by Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:23-24).
In creedal terms, sin is any lack of conformity to the will of God.
Consequently, it may be by way of commission or omission. But the latter of
these is as a rule the least obvious, and most unrelenting.
“He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the
Gentiles through Christ,” Paul emphatically concludes, “so that by faith we
might receive the promise of the Spirit.” Redemption, blessing, faith, and
promise of the Spirit are thus inseparably linked together in salvation history.
Whether by way of warning or encouragement.
“Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God?” the apostle inquires.
“Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then
righteousness would certainly have come by the law. But the Scripture declares
that the whole world is the prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being
given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.”
“You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus,” he then insists. “There
is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one
in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs
according to the promise.” Having been schooled in the law, they have become
mature in the faith.
What are the alternatives? Listen to those who would subvert them, or press on
in the faith. If the former, then without hope. If the latter, with confidence
“that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been
called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free,” the apostle assures his
readers. “Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a
yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1). “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor
uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing
itself through love.”
“He readily admits that uncircumcision is equally valueless, a point often
forgotten by those filled with reforming zeal, as it was probably forgotten by
many a Gentile Christian. He will not allow the Gentile to boast of his
uncircumcised state, anymore than he will allow the Jews to boast of ‘the sign
of the covenant’.”14 Neither are of any consequence for those who are in Christ.
“You were running a good race,” the apostle observes. “Who cut in on you and
kept you from obeying the truth? That kind of person does not come from the one
who calls you.” The Christian life as construed as a race implies getting a good
start, maintaining a steady pace, and finishing strong. Even a seemingly minor
distraction can prove to be inhibiting.
“You, my brothers, were called to be free,” he repeats by way of emphasis. “But
do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another
in love.” Which, coupled with the admonition to love God without qualification,
summarizes the Law and the Prophets.
So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful
nature.” For these war against one another. “The acts of the sinful nature are
obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft;
hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions
and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.” Those who behave in such manner
will not inherit the kingdom of God.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness,
faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” “Since we live by the Spirit, let
us keep in step with the Spirit.” Rather than falling back into the ways of the
In greater detail, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are
spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be
tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of
Christ” (Gal. 6:1-2). Restoration is a process fraught with difficulties, and so
should be undertaken with great care. In this and other ways, Christians are to
help bear the burdens of others. And thus fulfill the law of Christ, as pertains
to acting out of loving concern.
“If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each
one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without
comparing himself to somebody else, for each should carry his own load.” One is
thus called upon to appraise his or her own stewardship. Here the term pride is
used by way of approval, and not presumption.
“Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his
instructor.” As expressed elsewhere, “the worker deserves his wages” (Luke
10:7). In this way, to share in his ministry.
Be assured, “A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful
nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the
Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” Consequently, “Let us not
become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we
do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people,
especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” As would be fitting
given their filial relationship.
So it is that circumcision and uncircumcision profit nothing, but life in the
Spirit. As crafted by faith, and enabled by grace abounding. As one would run a
race, intent on finishing the course, in good time.
The epistle of James next invites our attention. “While the church of James’ day
was experiencing phenomenal growth, it was also struggling with persisting
problems. The adversarial climate was creating a spiritual weariness. There was
also persisting temptation to take on the ways of the world, resulting in giving
deference to those with financial means.”15 Conflict within the fellowship was
not uncommon. Consequently, James sets out to address these and related issues.
“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,” he writes in humble
fashion. Then, too, because no other James was so well known among Christians
dispersed throughout the ancient world. “To the twelve tribes scattered among
the nations: Greetings.” Most likely with reference to Jewish believers of the
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,
because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” Thus
launching without hesitation into a concern paramount in his text. “Perseverance
must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking
The trials they face are diverse. No doubt some pertaining to their precarious
relationship within the Jewish community, others in terms of the larger society,
and still others of more personal nature. While legitimate cause for concern,
they are to rejoice in that this provides a prized opportunity to firm up their
Moreover, perseverance involves a process. One step at a time, one day at a
time, and with regard for changing circumstances. Always as enabled by divine
“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all
without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” Providing one petitions in
confidence, “because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed
by the wind.” As when driven by the winds of adversity.
“The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position.
But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will
pass away like a wild flower.” As for the former, he has at his disposal all the
resources available to those of the faith community. As for the latter life is
transitory. Suggesting that the best is yet to come.
When tempted, one ought not to blame God. No, “each one is tempted when, by his
own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, when temptation has run
its course, it results in sin. Conversely, “Every good and perfect gift is from
above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights, who does not change like
James’ focus now shifts. “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and
slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life
that God desires” (James 1:19-20). Of similar intent, “Do not be quickly
provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools” (Eccles.7:9).
“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”
Otherwise, it is as if one gazes into a mirror, only to forget what he sees.
“If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his
tongue, he deceives himself. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and
faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in distress and to keep
oneself from being polluted by the world.” Which recalls the sage saying, “That
which is not good for something is good for nothing.”
James again shifts focus. “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus
Christ, don’t show favoritism” (2:1). As when one gives deference to some
prominent individual, while ignoring one in dire poverty. Moreover, “Has not God
chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and
inherit the kingdom he promises those who love him?”
If, however, one keeps the royal law by loving one’s neighbor as oneself, he or
she receives divine approval. “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles
at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” Which recalls the humorous
account of a person who inquired as to what was a passing grade for observing
the law, only to be told that he must keep all ten commandments.
“Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives
freedom because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been
merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!” According to the law of liberty, which
allows persons to exercise mercy. And to receive mercy.
“Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do,”
James continues. As an advocate of functional faith. “You believe that there is
one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
“With the tongue we praise our Father, and with it we curse men, who have been
made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My
brothers, this should not be.” James is adamant.
“Who is wise and understanding among you?” he rhetorically inquires. “Let him
show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.”
Humility as cultivated by the realization that the more we know, the more we
realize that we do not know.
There are two kinds of wisdom: one that is “earthly, unspiritual, of the devil,”
while the other “is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate,
submissive, full of mercy and good fruit impartial and sincere” (3:15, 17). One
should shun the former, while heartily embracing the latter.
“What causes fights and quarrels among you?” James again inquires. “Don’t they
come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get
it.” (4:1-2). Then, when you petition God in this regard, “you do not receive,
because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your
pleasures.” Without concern for the pressing needs of others.
There follows a series of appeals: “Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify
your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, morn and wail. Change your laughter to
mourning and your joy to gloom.” The aorist tense is employed throughout,
implying decisive action along with continuing resolve.
“Brothers, do not slander one another.” As for commentary, “Judging and doing
the law are delicately contrasted: man must obey the law, not judge it; to set
oneself above the law is to usurp the divine prerogatives. Indeed the rabbis
taught that judging our neighbor logically leads to the graver sin of judging
“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city,
spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know
what will happen tomorrow.” Instead, “you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s
will, we will live and do this or that.’” Since we live and thrive as God
permits, we ought not to be arrogant, but rather appreciative and responsible.
James now turns his attention to the affluent; “Now listen, you rich people,
weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has
rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded”
(5:1-3). “Look!” he exclaims. “The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed
your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached
the ears of the Almighty.”
“Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming.” he continues. “See how
the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is
for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the
Lord’s coming is near.”
The epistle concludes with a series of explicit or implicit exhortations. “Is
anyone of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of
praise.” And so on. In keeping with a functional faith.
All of which brings to mind a time I was conversing with the eminent Roman
Catholic New Testament scholar, Ben Viviano. Whereupon he confided in me his
misgiving with the Protestant emphasis on sola gratia (grace alone). In reply. I
observed: “It is not a matter of grace or works, but a grace that works.”
“Precisely!” he exclaimed, being in full agreement. Thus recalling the apostle
Paul’s detailed instruction, and subsequent efforts to keep it in proper
FUSION OF HORIZONS
“Scripture introduces us to a culture far removed from our own by time and
orientation. There are strange practices, seemingly without current equivalency.
There are unusual expressions, once common place but no longer. There is often a
lack of precision, taken for granted in today’s world.”17 Such as gives rise to
diverse interpretation, and lingering controversy.
This problematic enterprise is addressed in philosophic hermeneutics. It
constitutes an effort to discover how an ancient text remains relevant.
Consequently, it presents a new challenge for each succeeding generation. While
an exceedingly complex issue, its basic features can be readily discovered.
Friedrich Schleiermacher was credited with transforming hermeneutics from a
literary exercise to a philosophic discipline. While there were more modest
precedents, the claim appears credible. For better and for worse, the discipline
takes its leave from this juncture.
Schleiermacher’s notations date from 1805 to 1833. He was fighting a battle on
two fronts: against those who demeaned religion on the one hand, and
uncompromising exponents of religion on the other. In context of the
Enlightenment, which had encouraged persons to throw off their religious
constraints, and employ reason in the pursuit of truth.
He supposed that religious experience constitutes the consciousness of absolute
dependence. He hoped in this fashion to escape from the religious controversies
rampant at the time, and commend religion to thoughtful people. In this regard,
he insisted that dogma is no guarantee of religious piety, and could actually be
His rationale served to shift the focus of Biblical interpretation from the text
to its interpreter. This gave rise to the memorable quotation, “One must
understand as well and better than the author.”18 As well, since he supposed
that no one had a privileged access to truth; and better, because matters often
appear clearer in retrospect. Resulting in an appeal to general revelation as
critical to understanding special revelation.
Nevertheless, he allowed that the Biblical text establishes the parameters for
understanding, so that one should not take liberties with its meaning. It
remained for religious experience to inform the interpreter of it universal
significance. “These two sides of interpretation cannot always coincide,” he
further admitted. “For that would presuppose both a complete knowledge of and
complete correct use of the language. The ‘art’ lies in knowing when one side
should give way to the other.”19
A century later, Karl Barth declared the effort ill-conceived, and a dismal
failure. Even though others, like Wilhelm Dilthey, had attempted to refine the
process during the interim. In particular, Barth concluded that his predecessor
had seriously compromised the integrity of the Biblical text.
In brief, he argued that human efforts at interpretation fall tragically short
of divine disclosure. It is for God himself, through his Word and Spirit, to
create in man the necessary perspective for understanding Holy Writ. Failure to
do so would amount to idolatry. While success would restore a sense of mystery
to the endeavor.
It remained a fusion of horizons: that of the Biblical text and our own. In this
connection, he observed: “every encounter with tradition that takes place within
historical consciousness involves the experience of the tension between the text
and the present.”20
Hans-Georg Gadamer reasoned that this tension must be understood in context of
the tradition from which we come. Consequently, the horizons of the present
cannot be formed without the past. He further concludes that the tension will
persist. Fueled by our change in perspectives, improved understanding of our
several traditions, and refined understanding of Biblical times. As an
encouragement in a common enterprise.
In greater detail, several propositions will further clarify the issues
involved. “First, it is no easy task to interpret Scripture from a context far
removed in time and cultural milieu. It demands that we refine our interpretive
tools in a conscientious and devout manner. We should be willing to recognize
wherein we have erred, and ready to make good use of the insights we have
“Second, some have chosen to address this problem from the perspective of the
interpreter, while others in terms of the historical and literary character of
the text. While both are legitimate concerns, one must not be allowed to
override the other.”
“Third, the text deserves special consideration, since it—rather than our
application—constitutes God’s inspired word. In particular, we ought not to
contradict the evident teaching of Holy Writ. Nor should we pontificate when it
comes to our problematic projections. Qualifications aside, speak where the
Scripture is clear, and refrain otherwise.”
“Fourth, the fusion of horizons has appealed to many as a realistic construct
for hermeneutics. Even so, a distinction must be made. In particular, the far
horizon (scripture) remains fixed, while the near horizon (culture) is
constantly changing. In other words, we appropriate the former in order to apply
it to the latter.”
“Finally, the interpretive task is passed on from one generation to the next.
This results in part from interim discoveries that provide insight into the
text. Then, too, we can refine our procedures, so as to minimize the margin of
If, for instance, we suppose that the Genesis account was written from the
context of the exodus, it would resemble an emancipation proclamation. Born fee,
humans were meant to live free. If exceptions, they should not be the rule. Nor
should they be tolerated longer than thought necessary.
In this regard, Israelites who voluntarily embraced slavery were to be released
the Year of Jubilee. Gentile slaves were not guaranteed release, although
manumission was practiced. Moreover, slaves were to be treated humanely. As a
result, they not uncommonly fared better than subsistence laborers.
The undesirability of slavery can be illustrated in a variety of ways. As when
Paul affirms in his defense before Agrippa that he wished all persons were as he
except for these chains (cf. Acts 26:29). Furthermore, he reflects on the
runaway slave Onesimus: “perhaps the reason he as separated from you for a
little while was that you might have him back for good—no longer as a slave but
better than a slave, as a dear brother” (Philem. 13).
As a matter of record, Christians often took it upon themselves to free their
slaves. Also to provide for them during the difficult time of transition.
Chrysostrom, for instance, reasoned that since in Christ there is neither bond
nor free, manumission should be practiced (cf. Gal. 3:28).
Slavery in Europe virtually terminated by the end of the fourteenth century.
However, many Christians owned slaves during the interim. The practice was
defended by such prominent third century advocates as Clement of Alexandria and
Origin. Again illustrating the critical role hermeneutics plays in forging a
Upon being revived in the seventeenth century, it drew the ire of William
Wilberforce—among others. Two years before relinquishing his seat in the House
of Commons, he petitioned his associates to abolish slavery. A few days before
passing away, he received word that the Parliament had passed the Abolition Act.
Even though slavery had run its course in the British Empire, it continued
unabated in adjacent areas—most notably Brazil, Mexico, and the United States.
From 1502 to the 1860s, it is estimated that about forty-seven percent were
located in Spanish colonies, forty-one percent in Brazil, and seven percent in
the United States.
Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin helped bring the plight of the slaves
before the American populace. It cast Uncle Tom in the role of a suffering
servant, sorely afflicted by his slave master. However, he refuses to take
revenge, in spite of the urging of his fellow slaves, and continued to trust in
the promises of Christ to sustain him during times of adversity.
This, in turn, recalls the crucial role the Christian faith played in the life
of the oppressed. In this regard, “The Negro church was virtually the only place
where slaves were allowed to congregate, to experience a spiritual union with
other slaves, and to feel equal to the white man, especially in the eyes of
Slavery was eventually abolished as an American institution. Yet not without
controversy and incrimination. Nor without sacrifice and suffering. Moreover,
its effects still linger, creating tensions and mistrust. All things considered,
we are reminded that applying abiding truths to current situations is not simply
an academic exercise, but a critical component for how we engage life.
In more comprehensive terms, Biblical interpretation focuses on three features:
Scripture, tradition, and contemporary culture. Initially, Scripture. Bringing
to mind the saying, “While what man says can be true, only what God says can be
considered as true.” As confirmed in Holy Writ, “All Scripture is God-breathed
and is useful for teaching, rebuking correcting and training in righteousness,
so that the man of God many be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim.
However, there are subtle ways of subverting the teaching of the Scripture. For
instance, by insisting that some aspect is culture-bound, and hence
inapplicable. Such as the covering of a woman’s head in public. Which was an
issue some years ago when my wife and I were residing in Romania. Resulting in
some giving token acceptance with a band of cloth holding their hair in place.
If more defiant, then an ornate alternative.
While there is some merit to the notion that certain teaching is only culturally
relevant, this ploy has often been used to undercut Biblical authority.
Moreover, one is advised to explore cultural equivalents as a means of providing
continuity with the text. Better to err in a conservative manner, than introduce
Secondly, there is tradition. Having to do with the legacy that has accumulated
over the years. Characteristically inciting opposition in the process. Once
alternatives have become entrenched, controversy tends to obscure any
possibility of consensus.
Still, there have been notable occasions when a serious effort has been made for
reconciliation. Which recalls the subtle distinction by Vatican II with
reference to Scripture in rather than and tradition. With obvious deference to
Scripture. As such, more in line with Protestant thought, but not depicted as a
change in official policy.
Thirdly, there is contemporary culture. A general consensus, thought valid. It
was with this in mind that C. S. Lewis urged that persons read one classic text
from the past for every contemporary text. Thus to escape from a limited
perspective of questionable validity.
In this regard, recent studies have shown that there is a pronounced difference
in the perspectives of professed Christians who regularly attend church
services, and those who do not. As for the former, they are less likely to
accept the value system of their culture, while employing Scripture as a
critique. As for the latter, they are said to qualify as cafeteria Christians,
since they prove to be more selective in their reliance on Scripture.
Biblical interpretation was a prominent exercise in Jesus’ day as well. For
instance, he cautioned: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the
Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the
truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least
stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is
accomplished” (Matt. 5:17-18).
For the pious Jew the law was perfect and unchangeable. So it seemed to some
that his life and teaching took unacceptable liberties. Such as when he healed
on the Sabbath, or failed to perform ritual duty.
This called for a clarification. First, it was decidedly not his intention to
abolish the Law and the Prophets. In other words, to set aside the Law as
expounded by the prophets. Thus with deference to both.
Conversely, he meant to fulfill that which was expounded in the Law, and
elaborated by the prophets. Among the nuances associated with fulfill, “the
following are the main options: (a) to accomplish, obey; (b) to bring out the
full meaning; (c) to complete by giving the final revelation of God’s will to
which the Old Testament pointed forward, and which transcends it.”23 Either
separately or in combination.
In graphic terms, this calls for interpreting the beginning from the end, rather
than the reverse. Instead of discrediting all that preceded the advent of
Christ, it confirms, clarifies, and elevates it. It remained to keep abreast of
salvation history, instead of lagging behind, As was the case with those who
rigorously opposed Jesus’ teaching concerning the inauguration of the Kingdom.
On another occasion, a certain scribe inquired of Jesus: “Teacher, which is the
greatest commandment in the Law?” (Matt. 22:36). It appears to have been a stock
question, meant to determine whether his teaching was in keeping with accepted
practice. A concern frequently expressed.
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all
your mind,’” Jesus responded. This was originally cited in association with the
Shema, embraced as the cornerstone of Jewish faith: “Hear, O Israel, The Lord
our God the Lord is one” (Deut. 6:4). “This is the first and greatest
commandment,” he allowed.
“And the second is like it,” Jesus continued: “‘Love your neighbor as yourself’”
(cf. Lev. 19:18). All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
While two in number, the commandments are inseparable.
“In an age when the word ‘love’ is greatly abused, it is important to remember
that the primary component of biblical love is not affection but commitment.
Warm feelings of gratitude may fill our consciousness as we consider all that
God has done for us, but it is not warm feeling that Deut. 6:5 demands of us but
stubborn, unwavering commitment.”24 The same could be said about loving our
neighbor as oneself.
Such is said to exemplify hard love, or as C. S. Lewis observes, because God
loves us, he attempts to make us lovable. Only then can we realize something of
our potential for living in God’s world, as he enables us. As an incentive to
strive for excellence.
Our professed devotion to God does not substitute for our neglect of others.
“Away with the noise of your songs!” the oracle exclaims. “I will not listen to
the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness
like a never-failing stream!” Amos 5:2-24).
“We love because he first loved us,” John elaborates. “If anyone says, ‘I love
God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his
brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has
given us this command. Whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John
4:19-21). Consequently, to love as an expression of gratitude.
While a person may insist that he or she loves God, this is difficult to
demonstrate. Even if one goes through the outward motions of devotion, it may be
for personal gain. But one’s intent is no less evident when it comes to
ministering to the needs of others. While allowing for the observation, “Actions
speak louder than words.”
We are also alerted to the fervency associated with love. In this regard, “I
know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance,” the oracle aptly
commended the Ephesian congregation. “Yet, I hold this against you; You have
forsaken your first love” (Rev. 2:2, 4).
“Remember the height from which you have fallen!” the oracle exclaims. “Repent
and do the things you did at first.” When fervent in faith, and motivated by
A loving response also embraces obedience. “Does the Lord delight in burnt
offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord?” Samuel
rhetorically inquired. Certainly not! “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to
heed is better than the fat of rams” (1 Sam. 15:22).
Herein lies the critical difference between serving the Living God and lifeless
idols. As for the former, one should weigh carefully divine instruction, and
pursue righteousness. As for the latter, it does not matter. Thus obedience
appears as a deterrent to idolatry.
Idolatry reveals various levels of sophistication, even in antiquity. It appears
for some that the deity is actually present in the object of worship, while for
others it is representative. In any case, a Baal idol was taken
seriously—primarily as a means of securing fertility: concerning one’s
offspring, herds, and harvests.
Another inescapable feature of the prime commandment is service. “No one can
serve two masters,” Jesus cautioned. “Either he will hate the one and love the
other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve
both God and Money” (Matt. 6:24). It is not money, but the love of money which
is the culprit.
Acquisition plays a legitimate role in the Biblical ethic. In this regard, the
rabbis coupled industry with generosity. Concerning the former, it was said the
a person could not properly observe the Sabbath unless he or she had been
industrious throughout the week.
As for the latter, Jesus observed persons putting their offerings into the
temple treasury. While certain affluent individuals contributed large sums, “a
poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of
a penny” (Mark 12:42). Whereupon, Jesus allowed: “I tell you the truth, this
poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out
of their wealth, but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to
live on.” Which we are to understand is that generosity consists not in how much
one gives, but concerning what remains.
The task of interpretation continues with the church fathers. For instance,
Polycarp alludes to Paul’s correspondence in which they find the means for
maturing in the Christian faith, “which, being followed by hope, and preceded by
love towards God, and Christ, and our neighbor, ‘is the mother of us all’ (cf.
Gal. 4:26). For if anyone be inwardly possessed of these graces he has fulfilled
the command of righteousness, since he that has love is far from all sin.”25
A commensurate love is thus solicited. One that springs from genuine gratitude,
as previously noted in passing. One that extends to Christ for his vicarious
sacrifice, and readily complies with divine instruction. Such distances a person
from all sin, since there is no compatibility between the two.
“The perfect man ought therefore to practice love, and thence to haste to the
divine friendship, fulfilling the commandment from love,” Clement of Alexandria
enjoins. “And loving one’s enemies does not mean loving wickedness, or impiety,
or adultery, or theft; but the thief, the impious, the adulterer, not as far as
he sins, and in respect of the actions by which he stains the name of man, but
as he is a man, and the work of God.”26 Accordingly, to distinguish between man
and his perverse ways.
Clement then concludes, “We are therefore to love Jesus equally with God.” Since
these draw from the same impetus. “And he loves Christ Jesus who does His will
and keeps His commandments.” Which serves as a reminder that bears repeating.
In retrospect, we touched on what is involved in interpreting Scripture for
subsequent times, before exploring the topic in the context of Biblical
narrative, and concluding with examples from the church fathers. There is
considerable precedent, but also variables so that Christian consensus suffers.
This, in turn, calls for increased effort to search out common ground and
credible witness. So much the more as persons take liberty with the apostolic
HAVE AND HAVE-NOTS
I have on other occasions referred to a provocative story concerning a man
who was accosted while crossing the property of another. “How did you come about
laying claim to this land?” the intruder inquired.
“I inherited it from my father,” the owner confidently replied.
“And how did he come by it?” for former persisted.
“From his father, and grandfather before him” the latter countered. Assuming
that this would establish his claim beyond any reasonable doubt.
“But how was it originally obtained?” the intruder pressed his reluctant host.
“He fought for it!” the now irate owner exclaimed.
“I’ll fight you for it!” the challenger heartily responded. This seemed to him
an equitable way of proceeding.
“A fanciful account? Likely so, but not all that different in principle from one
who insists on preferential treatment to address some real or imaginary wrong
inflicted on those of his ethnic background, gender, race, or sexual preference
in the past.”27 Thus giving rise to the issue concerning the haves and
Several preliminary observations would seem to be in order. First, there is a
decided difference between those who have abundance and those who are without.
As for the former, they are able to indulge themselves. Whether or not they
choose to share with those less fortunate.
As for the latter, their options are decidedly limited. They may get by on
limited resources, steal in desperation, or succumb to the circumstances. In any
case, they live from day to day—with little hope for what tomorrow may bring.
Second, this gives rise to claim and counter-claim. On the one hand, the poverty
stricken not uncommonly protest that those with wealth abuse their privilege. By
manipulating those less fortunate, and giving rise to the complaint: “The rich
get richer, while the poor get poorer.”
On the other hand, the haves insist that poverty is characteristically the
product of indolence. A failure in the past, coupled with a lack of current
resolve. Consequently, not something that should be blamed on others. Or a
problem others should feel obligated to address, except as they choose to do so.
Third, there is the matter of coercion. Such as when have-nots interrupt a
commercial enterprise with public protests. Or, as noted above, seize the
property of others. While justifying their behavior out of necessity or as an
Conversely, the haves may promote security precautions and incarceration as
means of maintaining order. Both of which drain limited public resources, at the
expense of other needed services. While overlooking compensation of some sort as
a means of compensating for anti-social behavior.
Finally, partisan discord can readily disrupt the Christian fellowship. Some
siding with the haves, and others with the have-nots. Along with caustic
rejoinders, especially in the heat of controversy.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no
attention to the plank in your own eye?” Jesus inquired. “You hypocrite, first
take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the
speck from your brother’s eye” (Matt. 7:3, 5). Which serves to remind us of the
bias we bring to evaluating any given situation.
The above serves as a lead into liberation theology, a movement which has had a
profound influence on Western culture. In this regard, Gustavo Gutierrez
observes: “To place oneself in the perspective of the Kingdom means to
participate in the struggle for the liberation of those oppressed by others. If
this option seems to separate them from the Christian community, it is because
many Christians, intent on domesticating the Good News, see them as wayward and
perhaps even dangerous.”28 The Kingdom agenda is thus cast in terms of social
Which recalls Jesus’ assurance, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is
the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3). As for apt commentary, “In Hebrew parlance
the ‘poor’ were not simply the economically disadvantaged but those who in their
need had turned to God for help (Ps. 69:32; Isa 61:1). To be poor in spirit
means to depend totally upon God for all help (cf. Ps. 34:6). ‘This poor man
called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles.’”29 In
spiritual terms, and regardless of social cast.
As a matter of fact, liberation theology draws heavily from the Marxist theory
of class conflict. One in which exponents deliberately take the side of the
downtrodden. Recalling a man holding a cross in one hand, and a rifle in the
other. Holding the cross over his head, he cried out: “If they will not listen
to this (the cross), then they will listen to this (pointing his rifle in
menacing fashion).” A bit extreme? Yes, but underscoring the aggressive nature
of the movement.
Of course, Marxist theory is highly suspect—given its dubious track record. Such
as allows for a transitional period, of undetermined length, before the utopian
aspects of the process set in. Which led a Romanian acquaintance to recall his
time under communism, “Everyone was said to be equal, but some were more equal
than others.” Namely, the estimated ten percent with party affiliation, from
which they derived special privileges.
Not only has liberation theology survived the criticism leveled against it, but
it has proliferated. Having been taken on by the feminist movement. So also with
black theology. Then, more recently, with gender issues. Even though these
causes are very diverse, and call for individual attention.
In greater detail, Gutierrez elaborates: “Our conversion process is affected by
the socio-economic, political, cultural, and human environment in which it
occurs. Without a change in these structures there is no authentic
conversion.”30 A task which was undertaken in Latin America by those referred to
as a First Christian generation. Which would seem to suggest a calculated
departure from apostolic teaching. If not, then in need of better definition.
In striking contrast to liberation theology is the gospel of wealth. The latter
allowed that diligence characteristically results in material gain. Which, if
passed on to one’s heirs, would be to their advantage. Unless, of course, they
chose to use it unwisely.
However, Andrew Carnegie argued that to die wealthy was a sign of failure. Since
the heirs of large fortunes often squandered them in indulgent living, rather
than nurturing their inheritance. Even bequeathing one’s fortune to charity was
no guarantee that it would be used wisely, or for the purpose for which it was
In particular, he disapproved of charitable giving that merely maintained the
poor in their impoverished state. Instead, he advocated alternatives that would
allow them to better themselves. And in doing so, society as a whole.
Moreover, he claimed that in exercising good stewardship persons would receive
an eternal reward. Not simply in response to generous giving, but the wise
distribution of funds. If not entirely in one’s lifetime, then by those
entrusted with the task.
It remains for Walter Brueggemann to address this topic in terms of shalom
(peace, well-being). In brief, “The origin and destiny of God’s people is to be
on the road of shalom, which is to live out of joyous memories and toward
greater anticipations.”31 As concerns the origin of God’s people, the heavenly
host announced at Jesus’ birth: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace
to men on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14). Glory and peace are this
juxtaposed. Bringing to mind the creedal assertion, “The chief end of man is to
glorify God and enjoy him forever.”
As for the destiny of God’s people, Brueggemann reasons that without shalom “the
earth was formless and empty” (Gen. 1:2). “The wolf will live with the lamb, the
leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling
together; and a little child will lead them. They will neither harm nor destroy
in all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:6, 9). Or, as I like to characterize it,
“The train will run on time, every time.”
The vision of shalom is calculated to incite joyous memories, and greater
anticipation. As for the former, “By faith we understand that the universe was
formed at God’s command, and that what is seen was not made out of what was
visible” (Heb. 11:2). So as to remind us of a benevolent sovereign.
In greater detail, “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would
after receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know
where he was going.” As a striking precedent for all of those who would be
obedient to the Lord’s calling, and as an indication of the cost of
All such “people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive
the things promised, they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.” Thus
in keeping with the prospect of greater anticipation.
Accordingly, “The only shalom promised is one in the midst of historical
reality, which comes close to saying ‘incarnation.’ Shalom of a biblical kind is
always somewhat scandalous—never simply a liturgical experience or mythical
statement, but one facing our deepest divisions and countering with a vision.”33
Not an imaginative world that feeds our utopian fantasies. Such as distracts us
from the task at hand.
Various instances come to mind by way of a reality check. An enthusiastic co-ed
stopped by my office to share with me the fact that she was offered a proposal
for marriage. The young man indicated God had informed him that they should
marry. “How did you respond?” I inquired.
“I told him that if I were to hear from the Lord, I would let him know,” she
replied with an amused expression. Welcome to the real world!
Along a very different line, I was deployed overseas during World War II. Upon
emerging from the mess hall, I noted a shabbily dressed man picking over the
scraps of food that had been cast aside. He seemed intent on salvaging these,
presumably to feed his family. This, too, serves as a reality check.
In the real world, liturgy is not a substitute for social engagement. Nor was it
meant to be. While in keeping with the exhortation, “Come to worship, and go to
Nor is myth a substitute. Whereas fantasy can contribute to our creative
instincts, it does not replace our efforts to deal with persisting problems. So
that one should strive to leave the world a better place than he or she found
it. Rather than simply living off the legacy of others.
This requires that we face our deepest divisions. Not only as individuals, but
in cooperation with others. Not with presumption, since we have limited
resources at our disposal. But not despairingly, given God’s enabling grace. In
this connection, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every
situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want,”
Paul earnestly allows. “I can do everything through him who gives me strength”
Shalom can be variously understood, since we define it in context of our
individual lives. “We define the word and use it—as we do all words—as a bearer
of peculiar meanings that match up with our needs, hopes, fears, and visions.
And the context in which we set the word shalom will make a difference in how it
comes through to us and what insight we assign to it.”33 It is for this reason
that we must take care not to project our understanding on others.
This realization prompts Brueggemann to propose shalom from the perspective of
the have-nots, as over against the haves. As for the former, “People who live in
the midst of precariousness shape their vocabulary and their faith, their
perceptions and their liturgy in a distinctive way. One of the most important
ways the Israelites expressed their faith was around the theme of ‘cry out,
hear, and deliver.’”34
As a classic case in point, “The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried
out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God” (Exod.
2:23). “Then the Lord said, ‘I have heard them crying out because of their slave
drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue
them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them out of that land into a
good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exod. 3:7-8).
Our attention is first drawn to cry out. In this manner, the Israelites
recognize their dependence on God for deliverance. While he may use various
means, he is the ultimate source for shalom.
Failing to recognize this fundamental truth, we are destined to prolong our
deplorable situation. We turn to one prospective deliverer after another, with
limited success and lingering resentment.
We are assured that the Lord tunes into the plight of the afflicted. Although
this may not appear to be the case, since deliverance is often an extended
process. How long will this take? Sometimes longer than on other occasions. If
not abruptly, then with the pursuit of righteousness. If not within a life time,
then with succeeding generations.
Deliverance is the bottom line. No longer enslaved by circumstances.
Qualifications aside, the master of one’s destiny.
By way of encouragement. In this regard, “A dream is something you think would
be nice to do, but a goal is something you think you can do. We should turn more
of our fears into goals and then our goals into plans.”35 Along with the
realization that any plan we devise will require sacrifice to achieve.
Shalom for the haves takes on a very different cast. Since it raises issues
concerning proper management and joyous celebration. “Obviously the well-off do
not expect their faith to begin in a cry but in a song. They do not expect or
need intrusion, but they rejoice in stability. They do not crave an upheaval,
but they celebrate the solidarity of continuity, which means the durability of a
world and a social order that have been beneficial to them.”36
This is confirmed by the reminder, “God saw all that he had made, and it was
very good” (Gen. 1:31). Along with the assurance, “As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never
cease” (Gen. 8:22). No less in keeping with the observation, “The people of
Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand on the seashore; they ate, they
drank and they were happy” 1 Kings 4:20). Given the awareness, “The eternal God
is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deut. 33:27).
This is not the occasion for complacency but stewardship. If complacent, the
situation tends to erode. Things turn to bad, and from bad to worse. According
to the graphic imagery of a slippery slope.
Stewardship implies investing one’s resources in Kingdom priorities. Such as
addresses the needs of society. Especially those in dire need. But not so as to
perpetuate their need in the process.
Moreover, this is coupled with joyous celebration. Initially, because life is
perceived as a gratuitous gift from a benevolent deity. To depreciate it would
dishonor the Giver.
Not simply in comprehensive terms, but in its particulars. Soliciting the
observation of a certain rabbi, “Sex is preferable on the Sabbath.” Since he
viewed it as a welcomed aspect of life as created by God, and meant to be
enjoyed as such.
“Now I am not urging one world-view or the other,” Brueggemann concludes. “My
topic is shalom. I am suggesting that there is ample evidence in the Bible for
two very different views of shalom that can be found in the text, and it is
important for us to locate the place where we make contact with the Bible.”37
Whether as have-nots or haves.
Although there is much in common between the two perspectives. Especially as
relates to God’s compassionate disposition, availability, and enablement. Then,
too, since humans are more similar, given their creation in God’s image, than
different from one another. But with the realization that our circumstances
differ considerably, thus impacting the way we view life and approach the quest
This line of reasoning implies the cooperation of have-nots and haves. Not one
to the exclusion of the other. Since such would be doomed to failure. United we
can in great measure succeed, where alone we will assuredly fall tragically
All of which brings to mind one of Jesus’ parables. “There was a rich man who
was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day” (Luke
16:19). He employed his considerable wealth in extravagant living. Conversely,
he appears to have little concern for those in dire need.
In sharp contrast, “At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with
sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table.” He appears to be
unable to fend for himself. “Even the dogs came and licked his sores.” As a sign
of befriending him, seemingly in contrast to the neglect of the rich man.
“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s
side. The rich man also died and was buried.” He lifted up his head in torment,
and cried out for the patriarch to send Lazarus to comfort him.
“Son,” Abraham considerately replied, “remember that in your lifetime you
received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things.” Now the situation
was reversed. From have to have-not, and from have-not to have. “And besides all
this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to
go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over there to us.” A chasm of
our own making.
“Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five
brothers,” the petitioner responded. “Let him warn them, so that they will not
also come to this place of torment.”
“They have Moses and the Prophets,” Abraham observed, “let them listen to them.”
Listening thus appears to be an acquired characteristic, which if neglected
leads to inattentiveness.
“No, father Abraham,” the man protested, “but if someone from the dead goes to
them, they will repent.” So it seemed to him in retrospect.
Whereupon, the patriarch replied: “If they do not listen to Moses and the
Prophets, then they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”
As was the case, after Jesus’ resurrection.
Insofar as the rich man characterizes the affluent, such can be a hindrance in
the pursuit of righteousness. Conversely, Lazarus illustrates how poverty can
lead one to rely on the Lord’s provision. While neither is a guarantee.
Consequently, it confirms the need for cooperation between the have-nots and
haves in the quest for shalom.
“So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great
numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch” (Acts
11:26). Here the rapid growth of the fellowship is linked to their being
identified as Christians, thus associating them with Christ.
“They had been called a lot of other things before this. The first word that had
been used to describe them was ‘disciples.’ They were disciples of (Christ). The
name prevailed through the lifetime of Jesus Christ.”38 As such, Jesus was their
mentor—both in word and deed.
Afterward, they were referred to as saints. They were thus set apart to engage
in Kingdom activities. As often observed, to be in the world, but not of the
world. A subtle distinction, which left much room for error.
They were also repeatedly designated as believers. Not simply in an intellectual
sense, but as being committed followers of Jesus. They had once been a part of
the multitude, a mixed group including those who were diligently seeking and
others simply curious. But now they stood apart, gazing across a chasm created
They were likewise called brothers. By one another, and perhaps picked up by
some outside the group. By virtue of being in Christ, members of the same
family. Although differing in other respects.
Jesus also indicated that they would become witnesses. In this regard, he
assured them: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and
you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the
ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Starting in their immediate environ, and
extending their witness as the opportunity afforded itself.
Perhaps most striking, they were described as people of the Way. For instance,
Saul (Paul) petitioned the high priest for authorization “so that if he found
any there who belonged to the Way, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem”
(Acts 9:2). So also Acts 19:9, 23; 22:4; 19:23; 22:4; and 24:14, 22.
“Similar words are used in a religious sense elsewhere; a specially close
parallel is the use of the Hebrew word for ‘way’ in the Zadokite Work and other
documents of the Qumran community to denote the membership and life-style of
that community.”39 This may be an allusion to the way of the righteous, as set
over against that of the wicked (cf. Psa. 1). Then as associated with Jesus’
declaration: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). As such,
the way of salvation. Along with implications for proclaiming the gospel, and
embracing a compatible lifestyle.
Only subsequently and not exclusively were the disciples designated as
Christians. And then apparently by the populace, as a means of differentiating
them from Jews and Gentiles as such. While in keeping with previous and
persisting alternatives, and eventually in large measure supplanting them.
In this sense, Christians first and then whatever appellation may seem
appropriate. Such as distinguishes one tradition along with another, along with
cherished convictions. While not uncommonly giving the impression that the
Christian movement has become fragmented, argumentative, and with a resulting
loss of credibility.
This also encourages countless ecumenical efforts, meant to recover a sense of
common devotion. Sometimes with greater success than others, while always
seeming to fall short of the ideal. As if an on-going task of prime importance.
In greater detail, we turn our attention to the Orthodox Church. Its perspective
is aptly set forth in five connections. First, “The unity of the church is not
only obscured or hidden. Loss of unity is more than division among the churches;
it is division of the church (schism). The unity of the church must, therefore,
not only be made ‘visible’ but also be ‘regained.’”40
Accordingly, the divisions are not only in appearance, but in fact. Otherwise,
the matter could be more easily rectified. As it is, reconciliation must proceed
Second, “The reason for the loss of unity is that the churches have not
preserved ‘the tradition of the ancient, undivided church,’ that is, the
tradition of the church of the first seven ecumenical councils.” Consequently,
unity can only be recovered by returning to the tradition of the ancient and
Third, “The tradition of the ancient, undivided church includes in itself the
apostolic faith, the sacramental life, especially the eucharistic life, and the
ministry, understood as the episcopate standing in apostolic succession and the
sacramental priesthood.” Consensus can only be achieved by deliberately focusing
on each of these critical elements.
This is thought implied by the fact that the early believers “devoted themselves
to the apostles’ teaching, and to the fellowship” (Acts 2:47). Thus setting the
precedent for succeeding generations. Lest they be distracted by other concerns.
Recalling the sage observation, “It is not the blatant wrong, but the lesser
good that most threatens the greater good.”
Fourth, “However, these constitutive elements of the tradition of the ancient,
undivided church—and with it the unity of the church—are seen as one indivisible
whole. They are so inseparably and intimately connected that they can never be
taken individually.” So that the loss of one element results in the loss of the
whole, and each of the elements are preserved only with the preservation of all.
This serves to provide a balanced approach. One that gives due consideration to
each element, but in context of the whole. Lest in focusing on one or the other,
the task is compromised.
Finally, “Only in the Orthodox Church is the tradition of the undivided church
preserved in its wholeness and integrity. The Orthodox Church is the preserver
of this tradition, and only in it is this gradation, and with it the church in
its unity, a living, lived, and visible reality.” Since it alone serves as the
repository of the seven ecumenical councils, in keeping with the apostles’
Thus resembling the father watching for the return of his prodigal son. At which
time where was great rejoicing. But until such time, painfully separated.
“The Church had suffered some grave disasters, but those very disasters brought
increasing power and authority to the head of the church in Rome. They all had
the tendency to elevate, in the eyes of men, the bishops of the church in Rome
to the headship of the entire Church.”41 Moreover, the Muslim conquest of Syria,
Palestine, and Egypt removed forever the patriarchs of Antioch, Jerusalem, and
Alexandria, and the conquest of North Africa removed the bishop of Carthage as a
“It is through the faithful preaching of the Gospel of the Apostles and their
successors—the bishops with Peter’s successor as their head,” Vatican II
declared “—through their administering the sacraments, and through their
governing in love, that Jesus Christ wishes his people to increase under the
action of the Holy Spirit, and he perfects its fellowship in unity: in their
confession of one faith, in the common celebration of divine worship, and in the
fraternal harmony of the family of God.”42
Several observations are worthy of note. Initially, deference is given to the
apostles’ teaching. This is meant to provide continuity, while allowing those in
authority to address current issues. As noted earlier, it serves as an example
of Scripture by way of tradition. As normative but not exhaustive.
It also served to repudiate such heretical movements as were proliferating. Such
as claimed to have spiritual insight lacking in accepted church circles.
Consequently, as a means of justifying some course of action.
In particular, Peter’s successor was singled out as the prime authority. This,
in turn, recalls a pertinent interchange between Jesus and Peter. “Who do people
say the Son of Man is?” Jesus inquired of his disciples (Matt. 16:13).
“Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one
of the prophets,” they replied.
“But what about you?” he pressed them. “Who do you say I am?”
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Peter volunteered.
“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man,
but by my Father in heaven,” Jesus replied. “And I tell you that you are Peter,
and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not
overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, whatever you
bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be
loosed in heaven.”
“This saying has become the foundation for the Roman Catholic position on the
papacy and the church. The crucial question is the identity of the ‘rock’ on
which the church is to be founded. Jesus’ statement involves a wordplay between
petros (an isolated rock or stone) and petra (a rock ledge).”43 Which brings to
mind the rock cliff at Caesarea Philippi and the pebble strewn stream emerging
from its base.
In any case, the rock can be variously understood. As with reference to Peter’s
faith, or the truth he expounds. Not necessarily the person, and less likely his
successor. Which recalls the observation of the eminent Anglican theologian John
Stott, who observed that while he held to the teaching of the apostles, he was
not persuaded of an apostolic succession.
In addition, this administration of authority is associated with the
proclamation of the gospel. In this connection, Paul observes: “Now, brothers, I
want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on
which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold
firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain” (1
“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance,” he continued,
“that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried,
that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,” and that he
appeared to faithful witnesses—including “five hundred of the brothers at the
same time, most of whom are still living.” And last of all to Paul himself.
The document then turns to pastoral concerns. In connection with administering
the sacraments, and governing in love. As for the former, they are perceived as
means of grace. Effective if properly ministered, and devoutly embraced.
As for the latter, faithfully attending to their duties out of a sincere desire
to be of help to their constituents. Not motivated by selfish concerns or
compromised convictions. Even when experiencing opposition. While confident that
their labors are not in vain.
That the number of adherents might increase, given the involvement of the Holy
Spirit. Thus enhancing the unity of the fellowship. First of all, in their
assurance of one faith. As defined under the guidance of those entrusted with
apostolic succession. Without which, divisions are thought to proliferate.
Second in order, in the common celebration of divine worship. As a visual
reminder of their union in Christ. Then, too, as a testimony to others. In
anticipation that God will richly bless their faithfulness.
Third and last, in the common celebration of divine worship. In keeping with
their assured faith in the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So that in
terms of prayer, they pray to the Father, by way of the intercession of the Son,
and as assisted by the Holy Spirit. Theological extrapolations aside, a simple
code for pious practice.
Thus came about the division between the Eastern and Western constituents in
their quest for Christian unity. As for the former and previously mentioned,
they awaited the return of the prodigal. As for the latter, they maintained
confidence in apostolic succession. While subsequent efforts would in some
degree lessen the tension.
“The Reformation was a complex, multi-faceted response to the church experience
of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Many Christians realized that the
Church was simply not serving the spiritual needs of the people. At the same
time, Christians were becoming more literate and articulate, as they expected
more of the Church.”44
Erasmus attempted to reform the Church from within, while Martin Luther from
without. Ulrich Zwingli undertook the task in Zurich, while John Calvin put
together a reformed theology in Geneva. A strong Anabaptist movement inaugurated
what became known as the radical reformation. In particular, it rejected
religious establishments, calling for a separation from the world.
A brief representative quote from the Augsburg Confession reads: “It is also
taught, that one holy Christian church must always be and remain, which is the
assembly of all believers, among whom the gospel is purely preached and the holy
sacraments are administered according to the gospel.”45 In this regard, the
church is one because it is apostolic. No less it is holy for the same reason.
Its unity is expressed concerning the proclamation of the gospel without
compromise. Which would preclude syncretism, the process by which elements of
one religion are assimilated into another. As a result, creating a third
Such as when the chosen people settled in the promised land. Only to take on the
ways of those surrounding them. Inciting the prophets to vigorously protest.
Recalling the poignant disclaimer: “All who make idols are nothing, and the
things they treasure are worthless. Those who would speak up for them are blind;
they are ignorant, to their own shame” (Isa. 44:9)/
It is said that the repudiation of syncretism involves three steps. First, the
careful choice of words to express Biblical teaching. Taking into consideration
the subtle nuances in cultural context. Bringing to mind the sage saying, “Say
what you mean, and mean what you say.”
Second, reject that which is clearly inconsistent with Biblical truth. So as to
avoid contradiction. Then, too, that which fosters ambiguity. Thus creating
uncertainty and indecision.
Finally, invest words with their intended meaning. Particularly those which have
lost their original significance. Moreover, by clarifying what is unfamiliar.
Alerting us to the fact that syncretism is much more pervasive than usually
Unity is also fostered by faithfully administering the sacraments. “For I
received from the Lord what I also passed on to you,” Paul allowed. “The Lord
Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks,
he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you, do this in remembrance
of me’” (1 Cor. 11:23-24). “It lies quite beyond both Jesus’ intent and the
framework within which he and the disciples lived to imagine that some actual
change took place, or was intended to take place, in the bread itself. Such a
view would only have arisen in the church at a much later stage when Greek modes
of thinking had rather thoroughly replaced semitic ones.”46
“In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new
covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me. For
whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death
until he comes.’” Thus perpetuating the practice as a means of proclaiming the
gospel to subsequent generations.
“Whatever chronology of the Last Supper one adopts, it seems clear that Jesus
instituted the Lord’s Supper by associating it with the third cup of wine, which
came after the Passover meal was eaten. It was known as the ‘cup of redemption,’
which rabbinic tradition likened to the third of the fourfold promise of
redemption in Exodus 6:6-7, ‘I will redeem you.’”47 While refraining from
drinking the fourth cup, pertaining to the consummation.
In this manner, Protestants advocated freedom in the exercise of ceremonies and
rites. What was understood by these terms was quite varied. It ranged from the
ringing of bells to regulations concerning fasting. What, however, they had in
common was that they had not been established at the beginning, but arose in the
subsequent history of the church—as the result of improvised instructions.
This gave rise to the question whether the ecclesiastical order is instrumental
in the proclamation of the gospel. If so need it be identical in all instances?
Resulting in different forms of church government. Such as could be illustrated
in extended fashion.
For instance, a certain young man was presented for ordination in the so-called
free church tradition. While thought to be the prerogative of the local
congregation; unless approved by representatives of the regional association, it
would not be considered valid outside the ordaining congregation. As it turned
out, the association representatives gave its approval, although a substantial
minority was in disagreement. It was thus calculated to foster lingering
All things considered, we have little more than scratched the surface. Which
will allow us to pick up on the topic in more subtle ways on other occasions. As
an exercise in moderation.
Or there is the federated church model. Not uncommonly resulting when struggling
congregations merge. Giving rise to reciprocal accommodations. While alienating
some in the process.
Worthy of note, the various traditions emphasize the importance of bearing
witness to an unity already in place. Observations notwithstanding.
Consequently, to discover appropriate means to accomplish a difficult task.
While entertaining the possibility of being misunderstood, and demeaned in the
Likewise evident, this unity is attributed to the apostolic character of the
church. As derived from those selected by Jesus to further his kingdom agenda.
As embodied in the New Testament scriptures. As a lasting legacy, not to be
subordinated to subsequent considerations.
This requires a sensitive approach to cultural issues. On the one hand, with
reasonable confidence that any culture may provide a means for propagating the
Gospel. While, on the other hand, that no culture is so pristine that it will
not come under the scathing critique of Holy Writ.
Thus, not only with an appreciation of the past, but in anticipation of the
future. As surfaces in the various documents concerning church unity. As such,
not only one faith, but one hope as well.
Then motivated by love. As touched on previously, “If I have the gift of
prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith
that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (I Cor. 13:2). Love is
calculated never to fail. So while it may not succeed in some regard, it
enhances life in other respects. Accordingly, it provides a needed reminder in
the quest for Christian unity.
A recent study by the PEW foundation reports that 40% of Americans are active
in some sort of religious or spiritual assembly. While the cause/effect
relationship is difficult to ascertain, it appears that such persons are more
committed to social engagement than others. This might be for personal reasons,
or a general consensus, but most likely a combination of the two.
This perhaps assumes an optimism, derived from their calling. It is coupled with
a greater awareness of spiritual resources, which outweigh negative
considerations. While not one to the exclusion of the latter.
They are more likely to be involved in other organizations as well. In brief,
life appears to them as more communal in character. So that what one does or
fails to do has much broader implications as well.
It, therefore, goes without saying that they put more time into social
activities. Which reminds us of the brevity of life, along with the implication
that we invest our time well. Hopefully, the world will be a better place for
our having been here.
Incidentally, their technology profile does not differ substantially from the
general populace. So that they are similarly inclined to use the internet, cell
phones, and engage in text messaging. In this regard, they have taken on the
ways of modern society.
All of which recalls the pertinent text: “Let us not give up the meeting
together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one
another—and all the more as we see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:25). If for no
other reason, because we are enjoined to do so. But in addition, since it is
beneficial for the person in attendance. These considerations aside, so as to
encourage others. Perhaps through a reassuring word, but in any case by being
present. Bearing in mind that Christians are admonished to serve others through
their earthly pilgrimage.
While some have expressed concern that those engaged in spiritual exercise will
neglect social engagement, this report suggests the opposite. Certainly not in
every instance, but with notable predictability.
Are there times I do not feel inclined to attend church service? Yes, although
these occasions are relatively few. Do I stay at home? Decidedly not! I attend
and in doing so am as a rule edified.
Even if that were not the case, I am aware of my influence on others. Expressly
those in attendance, likewise as a witness to those not in attendance.
Accordingly, as an initial step in social engagement. And decidedly not one at
the expense of the other.
Social engagement can either strengthen the bond among Christians or further
divide them. Depending on the issues involved, and how we choose to approach
them. While factoring in the response of others, since bonding is a two-way
It is helpful to think of social engagement in terms of three concentric
circles. The inner circle consists of the Christian fellowship itself. In this
regard, “you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s
people and members of the household, built upon the foundation of the apostles
and prophets, with Christ himself as the chief cornerstone” (Eph. 2:19).
Formerly aliens but now citizens. With all the privileges and responsibilities
It is in this context that Christians should strive to give a common witness to
the teaching of Scripture. Affirming what is taught, without pontificating where
it is silent. Whether in keeping with cultural standards, or taking issue with
them. While in a civil manner, not calculated to create unnecessary offense.
Insofar as the church serves as a laboratory in living, then it should also set
a precedent for those in the community. As if a light shining in the darkness,
and thus pointing persons to the way of righteousness.
This can also be the occasion for dialogue concerning social issues. Not with
the expectation that all will agree, and certainly not in every regard. But as a
means of sharing insights within a caring fellowship.
The second circle is made up of para-church associations. Such as single out
some issue of consequence for concerted action. Not necessarily that it is the
most consequential concern, but one deserving of consideration. Thus drawing
upon persons of similar inclination, or such as can be readily recruited.
For instance, our county sheriff recently appealed to the ministerial
association for its churches to become involved in assisting persons to escape
drug addiction. In this context, he allowed that it was impractical to imprison
the large number of persons thus afflicted. Nor would it for the most part serve
to rehabilitate them. Once back on the street, they would likely return to their
In similar fashion, para-church agencies have become increasingly involved in
assisting returning veterans in adjusting back into society. Bearing in mind
that it is estimated that more of those deployed overseas have committed suicide
than those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan during the same time span. Suggesting
the serious trauma associated with repeated deployments, and under threatening
circumstances. Along with other factors that may not be as obvious.
The outer circle consists of agencies drawing together people of good will,
whether Christian or otherwise. Since they may share similar concerns, while
differently motivated. As such, not strictly an extension of proclaiming the
Gospel. Although this is a prime factor in some instances.
The illustrations are legion. For instance, a group of concerned citizens set
out to provide food for street people. Not sponsored nor funded by the local
churches, many of these are devout believers. As such, they served as a valuable
This also allows for a community to respond to some natural catastrophe. Such as
the devastation created by a hurricane, leaving homes leveled and people without
the bare necessities of life. Persons rise to the occasion, Christians among
them. Taking leave of their employment, and at personal expense.
While this model of social engagement emphasizes corporate response, groups are
made of individual persons. In addition, persons can take action on their own.
Thus to assist another individual, family, or folk in need. Recalling the sage
saying, “Where there is a will, there is a way.”
All of which invites us to consider the divine mandates as relates to social
engagement. In this regard, “The authorization to speak is conferred from above
on the Church, the family, labor, and government, only so long as they do not
encroach upon each other’s domains and only so long as they give effect to God’s
commandment in conjunction and collaboration with one another and each in its
Several observations are appropriate. First, since these mandates are conferred
from above, those implicated are ultimately accountable to the Sovereign Lord
for their service. Recalling Jesus’ observation, “So you also, when you have
done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants, we
have only done our duty.’” (Luke 17:10). Having completed a task, we inevitably
realize that we could have done better.
Conversely, we are God’s imperfect means for realizing his purposes.
Consequently, we are sustained by his enabling grace. Along with a cause for
thanksgiving, since this is a great privilege.
This is coupled with the provision for forgiveness. Providing that we genuinely
repent of our wrongdoing. Along with the resolve to pursue righteousness. And in
anticipation of the Lord’s commendation.
The authorization is conferred conditionally. With prescribed perimeters, so as
not to conflict with the prerogatives of other mandates. Lest in attempting to
carry out one mandate we neglect or otherwise inhibit another. Consequently, by
way of cooperation, rather than in competition.
The Church first draws our attention. “The Christian church was founded upon a
story of a people’s experience with Jesus and a vision of God’s reign in human
history. Throughout the church’s history this story has formed and transformed,
sustained and changed the community’s faith and life.”49
Otherwise expressed, it consists of people with a common legacy derived from
salvation history. As concerns the patriarch, prophets, and apostles—Jesus being
the prime focus. Which provides continuity in the midst of change.
Not only does this select group share a common recollection but experience with
Christ. In graphic terms, they have taken up their respective crosses to follow
Jesus. Having done so, there is no turning back. Old things have passed, and a
new day had dawned.
Likewise implicated is a vision of God’s reign in human history. Even now the
fellowship enjoys an earnest of things to come. “Behold I am coming soon!” the
risen Christ exclaims. “Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy in
this book” (Rev. 22:7). Blessed indeed!
For instance, a certain congregation deliberately chose a location where it
could minister to three very different social entities. One had emigrated from a
rural Appalachian region, in search of gainful employment Another consisted of
those climbing the ladder of commercial success. A third was consisted largely
of impoverished urban Afro-Americans.
Faced with this formidable challenge, the fellowship devised a means of social
engagement. Persons were encouraged to submit proposals, which were carefully
reviewed. Some were selected for implementation. One consisted of legal services
primarily intended for youth who were apprehended for some anti-social behavior.
This was staffed by lawyers in the congregation. It was instrumental in helping
select individuals turn their lives around.
Another project required establishing a Christian book store. As a means of
helping Christians in the community mature, and to invite the interest of
others. Also depending largely on volunteer help. And when able to manage on its
own, funds were shifted to another enterprise. As was the general practice.
Another congregation developed an enterprising program for lay leadership. Those
recruited were trained for their shepherding duties. This normally consisted of
ten families, but allowed for exceptions.
In addition, there is a mandate concerning the family. Which recalls the saying,
“The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.” Given the fact that early
influences leave profound effects. In this regard, “Train up a child in the way
he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Prov. 22:6). In
ideal terms, but allowing for exceptions.
The family often suffers from what appears to be some more pressing concern. So
that it bears repeating, it is not uncommonly the evil we do but the lesser good
that detracts from the greater good. So that while some threats to the family
are flagrant, others are more subtle.
“In any case, the family has come under increasingly adversarial assaults. Not
only the family, but the larger society suffers as a result. In military
imagery, it leaves relatively little high ground from which to negotiate
life.”50 Accordingly, one would be tempted to despair were it not for God’s
availability. Giving rise to the dual exhortation: expect great things from God,
and undertake great things in his name.
In greater detail, “A man also must strive to prevent any dissolution of the
relationship by clinging or cleaving (being united) to his wife. Clinging
conveys commitment to maintaining the union in loyal love. In a relationship of
mutual trust, a male and female are free to be open and vulnerable to each
other’s presence.”51 Their commitment providing a secure setting in which to
explore their God given sexuality.
Apart from the family or some surrogate, the child would not survive. Most
obvious, as relates to food and shelter. Less so, a sense of belonging.
Recalling that in later years my mother confided in me, “I can’t remember that
you ever did anything wrong.” Leading me to conclude that love must have a short
“Here, within the family circle, there is order. There are familiar roles to
play, and shared experience. Which brings to mind the Bedouin proverb, “I
against my cousin, and my cousin and I against the stranger.” As a means of
structuring our social relationships.
The family likewise addresses the need for self-esteem. Not only is it important
to be accepted by others, but to have a positive attitude toward oneself.
Lacking in either connection, we are have difficulty managing with the
exigencies of life.
All things considered, the family assists us in realizing our unique potential.
To be what we seemingly were meant to be. A creative original, rather than a
duplication of some other person.
In terms of a mandate, the parents are meant to serve God’s righteous purposes.
The father in traditional society essentially signifies authority, and the
mother compassionate care. Joined together, they reflect God’s sovereign and
The nuclear family has largely come to replace the extended family in Western
culture. It consists of father, mother, and children. It may also accommodate
other family members, as the need arises. This recalls the time my wife’s
elderly father came to live with us. While American friends commended our
willingness to sacrifice, my Nigerian students allowed that we were very
The labor mandate emerges early on in the Biblical narrative. In this regard,
“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take
care of it” (Gen. 2:15). “It should be noted that even before the fall man was
expected to work; paradise was not a life of leisured unemployment. Both Enuma
elish and the Atrahasis epic also speak of man being created to work to relieve
the gods. But the biblical narrative gives no hint that the creator is shuffling
off his load onto man: work is intrinsic to human life.”52
Humans are thus encouraged to find fulfillment in their labors. Not only as a
means of satisfying our needs and/or that of others, but in performing our task
well. Thus in keeping with our endowments. In the pursuit of excellence, and the
exercise of our creativity. Then, in turn, recalling our being created in God’s
Needless to say, we do not entertain work in its pristine form. “Cursed is the
ground because of you, through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of
your life,” the Lord informed Adam (Gen. 3:17). So also with the passing of
time, the Israelites were subjected to forced labor—inciting them to cry out to
God for deliverance.
When resettled in the promised land, they were expected to work six days of the
week, while in anticipation of the Sabbath. This led the rabbis to conclude that
only if one has been industrious throughout the week that he or she can
genuinely celebrate the day set apart. Thus to provide a guideline concerning
the labor mandate.
“If a man will not work, he shall not eat” (2 Thess. 3:10). While the saying may
have originated with the apostle, it expressed “the Christian view of labor. The
concluding statement is not a statement of fact, ‘he shall not,’ but an
imperative, ‘let him not eat.’ Paul is giving the clearest expression to the
thought that the Christian cannot be a drone. It is obligatory for him to be a
Finally, the government mandate recalls an episode in the life of Jesus. It
seems that certain of the Pharisees and Herodians conspired to discredit him.
“Teacher,” they inquired, “is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (Matt.
15, 17). If opposed, Jesus might be charged with insurrection. If affirmative,
offend the populace.
Jesus subsequently enjoined them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God
what is God’s.” In this regard, “The Children of Noah are commanded to establish
courts of law that will carry out justice and maintain human righteousness and
morality in accord with the Seven Universal Laws.”54
In greater detail, D. Jeffrey Bingham expands on Irenaeus’ thesis that “the
State exists as God’s creation for the purpose of ordering justice by penalizing
injustice. (He) also states that God has established these human rulers in a
manner that fits those who at any given time are under their rule. There is
diversity within the activities of the rulers established by God.”55
Bingham concludes with seven principles, derived from his reading of Irenaeus:
(1) Human government exists through the ordination of God. (2) Christians are
obligated to pay taxes to the government ordained by God. (3) Human government
exists as a concession to humanity’s refusal to fear God. (4) Human government
exists as a means to benefit humanity through the structuring of justice. (5)
The aims of human government to structure peace and justice are consistent with
God’s own benevolent, just nature and identity as Creator. (6) Human government
conducts itself in diverse ways, both just and unjust. (7) Although human
government exists by God’s design as a concession to human rejection of God, in
order beneficially to structure justice, it does not supplant God’s own
sovereign dispensing of universal justice.56
Taking a more practical approach, Jay Stack explores the impact of voluntary
service on social and political affairs. “The Bible says that without vision the
people perish,” he allows, “but I want to remind you that without people the
vision will perish.”57 “You want to know how Christian volunteers can change
their society?” he rhetorically inquires. “We can register folks to vote.” He
speaks from experience, and leads by example.
“We can be politically active,” he adds. “We ought to be; it is a sin not to
“We can give.” As noted earlier, Jewish tradition couples industry with
“We can orchestrate.” That is, we can enlist people in a common concern. After
which, we seek to blend their respective gifts in a combined effort.
“We can hand out leaflets.” It requires little by way of expertise. A winsome
smile is a welcome attribute.
“We can fight.” For the principles in which we believe. Recalling the sage
observation, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do
“We can defend.” Especially those who are most vulnerable. Thus providing
dignity to the down-trodden, and lifting up the fallen.
In conclusion, Stack allows that a Christian volunteer is one who anticipates
crossing the finish line. While assisting someone else in the process. As if to
suggest that his or her efforts are contagious. Thus enhancing unity through
THE WORSHIP SERVICE
A classic example of worship is to be found in the sixth chapter of Isaiah.
“In the year King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and
exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple” (Isa. 6:1). Uzziah’s
demise came at the close of an impressive 52 year reign, except as it neared the
end—with Assyrian forces threatening. So that the circumstances of life change,
whether for the better or worse.
It was at that critical juncture in Israelite history that Isaiah saw the Lord
seated on a throne, high and exalted. Impervious to change, and deserving of
honor. Thus by way of assurance during this time to transition.
“Above him were seraphs, each with wings. With two wings they covered their
faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they
were calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole
earth is full of his glory.’” The associated imagery perhaps reflects a sense of
awe (covered their faces), an absence of anything degrading (covered their
feet), and availability to carry out the Lord’s wishes (associated with flying).
The term holy conveys the idea of idea of being set apart. In this instance, it
is also associated with God’s moral rectitude. “‘For my thoughts are not your
thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord” (Isa. 55:9). Not
simply because of human finiteness but sinfulness. Thus showing a lack of
righteous resolve. Moreover, the three-fold allusion to holiness is by way of
“At the sound of their voices the door-posts and thresholds shook and the temple
was filled with smoke.” Remembering the earlier observation, “Mount Sinai was
covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed
up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, and
the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder” (Exod. 19:18-19).
“Woe to me!” Isaiah exclaimed. “I am ruined. For I am a man of unclean lips, and
I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord
Almighty.” Consequently, there are three foci: himself, the people, and the
Sovereign Lord. As for the first, he is deeply sensitive to his shortcomings. As
for the second, they are similarly at fault. So that their appraisal is suspect.
As for the third, this provides a reality check.
But the narrative does not conclude at this point. “Then one of the angels flew
to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the
altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips;
your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.’” “In keeping with his stress
on fire as a means of judging/purging, a coal from the incense altar touches the
part of Isaiah’s body that he recognized to be the place of pollution. Merciful
grace belongs as much to the essence of God’s holiness as justice and purity.”58
Accordingly, the sage admonishes: “Put away perversity from your mouth; keep
corrupt talk from your lips.” Whether in this connection or some other, “Do not
swerve to the right or the left, but keep your foot from evil” (Prov. 4:24, 27).
Since we are inclined to stray in one direction or the other. So when engrossed
in escaping one fault, we fall prey to its opposite.
As for merciful grace, one is reminded of the occasion when an angel of the Lord
appeared to shepherds. Initially, they were terrified. “But the angel said to
them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all
people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ
the Lord’” (Luke 2:10-11).
Then Isaiah hears the voice of the Lord musing, “Whom shall I send? And who will
go for us?” We are thus subtlety alerted to the fact that service is coupled
with worship. Recalling the time when Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness.
“Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the
kingdoms of the world and their splendor. ‘All this I will give you,’ he said,
‘if you will bow down and worship me’” (Matt. 4:8-9).
At which, Jesus exclaimed: “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the
Lord your God, and serve him only’” (cf. Deut. 6:13-14). For only he is worthy,
as the sovereign benefactor. Both as creator and the one who sustains the
Unless worship eventuates in service, it is manifestly unacceptable. “Away with
the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps,” the
oracle adamantly protests.” But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness
like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:23-24).
“Here am I,” Isaiah expresses his willingness. “Send me!” He perhaps expects
that his ministry will be well received. As indeed it should be.
“Go and tell this people: ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever
seeing, but never perceiving,’” God declares. “Otherwise they might see with
their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be
healed.” As such, it constituted a warning that they were impervious to his
message. Choosing instead to continue in their sinful ways, and oblivious to the
“For how long?” Isaiah plaintively inquired. Perhaps supposing that they would
eventually come to see the error of their ways. Then, too, with appreciation for
God’s patient endurance with his wayward people.
“Until the cities be ruined and without inhabitants, until the houses are left
deserted and the fields ruined and ravaged,” the Lord replies. Until the people
are carried away into exile, leaving only a remnant in the land. Then to reflect
on the magnitude of their sins, and plead for restoration.
“For how Long?” As long as it takes for the chosen people to see the error of
their ways, and repent of their sins. Until then, the prophet will be obligated
to continue his seemingly fruitless endeavors. But with the realization that in
due time it will bear a late harvest.
Our attention is drawn to another Biblical passage. Jesus determined to return
to Galilee by way of Samaria. It was not necessary that he go this way, since he
could have gone via the Trans-Jordan highway—which appealed to Jews because of
the tension between them and the Samaritans. Consequently, his choice resulted
from implied opposition and/or as a means of reaching out to this despised
According to the Biblical record, the Assyrians resettled the region following
the exile with foreigners. “They took over Samaria and lived in its towns. When
they first lived there, they did not worship the Lord; so he sent lions among
them and they killed some of the people” (2 Kings 17:24-25). So one of the
priests was instructed to return and teach the people the ways of the Lord.
Giving rise to the notion that they were lion converts, not unlike the way rice
Christians was subsequently employed—as suggesting their conversion was a matter
Of course, the Samaritans put a different spin on the events. They claimed to be
descended from the Jewish tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, while insisting that
the exile was neither full-scale nor permanent. Thus setting the stage for
“So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob
had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was
from the journey, sat down by the well” (John 4:5-6). It was the sixth hour
When a Samaritan woman came by to draw water, Jesus inquired of her: “Will you
give me a drink?” “That he should ask a woman for water is perhaps not so
surprising, since it was women who generally drew water. But this particular
request involved using the Samaritan women’s utensil, and Jews could be very
scrupulous about contract defilement.”59
“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would
have asked him and he would have given you living water.” Jesus assured her. The
notion of living water pertains to water that flows, and hence suitable to
drink. Hence, readily lending itself to spiritual connotations.
The woman perhaps thought that he was speaking literally, observing that he had
no means for drawing from the well. “Where will you get this living water?” she
inquired. “Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank
from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?” Thus
challenging his claims on the lack of evidence, and revealing that she was still
at a loss as to his intent.
“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the
water I give him will never thirst,” Jesus replied. “Indeed, the water I give
him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” “The
living water that flows from within the believer is later explained in terms of
the Holy Spirit (7:38-39), and something similar is required here. But, in the
manner so typical of the Gospel, there may be also a reference to what Jesus is
teaching. If so, it will be to his teaching as issuing forth in spiritual
“Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming
here to draw water,” she petitioned. Suggesting that she was still thinking in
physical terms. And was perhaps deliberately steering away from spiritual
Jesus’ reply indicates a turn in the narrative. Instead of attempting to further
clarify his meaning, he admonishes her: “Go, call your husband and come back.”
“I have no husband,” she responded. She thus hopes to set aside this painful
issue without further reflection.
“You are right when you say you have no husband,” Jesus allowed. “The fact is,
you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband.” She
had spoken the truth, but not the whole truth.
“Sir, I can see that you are a prophet,” she observed. “Our fathers worshiped on
this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in
Jerusalem.” “Now the Samaritans did not recognize the canon of post-Mosaic
prophecy which forms the second division of the Jewish Bible. In their belief,
the statement of Deut. 14:10, ‘there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel
like Moses, remained absolute and valid until the rise of the second Moses,” who
would usher in the new age.61
Her intent is not evident. Perhaps she wondered if Jesus might be that prophet.
If not, she may have simply wanted to shift the focus of their conversation.
Away from her unacceptable behavior to more abstract considerations.
“Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on
this mountain nor in Jerusalem,” Jesus declared. “For a time is coming and has
not come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth,
for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit and his
worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
In spirit, because God is of spiritual nature. “You shall not make for yourself
an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in
the waters below,” recalling the solemn words of the Decalogue. “You shall not
bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God am a jealous God,
punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth
generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of
those who love me and keep my commandments” (Exod. 20:4-6).
Idolatry can consist of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath.
Whether in the form of an idol crafted for religious purposes. Whether those
think of it as if a resident, or simply representative. Or whether promoting
some human ideal as the experience of the Sovereign Lord.
So what we do or fail to do has long range implications. While granting that the
Lord is more inclined to perpetuate the influence of the good we do than the
evil counterpart. Giving rise to the saying, “If God were to throw dice, they
would be loaded.”
As for respective locations for worship, they can serve a legitimate role if not
detracting from the purpose for which they are intended. So it was that when
residing in Jerusalem, my favorite place for meditation was a knoll overlooking
the Shepherds’ Field. From there, I could look away toward Manger Square. While
somewhere in the vicinity the angel appeared to shepherds with the glad tidings
of the Savior’s birth. Needless to say, this provided a welcomed aid for
Likewise, God would have us worship him in truth. In context, seemingly a
reference to the two-fold revelation of the Law and Prophets. Then to be joined
by Apostles, as associated with New Testament scriptures. So that it bears
repeating, All Scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking
correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be
thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16).
Likewise recalling Augustine’s famed observation, “All truth is God’s truth.”
Which lends his approval to the quest for truth. While allowing for the fact
that not all that is said to be true is in fact true.
“I know that the Messiah is coming,” the woman allowed. “When he comes, he will
explain everything to us.”
“I who speak to you am he,” Jesus then declared.
Then, leaving her water jar, the woman hastened to the town from whence she had
come. Upon arrival, she urged: “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever
did. Could this be the Christ?”
So it was that they subsequently confided in her: “We no longer believe just
because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this
man really is the Savior of the world.” Whether Jew or Samaritan, they were one
in Christ, and primed to worship together.
It remains to touch on select aspects of the worship service. The essential
features of a Synagogue service were the reading of Scripture and prayer. In a
manner of speaking, consisting of a conversation between God and the
congregation. One in which his gracious promises are remembered, his name
glorified, and the fellowship incited to service.
As for Scripture, some churches employ a series of readings related to the
liturgical year. While others choose a passage on which to base the sermon. In
any case, as a corporate means to listening to God’s inspired word.
Regarding prayer, it may be prescribed or spontaneous. A random selection from
The Common Book of Prayer reads: “Lord, we beseech thee to keep thy household
the Church in continual godliness; that through thy protection it may be free
from all adversities, and devoutly given to serve thee in good works, to the
glory of thy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”62
The homily in Synagogue tradition was optional, depending on the availability of
a qualified speaker. This consisted of two criteria: appropriate knowledge and
the ability to communicate. Thus was the congregation edified.
Communion was in keeping with the Lord’s directive. Paul addresses this issue in
his Corinthian correspondence. “In the first place, I hear that when you come
together as a church, there are divisions among you. When you come together, it
is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without
waiting for anybody else.” (I Cor.11:18, 20). Which would suggest that the
Lord’s Supper was observed in conjunction with a common meal.
The apostle indicates that they have violated the purpose for which the Lord’s
Supper was instituted, which was to strengthen their bond in Christ. Decidedly
not to create divisions!
The expressions this is my body and this is my blood have given rise to various
explanations. One, transubstantiation conveys the idea that the elements are
changed into the flesh and blood of Christ. While substantiation insists that
these are coupled together. As set over against the view that the elements are
merely symbolic. The last of which recalls a Jewish person who decided to take
in a Christian worship service. However, he was perplexed by the reference to
Communion in the church bulletin. Getting the attention of an usher, he inquired
as to its mean. “I’ll tell you after the service,” the reluctant usher replied.
“If I had wanted to know after the service, I would have inquired then,” the
Jewish visitor protested. When provided with a hushed explanation, he observed
the linen cloths on the communion table, which seemed to him in the form of a
reclining body. “Of course,” he allowed, “I didn’t think it was an actual body,
since we Jews readily employ object lessons.”
All of which draws our attention to the use of the Lord’s prayer in public
worship, although perhaps better entitled the disciples’ prayer. As for its
origin, one day Jesus was praying. When he had finished, his disciples
petitioned him: “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples:
(Luke 11:1). Which recalls the centrality of prayer in Jesus’ life and ministry,
by way of precedent for his disciples. In particular, Luke emphasizes the fact
that Jesus turned to prayer at critical junctures. Giving rise to the
provocative observation, “One can be too busy not to pray.”
Moreover, the disciples are portrayed as students. If students, then intent on
learning. As a result, setting aside competing priorities.
Along with further implications for the fellowship at worship. With regard for
it being a learning experience. Not simply for the acquisition of knowledge, but
to faithfully apply it to the exigencies of life. An ongoing and demanding task,
both for the individual and concerning life together.
“When you pray,” address God as Father. In context of the culture, as One who is
in authority. Recalling an instance when I stopped by a shop in Manger Square to
touch base with an Arab acquaintance. However, he was nowhere to be seen. Then I
heard someone whimpering in the corner. It turned out to be the young man for
whom I was searching. He explained that his father had learned of his intent to
emigrate to Canada, and had strictly forbidden him to do so. He felt impelled to
Jesus, however, coupled this emphasis of divine sovereignty with God’s
benevolent purposes. “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a
stone?” he rhetorically inquired. “If you, then, though you are evil, know how
to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven
give good gifts to those who ask him?”(Matt. 7:9, 11).
The first part of the prayer concerns itself with God’s name being hallowed, in
keeping with the notion of worship. Coupled with this his sovereign reign is to
be realized. With the intent that divine priorities be given due consideration.
After which, the disciple petitions for daily provision, the forgiveness of
sins—associated with the willingness to forgive others, and not to be led into
temptation. “These temptations (or testings) would include persecution and
violence, and, perhaps, the allurements and enticements of false teaching and
worldly living. These temptations, probably understood as of Satanic origin,
pose the danger of leaving the faithful unprepared for the kingdom, and at
worst, of disqualifying (them) altogether.”63
Leaving at issue whether this prayer was simply meant as a model and/or intended
for liturgical use. In any case, with an accent on their union in Christ. As
evidenced by their worship together, and extended service. In particular, with
the proclamation of the gospel—so that hearing, persons might believe.
CHRIST AND CULTURE
We touched on the Christ and culture issue briefly in passing. It remains to
consider it at greater length. Since it is a critical aspect of experiencing
union in Christ, and thus resembling a reality check.
“It is reasonable to suppose that the Scripture will provide us with some
definite clue as to how to express our faith in a cultural setting,” I allowed
on an earlier occasion. “This is not to suggest that the Bible is, or should be
understood as being a scientific textbook on cross-cultural communications, but
neither should we ignore the kind of precedent it provides.”64 Consequently,
Scripture enables us to establish a credible Christian world and life view.
Paul was admirably bicultural, a factor which greatly facilitated his mission to
the Gentiles. Although a citizen of the Greco-Roman city of Tarsus; he was
raised in a devout Jewish family and eventually received rabbinic training. The
bicultural person is “Comfortable and at peace with peoples of diverse styles or
norms, while at the same time he is protected from abandonment of his own
principles.”65 He or she characteristically appreciates features of a secondary
culture, while identifying with the primary component.
In this regard, Paul protested Peter’s behavior: “If you, being a Jew, live like
the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to
live like Jews?” (Gal. 2:14). That is to say, if you maintain your Jewish
identity while accommodating to Gentile culture, why do you require the Gentiles
to abandon their identity in favor of the Jewish culture?
Which reminds us that Peter was a project in progress. Recalling an instance
concerning Cornelius, who was a centurion in the Italian Regiment. He and his
family were God-fearing Gentiles, who worshiped the Living God—while choosing
not to convert to the Jewish faith. Accordingly, he gave to those in need, and
One day, about three in the afternoon, he had a vision. In which he distinctly
saw an angel, who informed him: “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up
as a memorial offering before God. Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man
named Simon who is called Peter” (Acts 10:4-5). Whereupon, he sent two of his
servants and a devout soldier to fulfill this mission.
About noon the next day, Peter went up on the roof to engage in prayer. While
there, he fell into a trance. In which he saw heaven opened and something like a
large sheet let down to earth. “It contained all kinds of four-footed animals,
as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air.” Then he heard a voice
urging him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”
“Surely not, Lord!” he exclaimed.
“Do not call anything impure that God has made clean,” the voice cautioned. This
happened three times, before the sheet was taken back into heaven. As Peter was
pondering the meaning of this occurrence, Cornelius’ men arrived.
The next day Peter started out with them, accompanied by some of the brothers
from Joppa . Meanwhile, Cornelius, expecting him, had called together some of
his relatives and close friends. So it was that Peter found a large gathering of
Peter subsequently concluded, “I now realize how true it is that God does not
show favoritism, but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is
right.” While he was still speaking, “the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the
message. The Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles.”
When he went to Jerusalem, he was criticized for entering the house of those who
were not circumcised, and eating with them. But when he shared what had
happened, “they had no further objections and praised God, saying: ‘So then, God
has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life’” (Acts 11:18).
Two of Paul’s addresses especially come to mind in this regard. Upon arrival at
Pisidian Antioch, he and his companions made their way to the synagogue on the
Sabbath. After reading from the Law and the Prophets, the synagogue encouraged
them: “Brothers, if you have a message of encouragement for the people, please
Standing to his feet, Paul enjoined those assembled: “Men of Israel and you
Gentiles who worship God, listen to me!” (Acts 13:16). As a select audience,
familiar with the Biblical narrative.
He then alluded to God’s choice of the chosen people, their bondage in Egypt,
wilderness wandering, and entrance into the promised land. “After this, God gave
them judges until the time of Samuel the prophet. Then the people asked for a
king.” Ushering in the time of the monarchy. “After removing Saul, he made David
their king. God testified concerning him, “I have found David son of Jesse a man
after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’”
“From this man’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he
promised.” In keeping with the word of John the Baptist. “Brothers, children of
Abraham, and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of
salvation has been sent.” With these and other words, he urged them to embrace
the good news.
On the next Sabbath, almost the whole city had gathered to hear the word of the
Lord. When the Jews saw this, they were moved with envy. Inciting Paul and
Barnabas to answer them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first.
Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we
now turn to the Gentiles.” When the Gentiles heard this, “they were glad and
honored the word of the Lord, and all who were appointed for eternal life
believed.” So it was that the glad tidings spread throughout the whole region.
As a consequence of Paul’s proclamation of the Gospel in context of salvation
history, subsequent rejection, and welcomed response.
Before taking up the second of Paul’s addresses, we pause to consider the
Council at Jerusalem. Now some persons had come down from Judea to Antioch, and
were teaching that converts must be circumcised to be saved. “Galatia had raised
again the whole question of Gentile admission or, more precisely, the terms on
which they should be admitted. It was one thing to accept the occasional
God-fearer into the church, someone already in sympathy with Jewish ways; it was
quite another to welcome larger numbers of Gentiles who had no regard for the
law and no intention of keeping it.”66
It comes as no surprise that Paul and Barnabas took issue with their reluctance.
So that the matter was referred to a council convened in Jerusalem. At which the
apostle concluded “that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are
turning to God,” but impose minimal conditions.
Consequently, the council concluded: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to
us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to
abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled
animals and from sexual unchastity. You will do well to avoid those things”
This curious list of prohibitions appears to be associated with God’s covenant
with Noah, thought to be binding on Gentiles. “The Children of Noah are
co-religionists of the Children of Israel,” according to rabbinic understanding.
“By viewing himself as a Noahite, the Gentile becomes like the Jew, in that he
is a member of people whose peoplehood (not just his religion) is synonymous
with its relationship to God.”67 While a later rabbinic refinement, this
disposition appears to be deeply rooted in Jewish tradition. So that the
prohibitions were calculated not to offend the Jews of the diaspora.
Not all were in agreement, as evidenced by the sustained controversy. Bringing
to mind an instance of Jewish humor, “Where there are two Jews, there are at
least three distinctive points of view.”
On another occasion, when Paul awaited his companions to join him in Athens, “he
was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in
the synagogue with the Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the
marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there” (Acts 17:16-17).
While adapting to the differences in these respective groups.
So it was that a group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers took issue with him.
The Epicurean school (held that) pleasure (was) the chief end in life, the
pleasure most worth enjoying being a life of tranquility. (While the Stoics)
aimed at living consistently with nature, and in practice they laid great
emphasis on the primacy of the rational faculty in humanity, and on individual
“What is this babbler trying to say?” some inquired. While others observed, “He
seems to be advocating foreign gods.” Since he kept referring to Jesus and the
resurrection, which seemed to them a god along with his female companion.
“But there was in Athens a venerable institution, the Court of the Areopagus,
which exercised jurisdiction in matters of religion and morality. Its
traditional power was curtailed with the growth of Athenian democracy in the
fifth century B.C., but in Roman times its authority was enhanced and it
commanded great respect.”69 So it was that they brought the apostle before this
August body, to inquire into the nature of his problematic teaching.
“May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting” they asked of
him. “You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what
they mean.” In this regard, Luke observes that the native Athenians and those
from elsewhere who resided there devoted their time to discussing novel ideas
that presented themselves.
No longer confronted with an audience familiar with salvation history, Paul
declared: “I see that in every way you are every religious. For as I walked
around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar
with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something
unknown I am going to proclaim to you.” This is manifestly a reference to the
High God of traditional religion, thought to be inscrutable.
“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth
and does not live in temples built by hands,” the apostle confided. The Stoics
would have heartily agreed, although within a different context. Nor is he
“served by human hands, as if he need anything, because he himself gives all men
life and breath and everything else.” Thus in opposition to the popular view
that humans were created to make things easier for the deities.
After which, Paul allows that God providentially determined the times and the
places “so that men would seek him and perhaps find him, though he is not far
from each one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being.” “This
removed all imagined justification for the belief that Greeks were innately
superior to barbarians, as it removes all justification for comparable beliefs
today. Neither in nature nor in grace, neither in the old creation nor in the
new, is there any room for ideas of racial superiority.”70
“Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine
being is like god or silver or stone—an image made by man’s design and skill,”
the apostle protests. “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he
commands all people everywhere to repent.” As evidence of divine justice.
Then when Paul made reference to Jesus’ resurrection validating his claim, some
sneered, while others indicated a desire to hear him further on the matter, and
a few were convinced. Since such did not conform to the Greek notion of
immortality. In greater detail, “Belief in the immortality of the soul is not
belief in a revolutionary event. Immortality, in fact, is only a negative
assertion: the soul does not die, but simply lives on. Resurrection is a
positive assertion: the whole man, who has really died, is recalled to life by a
new act of creation by God.”71 Christ being the first-fruits of the general
Whereupon, the apostle took his leave for Corinth. “What, after all, is Apollos?
And what is Paul? he rhetorically inquires on another occasion. “Only servants
through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I
planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow” (1 Cor. 3:5-6). So
neither is he who plants or waters of great consequence, but “only God who makes
Having explored the topic at some length, we turn to an extra-Biblical example.
Expressly concerning the Nkada view of sin. This ethnic group of people live in
the central region of Nigeria. While the Christian faith took root sometime
previously, the first candidate for the ministry was studying at the school
where I was engaged in teaching. His name was Danjuma Dingba, and served as my
Dingba reports that sin”is the most vital issue facing man. Sin to Nkada people
has been regarded as a moral disease, a legal guilt.”72 If a moral disease, then
contagious. If a legal guilt, then binding.
As a contagion, it is calculated to have dire ramifications on the immediate
members of one’s household, less directly on the tribe or community, and finally
may actually extend to the cosmos. Which, unless dealt with, is calculated to
have tragic consequences.
“The mark of sin cannot be erased by the offender.” He loses his innocense; he
becomes hardened to his faults; he does shameful things. Recalling Jesus’
observation, “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from
thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?” (Matt. 7:16). Assuredly not!
Sin is also pervasive. As such, it can be perceived in a word, habit, or even a
look. Should something adverse transpire, sin is thought to be the cause. If not
directly, then indirectly.
Moreover, the finer nuances concerning ceremonial, moral, and religious guilt
seem obscured. For instance, “should a herbalist violate the rules thought to
govern his trade, he or someone in his family may suffer or die as a
consequence. But the result may be deterred if proper action is taken by the
family or the village elders.”73 Initially, the family; but should it fail to
respond, then the village elders.
Sin is ultimately an offense against the High God or his emissaries, made up of
lesser deities. But this has social implications as well. Since society is
sacred by character, so that a violation of communal obligations constitutes an
offense against the divine benefactor. There being no genuinely secular realm.
It is not surprising that the Nkada people developed a strong animosity toward
what they perceived as sinful. Which results in harsh treatment of the offender.
One such instance was described to me. A young man who had been drinking too
much palm wine, in an intoxicated rage drove his wife from their house. She
protested his maltreatment before the village elders, which brought disgrace on
the extended family. The offender was summoned before the men of his family
circle, who took turns beating him. He offered no defense. Were the punishment
administered with less zeal, it was thought the family would suffer some greater
Disobedient youths might actually be executed to avoid bringing a curse on the
community. For such disobedience, as mentioned above, constitutes a moral
disease that must be dealt with lest the affliction spread.
“Nkada people believe that God created them to live in harmony with him, and
with one another.” Thus to retain the order which gave rise to life in all its
rich variety. Lest it slip back into chaos. Where sin has free reign.
As for those who feel defiled and cursed by God: “Subjectively, defilement is
marked by feelings of dread. This is the feeling of the one who stands alone,
utterly alone, cut off from his society and from a hostile cosmos. His is the
dread of the anomaly; he has become a ‘no-man.’”74 Incidentally, the notion of a
non-person is appropriated in some tribal instances to those thought alien to
However, there exists a law by which persons can live in harmony with God. It is
called invri, and all are encouraged to observe it. When invri is violated,
sacrifice is called for—so as to restore order and harmony. For instance, “if a
person is caught in the act of fornication or adultery, that person has to pay
or give twelve goats and these goats would be sacrificed.” The result is
twofold: a reconciliation has been achieved and an important lesson learned.
There was no mention made of the relation of the spirits to sin. This is in
spite of the fact that most African societies hold that evil spirits are either
the origin and/or agents of sin. Recalling the night of my arrival at the school
compound. Having been warmly welcomed, I was escorted to the hut which would
serve as my residence.
I soon turned in, being tired from the long drive to reach our destination. I
shortly heard the firing of guns in the distance, something quite unexpected.
However, the next morning I was told that this was customary. Since it was
thought that the evil spirits traveled at night, and the sound of gunfire would
hopefully drive them off.
Several observations seem appropriate. First, the Nkada people have nothing that
corresponds to the combined legacy of the Old and New Testaments. Oral tradition
functions in a somewhat similar way, and includes an account of how sin
originated. Although this does not seem to play a significant role in how it is
Second, they are not without the witness of general revelation. “For since the
creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine
nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that
men are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20). As for his external power, it is clearly
visible in the majesty of creation. As for his divine nature, he appears a
gracious benefactor. Life alone and in its particulars being discernable
Third, they think of community in graphic terms commonly associated with family
and clan. This can readily result in intertribal hostility. The idea of a
Messianic Community that transcends tribal boundaries has no near counterpart,
although there may be analogies—such as with an adoption practice. Consequently,
it comes as exceedingly good news that God has in Christ reconciled us to
himself and one another.
Finally, the Nkada heartily acknowledges the admonition that they all may be
one. Along with his encouragement: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for
I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt.
11:29). His calling and task are not grievous. He likewise describes his
disciples as blessed, as they go about their ministry of reconciliation. They
preach a message of repentance and faith, in a context of affirming
righteousness and justice for all.
GOD AND CAESAR
“Teacher, we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of
God in accordance with the truth,” certain of the Pharisees and Herodians
allowed—as touched on earlier. “You aren’t swayed by man, because you pay no
attention in what they say” (Matt. 22:16). They hoped in this gracious manner to
encourage him to divulge his convictions on a highly controversial issue.
After which, they inquired whether it was proper to pay taxes to Caesar. If in
the affirmative, he would offend those offended by the practice. If in the
negative, then he might be charged with insurrection. In either case, it would
serve their adversarial agenda.
Jesus, being aware of their intent, asked for a coin used to pay the tax.
Whereupon, he inquired “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?” When
associated with the Roman ruler, he enjoined: “Render to Caesar what is
Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” Upon hearing this, they were amazed and
took their leave—having failed in their attempt to discredit him.
This assuredly did not mean that the spheres of authority were separate. Since
God is sovereign, all are subject to him. In this regard, “Why do the nations
conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand
and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One”
(Psa. 2:1-2). All to no avail. “The One enthroned in heaven laughs, the Lord
scoffs at them. Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his
As implied previously, humans are obligated to govern justly, wisely, and
compassionately. Justly in accord with the reminder, “He has shown you, O man,
what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love
mercy and to walk honestly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
Wisely in keeping with the Lord’s provision. “For the Lord gives wisdom, and
from his mouth comes knowledge and understanding” (Prov. 2:6). So that with
attentiveness comes comprehension, and with comprehension to act accordingly.
While bearing in mind, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but
fools despise wisdom and discipline” (Prov. 1:7).
Compassionately in accord with divine precedent. “The arrogant are attacking me,
O God, a band of ruthless men seek my life—men without regard for you,” the
psalmist protest. “But you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow
to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” (Psa. 86:14-15).
In return, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there
is no authority except that which God has established” (Rom. 13:1). As a matter
of principle, then aptly appropriated. Lest the authority usurp God’s sovereign
Everyone obviously allows for no exceptions. Not those high on the social
pecking order. Nor those claiming special insights. And certainly not those who
devise a way of beating the system
“For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong.”
In ideal terms. Suggesting that a prime concern of governance is security.
Security from without and within.
As pertains to life. Initially, the right to be born. If there are exceptions,
they do not constitute the rule. Nor should they be inconsequential.
Subsequently, to live a full life without threat of termination. Which requires
enforcement officers, who carry out their responsibilities conscientiously.
While supported by a functional judicial system, along with adequate prison
Finally, as relates to one’s declining years. When more vulnerable and less
capable of coping with adverse circumstances. Preferably in the context of a
caring family circle. If unavailable, then by means thought most applicable.
Moreover, as associated with liberty. That which allows one to make reasonable
choices, within the context of legitimate restraints. Even if thought unwise, so
long as it does not threaten the social structure.
This is not to be confused with license. That is, the permission to behave
without regard for its impact on others. Otherwise expressed, genuine liberty is
freedom for what is thought to serve some constructive purpose. While not an
excuse to commit some anti-social behavior.
In addition, concerning the pursuit of happiness. As a legitimate enterprise.
Embracing both life in general, and in its particulars. Such as is greatly
enhanced by wisdom and righteous resolve.
Not that happiness can be guaranteed. No matter how good the intentions. So that
the effort to construct an utopian society is doomed to failure. While
compounding the problem it is meant to alleviate.
“Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of
possible punishment but also because of conscience.” In recognition that
governance is ordained by God. As an approximate means, but nevertheless with
potential. Giving rise to the sage saying, “Some order is better than none.”
This is a rationale meant to foster moral considerations. Ideally, as focused in
Biblical teaching. If not, as best as can be determined from general revelation.
Which seems surprisingly insightful in some instances, while notably lacking in
others. Then differing from one culture to the next.
“This is why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give
their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him. If you owe taxes,
pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, the respect; if honor, then
honor.” The precursor if leaves open the question whether the authorities are
properly appointed, and faithfully engaged in their duties. Such aside, they are
worthy of due consideration.
All of which recalls the occasion when Samuel was well advanced in years, and
appointed his sons as judges to relieve him of his responsibilities. The judge’s
duties could involve martial and judicial considerations. The latter seems to be
the focus at this latter juncture.
However, “his sons did not walk in his ways. They turned aside after dishonest
gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice” (1 Sam. 8:3). In order to serve
their own interests, rather than that of the populace. So that justice was
Consequently, the elders of Israel approached Samuel with an observation and
request, “You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a
king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.” Since they petitioned in
this regard, they likely considered the request in keeping with their covenant
But looking to the other nations as a model implied that they were not confident
of the Lord’s leading under the present circumstances. This, in turn, reveals an
ambiguity in the establishment of the monarchy. “On the one hand, kingship could
be seen as a rejection of God’s own kingship, an unnecessary intrusion into the
relationship between God and his chosen nation. On the other hand, it was a gift
from God, a model and a channel through which God’s relationship with Israel
could be illustrated and strengthened.”75
So that one should not expect too little or too much from a political
establishment. If too little, we fail to realize God’s providential use of
available means. If too much, we lack the righteous resolve which plagues human
Samuel was displeased with the request, and expressed his displeasure to the
Lord. At which, the Lord urged him not to take the matter personally. “Now
listen to them,” he was cautioned, “but warn them solemnly and let them know
what the king who will reign over them will do.”
In particular, “He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and
horses. Some he will assign to be commanders of fifties, and others to plow the
ground and reap the harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and
equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and
cooks and bakers.” And so on, adding one burden after another.
We are thus alerted to a government bureaucracy which drains public resources
for its own purposes, rather than efficiently serving the pressing needs of the
populace. Thus giving rise to indulgence, duplication, inertia, and waste. While
forgoing needed services, creative enterprise, and accountability.
The pattern is all too familiar, rising to mixed reviews. While some Christians
promote government as a preferred means of achieving worthwhile goals, others
opt for private enterprise. The resulting tension is compounded when one fails
to distinguish between strategies and ideals, as noted on an earlier occasion.
With such in mind, we turn our attention to a pertinent passage. “Psalm 101 is
one of several psalms which address the subject of kingship or political
leadership. In Israel there was a rich corpus of theocratic ideology
encompassing both the stewardship of the Israelite kings as Yahweh’s
vice-regents over his chosen nation, and also the expectation for the
eschatological rule of the Messiah.”76
Identified as a psalm of David, the text begins: “I will sing of your love and
justice; to you, O Lord, I will sing praise” (101:1). Devotion to the Lord thus
provides the context for his political leadership. This is especially expressive
of God’s love and justice The former resembles that of a parent, who is
concerned with the welfare of one’s offspring. And to this end, is willing and
even anxious to sacrifice so that this may be achieved.
As for the latter, justice “Implies that we should treat others fairly.
Initially, because this is God’s way of dealing with us (cf. Acts 10:34). In
addition, because it is the way we would have others treat us (cf. Luke 6:31)
Finally, since it is to our corporate advantage.”77
“I will walk in my house with blameless heart.” With good intent, even though he
falls short and is in need of repentance. Such as demands a more rigorous
assessment than simply attempting to please the general populace or some
“Men of perverse heart shall be far from me; I will have nothing to do with
evil.” He will select his counselors with such in mind. Nor will he be deterred
from his righteous resolve by workers of iniquity. Recalling the saying, “Birds
of a feather flock together.”
For instance, “Whoever slanders his neighbor in secret, him will I put to
silence; whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart, him will I not endure.”
Accordingly, not simply those who flagrantly commit evil, but are of that
disposition. Which requires a more careful appraisal than would otherwise be the
“My eyes will be on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me; he
whose walk is blameless will minister to me.” The faithful are those genuinely
devoted to the Lord, and readily available to one another. Such are qualified to
serve. Which, in turn, constitutes a welcome opportunity.
“Every morning I will put to silence all the wicked of the land.” As a renewed
pledge of allegiance to the Almighty, and commitment to the people. Requiring
diligence and resolve. In the face of formidable obstacles and the attempt to
intimidate him by those disposed to evil.
Drawing upon ancient and modern political philosophy, along with Scripture,
Daniel Estes sets forth three theoretical models. In this regard, he concludes:
“The pragmatic model presents a stark contrast to Psalm 101. In the psalm, the
king’s public conduct is an outgrowth of his personal character. He does what he
does in public because he is what he is in private. The leader’s life is one
piece, not bifurcated into separate public and private realms.”78
What seemingly works is not necessarily in keeping with God’s righteous resolve,
and if not, then not in the best interests of society. Bearing in mind that not
only do humans have a limited perspective, but it is distorted by their
perversity. Giving rise to the observation, “As the heavens are higher than the
earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts”
Estes is more favorably inclined to the integrity model, as compatible with
Biblical teaching. As such, it views personal character as intimately connected
with public conduct. So that the king is meant to maintain love and justice both
in his own life and in society. As a matter of critical consistency.
In the course of history, political leaders have been expected not only to
render sound judgement but provide a credible role model. Consequently, to lead
the way by both word and deed. Assuredly not one to the exclusion of the other.
Finally, Estes touches on the values model. Which solicits such questions as
“What is the leader’s world view? What principles are shaping his character and
actions? What are his values?”79 Which provides objective standards by which to
judge the magistrate’s performance.
The psalmist’s life and world view evolves from divine revelation. Initially,
and then as better understood in the course of time. Thus setting the stage for
sustained reflection on Holy Writ, along with devout application.
This invites us to consider a more contemporary issue. “We thought we were doing
the right thing,” Michael Bauman allows. “We thought that if we passed laws to
raise their wages and lower their rent, if we give generously to help support
mothers without husbands and children without fathers, we could aid the poor in
their flight from poverty and alleviate much of their distress while they were
still in it. We were wrong.”80
We forgot that good intentions are not enough, and that most efforts reap
unintended consequences. In more graphic terms, aiming is not hitting, and
meaning well is not doing well. Which requires that we evaluate the results of
our policies, and alter them as it seems advisable.
First, we thought if we raised the minimum wage requirement, this would enable
persons to escape from poverty. But we forgot that the lowest paid workers were
those least desirable, thus making them expendable.
No matter how much consumers would prefer to purchase American goods and
services, few will knowingly pay an excessive amount for that purpose. So that
in raising the minimum way makes it increasingly difficult to compete in the
international market. As a matter of record, minimum wage legislation has caused
unemployment to increase.
While Bauman’s line of reasoning does not preclude setting a minimum wage, it
certainly encourages doing so within proper constraints. Such as takes into
consideration its adverse effects. Along with weighing in the public assistance
Second, we thought that if we passed laws holding down the costs of urban
housing, we could make more inexpensive housing available for those in need.
However, we overlooked the fact that in so doing we make the investment in
housing less appealing.
Conversely, the greater the incentive for property owners, the greater the
supply of apartments. The greater the supply of apartments, the lower the price.
The lower the price, the better it is for the urban poor.
Third, we thought that by providing welfare for unwed mothers, we would help
alleviate the problem. But we found that this encouraged it, by substituting
illegitimacy as a means of coping with adverse circumstances. Creating what is
characterized as a welfare state.
Another unintended consequence is that low-income husbands become expendable.
There being a seemingly preferable alternative. If not for one member of the
couple, then for the other. One with higher income, better services, and less
“In our misguided efforts to be good Samaritans, to help those lying in the
ditch of poverty, we forgot that whatever undermines traditional family values,
roles, and ties undermines society itself,” Bauman observes. “Our first
priority, as well as the first priority of any government program of poverty
relief, ought to be to stabilize traditional family roles and
responsibilities.”81 So that, qualifications aside, what is good for the family
is good for society.
Fourth, we thought that by providing assistance we were remedying the problem.
We forgot or failed to realize that poverty is not actually the problem, but a
symptom of the problem. The problem being that a person is unable or unwilling
to function as a productive member of society.
Love does not fail to take into consideration one’s character and actions. Since
these are indispensable features of a just society. Where conscientious behavior
is rewarded, and where procrastination is discouraged.
Finally, the misled Samaritan creates a culture of dependence. Thought to
resemble adolescence. As such, a failure to assume the obligations that come
Or using another analogy, extending slavery. As a dependency relationship, in
which the slave is provided the basic necessities of life. On condition of
loyalty to his or her political patron.
All things considered, Bauman offers five suggestions. (1) Put welfare programs
in the hands of contributors, rather than recipients or bureaucrats. With the
expectation that they will formulate a more feasible program, without neglecting
those in need.
(2) Redefine poverty. In this connection, nearly forty percent of Americans
below the poverty line have more living space than middle-class Europeans.
Moreover, nearly seventy percent of America’s poor own at least one car.
Conversely, Bauman maintains that the term poor should retain its earlier
connotation, concerning the lack of basic necessities.
(3) Re-educate both the politicians and the poor. So not to focus strictly on
finances, but moral responsibility. Bearing in mind that welfare can be
addicting, and as such, demeaning. Bearing also in mind that being poor is not a
shame, but that it is a shame to be indolent.
(4) Recognize that no perfect solutions are possible. Otherwise, one is caught
up in a utopian fantasy. One that is seriously in need of a reality check, and
before genuine progress can be anticipated.
(5) Embrace the Golden Rule of doing to others as we would have them do unto us.
“You cannot supply your neighbor’s wants and needs unless you walk in his shoes
and see the world through his eyes. Unless you learn to sympathize and empathize
with your neighbor , prosperity will elude you.”82 Only then can one hope to
play the role of the good Samaritan, in keeping with the intent of others.
The homosexual agenda is an allusion to the concerted effort to foster an
alternative lifestyle, which created painful divisions within the Christian
fellowship. Especially concerning the ordination of sexually active homosexuals,
the approval of homosexual partners, and the persisting agitation for gay
rights. The pejorative term homophobia, and the selective application of hate
crimes have further compounded the problem.
Initially, one should distinguish between same sex attraction, and the advocacy
of same sex intimacy. As for the former, the conditioning appears to be complex.
As for the latter, one may choose to foster the lifestyle or refrain from doing
so. If the latter, it may be for a combination of reasons: religious, social,
It is with the above in mind that we turn our attention to Scripture. “So God
created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and
female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). This served as a fitting climax to his
creative endeavor (cf. Gen. 1:31). Which implies that creation was both
remarkably functional and aesthetically pleasing. Bringing to mind the imagery
of a potter.
So it was that humans were created in the image of God, repeated by way of
stressing importance. “It conveys here that humans have the highest position in
the created order. As God’s representatives on earth, humans were invested by
God with authority to subdue the earth and rule over the animals.”83
If representatives then also stewards. Consequently, held accountable for how
they manage their unique prerogatives. Assuredly not allowed to ravage their
There are extended implications as well, such as pertain to the sanctity of life
(cf. Gen. 9:6). One thing builds on another, requiring that we keep issues in a
comprehensive context. Lest in fragmenting them, we do injustice to the text.
Moreover, God differentiated them as male and female. Similar but yet
dissimilar. If for no other reason, for the purpose of reproduction. In this
regard, “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in
number,’” (Gen 1:28).
Which would imply that we can err in one of two directions. Either we give too
much attention to the ways in which they differ or are alike. If the former, we
tend to curtail or unnecessarily restrict the services women may provide. If the
latter, we mix the sexes indiscriminately. Recalling the cynical observation,
“The problem with common sense is that it is so uncommon.”
“For this reason (concerning their creation) a man will leave his father and
mother and be united to his wife, and they will be come one flesh” (Gen. 2:24).
“In a relationship of mutual trust, a male and a female are free to be open and
vulnerable in each other’s presence; their commitment to each other provides a
secure setting for them to explore their God-given sexuality. The bond between
the marriage partners grows as each person contributes significantly to the
It is a relationship cultivated by a mutual trust. As such, a dauntless
commitment. Since one must cope with the peculiarities of the opposite sex. A
factor characteristically overlooked in the controversy concerning the
As a result, one feels both free and yet vulnerable. It is a freedom associated
with exploring newly acquired opportunities. Yet one in which a person feels
vulnerable to associated risks. Which suggests that one should not entertain
marriage without due consideration.
Along with the conviction that this provides a secure setting for the couple to
explore their God-given sexuality. Something otherwise lacking. So that the
partners mature, as each contributes to the life of the other. In this manner,
the pattern of sexual relationships is set from the beginning.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets,” Jesus
cautioned his accusers; “I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them”
(Matt. 5:17). Which would suggest that he give implicit acceptance to the above
As further elaborated, when Lot observed two angels sitting in the gateway of
the city, he persuaded them to accept his hospitality. However, before they had
retired for the night, a crowd of males surrounded his residence. “Where are the
men who came to you tonight?” they cried out. “Bring them to us so that we can
have sex with them” (Gen. 19:5).
“No, my friends,” Lot protested. “Don’t do this wicked thing.” At which, he
offered his two daughters—as if a lesser evil. After which, he and his family
fled the city. “So when God destroyed the cities of the plain, he remembered
Abraham, and he brought Lot out of the catastrophe that overthrew the cities
where Lot had lived.”
Now some homosexual apologists insist that the sin of Sodom was not homosexual
behavior but a violation of the code of hospitality. “To be sure, homosexual
behavior was not Sodom’s only sin; but according to Scripture it was certainly
one of its sins, which brought down upon it the fearful judgment of God.”85
Moreover, Jude allows that “Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave
themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion” (v.7).
With the passing of time, we entertain the Levitical Code. “Do not lie with a
man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable” (Lev. 18:22). The immediate
context of the prohibition accents the seriousness of the offense. Prior to it,
persons are enjoined not to sacrifice their children to Molech. Then following
it, they are not to defile themselves by having sexual relations with animals.
Recalling the saying, “A person is known by the company he keeps.
But suppose one violates the code? “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a
woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death;
their blood will be on their own heads” (Lev. 20:13). Both alike are viewed as
Some advocates of the homosexual agenda argue that this prohibition pertains
only to ritual prostitution. However, the burden of proof lies with those making
the claim. Meanwhile, we are impressed with the seriousness of the offense.
Apparently for a twofold reason: not only does it constitute a rejection of the
means by which life is perpetuated, but divine instruction in so doing. Which,
in effect amounts to idolatry.
The Pauline correspondence solicits our attention next. “For although they knew
God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their
thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened: (Rom. 1:21). Paul
thus allows that while persons experienced something of God in creation, they
could have understood more. Instead, they were not appreciative of the light
they perceived, and chose instead to walk in darkness.
“Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts,” the apostle continues.
“Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same
way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with
lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received
in themselves the due penalty of their perversion” (1:26-27).
As for commentary, “Homosexuality is a forsaking of a natural relationship
instituted according to the purpose of the Creator, i.e., heterosexuality, for
an unnatural relationship which reverses the creator’s purpose. Homosexuality
changes something originally oriented to the opposite sex as a complement and
inverts it to itself, thus perverting the created order.”86 A perversion said to
result in confusion.
The term natural pertains to the pattern of life ordained by God. As such, an
expression of his divine wisdom. Consequently, not to be in any way maligned or
subverted. Bringing to mind the sage caution, “Man ought not to play God.”
So what of the counter-claim that the apostle was not aware of the distinction
between inverts (as those disposed toward homosexual relationships) and
perverts? His criticism being directed only toward the latter. Again, the burden
of proof lies with those making the claim. Especially since Paul makes reference
to the created order, rather than subtleties of inner dispositions.
“Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God?” the
apostle inquires on another occasion. “Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually
immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual
offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers
will inherit the kingdom of God” (I Cor. 6:9-10). All these are joined together
as involved in unacceptable behavior.
Be not deceived, as was already the case. Giving rise to the Jewish complaint
that homosexuality constituted the Greek sin. Since it served as a convenience
among the military, and was promoted otherwise as more gratifying.
While it is true that the apostle does not single out homosexual relationships
for criticism, neither does he exclude them. Which would suggest a more balanced
approach than sometimes evidenced by those arguing for or against its practice.
“We know that the law is good if one uses it properly.” Paul allows on still
another occasion. “We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for
lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for
those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and
perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—for whatever else is
contrary to the sound doctrine” (I Tim. 1:8-10.).
The law is good in that it reflects God’s gracious will for humans. In contrast
to this extended account of man’s deplorable response. Setting one over against
the other, and in this manner raising question as to human duplicity in the
effort to condone some practice thought contrary to his benevolent design.
We now turn our attention to consider more in depth some of the current
arguments introduced in support of the homosexual agenda. Which recalls an
occasion when a certain pastor proposed that the objection to homosexual
relationships is a cultural matter. Whereupon, I replied: “So is the
resurrection.” Which might be alleged, since it contrasts to the Greek notion of
the immortality of the soul.
The Anglican theologian John Stott, observes that this takes two forms.87 First,
the Biblical authors were addressing themselves to questions relevant to their
own circumstances, which differ substantially from our own. So that their
comments are not necessarily applicable elsewhere.
Second, the Biblical writers are not speaking to our problems. Making their
comments irrelevant. Which allows for considerable improvisation when it comes
to interpreting the text.
As noted earlier, Scripture implies that its teaching can be communicated in a
cross-cultural setting. Moreover, that in doing so it commends some of the
practices, while raising issues with others. While it is assuredly relevant, it
is on its own terms.
Then there is the argument from what is said to be natural. In is simplest form,
“I am homosexual because God made me that way.” So to perform in any other
manner is not natural. “Others argue that homosexual behavior is ‘natural’ (1)
because in many primitive societies it is fairly acceptable, (2) because in some
advanced civilizations it was even idealized, and (3) because it is said to be
quite widespread in animals.”88
In any case, these objections provide an extremely subjective view of human
behavior. One which carried over into the notion of idolatry, could justify its
practice. Or child sacrifice, as a legitimate religious expression.
Moreover, there is the argument concerning the quality of relationships. Said to
embrace such features as commitment, mutuality in sharing, tenderness (without
coercion), faithfulness, hopefulness, and desire for union.
In response, Stott proposes three counter arguments. First, that there is seldom
a long term homosexual relationship. One study found that not a single couple
managed to sustain the relationship for a seven year period. Stott concludes
that gay relationships are more characterized by promiscuity than fidelity.
Soliciting the rebuttal that traditional marriage is increasingly subject to
divorce. Suggesting that at least in this regard, it is becoming more like the
homosexual relationship. Which, to the degree this is true, should be a cause of
concern among those who promote family values. Then, too, the promotion of
homosexual relationships may be one of the contributing factors.
Second, it is difficult to maintain that homosexual unions are as much a
demonstration of loving concern as their traditional counterpart, given the
substantial health risks involved. This is said to result from wide spread
promiscuity, as well as the practice itself. So, then, while the loving quality
of a relationship is essential, it is not by itself a sufficient criterion.
Nor, thirdly, can it be maintained that love is the only consideration. In this
regard, Jesus cautioned: “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John
14:15). Not ignore it, or discard it. So that love and obedience are coupled
together in a credible commitment.
Another innovative rationale in support of the homosexual agenda is based on
justice. It reasons that just as we should not discriminate between persons on
account of their gender, color, ethnicity, or class, neither should we
discriminate on the basis of sexual preference. While bearing in mind that God
promotes justice without exception. Consequently, Christians ought to be
vigorous in their pursuit of gay rights.
In greater detail, what civil rights activists were in the 1950s and ‘60s,
homosexual activists are today. Accordingly, they insist that Christians should
support their cause, and join them in their struggle. Anything less would be
However, “The analogy between gays and the liberation of slaves, blacks, and
women is inexact and misleading. In each case we need to clarify the Creator’s
original intention. True gay liberation is not freedom from God’s revealed
purpose in order to construct our own morality; it is rather freedom from our
self-willed rebellion in order to love and obey him.”89
Finally, there is the argument based on acceptance. For instance, Paul enjoins
his readers: “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to
bring praise to God” (Rom. 15:7). As graphically expressed, welcome them not
only into your homes, but into your hearts.
But it must be borne in mind that while Christ embraces us as we are, it is for
the purpose of transforming our lives. Conversely, it is not his intent that we
should remain as we were. At issue is whether homosexual relationships are
acceptable practice. So that the argument based on acceptance misses the point.
We have perhaps labored the issue sufficiently. It remains to draw some
concluding observations. (1) The homosexual agenda has created deep rifts in the
Christian fellowship. Causing congregations to realign themselves. Creating
divisions within a given congregation. Discouraging persons from attending
Suggesting that we approach the matter with the greatest of diligence. Hence,
not given to hasty conclusions. Preferably eliminating such imprecise and
pejorative terminology as homophobia. Out of consideration for the perceived
adversary, and as a concession to tolerance—if for no other reason.
(2) The agenda seems to rely heavily on situation ethics. Which insists that
behavior be based on love as conditioned by any given situation. For this
reason, it is pragmatic. So that the ends are thought to justify the means.
Accordingly, people are said to be given priority of principles.
Which recalls an occasion when I asked a Roman Catholic priest for his appraisal
of situation ethics. He replied, “It has merit only if one brings to the
situation a code of conduct.” Otherwise, he thought it got lost in pursuit of
(3) Furthermore, the rationale appears disinclined to interact with the Genesis
narrative. Choosing instead to qualify subsequent references to homosexual
relationships. Thus taking on the easier of the two issues. Although still a
By way of contrast, Justin Martyr observes: “Since I am entirely convinced that
no Scripture contradicts another, I shall admit rather that I do not understand
what is recorded, and shall strive to persuade those who imagine that the
Scriptures are contradictory to be rather of the same opinion as myself.”90
Lacking such confidence, one is prone to take liberties with the teaching of
(4) Otherwise, the reasoning calls for continued pressure to assure conformity.
As when the homosexual issue is repeatedly raised for discussion, while other
pressing concerns are pushed aside. Or when persons are threatened for
expressing what is perceived as anti-homosexual bias.
At issue is the freedom of speech. Should one be permitted to speak freely on a
controversial issue? It would seem so. Qualifications aside, should a person be
permitted to act in keeping with his or her convictions? So it would appear.
Let there be dialogue. Such as respects the opinions of others. Such as is
willing to join others in the pursuit of truth. Recalling again Augustine’s
assurance, “All truth is God’s truth.” If not, then disqualified.
(5) As a consequence, the agenda deeply offends those of more conservative
persuasion. Not simply those sharing the same culture, but in a across-cultural
setting. An Arab Muslim shared with me that he was seriously considering
becoming a Christian until taking in consideration the sexual promiscuity
depicted in Western media. Assuming that his was related to its Christian
influence, he opted instead to continue with his Muslim orientation.
This amounts to a questionable trade-off from a Christian perspective. Recalling
the sage observation, “Two wrongs do not make a right.”
(6) Finally, Stott calls our attention to the triad of faith, hope, and love. As
a means of getting our priorities in order. As concerns faith, “Abram believed
the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6). In greater
detail, “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive
as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was
going” (Heb. 11:8). Likewise, “By faith Abraham, when God tested him offered
Isaac as a sacrifice” (v. 17).
So it is that God resembles a benevolent parent, whose wisdom far exceeds our
own. For instance, I was told as a child not to walk out into the road to
recover my ball, knowing that this would constitute a risk. Then later to look
both ways before crossing the railroad on my way to school. In these and other
ways, providing wise counsel.
As for hope, it pertains to this life and that to come. Concerning the former,
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him,
who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Not that all things
in themselves are to be desired, but they provide means whereby God can work his
gracious will in our lives.
Concerning the latter, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to
be pitied more than all men” (I Cor. 15:19). In other words, if we have believed
in the future when there is no future, we are to be pitied. But assuredly this
is not the case.
Concerning love, it “never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will
cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled, where there is knowledge,
it will pass away” (I Cor. 18:8). “There is a sense in which love is never
brought down; it reflects God’s character, after all, and cannot fluctuate from
what it is. Yet that very reality is what also gives it eternal character, so
that it ‘remains’ even after all other things have come to their proper end.”91
Genuine love is not permissive. Instead, it strives for spiritual maturity. With
the best interest of the person in mind. As an expression of righteous resolve.
Thus providing the context for exploring the homosexual agenda, and its divisive
“Return, faithless people,” the Lord declares. “Then I will give you
shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and
understanding” (Jer. 3:14-15). Which gives rise to the notion of a shepherd
syndrome, as applicable to the role assumed by a pastor. Usually for the better,
but sometimes for the worse. As for the latter, one of the most common causes
for division within the church fellowship.
This recalls a time I was conversing with a Roman Catholic priest. Who observed,
“We are fortunate to have only one Pope, while you Protestants have many.” He
had in mind those pastors who ruled with a heavy hand.
One such instance especially comes to mind. Matters came to a head when he
searched through the desk of his youth pastor, to discover whether there was
anything objectionable. Finding a picture of one of the youth mooning from a
passing car, he revealed this to the congregation.
When the matter was brought before the board of elders, they were not agreed as
to what action to take. At first, most were inclined to support the senior
pastor. But other evidences of his authoritarian disposition surfaced. It
subsequently reached the point where the board advised him to resign.
Unwilling to do so, he offered a public apology. While this satisfied a segment
the congregation, others felt he had compromised any future ministry. This
resulted in division and controversy. When at last he relinquished his position,
a substantial portion of the congregation took their leave as well. Resulting in
the establishment of an alternative congregation, but with lingering ill
Conversely, the ideal is expressed in a familiar passage. “The Lord is my
shepherd, I shall not be in want,” the author assures us (Psa. 23:1). “Such
cannot be said of other shepherds, of which there are many. He is my shepherd,
on whom I can and do rely. He as my shepherd protects me from danger and
provides for my needs.”92
As a case in point, “He makes me to lie down in green pastures, he leads me
beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.” This pertains to the spiritual pause
that refreshes. From time to time, it is necessary to take a break from the
routine, and be renewed by prayer and meditation. After which, we return to the
task at hand.
As another case in point, “He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s
sake.” Recalling the rock strewn paths characteristic of the Judean hill
country. Such as invites the guidance of someone familiar with the terrain. Lest
one takes unnecessary risks, or loses his or her way.
Moreover, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will
fear no evil, for you are with me, your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
The imagery pertains to deep ravines, thought threatening. Consequently, any
situation in which a person feels intimidated. Even on those occasions, the
Lord’s presence is reassuring.
In more comprehensive terms, “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the
days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Goodness
and love resemble two guard dogs, which assist the shepherd in caring for the
flock. So that the sheep do not stray or otherwise encounter difficulty.
Along with the prospect of dwelling in the house of the Lord forever. Providing
an amicable accommodation, without termination. No longer plagued by the
adversity we experience in our earthly sojourn.
The shepherding imagery persists. “This man welcomes sinners and eats with
them,” some protested concerning Jesus’ practice (Luke 15:2). They presumed that
this indicated that he was agreeable to their evil ways.
“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them,” Jesus
speculated. “Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after
the lost sheep until he finds it?” And when he finds it, he joyfully returns
home. Calling his friends and neighbors, he enjoins them: “Rejoice with me; I
have found my lost sheep.” A scenario with which they could readily identify.
“I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over the
sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to
repent.” Of course, those thought to be righteous, in the sense if religiously
observant, were also in need of repentance. While insisting that the
non-observant show evidence of their contrition. Only then could the shepherd be
The context is now set for a more extended discussion of Paul’s guidance of his
youthful protege Timothy. Incidentally, the latter’s name means one who honors
God. With such in mind, we are told that Paul “came to Derby and then to Lystra,
where a disciple name Timothy lived, whose mother was a Jewess and a believer,
but whose father was a Greek” (Acts 16:1). He was in good standing within the
The apostle wanted to take him along on the journey, and so circumcised
him–since it was known that his father was a Gentile. “As they traveled from
town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in
Jerusalem for the people to obey. So the churches were strengthened in the faith
and grew daily in number.”
“Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia,
having been kept by he Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of
Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but
the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.” While no details are given, they
were assured that this was God’s intent.
During the night, Paul had a vision concerning a man of Macedonia pleading “Come
over to Macedonia and hep us.” The apostle and his companions were convinced
that this was God’s will for their continuing ministry. Recalling the athletic
saying, “Run toward the light.” That is, seize the opportunity presented.
When Paul decided to press on to Athens, he left Silas and Timothy at Berea to
further establish the fledgling congregation (cf. Acts 17:14). A task that would
further test their shepherding credentials. They subsequently joined him in
Corinth. Upon their arrival, he “devoted himself exclusively to preaching,
testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ”(Acts 18:5). When opposed, he
turned his attention to the Gentiles.
Timothy next appears with Paul in Ephesus, during the former’s third missionary
journey. The apostle had decided to continue on to Jerusalem, with anticipation
of visiting Rome at a later date. So it was that he sent “Timothy and Erasmus to
Macedonia, while he stayed in the province of Asia a little longer” (Acts
19:22). Timothy was finally included in the list of those who would accompany
Paul to Jerusalem with an offering for the believers residing there (cf. Acts
We now turn to the pertinent correspondence. The most common reconstruction
identifies three factors which led Paul to write on two occasions: the waning of
his influence, rise of a Gnostic form of false teaching, and the transition to a
more structured form of shepherding. It is the last of these that appears most
instrumental, along with Timothy’s input.
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ
Jesus our hope,” the salutation allows. “To Timothy my true son in the faith:
Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord” (I Tim.
1:1-2). Thus divinely authorized for his ministry. So also having nurtured
Timothy in the faith. Along with the three-fold benediction, concerning grace—as
unmerited favor, mercy—in context of less than perfect service, and peace—in the
midst of turmoil.
“As I urged you, when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you
may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer nor to devote
themselves to myths and endless genealogies” (1:3). He was to persist in the
duties assigned him, regardless of the difficulties encountered or other
Myths and endless genealogies apparently refer to some traditional mind-set,
perhaps coupling Jewish speculation with Gentile antecedents. In any case, such
as departs from the teaching of the apostles. Thereby compromising the
proclamation of the gospel. “The goal of the command is love, which comes from a
pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” Initially, from a pure
heart. “This is a fundamental requisite. Taken over from the Old Testament, the
word heart stands for the totality of man’s moral affections, and without purity
there, nobility of character is clearly impossible.”93
Secondly, concerning a good conscience. That means by which one distinguishes
between what is right and wrong, good and evil. Such as has not been compromised
by other considerations. Consequently, persisting in righteous resolve.
Finally, spring from a sincere faith. Implying a faith in the God who is really
there, rather than some false alternative. Thus in contradiction to any form of
idolatry, of which there are many. Along the line of a reality check.
“Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk. They want to
be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what
they so confidently affirm.” Losing their Christian bearings, they have wandered
into a wilderness. Accordingly, they lead others astray.
“I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me
faithful, appointing me to his service,” the apostle shifting his focus away
from the false teachers. Even though “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor
and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.”
So grace abounded. “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance:
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.”
“Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with prophecies once
made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, holding
on to faith and a good conscience.” Such as pertained to his ministry, and
recalling the shepherding motif.
The apostle next turns his attention to the supervision of worship. “I urge,
then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be
made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live
peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (2:1-2). While the
prayer vigil encompasses all people, those in authority are singled out because
of their influence on society as a whole.
In greater detail, “I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer,
without anger or disputing. I also want women to dress modestly, with decency
and propriety.” Given rather to good deeds. Bringing to mind the sage saying,
“Works speak louder than words.”
The apostle next addresses the qualifications of overseers and deacons. “Here is
a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer he desires a
noble task. Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one
wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not
given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, nor a lover of
money” (3:1-3). Of good repute, giving rise to the extended list. Moreover, one
who manages his family well, and not a recent convert.
“Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in
much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain.” They must retain the deep trust of
the faith with a clear conscience. They must also give evidence of their
qualifications before being approved.
“In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious
talkers but moderate and trustworthy in everything.” Which gives rise to the
speculation that this pertains to those who serve as deaconesses. Although it
need not be limited to this application.
Paul then allows “that in later times some will abandon the faith, and follow
deceiving spirits and things taught by demons” (4:1). Consequently, “If you
point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good minister of Jesus
Christ.” Rather than refraining for some pretense.
“Command and teach these things. Don’t let anyone look down on you because you
are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in
faith and in purity.” “In a culture where ‘elders’ were highly regarded, and in
a church where the elders would have been older than he, this is not an
insignificant encouragement.”94 Albeit coupled with the exhortation to live an
In greater detail, “Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he
were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and
younger women as sisters, with absolute purity” (5:1-2). So as to treat others
as one would treat members of his own family.
There follows advice concerning widows, elders, and slaves. A for widows, “Give
proper recognition to those who are genuinely in need” (5:3). But should they
have family, impress on the family their responsibility in this regard. And so
As for elders, “The elders who direct the affairs of the church are worthy of
double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.” The worker
is deserving of a commensurate salary.
As for slaves, they “should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so
that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered” (6:1). Nor are those who
believe to be granted less consideration. Not by way of promoting slavery, but
dealing with its existence.
“But godliness with contentment is great gain,” the apostle adds. So that we
should be satisfied with the means to procure our basic needs. While, as
reminded elsewhere, generous with our possessions. “For the love of money is a
root of all kinds of evil.” Not money per se, but our obsession with it.
In conclusion, Paul enjoins his youthful counterpart: “Finally, guard what has
been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing
ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so
doling have wandered from the faith” (6:20-21). Guard that which you have
received as one would protect something of great value. Turn away from falsely
called knowledge, which pretends to find hidden meaning. As would be expected of
a faithful shepherd, genuinely concerned for his flock.
We touch on Paul’s second epistle in a more summary fashion, since it appears as
an extension of his earlier correspondence. “I have been reminded of your
sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother
Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Tim. 1:5). In what regard
was he reminded of Timothy’s sincere faith? Perhaps in contrast to those who had
“You, then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the
things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to
reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others” (2:1-2). Two important
considerations arise from this text. “First, the apostle is depicted as
solicitous for the preservation of Christian teaching. Secondly, it is evident
that Paul recognized that the manner in which he himself had forged out the
doctrines would not continue in the next generation, and that more normal
methods of transmission would not only be resorted to, but would be
essential.”95 Although the shepherd imagery remains throughout.
“Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” “Similarly, if
anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he
competes according to the rules. The hardworking farmer should be the first to
receive a share of the crops.” Bear these things in mind, as an incentive to
“Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown
us, if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.”
There is a notable progression: from the past, to the present, and in
anticipation of the future.
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not
need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” Do not settle
for anything less. Encourage others in this regard as well.
“Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and
peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” The terms
flee and pursue are set over against one another. In a complementary fashion, so
as to assure success.
“And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone,
able to teach, not resentful.” Controversy proves to be counterproductive.
Kindness if appropriate even when taking issue with another person. Aptness in
teaching is essential. Resentment compounds the problem.
“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days,” the apostle
adds. “People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud,
abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love,
unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good,
treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God”
“Having a form of godliness but denying its power.” “They liked the visible
expressions, the ascetic practices and the endless discussions of religious
trivia, thinking themselves to be obviously righteous because they were
obviously religious.”96 But in this regard, deluded. Consequently, do not join
up with them.
“You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith,
patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings.” As a righteous precedent.
“In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be
persecuted, while evil men and imposters will go from bad to worse, deceiving
and being deceived.” This recalls the marked contrast between the ways of the
righteous and of the wicked (cf. Psa. 1).
As quoted in another context, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for
teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of
God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16). All
Scripture, in its entirety and concerning particulars.
For teaching. This appears to be Paul’s primary concern regarding Timothy. In
any case, it is a prime consideration for shepherding God’s flock. Without
which, persons readily go astray.
For rebuking. This is the other side of the task. One must use Scripture to
expose the errors of the false teachers. Out of genuine concern, not only for
those being deceived, but for those who are the cause of it.
Finally, for training in righteousness. As an extension of the transitional term
correction. Implying an on-going task, along with success and/or failure.
“In the presence of God and Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the
dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom. I give you this charge,” the
apostle solemnly declares: “Preach the Word, be prepared in season and out of
season, correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful
instruction” (4:1-2). Preach the Word, as set over against the instruction of
the false teachers. Be prepared for any eventuality. Correct, repetition by way
of emphasis. Encourage by whatever means available.
Then in conclusion, “discharge all the duties of your ministry.” “With this
fitting imperative, which embraces all the preceding and beyond—Paul brings the
charge to a close. Paul, as we will see, is about to leave the scene, and the
mantle of his ministry is going to fall on Timothy.”97 Accordingly, the charge
takes on a sense of urgency.
CHAOS OF THE CULTS
The term cult is employed to describe groups which manifestly deviate from
orthodox standards: concerning doctrine, practice, and not uncommonly both.
While not a new phenomenon, they have proliferated over the years. Inciting
Ronald Enroth to observe that “when we refuse to pass judgment on any religious
phenomenon for fear that such judgments might violate the norm of tolerance so
prevalent in our culture, we abdicate our responsibility to the body of Christ
to sound a warning where a warning is justified. Some boats need to be rocked,
even Christian boats.”98
Which would suggest that we need to distinguish between what it means to be one
in Christ, and uncritical tolerance. As for the former, such as devote
“themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship” (Acts 2:42). As for
the latter, that which assuredly eventuates in the chaos of the cults.
While bearing striking similarities, not all cults are equally reprehensible. As
a worse case scenario, the Jonestown Massacre comes readily to mind. It concerns
912 followers of the cult leader Jim Jones, who died in a remote South American
jungle compound called Jonestown, in British Guyana. Some members were shot,
while others were forced to drink poison, but most willingly participated in
what was described as a revolutionary suicide.
Jim Jones began his independent ministry in 1953 in Indianapolis, but was later
ordained by the Disciples of Christ. By the end of 1971, he had relocated his
congregation in California, primarily in San Francisco but secondarily in Los
Angeles. His Peoples Temple peaked during the seventies to include perhaps as
many as 8,000 members. Jones achieved prominence as a social activist.
Negative press reports began to surface in the summer of 1977, so that he and
about 1,000 core supporters moved to British Guyana. However, complaints from
former members and families continued. Resulting in an investigation by
California Congressman Leo Ryan, who toured the compound—accompanied by the
Some of the Temple’s members passed notes to Ryan’s party, requesting that they
be allowed to leave with them. Ryan agreed, and took some of them with him. At
an isolated airstrip, apparently under orders from Jones, persons from Jonestown
ambushed Ryan’s party. The Congressman and four others were killed, while some
of his group was able to escape into the jungle.
Anticipating the end of his ministry and accompanying arrest, Jones declared a
state of emergency. Everyone, except the few who had escaped, either committed
suicide or were murdered. More than 280 children were among them. Jones’ body
was found at Jonestown, fatally wounded by a gunshot to the head. Willie Brown,
subsequent Mayor of San Francisco, lamented some twenty years later, “Jonestown
was a tragedy of the first order, and it remains a painful and sorrowful event
in our history.” Not for residents of San Francisco alone, but those who recall
this tragic event in context of the chaos inflicted by the cult.
The cult dynamic has been variously described. As an example, some years ago I
authored an online article entitled Stockholm Syndrome & The Cult Dynamic. It
seems appropriate to reintroduce it at this juncture, and reads as follows.
Persons are especially perplexed by the fact that intelligent and well-grounded
individuals fall prey to cult initiatives. While there is probably no one
explanation that will account for this phenomenon, the Stockholm Syndrome needs
to be factored into the equation.
The Stockholm Syndrome derives from an event in 1973, concerning four persons
held in a bank vault for five and a half days during a robbery. While the
robbery itself caused little stir in the international community, later
interviews with the hostages provided cause for reflection. It seems that they
had developed a bond with their captors, growing out of their efforts to survive
the ordeal. This pattern was subsequently identified in a variety of abusive
In more specific terms, the victims begin to identify with their captors. This
appears to be a defense mechanism, based on the hope that they will not be hurt
if they are cooperative. For the moment at least, there seems to be no credible
The victims also realize that any initiative from their would-be rescuers may
have adverse effects. If not harmed by those attempting their release, they may
be exposed to the wrath of their captors—who have little to lose. It appears
that any hope for rectifying the situation much came from within, rather than
Long term captivity builds an increasingly strong attachment to the captors.
This allows the victims time to become familiar with their grievances and
aspirations. In the process, to recognize in them a common humanity. In some
instances, to embrace their cause as just and their means perhaps born out of
No opportunity is given for a reality check with the outside world. Former
experience goes through a period of reconstruction. One that fashions an
alternative reality short of data.
This characteristically generates feelings of gratitude and fear. Gratitude for
what would seem under normal conditions of little importance. Such as something
to eat or the opportunity to clean oneself. Fear that the captors may inflict
their frustration on their helpless hostages. In depriving them of some
indulgence, or even in terminating their lives.
How might all the above apply to the cult dynamic? Initially, there is likely no
threat to life itself, the Jonestown tragedy notwithstanding. However, some
crisis already in place or initiated by the group is manipulated to cultivate a
Such as when the cult leader intervenes to preserve a marriage.
In any case, the cult goes to great lengths to isolate the convert from the
influence of outsiders. Family may be singled out for special attention. Contact
is kept at a minimum, and this is carefully monitored.
These limited contacts are allowed as a means of ensnaring family members in the
cult web. Short of achieving this goal, they serve to intensify the pain
associated with the feeling of alienation—commonly attributed to the cost of
Meanwhile, the cult victim is shown token expressions of kindness. This
reinforces his or her identity with the group, as over against any and all
alternatives. Then in a curious but well documented phenomenon, this may include
generating false memories, intended to validate the cult’s teaching.
What can be done to curtail the efforts of the cults? In popular idiom,
prevention is the best cure. Learn to distinguish cult characteristics. An
abbreviated list consists of the following:
If the group isolates members from family or friends, it might be a cult.
If it interferes with the ability of the individual to think matters through on
his or her own, it might be a cult.
If it is dominated by a leader said to have unique qualifications that set the
group apart from the rest, it might be a cult.
If it requires that persons suppress their individuality to achieve group goals,
it might be a cult.
If it instills in its members a fear that leaving the group will have disastrous
results, it might be a cult.
If two or more of the above pertain, it is likely to be a cult.
For a more detailed characterization see Robert Ellwood’s Religious and
Spiritual Groups in Modern America.99 I found his discussion very helpful in a
follow-up study comparing churches and cults.
Assuming that the Stockholm Syndrome provides a valuable clue to the cult
dynamic, recovery is calculated to be difficult. The success rate is
considerably higher when appropriate action is taken early on. Contact of any
sort should be accompanied by concerted prayer. It is preferable to proceed with
common sense guidelines. For a more extended discussion, see Ronald Enroth’s
Recovering From Churches That Abuse, a sequel to his Churches That Abuse.
In any case, we should not write off the cult member. As C. S. Lewis reminds us,
only God knows when more time will serve no good purpose. We ought always to be
ready and happy to welcome the prodigal home. So I concluded in a previous
article addressing this topic.
We now turn our attention to another case in point. “Tom Brown’s story of his
involvement in the Korea-based University Bible Fellowship typifies the
victimization of young, idealistic college students on campuses across the
country. Fortunately for Tom, he was not left with a ‘shipwrecked faith’ as so
many others have been.”100
Tom’s involvement began during his junior year at Northwestern University. His
fraternity roommate the previous years had been studying with UBF missionary
Sweety Rhee. When his roommate did not return to school, Sweety turned her
attention to Tom. When invited to attend a UBF worship service, he was hesitant.
However, he reconsidered, thinking it might be God’s way of answering his prayer
for a good Bible study to attend.
He was impressed with the earnestness of the persons he encountered, most of
whom were Korean missionaries intent on campus evangelism. Sweety took
especially good care of Tom during this initial phase, teaching him to compose
personal confessions based on Bible passages selected by the leader. In this
regard, calling him weekly, walking him home, and buying him dinner.
Moreover, she set out to learn all she could about her perspective convert. She
learned that he intended to pursue a Ph.D., and excel in his expertise. “Sweety
told me that I should give up my own plans because they were a result of sinful
selfishness,” Tom recalls. “She said that I should serve Jesus instead.”
Having incited guilt, she waited for it to run its course. This resulted in Tom
making a decision to relinquish his former plans, and wait for the Lord’s
leading. But not without considerable mental anguish. “Sometimes I cried because
of my sense of loss and frustration,” he allowed.
It was only after four months that Tom met the group’s leader, Samuel Lee. Who
impressed on him the feeling that he was special. In turn, Tom responded to the
attention and recognition. This led to his being invited to deliver a message at
the group’s spring conference. It was at this point that his intense
Message training served as a means to strengthen one’s commitment to the group.
In this instance, Tom was given 1 Corinthians 15 for study purposes, with Lee’s
input. He was required to memorize and recite the passage each time they met.
Tom was then instructed to compose his message, employing Lee’s previous message
as a guide. After several revisions, it was thought suitable for delivery.
Further indoctrination occurred when Tom and several other American UBF students
were invited to accompany Lee on his annual world mission report journey to
Korea. Although his parents were greatly concerned about his making the trip,
given the civil unrest in Korea at the time, he attributed this to their lack of
faith. For purposes of the report, the students were to compose a six page
testimony. It was at this point that Lee began comparing Tom to the apostle
Paul, giving rise to his being nicknamed Tom Paul. So it was that he was
appointed leader of the participating group of students.
Lee also began to drive wedges between Tom and his parents, insisting that they
did not want him to become a man of God, but only a dutiful son. Upon his
return, Sweety put great pressure on him to leave his parents, and minister full
time with the group. He eventually took his leave, assured that “Now I was only
a servant of God.”
He was also attracted to Lee’s daughter Sarah. Unable to control his feelings,
he was plagued with guilt, shame, and depression. Sweety continued to berate
him. He became physically ill, while the indoctrination process continued
After struggling over whether to complete his college studies, Tom decided to
finish out his last year. Now estranged from his parents, he lost his
supplemental income. He was forced to work as a park grounds keeper. It was
Compounding the problem, Lee enrolled him in international stomach training.
This involved eating beyond one’s capacity, drawing upon a considerable variety
of foods. Said to prepare one for missionary experience.
Tom subsequently quit his job, while demanding that his parents pay for his
schooling. However, his parents refused. Given the fact that he had refused
their counsel in this regard.
After finishing international stomach training, Tom embarked in hair training.
This was apparently meant to improve his appearance. “My hair grew longer than
everyone in my fraternity except the house hippie,” he recalls. This was
accompanied by a prescribed manner of dress.
Voiced training was next on the agenda. This was to improve Tom’s speaking
capability. After each of these sessions, Lee would inform him that he lacked
spirit, was grandstanding, or in need of repentance. This left Tom baffled, and
open to additional training.
Tom was at the time contributing twenty percent of his income, which increased
to forty percent upon graduation, in support of his religious affiliation.
Sweety would often supplement his contribution, because his income was so
minimal. Failure to meet the monthly stipend solicited a strong rebuke.
“Upon graduation, Tom visited his parents who again debated his involvement in
UBF. His mother expressly stated, to no avail, her view that he was in a
destructive group. Tom was unaffected by her concern and her emotional
distress.”101 Consequently, he informed her that he did not want their human, as
opposed to spiritual, love.
The prime emphases in this training were on service and faith. As for the
former, they were urged to disregard their own needs in the service of others.
As for the latter, they were to obey their leaders—as indicative of their faith.
Tom discovered that he was adopting the same methods as had been used concerning
him in order to train those for whom he was responsible. For instance, he would
make people stay up all night to repent, hit them with sticks for not
remembering passages, force them to run distances to restore their spirits, and
squash their efforts to think independently.
Lee informed Tom that he should have a new car for his ministry. It was his
intent that the cost would be shared by Tom’s parents, who refused—suggesting
that UBF should be responsible. Undaunted by their refusal, Lee insisted that he
should employ any means available to get them to comply. After several attempts,
Tom began to realize that not only was he attempting to manipulate his parents,
but the students he supervised. In proverbial terms, “The light began to dawn.”
After four years under Lee’s mentoring, Tom was convinced to leave the group.
This was through the efforts of his parents, and other concerned persons. He
especially credits his parents for the decision.
As noted earlier, Ronald Enroth wrote a sequel to his earlier text, focusing on
the recovery from abusive churches. As a case in point, he received a letter
allowing: “I love God, I hate people. Is there any hope for me? I think I will
eventually take my life if I cannot find peace and Jesus.”102
As Colleen (not her real name) continued to sort out the experiences of more
than twenty years in one abusive situation after another, she had come to
realize the ugly victimization which gave rise to why she could not bring
herself to trust others. Tragically, she sometimes felt that she deserved the
abuse. She simply did not measure up to a reasonable standard, nor could she
manage on her own.
Those who abuse “love to control people like me, but in reality they think we
are dirt,” she observes. “It all adds up to a very exploitive relationship.” As
for apt commentary, “Victims make great sacrifices. They unknowingly sacrifice
their needs so that persons they esteem can be saved from experiencing the
consequences of their own behavior. Although they are unaware of it, their
attitude of sacrifice has more to do with a lack of self-worth than anything
Colleen came to realize that she fit the profile of a
passive-submissive-dependent person. “These kinds of people begin with a
clinging neediness and a search for acceptance,” she allows. “They deny their
own strengths and see those whom they are dependent on far stronger persons.
They readily submit to abuse and look up to authority figures. They feel empty.
They limit their world. They look for the good in suffering situations.”
Moreover; “The churches that I have been in look for that type of person.” Such
as can be readily manipulated. Such as will not question the authority figure.
Persons who will contribute generously of their means. Individuals which will
“The other people in the groups I joined were just like me,” Colleen adds. While
similar, not to the same degree. Allowing for uncertainty. So while some
persist, others take their leave. As for the latter, some are discouraged from a
faith journey, while others discover a healthier alternative.
“Through all this, I really love the Lord,” she confesses. “I know he is real.
He has protected me so many times; I am a survivor. But I’d like to know how to
really live, not just survive.” As if to suggest that she is a work in progress,
as are we all.
Thus soliciting several brief observations. First, some are more vulnerable to
abuse than others. One is best advised to be cognizant of his or her
disposition, and prepared to cope with it.
Second, there are unfortunately those who will take advantage of others. Perhaps
as a means of increasing one’s perceived self-esteem. Perhaps out of the sheer
pleasure of being able to control others. Probably resulting from some
Third, in graphic terms, it helps immeasurably to have a light at the end of the
tunnel. As with Colleen, who is assured that the Lord is real. And if real, then
Finally, not willing to settle for second best. As expressed by Colleen, to
really live, and not simply survive. Bringing to mind Paul’s benediction, “Now
to him who is able to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine, according to
his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ
Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!” (Eph. 3:20). The apostle
thus assures them that “it is impossible to ask God for too much. His capacity
for giving far exceeds his people’s capacity for asking—or even imagining.”104
A LINGERING ISSUE
Some lingering issues especially come to mind concerning a more precise
understanding of Christian unity. Such have generated divisions and controversy
within the faith community. So that it would seem that the quest for orthodoxy
has in some measure been counterproductive.
“Of all the doctrines of the Christian faith, certainly one of the most puzzling
and least understood is the doctrine of predestination. It seems to many to be
obscure and oven bizarre. It appears to others to be an unnecessary inquiry into
something that exceeds the human capacity to understand.”105 Incidentally,
“Perhaps more jokes have been made about this doctrine than all other Christian
Scripture invites us to consider the topic. In this regard, “And we know that in
all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called
according to his purposes,” Paul assures his readers. “For those God foreknew,
he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his God. And those he
predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he
justified, he also glorified: (Rom. 8:28-30).
Since all things allows for no exceptions, the apostle perhaps has in mind the
suffering he and his fellow Christians were experiencing. While assuredly not
something desirable, these served as a means of experiencing God’s grace, and
strengthening their righteous resolve. Such as prompted Ignatius to observe: “A
Christian has no authority over himself, but gives his time to God. This is
God’s work and yours also, when you shall complete it; for I trust in the Divine
grace, that you are ready for an act of well-doing which is meet for God.”106
How do we know this to be true? No doubt in the light of God’s promises. Since
these are trustworthy. Perhaps also with reference to those cited in Scripture,
who experienced God’s grace in the midst of adversity. Then, too, from their own
experience and that of their associates.
Expressly as relates to those who love him, and who have been called according
to his purposes. As for the former, those devoted to the Almighty. As for the
latter, set apart for his service. As if viewing the matter from compatible
Paul subsequently elaborates. “He thereby creates what has been called a ‘golden
chain’ and has furnished theologians throughout the history of the church with
rich material for the construction of a doctrine of soteriology— particularly
for its earliest (predestination) and latest (perseverance) stages.”107 Thus
reminiscent for its manifestly comprehensive character.
What is meant by the term foreknowledge? Most obvious, to know ahead of time.
Accordingly, God sees the end from the beginning. So alerted, he makes ample
provision for what will transpire. While more may be implied, certainly not
Whom God foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his
Son. As a means of efficacious grace. Not resulting from human merit, or the
result of human endeavor.
Such as were predestined, God also summons. Which recalls an interchange between
the eminent evangelist Billy Graham and a flippant reporter. “How are your
converts doing?” the latter inquired.
“Not well,” Graham solemnly replies. “Only God’s converts manage.” Leaving the
reporter to reflect on his sage response.
Such as God calls, he also justifies. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation
for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the
Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:1).
Finally, such as he justifies, he also glorifies. “God’s intention, Paul
emphasizes, is to bring to glory to every person who has been justified by faith
in Jesus Christ. Our assurance of ultimate victory may lie many years ahead.”108
An interim not uncommonly plagued by pain, anxiety, distress, and disaster.
However, no less characterized by God’s abounding grace.
It remains to consider two alternative interpretations: those associated with
the Reformed tradition (otherwise expressed as Calvinism), and the Arminian
tradition. As for the former, the acronym TULIP is sometimes employed—as
associated with total depravity, unconditional predestination, limited
atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance. The Reformed tradition
emphasizes that the human race is held captive by sin. There is no way by which
it can escape, unless God should provide it.
Total depravity does not mean that everyone’s behavior is equally culpable.
Instead, it is without exception compromised. As such, unacceptable to God.
While more palatable when compared to others.
The second feature of the Reformed tradition is meant to stress the sovereignty
of God. “He is the Creator and Lord of all things, and consequently he is free
to do whatever he wills. He is not subject to or answerable to anyone. Man is in
no position to judge God for what he does.”109
“What then shall we say? Is God unjust?” Paul rhetorically inquires. “Not at
all! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will
have compassion on whom I have compassion’” (Rom. 9:14-15; cf. Exod. 33:19)).
“One of you will say to me: ‘Then why does God still blame us? Or who resists
his will?’ But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say
to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” Does not the potter have
the right to do with his vessels what pleases him?
“What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with
great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? What if he did
this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he
prepared in advance for glory—even us, whom he also called, not only from the
Jews but also from the Gentiles.” Who is to say? Only God can make the
Consequently, we are alerted to the fact that election is an expression of the
sovereign will of God. Secondly it is efficacious. Thirdly, it implies
perseverance. Finally, it is unconditional—whatever may be implied.
“For the most part, Calvinists insist that election is not inconsistent with
free will, that is, as they understand the term. They deny, however, that humans
have free will in the Arminian sense. What Calvinists emphasize is that sin has
removed, if not freedom, at least the ability to exercise freedom properly.”110
If the latter, then more compatible with the Arminian tradition.
There are, of course, other variations within the Reformed tradition. For
instance, some hold to double predestination: the belief that God decides who
will be saved and lost. As such, referred to as a horrible decree, but not
rejected for that reason. While others hold that it simply passes over those who
remain unredeemed. While the effect is much the same, the latter attribute the
problem to human neglect rather than divine decree. Which again appears more
compatible with the Arminian alternative. There are also variations concerning
the order of the several decrees, a refinement that need not concern us.
Similarities notwithstanding, the Arminian tradition contrasts with its Reformed
counterpart. Nor is it monolithic . As such, it ranges from a more traditional
Christian perspective to an extreme liberalism—lacking in definition.
Insofar as there is a logical starting point, it affirms that God wants all
persons to be saved. Which recalls the pertinent text, “As surely as I live,
declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but
rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways!”
As subsequently echoed by the apostle Paul: “I urge, then, first of all, that
requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone. This is
good and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a
knowledge of the truth” (I Tim. 2:1, 3-4). For everyone, since God would have
all men to be saved.
Arminianism also insists all persons are inherently capable of belief.
Otherwise, it would seem that the universal invitation to salvation would make
little sense. Which introduces the notion of prevenient grace, as a means of
Recalling a pertinent text: “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘ Come!’ And let him
who hears say, ‘Come!’ Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let
him take the free gift of the water of life: (Rev. 22:17). This appears as a
dual appeal: to those meant to herald the gospel, and to those who hear it
Finally, the Arminian objects to the Reformed contention that predestination is
unconditional. Sometimes for practical reasons. For instance, the suggestion if
unconditional, ethics becomes irrelevant. If, in fact, behavior is determined in
advance, and in no way subject to our response.
Moreover, it would seem to negate any evangelistic impetus. If God has already
chosen who will be saved, their number cannot be increased or decreased. The
elect will be saved anyway, it not by one means then another. So why bother to
raise funds, send missionaries, or pray for the lost?
All of which focuses on the objection that the Reformed position negates human
freedom. The thoughts we have, the choices we make, and our behavior are not
really our doing, but determined in advance. If that were the case, we could do
nothing different. Contrary to the impression that we are not simply passive in
our engagement with life, but active. Which would suggest that there is no
purpose for God commending us for doing what is right.
A personal word would seem appropriate. I attended an Arminian college, devoted
to cultivating Christian experience. Such as meant to heighten one’s awareness
of the Lord, and cultivate an appreciative response. This was exemplified by the
faculty, and reflected in much of the student body.
By way of example, one conscientious young man was actively involved in a prayer
and Bible study group on campus. From time to time, its members would visit
homes in the area, to share their faith. Even so, he was uncertain of God’s
calling for his life.
Consequently, I was surprised when he matriculated to seminary. It turned out
that he simply thought a year of theological study would be beneficial. When I
next encountered him, he was engaged in teaching in West Africa, and
enthusiastic that he had found his place to serve. Sometime later, I learned
that he had passed away. Having contracted a tropical disease. But leaving
behind the cherished memory of a prime example of Christian devotion.
I then attended what would be considered a moderately Reformed seminary, with
its emphasis on a reasoning faith. As expressed by a former colleague. “If God
gave us a mind, he certainly intended that we should use it.” Or in more graphic
terms, to walk in the light.
The approach of my esteemed systematic theology professor serves to illustrate.
He would on occasion discuss perhaps eight or ten proposed solutions to a
problem. Afterward, he would identify three or four that seemed more likely.
Finally, out of deference to his students, he would note the one that appeared
most appealing to him. Along with the observation, that he might change his
mind. Regarding the saying, “The more we know, the more we realize that we do
Millard Erickson concludes that the doctrine of predestination has several
significant implications. (1) “We can have confidence that what God has decided
will come to pass. His plan will be fulfilled, and the elect will come to
faith.” Although from an Arminian perspective, it would be more accurate to
suggest that he allows what will happen, rather than determining it.
(2) “We need not criticize ourselves when some people reject Christ. Jesus
himself did not win everyone in his audience. He understood that all those whom
the Father gave to him would come to him (John 6:37) and only they would come
(v. 44). When we have done our very best, we can leave the matter with the
Lord.” But with the realization that we could always have done better.
(3) “Predestination does not nullify incentive for evangelism and missions. We
do not know who the elect and nonelect are, so we must continue to spread the
Word. Our evangelistic efforts are God’s means to bring the elect to salvation.
God’s ordaining of the end includes the ordaining of the means to that end as
(4) “Grace is absolutely necessary. While Arminianism often gives strong
emphasis to grace, in our Calvinistic scheme, there is no basis for God’s choice
of some to eternal life other than his own sovereign will. There is nothing in
the individual which persuades God to grant salvation to him or her.”111
Conversely, freedom of the will might be attributed to common grace. If so, then
as a means of divine enablement.
All of which invites us to touch on the means of grace per se. Commonly
associated with the sacraments, we will consider it in a larger context. Since
life could be considered a comprehensive means of grace. In that it involves
negotiating God’s world by way of his abounding grace. There being no genuine
This recalls David’s enthusiastic response: “I will praise the Lord, who
counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. I have set the Lord always
before me” (Psa. 16:7). As if an earnest of the life to come. “You have made
known to me the path of life; you will fill me with you joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasure at your right hand” (v. 11).
Suffering, as noted earlier, might be singled out as an especially apt means of
grace. “Sarah was a happy person, and a joy to be around,” I observed on another
occasion. “It was subsequently brought to my attention that she had encountered
trying difficulties and discouragements in the course of her life. However,
instead of being disheartened by this, her Christian faith caused her to rise to
the occasion. As a result, she bore witness to the notion of pain as a means of
In this regard, Paul allows: “To keep me from becoming conceited because of
these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in the flesh”
(1 Cor. 12:7). Usually thought to be some physical affliction. Having pled three
times for the thorn to be removed, he received the reply: “My grace is
sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, the
apostle concluded: “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so
that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
Along a similar line, Liberation Theology embraces oppression as a means of
grace. This functions on three levels. First, by way of identification with the
oppressed and their struggle for deliverance. Second, through persons assuming
conscious responsibility for their own destiny. Finally, concerning Christ as
liberating man from the penalty, power, and eventual presence of sin.
In Protestant circles, the reading of Scripture and prayer are
characteristically observed as means of grace. As for the former, more formal
traditions commonly rely on assigned passages of Scripture. Such as are intended
to provide a more comprehensive awareness of Biblical instruction.
As for the less structured congregations, the passage is usually selected by the
pastor. This is in conjunction with his sermon. Not uncommonly as relates to a
series of messages. While taking into consideration special occasions, such as
those which celebrate Jesus’ birth and resurrection.
Prayer can also be of liturgical nature or spontaneous. If the former, the
so-called Lord’s Prayer is often incorporated. Perhaps better entitled the
Disciples’ Prayer, it serves as a prime example of how persons ought to pray.
If spontaneous prayer, it may be offered by the pastor or members of the
congregation. As a public prayer, it is not meant to substitute for private
devotions. And it should be remembered that one is praying on behalf of those
“In the Catholic understanding three elements are necessary to constitute a
sacrament: a visible sign, and invisible grace, and divine institution. The
visible sign consists of two parts: some form of matter (e.g. water in baptism)
and a word pronouncement.”113 If lacking in any regard, it does not qualify.
As concerns Communion, the Catholic teaching consists of transubstantiation. In
that the elements are thought to actually be transformed into the body and blood
of Christ. Which results from a literal interpretation of Jesus’s words.
Conversely, the Lutheran perspective is expressed as consubstantiation. In this
regard, it is thought that the body and blood of Christ are present with the
A third alternative views the elements as merely symbolic. In this regard, a
Jewish acquaintance attended a Christian service out of curiosity, but was
puzzled by the reference in the bulletin to communion. When informed as to its
intent, and viewing the linen cloths covering the communion table, it seemed to
him in the form of a human body. “Of course,” he allowed, “I did not think it
was an actual body, but representative—since we Jews are prone to object
In contrast to a visible sign, it is alleged that there is an invisible grace.
One which relies on the act itself, rather than the merits of the priest or
recipient. However, such as requires genuine devotion by those involved.
Along with a visible sign and invisible grace, there is need of a divine
institution. Qualifications aside, ordained persons are required for
administering communion. Which, in turn, lends itself to the idea that there is
no salvation outside the church.
This recalls a conversation with a young Roman Catholic man, who had some
theological questions. Upon consulting his priest, the latter concluded that he
had attended a Protestant worship service. In response, the man adamantly
exclaimed, “I would not sin by doing such a thing!”
At which, the priest enjoined him: “Don’t concern yourself with such matters.
The church will take care of your spiritual needs.” So while other priests would
address the issue differently, this reflects commitment to a divine institution.
So it is that theological controversy continues. Sometimes for the better, but
not uncommonly for the worse—in quest for Christian unity.
SIGNS AND WONDERS
Signs and wonders are expressive of miracles. For instance, “So the Lord
brought us out of Egypt and with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with
great terror and with miraculous signs and wonders” (Deut. 26:8). This naturally
brings to mind the plagues, which served to authenticate God’s deliverance.
As such, they are not simply strange but revealing events. Strictly speaking,
they do not violate natural law. As C. S. Lewis points out, they more resemble
an interruption. As when one deflects a billiard ball, so that it continues to
roll in its alerted direction.
Moreover, this is a topic that has created deep divisions within the Christian
fellowship. Giving rise to claims and counterclaims. Some appearing more
credible than others.
With such in mind, we turn our attention to the before mentioned plagues. Some
allege that they can be explained on natural grounds. For instance, “The blood
red coloring has been attributed to an excess of both red earth and the bright
red algae and its bacteria, both of which accompany a heavier than usual
flooding.”114 Even if this were the case, the timing and extent of the plagues
In addition, the death of the first-born seems to defy a natural explanation. “I
will bring one more plague on Pharaoh and on Egypt,” the Almighty allows. “After
that, he will let you go from here.” (Exod. 11:1).
“After midnight I will go throughout Egypt,” the Lord continues. “Every
firstborn son of Egypt will die from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on
the throne, to the firstborn son of the slave girl, who is at her hand mill, and
all the firstborn of the cattle as well.” But the Israelites would be spared.
The pervasiveness of this plague is hard to explain on natural grounds, even in
terms of hyperbole. Efforts to do so appear ludicrous. This brings to mind the
philosophic appeal to Occam’s razor, which suggests that the simpler solution is
more likely correct.
But do miracles appear uniformly throughout Scripture? Assuredly not. Instead,
they primarily appear in conjunction with critical junctures in salvation
history. As with the exodus, the prophets’ struggle with idolatry, and Jesus and
the apostles. Consequently, they resemble road signs, with reference to divine
This encourages us to consider another prime case in point. “In Canaanite
religion is was Baal who had authority over the rain. Its absence meant the
absence of Baal, who must periodically submit to the god Mot (death), only to be
revived at a later date and once again water the earth. It is this polytheistic
view of reality that Elijah now challenges.”115
“As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew
nor rain in the next few years except at my word,” the prophet assured king Ahab
(1 Kings 17:1). Thus to confirm that he was the living Lord, rather than the
pretender Baal, who was thought to bring fertility to the land.
Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah, saying: “Leave here, turn eastward and
hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan. You will drink from the brook,
and I have ordered the ravens to feed you there.” Thus to escape the wrath of
the magistrate, and as indicative of God’s sovereign rule.
Some time later the brook dried up, due to the lack of rain. Then the word of
the Lord again came to the prophet, instructing him: “Get at once to Zarephath
of Sidon and stay there. I have commanded a widow in that place to supply you
with food.” Once again, the Lord employs unlikely means to accomplish his
purposes. Recalling the sage observation, “A little with the Lord goes a long
Now the woman’s resources were nearly depleted. However, Elijah assured her:
“The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until
the day the Lord gives rain on the land.”
Some time later the woman’s son became ill. “He grew worse and worse, and
finally stopped breathing.” The woman attributed this to the prophet.
“Give me your son,” Elijah replied. Taking her offspring in his arms, he carried
him to the upper room where he had been staying. There he petitioned, “O Lord my
God, let this boy’s life return.” Whereupon, he revived.
“Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your
mouth is truth,” the widow allowed. Having been assured by the unlikely
restoration of her son.
After an extended period of time, the Lord instructed Elijah to present himself
before Ahab, along with the assurance of impending rain. So the prophet set out
to do as he was instructed. Upon seeing the prophet, Ahab inquired: “It that
you, you troubler of Israel?” (1 Kings 18:17).
“I have not made trouble for Israel,” Elijah protested. “But you and your
father’s family have. You have abandoned the Lord’s commands and have followed
the Baals. Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount
Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four
hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.” Accordingly, to settle
the matter in dispute.
Once they had assembled, Elijah inquired of the people: “How long will you waver
between two opinions? If the Lord is God follow him; but if Baal is God, follow
him.” While in doubt, they had strayed from their covenant commitment.
“But the people said nothing.” Whether from uncertainty, fear of retaliation, or
most likely, a combination of the two.
Then Elijah suggested that two altars be constructed, and sacrifices offered—one
to the Lord and the other to Baal. “Then you will call on the name of your god,
and I will call on the name of the Lord,” he proposed. “The god who answers by
fire—he is God.” At which, the people heartily agreed. Since this would remove
the burden of proof from their shoulders.
The adversarial prophets then called on the name of Baal from morning to noon.
“O Baal, answer us!” they shouted. As if intent on getting his attention, but
with no response.
At noon, Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he enjoined them. “Surely
he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is
sleeping and must be awakened.” So they shouted louder, and slashed
themselves—as was their custom. Midday passed, and they continued their frantic
efforts, but to no avail.
Then Elijah summoned the people, “Come here to me.” When they had gathered
around him, he repaired the altar to the Lord, and arranged the sacrifice. “Fill
four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood,” he
instructed the people. “Do it agin,” he urged them, and they did it a second
time. “Do it a third time,” he added, and they complied. Consequently, “The
water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench.”
At the time of sacrifice, the prophet stepped forward and prayed: “O Lord, God
of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel
and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command.
Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, O Lord, are
God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.” It was not he but the
populace that needed to be convinced. Moreover, he asked for verification not
simply to commend himself, but for their benefit.
“Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the
stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.” When the
people saw this, they prostrated themselves and cried aloud: “The Lord—he is
God! The Lord—he is God!” Thus dispensing with the need for false prophets, so
that they were done away with.
“Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain,” Elijah subsequently
instructed Ahab. The contest was finished. The matter was settled. Life was to
continue in a predictable fashion, with righteous resolve.
Meanwhile, Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground, and put
his face between his knees. “Thus to await the promised downpour. “Go look
toward the sea,” he instructed his servant.
“There is nothing there,” the latter informed him. Seven times the prophet
ordered him to survey the scene. On the seventh occasion, the servant reported:
“A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.” At which, he was told
to encourage Ahab to retreat down the mountain before rain impeded his efforts.
Accordingly, “the sky grew black with clouds, the wind arose, a heavy rain came
on and Ahab rode off to Jezreel. The power of the Lord came upon Elijah and
tucking his cloak into his belt, he ran ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel.”
As a fitting conclusion to a dramatic incident in the course of salvation
history. One that confirmed that “The Lord—he is God!”
Thus encouraged, we turn our attention to the era of Jesus and the apostles. In
particular, recalling an earlier article entitled Manifestation of the Spirit.
As such, a further commentary on signs and wonders. Excerpts from the text reads
I identified for the purpose of my study 48 episodes in which the Holy Spirit
was manifest. Were the miraculous constantly evident? No. In less than twenty
instances, assuming a more generous interpretation of what qualifies as a
miracle, were extraordinary events reported. Likewise of interest, all but four
of these instances were related to the apostles and might be understood as
attesting to their particular office rather than a general manifestation of the
Holy Spirit in the life of the Church.
The matter of enthusiasm is largely a moot question. Was the company of
believers less inhibited, bubbling over with joy and borne along by ecstasy? The
further one reads in Acts the less this common perception seems likely. The
isolated proof text for being intoxicated with the Spirit (Acts 2:15) wears thin
when stretched to accommodate the subsequent experiences with the Holy Spirit.
The alternative of individual piety has more to say for it. Acts takes great
care to promote the guilelessness of the earliest Christians and to exonerate
them from the charges leveled by their protagonists. Acts is something of an
apologetic for the Christian faith, which rests in part on the piety of its
These common alternatives (miracles, enthusiasm, individual piety) held out at
best some partial truth and at worst are thoroughly misleading and even a snare
to those seeking the fullness of God. They can lead us into fruitless
exploration of some religious fad or another and away from the goal we mean to
What theme does the book of Acts set forth as the distinctive manifestation of
the Spirit? I discovered that in 40 of the 48 episodes studied there was a
reference to the community of faith, the messianic people of God. This fact, so
obscured by popular opinions as to the manifestation of the Spirit, seems
Reflect on the emphasis in one of the texts: Those who received Peter’s word
were baptized, and they continued devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching
and fellowship. Everyone experienced a sense of awe with the wonders and signs
taking place through the apostle, and all those who had believed were together,
holding their possessions in common, and selling their property in order to
share with all, as anyone might have need. So they continued with one mind in
the temple and taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity, praising
God and having favor with all the people (Acts 2:41-47). Thus the Lord adding to
their number daily those regenerated by the Holy Spirit.
A veteran missionary helped firm up my conviction at this point. He told how one
night, as he was returning from a meeting with Christians at the other end of an
African village, he suddenly came upon a frenzied pagan ritual with the
participants gyrating to the beat of drums. He stopped short in his tracks,
overcome by a terribly stifling feeling of oppression that seemed to fill the
air around him. It seemed as if a hushed voice were speaking to him and
inquiring as to where he had come from. “Why, from the other end of the
village,” he responded.
“And what were you doing there?” the voice pressed further. Then it dawned upon
him that the community of believers, squatted around the hut in prayer and Bible
study, had only recently been participants in the pagan rite. Had the Holy
Spirit been at work? Yes. What was the manifestation of the Spirit? The
We naturally want to inquire into the nature of the community. The fellowship
exists, when it exists at all, in response to the call of Christ and by his
grace. It does not come into being because it proposes to do so and is not
sustained by its own endeavor. It is Christ’s community.
The road this community takes is a difficult one, as the book of Acts testifies.
There is oppression from without, discord within, and circumstances sufficient
to discourage the most resolute among us. Yet the way is in a sense easy, so
long as we follow the Master closely. We dare not lose sight of him or fail to
take his gentle reprimand.
The separation is complete, for those who have decided to follow Jesus. Out of
all the alternative possibilities they have decided to follow Jesus. In spite of
obstacles raised to dissuade them they have decided to follow Jesus. It creates
a great chasm between the Church and the world that appears greater still in
But the separation must also be renewed each step of the way. There can be no
turning back, and when one stumbles he must reach up to grasp the extended hand
of Christ and press on. There are those who seem so little to resemble the
disciples of Jesus as to raise doubt as to their genuineness. That is not for us
to determine. God is not through working with them. The fruit of the Spirit is
sometimes late in blossoming.
We may conclude that the Spirit manifests himself in relationship to Christ.
Jesus promised, “He will bear witness to me” (John 15:25)—and so he does. He
preempts other interests, of whatever nature, and including an undue emphasis
upon himself. He fixes “our eyes on Jesus the author and perfecter of faith”
(Heb. 12:2), not the author alone but the perfecter as well.
There were more subtle nuances in regard to the community of faith. Proclamation
was one of these. “The early apostolic kerygma regularly falls into four parts
which may be summarized thus: (1) the announcement that the age of fulfillment
has arrived; (2) a rehearsal of the ministry, death, and triumph of Jesus; (3)
citation of OT scriptures whose fulfillment in these events prove Jesus to be
the Messiah; (4) a call to repentance.”117 This preaching seems to be a
calculated supplement to the prophets, so that while “in the past God spoke to
our forefathers through the prophets, in these last days he has spoken to us by
his Son” (Heb. 1:1-2).
This was also a sharing community, for each gave as he as able to those as had
need. The concept of sharing was and is by nature reciprocal. It is both being
available to others in their need and allowing them to minister to us as they
are able and so inclined. And it should not be construed in legalistic terms.
Francis Schaeffer carries our discussion one step further. He asks, “What is the
final apologetic? ‘That they may be one; as thou, Father, are in me, and I in
thee, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast
sent me.’ This is the final apologetic.”118 It is the orderly fitting together
of lives in cooperative ministry that helps round out our understanding of the
Holy Spirit as manifested in community.
We recall that the first association the Hebrew people had with the Spirit was
with bringing order out of chaos (Gen. 1:2-2). This undercurrent of thinking
seems to flow throughout Acts. One dips in at any point and discovers it
present. For instance, James’ disposition of the Gentile issue (Acts 15). He
argues that God “was taking from the Gentiles a people for his name. Therefore
it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among
the Gentiles” but urge them to abstain from those things especially repugnant to
the Jews, who have “in every city those who preach him (Moses).” The Spirit does
not manifest himself in the sowing of discord but in harmony and constructive
The final aspect of the community to which I wish to call our attention is the
creative diversity that manifests the Spirit’s presence. Acts centers primarily
on Peter and Paul, but there is an interesting array of lesser performers. They
are more times than not portrayed as tokens of the Spirit’s ministry.
C. S. Lewis introduces a helpful distinction that seems pertinent at this point.
He observes that “a cruel man oppresses his neighbor, without his own knowledge
or consent, to produce the complex good—so that the first man serves God as a
son, and the second as a tool.”119 That is to say, some men cooperate with God’s
purposes as tokens of the Spirit’s work, while others for all their lack of
intentional cooperation serve in the furthering of God’s sovereign will.
Acts has its own quota of sons and tools. Each contributes through God’s
sovereign means to the rapid expansion of the Christian faith: from Jerusalem,
throughout the region, and to the extent of the Roman empire.
These features we have mentioned (concerning proclamation, sharing, a harmonious
cooperation, and a creative diversity) are only variations on the one theme.
They suggest some of the more subtle ways in which the Spirit is manifested in
community. The critical factor is the focus brought upon Christ and life
together in him. Here is where we began to outline our thesis and with this
emphasis we will conclude.
It remains to touch on two instances that underscore the problematic character
of miracles, and their impact on life together. Both concern persons who were
blind. The first had managed to cope with his handicap in admirable fashion. In
this regard, he maintained a positive attitude.
However, he came into contact with a group that insisted that if one has faith,
healing was inevitable. So it was agreed that they would pray for him to receive
his sight. But to no avail, leaving him despondent.
Were this not bad enough, his associates blamed him for lacking faith.
Consequently, they would have nothing more to do with him. Leaving him to
struggle on his own, as a tragic result of a mistaken confidence.
The other person is a study in contrast. Advised by his doctor that he lacked
the physical means to see, he was attempting to make the best of it. When
approached by a woman, who reported that she felt prompted to pray for him.
Although she had never previously undertaken such an intercession.
Upon arriving at her home, he found that a group of her friends had gathered. As
he shared with me, it seemed as if the room were electric. Those assembled began
to pray in turn, and as the last person prayed, he could see.
The medical profession was at a loss to explain what had transpired. An article
in the medical journal observed that they had no clue as to how this had
happened. While adding that no doubt sometime in the future they would discover
the means by which it was accomplished. Thus revealing their unwillingness to
allow for the possibility of a miracle. Whereas those who had prayed on the
man’s behalf felt that their prayers had been answered, and their bond in Christ
strengthened as a result.
THE PERENNIAL QUESTION
“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” the psalmist
exclaims. “You have set your glory above the heavens” (Psa. 8:1). The earth
appears in contrast to God’s glory exalted above the heavens, there being no
hint of pantheism implied. While God’s glory allows for his majestic splendor,
it also has ethical implications.
These words readily bring to mind my gazing out over the surrounding area from a
lofty height. The clouds hang low, while the slopes recede. There is little by
way of distraction. One is encouraged to ponder the wonders of the creation. As
to their origin, and means by which they are sustained.
“From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your
enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.” Those who challenge God’s
sovereignty are no match for him. So as to solicit praise from those who have
newly arrived on the scene. Such as are still legitimately impressed with what
we not uncommonly come to take for granted.
“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him the son of
man that you care for him?” Since he seems so inconsequential by way of
comparison. So also with the realization, “As for man, his days are like grass,
he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more” (Psa. 103:15-16).
What is man? It is a perennial question, which lingers in the course of human
events. “To know God as He is is to begin to understand one’s self. Otherwise
man walks the peculiar twilight zone between beast and God. He is repulsed by
the jungle code but sits uneasily on the throne of self-worship.
As a related question, who am I? One among others, and bonded together. One
apart from others, and so with a distinctive calling. Giving rise to the
admonition, “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31).
Upon further reflection, “You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of your
hands; you put everything under his feet: the flocks and herds, and the beasts
of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the
paths of the seas.”
In this regard, man was created in God’s image. Along with responsibility to act
as steward of creation. Then, in an extended sense, provided with the means to
carry out his responsibilities. Recalling, as on other occasions, Mother
Teresa’s humorous comment, “I don’t doubt but that God will enable me to do what
I am meant to do, but I wished he were not so optimistic.”
What were these means? Biblical man is manifestly a sensate being. Leander
Geyser classifies emotions as: (1) sentient—corresponding to sense perception;
(2) intuitional—immediate perception of reality, and (3) psychical—connected
with understanding.121 If sentient, “The emotions of the psalmist are vividly
expressed. There are the threshold of feelings of the night—the coolness against
his flesh, the soft whisper of air after a trying day, the earth oozing between
his toes, the sound of a distant dog protesting an intrusion, the sparkle of
light against the pitch-black sky.”122
Extending the quotation, “There were the intuitive feelings of the soul—the
sense of unworthiness, the awareness of danger, the presence of God, the joy of
being. There were the feelings accompanying understanding—the glory of the God
who has revealed Himself, the safety of the people for whom God does battle, the
perfection of God’s purpose and plan for man.” These and ever so many other
feelings associated with life.
The term heart occurs about 1000 times in Scripture. On occasion it seems to
focus primarily on the sentient dimension of the human personality. For
instance, “And you will sing as on the night you celebrate a holy festival, your
hearts will rejoice as when people go up with flutes to the mountain of the
Lord, to the Rock of Israel” (Isa. 30:29). In other instances, it stands for the
inner self. In this regard, “Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your
truth; give me an undivided heart that I may fear your name. I will praise you,
O Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever: (Psa.
Humans are also rational beings. They think. They can review the past, analyze
the present, and anticipate the future. They can ignore the implications or
The psalmist clearly qualifies. He surveys the heavens. He weighs his
insignificance in keeping with the vast expanse of the universe. He concludes
that while man is a little lower than the angels, he is charged with
superintending creation. So that it is preferable that he is faithful, for
himself and creation at large.
“‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the Lord. ‘Though your sins are like
scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they
shall be like wool’”(Isa. 1:18). If willing and obedient, they will eat the best
from the land. But if they resist and rebel, they will be devoured by the sword.
Which is to be preferred? It should be obvious.
Man is no less a volitional creature. He is not simply a passive agent, forged
by circumstances. Indeed not! He can respond to circumstances in creative ways,
for better or worse. Then, in the process, to have an influence on others.
Recalling Joshua’s vibrant charge to the Israelites, “Now fear the Lord and
serve him with all faithfulness. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to
you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve. But as for me and
my household, we will serve the Lord” (Josh. 24:14-15). While allowing the
psalmist the final word, “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the
Granted that humans are sensate, rational, and volitional, which can be said to
predominate? The mix seems to differ from one person to the next. So we are
alerted to a potential difficulty in bonding together. Accordingly, we ought to
welcome constructive differences within a common fellowship.
It remains to illustrate these human characteristics at greater length. First,
as concerns David Myers’ provocative article “The Mystery of the Ordinary.” He
allows at the outset: “At the core of religious impulse is a sense of awe, an
attitude of bewilderment, a feeling that reality is more amazing than everyday
scientific reasoning can comprehend. Wonderstruck, we humbly acknowledge our
limits and accept that which we can not explain.”123
It comes as no surprise that many people feel that science threatens to
demystify life, destroying our sense of wonder and willingness to believe what
cannot be empirically verified. Where once flashes of lightening and claps of
thunder were thought to be activities of a supernatural power, these now lend
themselves to naturalistic explanation. Where once we prayed for divine healing,
we may now be more inclined to embrace medical treatment.
Furthermore, we can readily understand why persons grasp at hints of the
supernatural, anything we have difficulty explaining. Such as the ghost
appearances reported in the village in which I was raised. Often with an
unconvincing disclaimer, so as not to frighten children. But passed on from one
generation to the next, as a cultural heritage to be periodically recalled.
Most are not convinced. As a rule, including those who have studied the
phenomena at greater length. Thus recalling the prohibition, “Let no one be
found among you who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages
in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults
the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord, and because of
these detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before
you” (Deut. 18:10-12).
If our sense of mystery is not to be gratified in the realm of the
pseudo-sciences and the occult, then where? In large measure, from our
experience with the ordinary. “As you read this sentence, particles of light
energy are being absorbed by the receptor cells of your eyes, converted into
neural signals that activate neighboring cells, which process the information
for a third layer of cells, which converge to form a nerve tract that transmits
a million electrochemical messages per moment up to the brain.”124
“There step by step, the scene you are viewing is reassembled into its component
features and finally—in some as yet mysterious way—composed into a consciously
perceived image, which is instantly compared with previously stored images and
recognized as words you know.” Moreover, all this transpires in a fraction of a
second, by way of confirming the mystery of the ordinary.
While we are sometimes able to unravel mystery, we are not uncommonly confronted
with even greater mystery. As allowed in an earlier context, “The more we know,
the more we realize we do not know.” So that mystery pervades life, especially
for those tuned in to their sentient nature.
“Human consciousness has long been a thing of wonder. More recently, wonder has
also grown regarding the things our minds do subconsciously automatically, out
of sight. Our minds detect and process information without our awareness.”125
This allows us to manage the more routine matters, such as walking, while
focusing on some pressing concern.
Those doing research in language are also struck by the ease with which children
acquire usage. While most parents are not trained to instruct persons in the
rules of grammar, preschoolers are soaking up the complexities of the language
by learning several new words a day, and the rules governing their use. The more
astonishing which compared to college students who struggle to fathom a second
Or consider the miracle of giving birth. The process is initiated when a mature
egg was released from the ovary, and a wave of sperm began their upstream race
towards it. Against all odds, there was conception. What is more, a chain of
equally improbable events can be traced back through one’s parents and
grandparents. All of which we are inclined to take for granted.
“Human life—so ordinary, so familiar, so natural, and yet so extraordinary,”
Myers begins to summarize. “Looking for mystery in things bizarre, we feel
cheated when after we learn that a hoax or a simple process explains it away.
All the while we miss the awesome events occurring before, or even within, our
very eyes. The extraordinary within the ordinary.”
“So it was that Christmas morning two millennia ago. The most extraordinary
event of history—the Lord of the universe coming to the spaceship earth in human
form—occurred in so ordinary a way as hardly to be noticed,” Myers continues.
“On a mundane winter day at an undistinguished inn in an average little town the
extraordinary one was born of an ordinary peasant woman. Like our human kin at
Bethlehem and Nazareth long ago, we, too, are often blind to the mystery within
things ordinary.”126 Unless served by our sentient nature.
We next take into consideration man’s rational character. Millard Erickson was
known for his depth of insight and clarity of thought. This is confirmed in an
article entitled: “Immanence, Transcendence, and the Doctrine of Scripture.” It
is a topic of critical importance, since the resolution of the relationship
between divine immanence and transcendence is perhaps the most critical of our
theological issues. And one that impinges heavily on our perception of divine
“For most of its history the Christian Church has held to a rather transcendent
view of God. Drawing and building upon the Jewish belief. Christian theologians
saw God as high and lofty, far beyond man in his power and knowledge.
(Consequently,) it was necessary for God to make himself known to man and to
give understanding of the revelation.”127 Which resulted in a strong emphasis on
special revelation, and the recipients of special revelation.
Conversely, “In varying degrees liberalism conceived of God as immanent. He was
closely identified with nature and the processes with it. Evolution was seen not
as a neutral mechanical process but as the actual presence of God himself
working through ‘natural’ laws.”128 God was thus depicted as not totally distant
and different from man, since there was a spark of the divine to be found in
each person. Thus God’s agenda was not restricted to the Christian community,
but incorporated all persons—including those who do not believe in him.
At this juncture the various points of view readily proliferate. As one of
several examples, Erickson turns to the so-called Amsterdam School, since many
of its adherents identify with G. C. Berkouwer—who for may years taught at the
Free University of Amsterdam. Accordingly, he points out four features that
characterize this school of thought.
(1) The function of the Bible is emphasized rather than Scripture as such. In
this regard, it is characterized as a source of spiritual strength. Accordingly,
one’s attitude toward divine revelation is of greater consequence than any
theory one might devise concerning it.
(2) One approaches Holy Writ within the context of Biblical theology, although
Erickson does not use this terminology, rather than from the perspective of
systematic theology. For instance, one does not inquire as to how Scripture can
provide us with a knowledge of God. Conversely, the issues associated with the
Synoptic Gospels are thought to be of considerable consequence.
(3) Textual criticism is thus encouraged. Since the sources share much in
common, similar features must be identified and explored. Moreover, not only
textual criticism, but form criticism and redaction criticism are to be
commended. Expressive of a confidence lacking in some other schools of thought.
(4) There is a notable dislike for the term inerrant. Recalling the saying,
“What man says may be true, but what God says is true.” Since it is supposed
that the case for an inerrant text extends beyond the claims of the text itself.
A conclusion calculated to invite controversy.129
In conclusion, Erickson allows that the purpose of his article was to elucidate
rather than arbitrate. In particular, he hoped that it might contribute to the
discussions then ensuing within Christianity and especially evangelicalism. This
could be accomplished by comparing one set of propositions with another.
Otherwise, one runs the risk of further inciting partisan discord. While calling
upon us to employ our God given reasoning capabilities.
Also of prime importance is man’s volitional character. H. Edwin Young confirms
this thesis in his article “Rebuild the Walls in America Today.” At the outset,
he observes: “We need a lot of things in Christianity today, but I think that
first and foremost we need three things: leaders, leaders, leaders. We need
leaders who will stand up and be counted, even in tested, difficult times.”130
With this preeminent need in mind, Young turns his attention to Nehemiah as the
consummate leader. Who he supposes had not previously visited Jerusalem before
responding to God’s leading. “His father probably said to him many, many times,
‘One day we will go back. One day a leader will arise. One day we will return
from being scattered over the face of this earth by those who oppress us.’”131
One day an opportunity for service will accompany God’s promise of restoration.
“I can identify with that,” Young allows. Reared in southern Mississippi, his
father would enjoin him: “Edwin, make a difference.” As was traditional in his
family. Recalling the saying, “When you leave this world, leave it a little
better than you found it.”
What can we learn from the precedent of Nehemiah? First of all, he inquired as
to the situation. Since one must be informed to respond effectively.
Not only did he ask, but he heard. It does not do any good to ask questions if
we fail to listen. Young recalls a youth who was asked, “Son when you think of
your daddy, what do you see?”
“A big mouth,” the lad replied. Then asked what he would like to see, he
answered: “A big ear.” So that when we ask, we should be open to new insights,
leading to unexpected opportunities.
Nehemiah, having asked and listened, sat down. Not like Americans. We ask, and
if we listen, we are ready to move.
What did he do when he sat down? He wept. He was deeply distressed with the
situation in Jerusalem. Then he fasted. Finally, he prayed. Only through this
means could he come to the heart of the problem. Otherwise, he would simply be
Here Young pauses to distinguish between leading and leadership. As for the
former, one takes the initiative—regardless of consequences. As for the latter,
persons are encouraged to follow suit. As in the case of Nehemiah.
So it was that Nehemiah boldly undertook his mission. Assured that this was
God’s leading. Without the need of further confirmation.
Once involved in the enterprise, he was attentive to details. Conversely, he was
not immersed in them, so as to lose track of the overview of his mission. Young
notes that the difference is significant.
His sense of timing was seemingly faultless. In contrast, we often wait too long
or move too quickly. As a result, we fail to accomplish our purposes.
Nehemiah also took steps to minister to those in dire need. He singled these out
for consideration. Rather than being content to engage those who were more
affluent and influential. Unlike some who covet being leaders.
Young notes that his church has undertaken a novel project. “The mission of the
Nehemiah Project is to protect family values in our nation,” the registration
form reads. “Like the walls of Jerusalem, my country’s walls of morality,
justice, and compassion have crumbled with us. With God’s help, Nehemiah rebuilt
the walls of Jerusalem by assigning each family a section of the wall to repair.
With our Nehemiah Project we can rebuild our wall by showing up together at our
precinct meetings.”132 Thus to encourage persons to take an active role in
So it is that some persons are more given to exercising their sentient,
rational, or volitional characteristics. Along with the possibility that they
will demean those who do not share their priorities, leading to misunderstanding
and conflict. On the other hand, compatible with the ideal of constructive
diversity. Consequently, in accord with the quest for Christian unity.
The generation gap was a term popularized during the 1960s, referring to
differences between people of the younger generation and their elders. It brings
to mind an occasion when I was talking with a strident youth. “How do you think
we can solve our differences?” I inquired of him
He replied, “All I can think of is that folk over thirty will have to pass on.”
It was not meant as an attempt at humor. Nor did he mean to threaten me.
While exaggerated on this occasion, the generation gap is not an altogether new
phenomenon. As a classic case in point, “After Joshua had dismissed the
Israelites, they went to take possession of the land, each to his own
inheritance. The people served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of
the elders who outlived him and who had seen all the great things the Lord had
done for Israel” (Judg. 2:6-7).
Joshua and the elders who outlived him are highlighted as mentors of the people.
These bore witness to the great things that the Lord had done for Israel.
Indelibly written in their own memories, they hoped to pass them on to
However, “After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers,
another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for
Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the
Baals. They forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out
of Egypt.” “It is clear that paganism was never very far from the surface during
this early period of Israel’s history and, when Joshua and his close
contemporaries died, the new generation shared neither their faith nor their
recollections of the great deliverance wrought for them by the Lord.”133
They lacked the faith that had sustained the preceding generation. While they
likely retained some of its outward expressions, they no longer solicited the
religious zeal that had characterized their forebears. Instead, the beliefs of
their pagan associates increasingly appealed to them.
Coupled with this lack of personal conviction, the mighty acts of God now seemed
relegated to the distant past. Recalling Gideon’s adamant protest. “But sir, if
the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders
that our fathers told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out
of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian”
Fast forward to the Great Depression. This was a severe worldwide economic
interim during the decade preceding World War II. It was the longest, most
widespread, and deepest depression of the twentieth century.
Cities around the world were hard hit, especially those dependent on heavy
industry. Construction virtually came to a halt in many countries. Farming and
rural areas suffered as crop prices fell by approximately sixty percent.
Unemployment in the United States rose to about twenty-five percent, and in some
other countries as high as thirty-three percent.
I have only a vague recollection of the state of affairs. My father had passed
up a sport’s scholarship to attend college, in order to assist my grandfather in
his general store. He worked long hours. During the winter months, he arose well
before daybreak to build a fire in our furnace. He seemed exhausted by the time
he returned home, well into the evening. On occasion, he would refer to the
store as his jail.
I had life much easier. While my siblings and I had chores assigned to us, I had
no obligation to the general store. I came of age during World War II. The day
after my eighteenth birthday, I left for miliary service.
Those of us involved in this massive conflict were not of the persuasion that
this was the war to end all wars. We were more realistic, in that we perceived
that we had a job to do, and would do it to the best of our abilities. While a
relatively brief period in our lives, this experience set the course for our
generation. Qualifications aside, it set us off from that which preceded us and
Fast forward again, this time to the memorable sixties. It serves to get a
running start. “First with the complacent fifties, then the turbulent sixties,
and finally focusing more on the contemporary scene. Peter Berger set out to
evaluate what he had sensed concerning Christianity during the fifties. He
deliberately chose to preface his exceedingly provocative book with a passage
from Amos under the rubric the noise of solemn assemblies.”134
Berger distinguishes between the developed and undeveloped countries, America
being a prime example of the former. As such, it has invested interests in the
status quo. This tends to impede innovative thought, and inhibit the emerging
countries as they strive to improve their way of life.
There were associated problems. Berger singles out the rising divorce rate, and
speculates that persons would have to compensate. In order to do so, it would
require making necessary adjustments, and not simply to appeal to the past.
Hopefully for the better, rather than that which is less desirable.
All things considered, we were confronted with a religious paradox. On the one
hand, religion appeared to be virtually pervasive. On the other, it seemed no
longer to serve a vital purpose. In particular, church membership had risen from
43% of the population in 1920 to 60.9% by 1955. This appears to be in large
measure to a spiritual renewal generated by World War II. Something I
experienced first-hand, having embraced the Christian faith during my military
Consequently, most were willing to acknowledge that this was a nation under God,
providing they were not pressed to identify the deity. Religious tokenism was
wide spread. Furthermore, there was a general impression that America was
deserving of its inherited blessings.
In greater detail, “If organized religion in this society were highly relevant
to the major social institutions, it would not be functional in the way it now
is. It is functional precisely to the degree in which it is passive rather than
active, because it is likely to be part of an optimistic ideology which obscures
the real state of affairs.”135
Berger next turns his attention to the task of disestablishment, as the process
by which change is achieved. Expressly in terms of personal conversion,
theological reconstruction, and social engagement, and the problematic character
of new forms. Needless to say, this is a formidable task—calling for our best
The past notwithstanding, we seemed ill-prepared for the emergence of the
sixties or their resiliency. “America cannot seem to let the sixties go gently
into the night. While the 1970s disappeared before they even ended and the 1950s
succumbed to a nostalgic fog, the 1960s stay hot.”136
While one can approach the sixties either in abstract terms or by way of
concrete examples, the latter seems preferable. First, as concerns the American
involvement in the Vietnam War. “In the postwar era, Americans accepted a major
shift in the country’s political culture—toward a more activist and
outward-looking state—as necessary to strengthen and defend traditional
political values.” Mary Sheila McMahon observes. “This permitted the United
States to introduce, as an alternative to the chaos left by World War II, global
economic and military security systems designed to increase world prosperity,
and maintain the stability that American state makers believed vital to the
national interest.”137 Qualifications aside, the Vietnam War thus appears
associated with a change of policy.
The notion of containment, coupled with a failure to properly arm the South
Vietnamese, contributed to a hasty withdrawal. The suffering in the region
intensified. Meanwhile, critics of the war effort applauded themselves for their
wise discernment. The returning soldiers were not accorded the warm reception as
a rule reserved for those who put their lives at risk. Understandably, there was
lingering resentment with all parties in any way involved.
The same era, but a different issue. Stokey Carmichael alleged that racial
integration was for all practical purposes a subterfuge for maintaining white
supremacy. He advocated as an alternative black power, as a means of ethnic
enablement. It was met with mixed reviews. Some felt that it achieved its
purpose in some measure, along with the hope that matters would subsequently
improve. Others saw it as a failure to set racism aside, and thus perpetuate the
problem it hoped to address.
Alex Haley’s Roots subsequently touched a vital nerve in the black community.
When confronted with inaccuracies in his account, he defended them as factology.
In other words, as a form of ethnic mythology. As such. a means of fostering
Affirmative action was also introduced as a means for compensating for past
injustice. This likewise was met with mixed reviews, since some viewed it as a
form of reverse discrimination. The American consensus was further diminished as
a result. Recalling the saying, “United we stand, divided we fall.”
However, “To many observers of the time, the most important change in American
society during the sixties seemed to be the emergence of youth as a distinct
political and cultural force,” George Lipsitz allows. “Political activism by
college students on and off campus, the popularity of youth-generated styles of
dress, grooming, speech, and music, and perceptions of a ‘generation gap’
contributed to the idea that age might become as important an indicator of
social identity as race, class, or gender.”138
One of my favorite recollections from the sixties concerns the time I was
leading a Bible study in a Chicago coffee house. One of the young participants
had a guitar slung over his shoulder, as if welded to it. He wore his hair long,
so that it flowed down over his face—muffling his voice. Unless he chose to toss
his head to remove the incumbrance.
At one point, he shook his head—indicating that he was about to speak. The other
participants withheld their comments, waiting for his contribution. We had been
studying an episode in the life and ministry of Jesus. “Man!” the youth
exclaimed. “God was all there!” He had hit the proverbial nail on the head, so
that others seemed quite in agreement.
So it is with some nostalgia that I take my leave from the sixties, and its
culture gap mentality. Yet with the realization that there have been lingering
effects. As it bears repeating, for better and for worse.
So-called modern times were in the making. As a rather imprecise means of
describing what had eventuated from the previous eras. Sometimes associated with
man come of age. As such, in the thinking of some, no longer under subject to
the gods of antiquity. Free to explore life on one’s own. Free to explore new
possibilities. Free to realize one’s potential. Likewise, free to fail.
Which led William Watkins to explore what he designated as the new absolutes,
such as the following:
“What’s true for you may not be true for me.”
“One person’s art is another person’s pornography.”
“There are no objective morals, just differing opinions.”
“Just go with the flow.”
“If it feels good, do it.”
“Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.”
“Each of these statements reflects a relativist view of reality,” Watkins
He subsequently adds an extended list of old absolutes, as set over against
those which have replaced them. The following are select examples, that serve as
a commentary of the modern era.
“Religion is the backbone of American culture, providing the moral and spiritual
light needed for public and private life” vs. “Religion is the bane of public
life, so for the public good should be banned from the public square.”
“Human life from conception to natural death is sacred and worthy of protection”
vs. “Human life, which begins and ends when certain individuals or groups decide
it does, is valuable as long as it is wanted.”
“The institution of marriage is God-ordained and occurs between a man and woman
until death servers the bond” vs. “Marriage is a human contract made between any
two people, and either party can terminate it for any reason.”
“Women should be protected and nurtured but not granted social equality” vs.
“Women are oppressed by men and must liberate themselves by contorting their own
bodies and therefore their destinies.”
“Western civilization and its heritage should be studied and valued above
others” vs. “Non-Western societies and other oppressed peoples and their
heritage should be studied and valued above Western civilization.”
“Different perspectives should be heard and tolerated, but only the true and
right ones should prevail” vs. “Only those viewpoints deemed politically correct
should be tolerated and encouraged to prevail.”
The revised attitude toward religion incited Johnny Hart, in his popular comic
strip B.C., to depict an inquisitive caveman standing on a beach. Picking up a
tablet, he inscribes on it: “Is it true that, over there, you have freedom of
religion?” He then throws it into the ocean, and watches the tide carry it away.
In response, “Yes—and if the hotshots in the black robes have their way, we’ll
be free from it altogether.” Thus interpreting freedom of religion as freedom
I was thus encouraged to speculate on how Amos might address this social
innovation.142 (1) He would likely approach the Constitution as a covenant of
sorts. As regards the exercise of religion, the first amendment reads: “Congress
shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the
free exercise thereof.” As for the former, it disallows the promotion of a given
religion. Which, in principle, excluded a secular establishment as well.
As for the latter, religious faiths are encouraged to pursue their perceived
calling. Resulting in what has sometimes been called positive neutrality.
Implying cooperation, rather than competition between church and state.
(2) The prophet would assuredly affirm the sanctity of life. Which would
discourage sexual intercourse apart from a life-sustaining relationship. This
would also curtail abortion practices. If an exception, then with great
reluctance. Certainly not in such instances as involving gender preference.
So also should every reasonable effort should be made to preserve life.
Requiring an active security force. Entertaining armed conflict with great
restraint. While fostering the quality of life. Caring for those incapacitated.
And so on.
(3) Amos would be no less zealous for marriage as a divinely ordained
institution. Accordingly, it bears repeating: “For this reason a man will leave
his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh”
(Gen. 2:24). For the welfare of the couple, their family, and society as a
Every reasonable effort must be made to preserve the marriage relationship. Even
when this involves personal sacrifice. Under adverse circumstances, As a means
of exercising our righteous resolve.
(4) Meanwhile raise the children in the ways of the Lord. By precept and
practice. Not one to the exclusion of the other. Recalling the sage instruction,
“Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from
it” (Prov. 22:6).
Calling for children to honor their parents in return, implying obedience. So
also respect, thus enhancing their reputation. Then providing for their needs,
especially during their declining years. Whether physical, emotional, or
spiritual. After which, remembering them with appreciation.
(5) The prophet touches on two current issues in his criticism of affluent
women. First, the indiscretion of the wealthy. Such as indulge themselves, while
failing to take into consideration the needs of others. While assuming that
these will cooperate with their benefactors to resolve the problems.
Second, a fair resolution to the gender issue. One that addresses the
discrimination against women, while not inviting reverse discrimination. Thus
maintaining a difficult balance.
(6) Implicit in Amos’ critique of the nation states is the essential integrity
of disparate cultures. While realizing that there is room for improvement, in
our own culture as with alternatives. So that we can benefit from constructive
Although we have a special responsibility to pass on the legacy of our own
culture. If for no other reason, to better understand the formative influences
we have experienced. Consequently, we must not allow our interest in alien
cultures to eclipse that of our own.
(7) The pursuit of justice is high on the prophet’s agenda. For instance, our
courts seem encumbered by complex and costly procedures. It is said that a
penalty assessed for trivial suits would contribute greatly toward resolving
Justice must be relentlessly pursued. Justice in the market place, in the
courtroom, in international relations. “But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream” (Amos 5:24). Consequently, vibrant
(8) The prophet would assuredly insist on a credible work ethic. As with Adam,
so also with subsequent generations. As a means of self-fulfillment, social
enrichment, and ecological development.
Coupled with a manifest generosity. A generosity determined not by how much a
person gives, but by how much remains having given. A generosity that extends
beyond sharing of one’s material resources, to the investment of time and
“The times are changing. We appear to be in the midst of a paradigm shift, with
speculation concerning the postmodern age. Characteristic of such times, the
establishment is loathe to accommodate that which threatens the status quo. No
longer able to persuade, it turns to coercion and subterfuge.”143 While this
makes the travail more difficult, it will not prevent the birth of a new age.
(9) One thing more. Look to the far horizon! The day of redemption draws near.
When shalom will prevail. “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live
with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be
their God” (Rev. 21:3).
Accordingly, with anticipation, resolve, and gratitude. In the company of
others, and so in keeping with the appeal that they may be one. One in
rejoicing, suffering, and service. As evidence of being one in Christ.
THIS AND THAT
It would by now appear obvious that the topics that impinge directly or
indirectly on the quest for Christian unity are legion. While we have considered
some of these at greater length, it remains to touch on several more briefly.
This is in context of a variation on a theme, concerning this and that.
TO SPEAK IN OTHER TONGUES
When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples were gathered in one place,
and suddenly there was what sounded like the blowing of a violent wind. They
also saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on
each of them. “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak
in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:4). What they heard and saw
resembled wind and fire, by way of analogy.
In this regard, “The wind blows were it pleases, and you hear the sound of it,
but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes, as it is with every one
who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). “In Greek the one word may mean ‘spirit’
or ‘breath’ or ‘wind.’ The spirit of a person is the immaterial principle of
life within him or her. And it was a matter of observation for people in early
days that when the breath ceases the life ceases also.”144
Fire, in turn, as when associated with the burning bush, represents the divine
presence (cf. Exod. 3:2-5). In this instance, it is likely associated with
sanctification. Accordingly, “Consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am
the Lord your God. Keep my decrees and follow them. I am the Lord, who makes you
holy” (Lev. 20:7-8).
As a result, they were filled with the Spirit. For what expressed purpose? “But
you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my
witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the
earth” (Acts 1:8).
Whereupon, some or all began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled
them. It is not clear from the syntax which was intended. If following the
pattern set concerning wind and fire, then in a manner resembling language. This
might be an allusion to ecstatic utterance, except for the fact that some heard
them speak in their own language.
We are thus presented with three options: ecstatic utterance, actual language,
or a combination of the two. Now ecstatic utterance is a relatively common
phenomenon, and not unique to the Christian community. It has been shown to be
made up of sounds that a person is familiar with from his or her own linguistic
Studies have also shown that persons can express catches of a foreign language
they have suppressed in the subconscious during moments of ecstasy. This could
account for persons hearing familiar linguistic features. Consequently, it could
have been a combination of ecstatic utterance and actual language.
In any case, it seems meant to indicate a reversal of the confusion of language
at the Tower of Babel (cf. Gen. 11:1-9). Indicative of the fact that God was
bonding together a chosen people for his purpose. In addition to giving life
(wind), and purging (fire) those assembled.
Speaking in tongues is mentioned on only two other occasions in Acts: one
concerning Gentiles (cf. 10:46), and the other regarding disciples of John (cf.
19:6). The point seeming to be that these diverse groups were similarly
recipients of the Spirit. Conversely, discussing this matter with a learned
representative of the Pentecostal movement, he allowed that while there was no
explicit injunction for persons to speak in tongues, he thought the repeated
references would suffice for that purpose.
Paul subsequently picks up on the allusive topic. “Follow the way of love and
eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy,” he enjoins his
readers. “For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God.
Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit” (1 Cor.
14:1-2). How then does it edify others unless someone translates?
Consequently, “eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the
most excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31). Given that this provides a lead into the
discussion that follows, the greater gifts would appear to be those whose
priority is to serve others. While preserving the diversity of gifts.
Moving along, there is relatively little mention of speaking in tongues in the
writings of the church fathers. With the exceptions, it appears to be usually
cast in a negative light. For instance, Eusebius refers to a person who “became
possessed of a spirit, and suddenly began to rave in a kind of ecstatic trance,
and to babble in a jargon, prophesying in a manner contrary to the custom of the
Church which has been handed down by tradition from the earliest time.”145
Which might be due to its unbridled use in other associations. Especially in
heretical movements, such as with Gnosticism. Where some reconstruction may
confirm its usage. If so, in opposition to the apostolic tradition.
In more recent times, the Azuza Street Revival (1906) is credited with giving
birth to the global Pentecostal movement—with its emphasis on speaking with
tongues. The Charismatic movement (emerging in the 1960s) carried over the
emphasis into mainline churches. As a result, the practice has greatly
As has controversy. Along with efforts to accommodate the differing points of
view. With profound implications for the pursuit of Christian unity.
Gender roles have come under increasing scrutiny with the rise of the
feminist movement. Although this has been a matter for reflection from
antiquity. One that is intensified in cross-cultural settings.
It serves to start from the beginning. “So God created man in his own image, in
the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27).
This sets forth four critical considerations. First, gender is associated with
being created in God’s image. Consequently, it is not permissible to think of
God in strictly male or female imagery. Although he is expressly identified as
our heavenly Father.
Second, this reference to gender sets the stage for God’s blessing humans with
fertility, and giving rise to his commanding them to populate the earth. As the
means of perpetuating the human race. Accenting that life is good; providing,
that is, it is lived according to divine precepts. Otherwise, it is prone to
Third, there is no qualitative difference between man and woman. Since both are
made in his image, and meant to glorify him. Individually, and likewise when
Finally, we learn that God made humans as social creatures. Thus to discover
their identity and destiny in relation to others. Leading to the conclusion,
“Living and working together is thus an integral expression of being in the
image of God.”146
Now paradise was an ideal setting. We are alerted to the fact that God walked in
the garden in the cool of the evening. Recalling when we lived in Jerusalem, I
would walk through the campus garden after a hot, stifling day.
Moreover, Adam was delegated the responsibility of caring for his environ. As
pleasing to God, and a pleasure he gladly shared with humans. Certainly not as
unwarranted or grievous.
It was also a pleasure meant to be shared. Through cooperative endeavor. While
given to expressing appreciation. Without taking things for granted. As a matter
of course, rather than on rare occasion.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals God had created.
“Did God really say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle
of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die?’” it impugned (Gen.
3:1). When assured that this was the case, it took issue: “You will not surely
die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you
will be like God, knowing good and evil.” As an expression of autonomy, without
recourse to divine guidance.
When Eve saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing in
appearance, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she ate of it and shared with
her husband. At this, they realized that they were naked, so they sewed fig
leaves together and made coverings for themselves. Having lost their sense of
innocence, they sensed an alienation from God and each other.
When Adam was confronted with their transgression, he protested: “The woman you
put here with me—she gave me some fruit of the tree, and I ate it.” While
faulting his partner, he alleges that God is the ultimate perpetrator.
“What is this that you have done?” God then inquired of Eve.
She replied, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” Led astray, she portrays
herself as the victim.
The serpent attempts no defense. It is perhaps pleased with the results, since
it views God as an adversary. Along with being cursed, there will be enmity
between its seed and the seed of the woman. But the latter will get the better
Turning back to the woman, God allows: “I will greatly increase your pain in
childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for
your husband, and he will rule over you.” “‘To love and to cherish’ becomes ‘To
desire and to dominate.’ While even pagan marriage can rise above this, the pull
of sin is always towards it.”147
Turning to the man, God observes: “Cursed is the ground because of you; through
painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. By the sweat of your
brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you
were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” “Having to toil in
order to live in a harsher environment, the first couple keenly felt the sting
of these penalties in daily living. That is, outside the garden the couple
continually experienced a foretaste of death.”148
Thus the stage was set for gender roles. Determined in part by the distinctive
features of the two sexes, and in part by social conditioning. As for the
former, the size of the male’s body and upper body strength provided an edge
when it came to such activities as hunting, herding, and warfare. On the other
hand, the woman’s reproductive capacity inclined her toward child bearing.
As for the latter, practices differ from one culture to the next. In this
regard, I recall how women during World War II took on industrial jobs once
thought appropriate only for men—as part of the war effort and with men more
likely serving in the military.
The activities which have traditionally involved men provided them with more
access to financial remuneration, and access to decision making. Coupled with
this was a higher sense of status. In a low birth society, this difference will
be less pronounced.
Gender roles are as a rule depicted in ideal terms. The way we think things
should be, not as we actually experience them. So persons of both genders are
expected to deal with what often appear to be harsh realities.
While the stay-at-home mother was once the norm, that is increasingly not the
case. Moreover, men sometimes assume this role. With sixty percent of those
enrolled in college reported to be female, this trend is likely to accelerate.
The church is not immune from gender considerations. The ordaining of women has
become a matter of controversy and division. In one instance, the senior pastor
was a woman, while her husband served as the associate pastor. In these
capacities, she as a rule delivered the sermon, while he focused on visitation.
This seemed to fit their respective personalities.
When I attended seminary, there were only two or three women in attendance. Now
many of the seminaries report that they are in the majority. Perhaps this is to
be expected as the gender roles become more fluid.
Few take issue with the fact that women have been greatly inhibited by the
adherence to gender roles. However, this does allow for practices detrimental to
society as such. As when pressuring women to join the work force, leaving their
infant children to make the best of a bad situation.
All things considered, the gender role issue requires that we set proper
priorities. In brief, these should focus on the welfare of people, rather than
the accumulation of possessions. As would be pleasing to God, and serve as an
impetus to life together.
We were not a church-going family. Mother supervised my prayer for a time,
and then left me on my own. I was what J. Edwin Orr refers to as a protheist,
one who thinks that God’s existence is more likely than not—but not highly
motivated in that regard.
Reporting for duty during World War II, the clerk asked for my religious
affiliation. “None,” I candidly replied. Not content with this, he insisted that
my dog tags should indicate some religious preference. “What options do I have?”
I inquired. Whereupon, he mentioned Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish as the most
frequent. While I opted for Protestant, none was the more credible alternative.
I subsequently decided to follow Jesus, following a chapel service. After which,
it occurred to me that I should attempt to identify others who shared my faith.
But I was uncertain as how to proceed. Initial efforts were unsuccessful. Then I
came across a fellow singing hymns while showering. A likely candidate, I
discovered that he was a lay preacher.
I eventually became involved with a Bible study and prayer group that met out by
the flight line. It was a meaningful experience, that accented our common
commitment. As such, it favorably disposed me toward Christian fellowship.
My extended time in Christian higher education, first as a student and then as a
faculty member, brought me into contact with persons from varying Christian
traditions. It was an enriching experience. And one that accented our common
faith, through study, worship, and service.
My long-term involvement with the Evangelical Theological Society also
strengthened my commitment to the ecumenical ideal. Founded in 1949, its stated
purpose was “To foster conservative Biblical scholarship by providing a medium
for the oral exchange and written expression of thought and research in the
general field of the theological disciples as centered in the Scriptures.”
As an extension of the term conservative, the society affirms: “The Bible alone,
and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore
inerrant in the autographs.” This is coupled with a commitment to Trinitarian
The notion of scholarship brings to mind the so-called Evangelical Renaissance
movement. An imprecise designation, it appealed to those of conservative
inclination who took academic endeavor seriously.
The means consisted of oral exchange and written expression. As for the former,
it brought me into contact with a wide range of scholarship. This provided the
opportunity for a stimulating exchange of ideas.
As for the latter, I periodically presented professional papers at a regional or
national meeting of the society. For instance, “Comparison of Lois LeBar and
Mark Fakkema’s Philosophies of Christian Education,” New England regional;
“Hermeneutic Considerations: Rabbinic, Hellenic, Pauline,” Mid-West regional;
“From Jewish Messiah to Hellenistic Christ,” national; “Christ anthropology,”
South-West regional; and “Postmodernism & the Quest for Truth,” national.
Inter-faith dialogue has also contributed significantly to my sense of Christian
unity. Rightly understood, dialogue consists of persons with differing
perspectives. As such, it serves to help us better understand the view of
others, while refining our own in the process. Recalling Augustine’s
observation, “All truth is God’s truth.”
In the midst of dialogue, a Jewish rabbi, another Christian, and I enlisted a
group of interested individuals. This allowed us to discuss a wide range of
theological issues, and establish cordial relationships.
One instance especially comes to mind. The esteemed author Joe Baily, had shared
with us the painful experience of his son’s death. When the meeting was
terminated, he was surrounded by rabbis trying to console him. Some were weeping
in the process. It was an exceedingly moving experience.
When taking up residence in Israel, I became involved in the Ecumenical
Fraternity. It had three stated objectives. First, “To deepen the Christian
relationship with Jews, Judaism and Israel.” With Jews, since while most
Christians feel an affinity to the Jewish people, relatively few have personal
acquaintances who are Jewish. Incidentally, familiarity with Jewish people has
proven to be very helpful to better understand Scripture.
With Judaism, because the Christian faith is deeply indebted to this tradition.
It was God who chose this people, and for us to respect his choice. For reasons
that may be obscure to us. Inciting the rabbis to speculate on the
With Israel, the Jewish national identity. As an effort to recover some of their
claim to the land promised to the patriarchs. In context of the tragic suffering
the people have experienced. While dealing realistically with the problems
Second, “To draw together the different Christian traditions into a theological
fraternity.” This was meant to constitute an “ecumenical group containing the
widest range of members from all the historic churches.” Both those of the
Eastern and Western rites: Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant.
I was especially made welcome by the Armenian Orthodox community. On one
occasion, my wife and I were invited to join them in remembrance of some who had
perished in a natural tragedy. We were the only ones outside of the community
invited to do so. On another occasion, I was introduced as the friend of the
Third, “To be a catalyst in Christian-Jewish dialogue and reconciliation
worldwide.” It was in the spirit of this endeavor that I subsequently authored:
The Elder Brother: A Christian Alternative to Anti-Semitism. “In Jewish
tradition, Israel is singled out as the elder brother. That is, it was chosen
first, so as to be a light to the nations. Consequently, it is the recipient of
special privileges and obligations.”149
Granted, Christians and Jews have been at odds with one another over the years.
As was occasionally the case with my elder brother. But I would much prefer to
recall all the good times we shared. So also concerning Christian-Jewish
Which brings to mind an occasion when I was having tea with an orthodox Jewish
rabbi, when he inexplicably broke out into laughter. When I inquired as to the
reason for his outburst, he observed: “If only my father could see me now,
enjoying tea with a goy (Gentile). Years later, he wrote to me: “We have
overcome the world.” By managing to reach out across the chasm that so often
separates Christians from Jews. And in the process, greatly enriched my
In retrospect, we live within a space-time continuum, characterized by change
and continuity. “Space is what we move around in, in three dimensions: left and
right, forward and backward, up and down. We see things spread out around us in
space, birds flying through the air, cows walking around us in a field. We can
move around in space from one place to another.”150 While it sometimes seems
inviting and at other times intimidating, we usually take it for granted.
Meanwhile, time appears related to duration. I calculated as a child that it
took me about ten minutes to walk to school, unless inhibited by a mean-tempered
dog, which caused me to assume a more indirect route. “However, we are told that
time proceeds at a different rate for a space traveler than one left behind on
earth. Were this not confusing enough, the perceptions of time differ according
to our vantage point. For instance, whether we are on a speeding train or
watching it from a road crossing.”151
Now our perception of time may be much more diversified than we imagine. For
instance, two of my siblings shared an apartment during their declining years.
Ken was a history buff, who dwelt at great length on the past. While Pauline
seemed focused on the things around her. The activity of one of their neighbors,
the temperature, and so on. It must have been with some difficulty that they
related to one another.
There was primeval time. Such as transpired during the dim dawn of human
history. Associated first with God, as a point of reference outside of time.
Providing humans with a dimension that transcends the space-time continuum.
This transcendent feature has been alluded to in various contexts. For instance,
Augustine allowed that God had created in humans a vacuum that only he would
fill. Otherwise, man must cope with the stranger within.
This was associated also with paradise. That idyllic portrait of living in God’s
presence, and enjoying his manifold blessings. Bringing to mind the pertinent
text, “I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches”
It was also a time for testing their righteous resolve. Accordingly, they failed
to get a passing grade. So it was that they forfeited their privileged
accommodation, and the benefits associated with it. The change was decidedly not
for the better.
It was not the best of situations, but neither was it the worst. The humans were
fallen, but not forsaken. Resulting in a qualified continuity.
As confirmed in chaos theory, even small changes in original conditions can have
disproportionate results. Consequently, the human race was deeply flawed. This
incited C. S. Lewis to introduce the notion of complex love, associated with
God’s love for his fallen creatures in their fallen condition.
It came to pass that Eve gave birth to a son, whom she called Cain. The name
appears to be a sound-alike for to get. She later birthed Abel, perhaps
associated with nuances of vanity, vapor, and fragile. If so, we are alerted to
his untimely demise.
“Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil” (Gen 4:2). In the course of
time, Cain brought to the Lord a token offering from his produce, while Abel
presented a choice portion—as if to honor a royal patron. Consequently, the Lord
was pleased with the latter, but not the former. Causing Cain to be so angry
with his brother.
“Why are you angry?” God inquired of Cain. “If you do what is right, will you
not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your
door. It desires to master you, but you must master it.” Sin is thus depicted as
a wild beast, that must be contained or it will devour its victim.
Failing to take God’s counsel to heart, Cain encouraged his sibling to accompany
him into the field. There he attacked Abel and killed him. Pretending that he
did not know what had become of him, Cain protested: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
Perhaps meant to imply that he could not be expected to keep constant watch over
“What have you done?” the Lord exclaimed. “Listen! Your brother’s blood cries
out to me from the ground.” Thus are we reminded of the depth of human
Now it came to pass that “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth
had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only
evil all the time” (Gen. 6:5). One could hardly imagine a more scathing
indictment: by way of the comprehensive terms every, only, and all.
By way of contrast. “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his
time, and he walked with God.” So it was that the Lord instructed him to
construct an ark for the saving of his family, and the perpetuation of the human
race. Since it was his intent to bring a great flood, as if to cleanse the earth
of its contagion.
From the analogy of a potter, this resembled an occasion when he observes that
his project is seriously compromised, and recasts his clay. With the intent of
fashioning a vessel both functional and aesthetically pleasing.
When the flood waters had subsided, God covenanted with Noah. In Jewish
tradition, this is thought to be a confirmation of his original covenant with
Adam. As such, it pertains to the nations— as a guideline for the righteous
Gentile. That is, those who reach out to God from the depth of their depravity.
The Lord subsequently enjoined Abram: “Leave your country, your people and your
father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a
great nation and I will bless you. I will make your name great, and you will be
a blessing., I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will
curse; and all the people on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen. 12:1-3).
“The progression from your country, through your people, to your father’s
household accents his thorough break with former ways. While at considerable
cost, it was not without substantial compensation. In this regard, God’s I will
stands over against Abram’s you shall.”152 Consequently, his name would be
appreciatively recalled by subsequent generations.
The Lord would eventually be identified as the God of Abraham (Abram), Isaac,
and Jacob. As the God of the patriarchs. Soliciting faith, as set by the
precedent of Abraham and those who carried on his legacy. Not that all were
aware of this initiative in salvation history, or being informed, were not
A classic instance I have appreciatively alluded to on other occasions, concerns
Clement Idachaba. He was raised in the home of a village priest. So it was that
he helped prepare the sacrifices to be offered at the sacred tree.
Now Clement became seriously ill. His parents turned to traditional medicine and
religious ritual to restore his health. It was to no avail. His parents were
alerted to the fact that a man of God was in the vicinity. This term was
reserved for priests of the High God, not unlike Melchizedek—who blessed Abraham
upon his return from rescuing Lot and his possessions (cf. Gen. 14:13-24).
“In fact, belief in the High God appears so pervasive among traditional peoples
as to be virtually without exception. It is said that he is called by several
thousand names of record. Some have supposed this application a corruption of an
original monotheism.”153 As for confirmation, I was assured by a village person,
“Although we call him by different names, he is the same.”
When this priest of the Most High interceded on behalf of Clement, he took a
sudden turn for the better. This convinced him that the High God had some
service for him to render, but was at a loss as to what it might be—since this
deity was by definition inscrutable.
Some time later Clement encountered an orange skin, so called because his skin
resembled the inside of an orange. This missionary assured Clement that God so
loved the world that he sent his only Son so that any who believed in him would
enjoy everlasting life. Now it was commonly understood that a father’s ways are
revealed in his offspring, so Clement assumed that God’s will for his life would
When I first met Clement, he was teaching at the mission compound. Sometime
later, his father (the village priest) made known his intent to become a
follower of Jesus. It seems that he had waited for some time, assuming that his
son would return to the security afforded by the sacred tree. When this did not
happen, he concluded that Clement must have encountered a greater power. One
that he now coveted for himself.
Picking up again with the course of salvation history, the chosen people were
subject to oppressive slavery in Egypt. Moreover, Pharaoh ordered that any male
children born of Hebrew mothers were to be executed. Girls were allowed to live
with the prospect of assimilation into Egyptian society.
So it was that the angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in a burning bush. “Was
it a supernatural vision or was it an actual physical phenomenon? If the latter,
did he see a bramble bush literally blazing in the desert; or the shrub called
‘burning bush’ in brilliant flower; or the sunset light falling on a thrown bush
and producing the effect of flames?”154 All of these alternatives have been
In any case, Moses was told to deliver the Israelites from their oppressive
bondage. He was understandably reluctant to take on such a formidable task. But
when God insisted, he confronted Pharaoh with God’s ultimatum. When the ruler
refused, plagues beset the land. Once the obstinate ruler had allowed the
Israelites to depart, he had a change of mind, and set out to recover them.
Along with disastrous results, since his forces perished while giving chase.
“It was from this particular juncture some three thousand years ago that the
national Jewish identity was truly shaped,” Rabbi Eckstein observes. “From this
primal event some of the most profound affirmations ever to be made by the
Jewish people were drawn. Most notable among those propositions was the notion
that God is present in human lives, that he hears the cries of the suffering and
tormented, and that he intervenes in history to redeem him from oppression.”155
The Israelites subsequently covenanted with God in the wilderness. In this
regard, they were set apart as people meant to serve the Lord. Moreover, in this
capacity, they resembled a light to the Gentiles. Recalling the fact that God is
a universal sovereign, rather than some patron benefactor.
This was in anticipation of making their way to the land of promise. But when
intimidated by its inhabitants, they retreated into the wilderness—where they
wandered until a generation had passed away. After Moses’ demise, the Lord
informed Joshua that it was time to take possession of the land. On this
occasion there was no turning back.
Following the conquest, there intervened the turbulent time of the judges.
During which the people would fall away, and fall prey to some alien power. At
which, they would cry out to the Lord. When delivered, they would enjoy peace
for a time. Only to repeat the cycle, with tragic predictability.
“When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as judges for Israel” (1 Sam. 8:1).
However, “They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and
perverted justice.” So all the elders petitioned him, “You are old, and your
sons do not walk in your ways, now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the
other nations have.” Samuel was displeased, and reluctant to allow for their
request—so that he turned to the Lord in prayer.
Was there something wrong in their petition? Yes, in that they wanted to follow
the pattern of the nations around them. As a matter of security, revealing a
lack of trust in the Lord’s guidance and enablement. Conversely, could the
monarchy serve God’s purposes? Yes, so the Lord informed Samuel to do as they
asked of him.
Saul, David, and Solomon all started out well, but floundered as time wore on.
David remained the least tarnished by their defections. For instance, the Lord
encouraged Solomon: “As for you, if you walk before me as David your father did,
and do all I command, and observe my decrees and laws, I will establish your
royal throne, as I covenanted with David your Father” (2 Chron. 7:17-18).
In particular, the depth of David’s repentance was worthy of emulation. In this
regard, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to
your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Create in me a pure heart, O
God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psa. 51:1, 10). Taking cognizance
of the fact that “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and
contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Just so!
The kingdom was sustained by an intricate system of checks and balances. It goes
without saying that the monarch proved to be the most dominant unifying figure.
Qualifications aside, the people prospered under a wise ruler, and otherwise
“The priests and their ritual practices were yet another significant ingredient
in the on-going life of the Monarchy. They served to recall God’s faithfulness,
and anticipate his blessings on condition of keeping the stipulations of the
covenant.”156 Ritual was not meant to substitute for religious piety.
The prophets were a prime feature. It was their unenviable task to fine-tune the
Monarchy to its covenant ideal. This required righteous resolve in the face of
imposing obstacles and threatening opposition.
There were also the sage mentors. Such as those who gave counsel to the ruler.
As likewise represented by the elders. As likewise applicable to parents.
Finally, there was the populace. Expressed in the consent to be governed.
Recalling the observation, “Where there are no followers, there is no leader.”
With the division of the Monarchy, the Northern Kingdom fared better, drawing on
times of spiritual renewal. But ultimately to be overcome by the Babylonians.
The exile swept away the more influential of the Jewish community. Leaving a
remnant to manage as best it could. The prophets, who had been warning of
impending disaster, now turned to holding out hope for a repentant people. In
terms of a return from exile, and at some point, the coming of the Messiah.
Meanwhile, the situation appeared chaotic for those who remained in the land.
Recalling the imagery associated with creation, before God brought order out of
chaos (cf. Jer. 4:23). As a lingering reminder of their failure to keep their
After what must have seemed like an eternity for some, Cyrus decreed: “Anyone of
the people among you—may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem in
Judah and build the temple of the Lord, the God of Israel. And the people of any
place where survivors may be living are to provide him with silver and gold,
with goods and livestock, and with freewill offerings for the temple of God in
Jerusalem” (Ezra 1:3-4).
“The whole company numbered 42,360, besides their 7,337 menservants and
maidservants; and they also had 200 men and women singers. They had 736 horses,
245 mules, 435 camels and 6,729 donkeys” (Ezra 2:64-67). Their return from exile
was aptly described as the new exodus.
There was opposition from those dwelling in the land. There was controversy.
Conversely, there was resolve. Eventually, there was limited success.
“The school of the prophets seemed to have withered on the vine. For the
calloused, this may have come as welcome relief, but for the devout the silence
must have been deafening. Some relied heavily on tradition, while others were
more concerned to accommodate to the times and circumstances.”157
The interlude between the Old and New Testaments was certainly not uneventful.
Philip of Macedon took the initial step toward forming the Hellenic League. With
his death, Alexander carried on his father’s ambitious agenda. In this regard,
he would extend his empire from the Balkans south to Egypt, and east to India.
Eleven years after his incursion into Asia Minor, he lay dead at the age of
thirty-three. Hellenism would survive its militant advocate.
Alexander’s generals divided the spoils. Ptolemy seizing Egypt and Seleucus I
consolidating the region from Syria to Iran. Each coveted Palestine as a
strategic buffer zone. The resulting tensions gave rise to the Maccabean revolt.
“Laws against the practice of Judaism were repealed. Judas and his followers
were granted immunity from reprisal, and a fragile peace ensued. Jews were
subsequently freed from taxation. This was considered tantamount to
Herod the Great was an enterprising son of the Idumean governor Antipater. He
was appointed Procurator of Judea, with the promise that he would succeed
himself as king. His rule spanned the eventful years of 37 B.C. to 4 A.D.,
setting the stage for the eventful time and life of Jesus as the Messiah.
It was as if all heaven had broken loose. Angels announced the Messiah was about
to be born. Magi traveled from the East to witness the event. Herod attempted
without success to take his life. Once the tyrant was dead, an angel informed
Joseph that it was safe to return from Egypt—from where they had fled.
Jesus kept a relatively low profile during his maturing years. Most seemed
unaware of the remarkable events surrounding his birth. Joseph and Mary marveled
at what had been told to them concerning Jesus.
Now John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness, “Prepare the way for the
Lord, make straight paths for him” (Luke 3:4). When asked if he was the Messiah,
he deferred to one far greater than he.
The duration of Jesus’ public ministry was only about three years. Initially,
people were impressed that he taught with authority, rather than drawing on
tradition—as was the custom. His teaching was captivating, coupled with
However, the Messianic profile was obscure, due to seemingly contradictory
ingredients. On the one hand, he was thought to ascend the throne of David,
while on the other hand, in the role of a suffering servant. This led some to
conclude that there would be two Messiahs, but the populace naturally focused on
Many hoped that he would lead a rebellion against Rome, but were disappointed.
The religious establishment saw him as a serious threat to its privileged
position. He was criticized for associating with sinners (religiously
non-observant). It was finally decided to do away with him, at a favorable time
so not to incense the populace.
Matters were coming to a head. Jesus entered Jerusalem with a large and
enthusiastic following. There was confrontation in the temple precinct. He was
taken prisoner, and charged with insurrection. Interrogated by the Roman
governor Pilate, the official found no reason for his execution.
Not content with having Jesus flogged, graphically described as the half-way
death, those opposed demanded that he be put to death. Pilate, concerned to
maintain the pax Romana (peace of Rome), consented to their demands. Jesus was
crucified, along with two criminals—once on either side of him.
Some grieved while others applauded. As for the latter, they sighed a corporate
sigh of relief. He who they supposed had troubled Israel was disposed of. Life
could get back on track.
They were wrong. Three days later, reports began to circulate concerning the
resurrection of Jesus. Having further ministered to his disciples, he ascended
to the right hand of the Father. There to intercede on behalf of his followers.
Along with the promise to return, in order to bring in the Kingdom in its
As noted earlier, they were to await the outpouring of the Holy Spirit before
proclaiming the Gospel both near and far. Hence, they were bonded together, in
keeping with Jesus’ earnest petition that they be one. Which, in turn, recalls
Hippolytus’ graphic imagery: “The sea is the world, in which the church is set.
She is like a ship; tossed in the deep, but not destroyed. For she has with her
the skilled pilot, Christ. Like the wind. The Spirit from heaven is present, and
He seals those who believe.”159 Providing not only dramatic change, but notable
continuity in the course of salvation history.
1. F. F. Bruce, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 73.
2. Gordon Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 734.
3. Ibid., p. 2.
4. Morris Inch, In Christ & On Track, p. 3.
5. Ibid., p. 4.
6. Leon Morris, I Corinthians, p. 162.
7. Ibid., p. 165.
8. Fee, op. cit., p. 683.
9. Joint Declaration of the Doctrine of Justification, 2.
10. Ronald Fung, The Epistle to the Galatians, p. 40.
11. R. Alan Cole, Galatians, p. 131.
12. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, p. 45.
13. Ibid., pp. 47-48.
14. Cole, op. cit., p. 193.
15. Morris Inch, Potpourri #2, p. 140.
16. James Adamson, The Epistle of James, p. 177.
17. Morris Inch, The Wonder of It All, p. 99.
18. Friedrich Schleiermacher, Hermeneutics: The Handwitten Manuscripts, p. 69.
19. Ibid., p. 47.
20. Hans-George Gadamer, Method and Truth, p. 273.
21. Inch, The Wonder of It All, p. 101.
22. Alvin Schmidt, Under the Influence, p. 285.
23. R. T. France, Matthew, pp. 113-114.
24. Douglas Hare, Matthew, p, 260.
25. The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians, III.
26. Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata, IV, xiv.
27. Morris Inch, The Enigma of Justice, p. vii.
28. Gustav Gutierrez, “A Spirituality of Liberation,” A Reader in Political
Theology (Kee, ed.), p. 95.
29. Robert Mounce, Matthew, p. 38.
30. Ibid., p. 97.
31. Walter Brueggemann, Living Toward a Vision, p. 16.
32. Ibid., p. 24.
33. Ibid., p. 27.
34. Ibid., p. 28.
35. C. Mason Weaver, It’s OK To Leave the Plantation, p. 60.
36. Brueggemann, op.cit., p. 31.
37. Ibid., p. 34.
38. James Montgomery Boice, Acts, p. 202.
39. Bruce, op cit., p. 181.
40. Harding Meyer, That All May Be One, p. 30.
41. B. K. Kuiper, The Church in History, p. 77.
42. Meyer, op. cit., pp. 31-32.
43. Mounce, op. cit., p. 162.
44. Paul Spickard & Devin Cragg, God’s People, p. 171.
45. Meyer, op. cit., p. 16.
46. Fee, op. cit., p. 550.
47. Marvin Wilson, Our Father Abraham, p. 246.
48. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics., p. 279.
49. John Westerhoff III, Living the Faith Community, p. 27.
50. Morris Inch, Thumbs Up For the Family, p. vii.
51. John Hartley, Genesis, pp. 63-64.
52. Gordon Wenham, Genesis 1-15, p. 67.
53. Leon Morris, The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians, p. 856.
54. Chaim Clorfene and Yakov Rogalsky, The Path of the Righteous Gentile, p.
55. D. Jeffrey Bingham, “Irenaeus and the Kingdoms of the World,” God & Caesar
(Bauman and Hall, eds.), pp. 30, 32.
56. Ibid., p. 33; cf. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, V. 24, 1-3.
57. Jay Stack, “How Christians Can Have an Impact on Volunteers,” Citizen
Christians (Land & Moore, eds.), p. 120.
58. John Goldingay, Isaiah, p. 59.
59. Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, p. 229.
60. Ibid., pp. 230-231.
61. F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John, p. 108.
62. The Common Book of Prayer, The Twenty-seventh Sunday after Trinity.
63. Craig Evans, Luke, p. 181.
64. Morris Inch, Doing Theology Across Cultures, p. 27.
65. Marvin Mayers, Christianity Confronts Culture, p.243.
66. David Williams, Acts, p. 256.
67. Clorefene and Rogalsky, op. cit., p. 5.
68. Bruce, The Book of Acts, p. 330.
69. Ibid., p. 331.
70. Ibid., p. 337.
71. Oscar Cullmann, “Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Dead,”
Immortality and Resurrection (Stendal, ed.), p. 19.
72. Morris Inch, Making the Good News Relevant, p. 67.
73. Ibid., p. 68.
74. William Johnsson, Defilement and Purgation in the Book of Hebrews, p. 139.
75. Mary Evans, 1 and 2 Samuel, pp. 41-42.
76. Daniel Estes, “Psalm 101 and the Echoes of Political Leadership,” God and
(Bauman and Hall, eds.), p. 13.
77. Morris Inch, The Enigma of Justice, p. 17.
78. Estes, op. cit., p. 19.
79. Michael Bauman, “The Dangerous Samaritans: How We Unintentionally Injure the
Poor,” God and Caesar (Bauman and Hall, eds.), p. 201.
81. Ibid., p. 209.
82. Ibid., p. 215.
83. Hartley, op. cit., p. 48.
84. Ibid., pp. 63-64.
85. John Stott, Same-Sex Partnerships? p. 22.
86. James Edwards, Romans, p. 55.
87. Stott, op. cit., pp. 41-44.
88. Ibid., pp. 44-45.
89. Ibid., pp. 57-58.
90. Justin Martyr, Dialogue With Trypho I, xv.
91. Fee, op. cit., p. 643,
92. Morris Inch, Devotions With David: A Christian Legacy, pp. 27-28.
93. Donald Guthrie, The Pastoral Epistles, p. 69.
94. Gordon Fee, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, p. 107.
95. Guthrie, op. cit., p. 151.
96. Fee, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, p. 270.
97. Ibid., pp. 286-287.
98. Ronald Enroth, Churches That Abuse, p. ix.
99. Robert Ellwood, Religious and Spiritual Groups in Modern America, pp. 27-31.
100. Enroth, op cit., p. 93.
101. Ibid., p. 99.
102. Ronald Enroth, Recovering From Churches That Abuse, p. 49.
103. Stephen Arterburn and Jack Felton, Toxic Faith, p. 36.
104. F. F. Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, Philemon, and to the
Ephesians, p. 330.
105. Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, vol. 3, p. 907.
106. Ignatius, To Polycarp, 7.
107. Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, pp. 531-532.
108. Ibid., p. 536.
109. Erickson, op. cit., p. 915.
110. Ibid., p. 917.
111. Ibid., pp. 927-928.
112. Morris Inch, Pain as a Means of Grace, p. 70.
113. Erickson, op. cit., p. 1008.
114. John Walton & Victor Mathews, Genesis-Deuteronomy p. 92.
115. Iain Provan, 1 and 2 Kings, p. 132.
116. Morris Inch, “Manifestation of the Spirit,” The Living and Active Word of
God (Inch and Youngblood, eds.), pp. 149-155.
117. F. F. Bruce, Commentary on the Book of the Acts, p. 69.
118. Francis Schaeffer, The Mark of the Christian, p. 15.
119. C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, p. 111.
120. Morris Inch, Psychology in the Psalms, p. 11.
121. Leander Keyser, A Handbook of Christian Psychology, pp. 128-131.
122. Inch, Psychology in the Psalms, p. 22.
123. David Meyers, “The Mystery of the Ordinary,” Psychology of Religion
(Maloney, ed.), p. 407.
124. Ibid., p. 409.
125. Ibid., p. 410.
126. Ibid., p. 412.
127. Millard Erickson, “Immanence, Transcendence, and the Doctrine of
Scripture,” The Living and Active Word of God (Inch and Youngblood, eds.), pp.
128. Ibid., p. 195.
129. Ibid., p. 201.
130. H. Edwin Young, “Rebuild the Walls in America Tody,” Citizen Christians
(Land and Moore, eds.), p. 23.
131. Ibid., pp. 23-24.
132. Ibid., p. 29.
133. Arthur Cundall & Leon Morris, Judges & Ruth, p. 67.
134. Morris Inch, Potpourri, p. 139.
135. Peter Berger, The Noise of Solemn Assemblies, pp. 103-104.
136. David Farber (ed.), The Sixties: From Memory to History, p. 1.
137. Mary Sheil McMahon, “The American State and the Vietnam War,” The Sixties
(Farber, ed.), pp. 45-46.
138. George Lipsitz, “Who’ll Stop the Rain?” The Sixties (Farber, ed.), p. 206.
139. Ibid., p. 208.
140. William Watkins, The New Absolutes, p. 21.
141. Ibid., pp. 45-46.
142. Inch, “Amos Still Speaks,” pp. 143-146.
143. Ibid., p. 146.
144. Morris, The Gospel According to John, p. 195.
145. Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, V, 17, 3.
146. Hartley, op. cit., p. 49.
147. Derek Kidner, Genesis, p. 171.
148. Hartley, op. cit., p. 71.
149. Morris Inch, The Elder Brother, p. 1.
150. Mary and John Bribbin, Time and Space, p. 6.
151. Morris Inch, Space/Time Odyssey, pp. 7-8.
152. Ibid., p. 47.
153. Morris Inch, The High God, p. 7.
154. R. Alan Cole, Exodus, p. 64.
155. Yechiel Eckstein, How Firm a Foundation, p. 76.
156. Inch, Space/Time Odyssey, p. 92.
157. Ibid., pp. 99-100.
158. Ibid., p. 102.
159. Hippolytus, Treatise on Christ and Antichrist, 59.
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