Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Some questions about Christ and about the word of God

Is there danger in denying the validity of various parts of Scripture? Is it a problem to the church to decide to only listen to Jesus with the thought that his words are above all other scripture? That somehow his words are more inspired than any other parts of Scripture. Or what of the idea that one hears Jesus, by way of the Holy Spirit, not just in the Scripture but in culture and experience.

For someone who loves studying history, Church history, and particularly that part of Church history that encompasses the period of the Confessing Church in Germany, it is sad as well as frightening to understand where some beliefs about Scripture and Christ can lead.

During that time when the Confessing Church was the most tormented by the German Christians who were aligned with the Nazi government so very much depended on one’s view of Scripture. In fact the liberalism of the 19th century in Germany opened the door to the beliefs of the German Christians.

Rudolf Wentorf, author of, Paul Schneider: Witness of Buchenwald, quotes one German Christian, a bishop, calling his words typical. The quote shows the German Christians’ need to find a different authority than the simple word of God. Wentorf quotes “Bishop” Helnrich Oberheid as he speaks on “April 26, 1936 at a district meeting of the “German Christians in Jena:”

The New Testament cannot be considered as an appendage of the Old Testament. It is crass to read the message of the New Testament through the eyes of the Old Testament. Luther pushed aside a centuries old tradition and broke through to the Scriptures. We have continued the search for 400 hundred years and have broken through to the Savior. This intellectual work spanning 400 hundred years must not be suppressed. We have broken through to the Savior for he is the Word of God and not the whole Bible. We will remove the Old Testament, and we will also critically examine the New Testament. The Jew named Paul cannot be a standard, just as any confession from the past cannot be either. We will demand that many, many verses from the New Testament appear before the judgment seat as well. (Italics mine.)

The truth is Jesus, God with us, is heard in all of the Scripture because it is his word.
But what troubles me is the historical consequence of the continuing denial of Scripture by those within the mainline denominations. Slightly over seventy years ago some in what was thought of as a church (It wasn’t) were able to embrace evil by laying aside the authority of Scripture, by suggesting that Jesus minus much of his word was enough to hear.

And what did they hear?  They heard their own culture speaking to them. They heard the romantic forests and meadows of Germany, but not the voice of Christ in the Scriptures. They heard the voice of their poets, and philosophers and, yes, even their theologians, but not the voice of Jesus speaking his ancient words in the Scripture.  And finally, they heard the voices of ancient pagans and the gods of dark forces. But they did not hurry away to the safety of Scripture.  And then they heard their own voices and the voices of those who were willing to embrace anything for the sake of power.

And power, alongside cruelty, is once again waiting in the wings, hoping to be heard by those who reject the voice of Scripture.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Psalm 119:105 Your word have I treasured in my heart that I may not sin against you. 119:11 How sweet are your words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth! From your precepts I get understanding; Therefore I hate every false way. 119:103-104

Monday, April 28, 2014

The 2014-2015 Horizon's Bible Study "Reconciling Paul" - a continuing review # 6

Lesson six in the Presbyterian Women’s Bible study covers 2 Corinthians 2:14-17 and 6:16-7:1. In the study, “Reconciling Paul,” written by Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty, lesson six is “The Aroma of God Among Us.” In this case the lesson ends with a different aroma; the aroma of an evil saint and false teaching.  Hinson-Hasty both twists the Scripture and finds a method for deleting Scripture which in the end allows for participation in a false gospel.

The author begins with 2 Corinthians 2:14-17 which is:

“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things? For we are not like many peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God.”

There is a controversy among scholars over what kind of parade God is leading. Is it a Triumphal parade such as an ancient conqueror might lead or is it some other kind? It is a legitimate disagreement, but for Hinson-Hasty the argument hinges on whether incense was used in ancient triumphal processions. While she picks what is called an Epiphany Procession, scholar Colin Kruse chooses a Triumphal parade and part of his reasoning is that there is evidence for incense burned in such a procession.[1]

His other reason, the main one, is that after Paul has enumerated all of the trials he and the other apostles have gone through, he finds it important to speak of the keeping power of God. And it is also important to understand that through the trials, while walking in the victory of Christ, the message (aroma) of God is spreading for the salvation of those who are being saved.

Hinson-Hasty could have used the idea of an Epiphany Procession in somewhat the same way, although it is not about triumph. But instead she focuses on the herald in the epiphany procession who proclaims the approach of a deity. And Hinson-Hasty connects this to both the aroma of God and the carrying in the body the death of Jesus and writes:

Remember that in Lesson Four we explored the idea that carrying in the body the death of Jesus means resisting the forces all around us that try to divide us according to our differences and disrupt our life lived in relationship. (Italics mine)

And once again unity for a Christian is based on diversity rather than life in Christ. Hinson-Hasty’s important point is that Christians must resist anything that disrupts unity in diversity.  But diversity needs a qualifier as we shall see at the end of the lesson.

Hinson-Hasty goes on to address 2 Corinthians 6:14-71. She connects it to her idea of the herald of a procession and asks “how can we and do we make God’s presence visible in the world?” She also asks “How do our bodies become temples of the living God? And she later asks: Where do we smell, see, and otherwise experience the aroma of God in the world? How do we brush up against the divine and carry holiness into the crowds of today?

One of Hinson-Hasty’s answers is rightly a part of the outcome of our being in Christ. That is, “Being the aroma of God and becoming a temple of the living God means drawing closer to others as we embody God’s presence through acts of reconciliation and love.”

But the other part of her answer is a false understanding of kindness, truth and being the temple of God. And this is where 2 Corinthians 6:14-71 is addressed. At the end of the study is a page entitled, “Points to Ponder.” These are placed here and there in all the lessons.  Hinson-Hasty writes about the idea that this section of the text, 6:14-7:1, may be an ‘interpolation.’ That is it seems to disrupt the text that preceded it; so perhaps someone else either wrote it or edited 2 Corinthians using 6:14-7:1.  But Hinson-Hasty goes much further, suggesting that what is written in the text is in contradiction to Paul's earlier words: 

That is the main body of the text that is considered the problem:

 “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God …”

After exploring the text and where she believes it is in contradiction Hinson-Hasty turns to one of her advisers. (This is a group of women who are studying with her.) She writes:

Presbyterian minister Rose Niles made an astute observation during a study group discussion formed for reading the passage. She said that sometimes it helps to put quotation marks around the problematic aspects of Paul’s writings, since “a lot of the time the interpolation is exactly what Paul is arguing against.”

Hinson-Hasty goes on to state that in this case Paul is not arguing against certain practices but is clarifying his own authority among the Corinthians. And within the body of the lesson, she writes of this text that Christians have misused it: “These references have served as a basis for exclusion by supporting arguments against Christians marrying nonbelievers and preventing Christians from consorting with those thought to be promiscuous.” But while the Christian ideas Hinson-Hasty disagrees with are not particularly helpful, her dismissal of the text is deadly.  The emphasis in the text is on not participating or agreeing with pagan worship, which Paul considered demonic.  

Kruse reminds his reader that in Colossians Paul writes of God transferring believers from the kingdom of darkness into the “Kingdom of God’s own Son.” Continuing Kruse writes:

Thus those who have been transferred into the kingdom of Christ and light can have no fellowship with Satan and the dominion of darkness. In 1 Corinthians 10:14-22 Paul speaks of participation in pagan worship as fellowship with demons, and his question, What accord has Christ with Belial?, probably reflects concern in the same area. In this case his fourth rhetorical question, Or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?, would be best interpreted also in relation to worship, and the call for separation which the whole passage makes should then be related not to the day to day contacts that believers have with unbelievers (cf. 1 Cor. 5:9-10), but to the matter of pagan worship. (Italics the author’s)

But this action of being a part of pagan worship, blessing it and not  condemning those believers who participate, is exactly how Hinson-Hasty ends lesson six. 

She writes of going with a group from Presbytery of the Peaks to Guatemala where they were to study the “the history of the conquest and colonization in Guatemala, the military violence of the 1980’s, and the impact of more recent U.S. economic policy on the people there.” 

While at Santiago Atitlán, according to Hinson-Hasty, they followed a wedding procession into a church.  Her focus, in telling the story was on what she refers to as a folk saint, in this case a wooden statue that was supposedly carried into the church for the wedding. Hinson-Hasty writes of the statue, “Maximón is thought to be a blending of the pre-Columbian belief in the Mayan god Mam with Catholicism. But earlier she writes:

The saint, Ma Ximón, was decorated with flowers and appeared to be smoking a cigarette. Those carrying Maximón into the sanctuary were literally bringing the aroma of God near and into the crowds gathered there.

The truth is that Maximón, although considered a folk hero; really more of a trickster, by many Mayan Catholics, is rarely accepted by the Catholic priests. One of the early legends about Maximón and an explanation for why he has no arms is the men of a village caught him consorting (sexually) with their wives so they cut off his arms.

In Atitlán, Maximón is placed in a different home each year. He is given gifts of tobacco and alcohol by his adherents in exchange for answered prayers which can include curses on enemies.  And it is surprising that Hinson-Hasty and her group were able to follow him into a church since generally he is not allowed a place in the sanctuary. In fact in his earlier history the priests turned him into Judas in order to wean the people away from him. His carriers were not bringing the aroma of God near, they were carrying an evil idol who some call the evil saint. [2]

Hinson-Hasty’s example of bringing the aroma of God near is blasphemy. She considers that she and her companions "crossed over the water and crossed over a cultural divide."  They shared in what would be considered even by most Catholics a pagan ceremony.  And it is the perfect example of how not to obey the words of Scripture. “Or what harmony has Christ with Belial.”

[1] Colin Kruse, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, 2 Corinthians, General Editor, Rev. Leon Morris, reprint (Leicester, England: William B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press 1987, 1997).

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The PMAB: touching on Christology in the suffering of the saints

The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board met this week. One of their activities was deciding what comments to put on overtures coming to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s General Assembly. I saw a comment on what was overture -053 and is now item 08-02.. The Item “A Resolution of Spiritual and Material Support for the persecuted Church. is short and concise:

The Presbytery of Upper Ohio Valley overtures the 221st General Assembly (2014) to do the following:
1.    Ask that all members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and all Christians everywhere, be in prayer for these believers and for their persecutors.

2.    Direct the General Assembly Mission Agency either to institute a new special offering to provide financial or other material support to those persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ, as well as for their families; or, to designate a certain percentage of monies collected in one or more of the already existing special offerings for this purpose.1

1.            A case could be made that such support might come from either the Peacemaking offering or the One Great Hour of Sharing offering or both.

The Church is called to prayer for those who suffer due to their faith. The Presbyterian Mission Agency reminds commissioners and advisory delegates the suffering of the church in the world is not only due to “persecution”, but there are many factors involved. These include geopolitical and economic factors. The General Assembly should consider all the factors that result in and contribute to sectarian violence. Use of the word “persecution” mischaracterizes the nature of the maltreatment of Christians in the world, and in many cases would be unhelpful exaggeration.

 With respect to Special Offerings, research has continually shown during each of the last two reviews of Special Offerings by the Special Offerings Advisory Task Force the church is unwilling and unable to  sustain a fifth special offering.

 The Presbyterian Mission Agency suggests that if the General Assembly desires to address the substance of this overture through Special Offerings, that it consider building upon this new understanding of the “Peace and Global Witness Offering” rather than creating a new offering, or changing the distribution of an existing offering.” (Italics mine.)

The vote was yes, place the comment on the overture.
I am having trouble seeing or thinking straight here. The word ‘monsters’ keeps going through my head although I know I should not use it. Logic does not work against hatefulness; it doesn’t wash away the bloody stain that is so cruelly being ignored.  I could write all night piling up scene after scene of the persecution of Christians around the world. More Christians have died for Christ in the last century than all of Christian history together.

Often,  ChurchandWorld, Editor, Hans Cornelder ,puts up an article of horrible, wretched persecution of Christians around the world. Just today he linked to this: Punjab: clan gang rapes seven year old Christian and kidnaps father to stop him reporting them. On the twenty-first, Cornelder linked to this “Muslim in Uganda Kills Daughter for Leaving Islam.” On April the 11th he linked to this, “Islamic Mob kills Coptic Christian woman in Cairo

An excellent article, Rediscovering the Martyrology by George Weigel of First Things, suggests Christians , for Lent, read a recent book by John Allen. The book The Global War on Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution (Image), tells more than the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board wants to hear:

 “That witness includes, in his book, a continent-by-continent overview of anti-Christian persecution, a debunking of various myths about anti-Christian persecution, and some counsel on what can be done to support those who are literally putting their lives at risk for love of the Lord and the Gospel. Most poignant for Lenten reading, of course, are those parts of Allen’s book that truly are a contemporary martyrology: his telling of the stories of such martyrs of our time as Shabhaz Bhatti of Pakistan, Ashur Yakub Issa of Iraq, the Tibhirine monks of Algeria, and the pastors and church elders who were crushed to death by a bulldozer in front of their North Korean place of worship.”

There can be no greater shame poured on our denomination than the words placed on the overture 053/08-02 by the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board.  Jesus accused Paul of persecuting him when he persecuted the church. We are touching on Christology in the suffering of the saints. The commissioners to GA221 must ignore the comments of the PMAB or be guilty themselves of denying Christ.

The ousting of Rev. Albert Butzer from being moderator of the Middle East Committee: new articles and my thoughts

Rather than update my original post, “Ousting the Moderator of the General Assembly Middle East Committee: an ideological power play” I believe it will be helpful to do another posting on the purging of Rev. Albert Butzer from the GA Middle East  issues committee.  I want to write again for several reasons.

1.To direct my readers to an excellent article at the Presbyterian Outlook by Butzer himself.

2.To direct the reader to an article at the Presbyterian News Service concerning Moderator Neil Presa and his decision. I will have more to say about that below.

3.To explain what a Moderator of a General Assembly Committee actually does and why it is a travesty that Butzer was forced to resign.

4.What might be helpful regarding the actions of the leadership of the PCUSA.

The Presbyterian Outlook provides the reader with the clearest view of the man Rev. Albert Butzer by publishing his article, “How I would have moderated the Committee On Middle East Issues (had I not been asked to resign).” 

Butzer tells Outlook readers of his experiences in Palestinian refugee camps and his visit with Palestinian Father Elias Chacour.  He actually gives the reader a description of Chacour’s remembrances of his loss of a childhood home:

“I would have told them [the commissioners in his committee] about the day we met Father Elias Chacour, a true blessing, and how he told us the terrible story of the day in the late 1940s when an Israeli tank commander rolled into the little town of Biram in Galilee and said to Chacour’s father:

“We are here to protect the village. You have no business here anymore.”

“Protect our village?” said Chacour’s father. “You are here to destroy it.”

“This land is ours now,” said the soldier pointing his gun at them, “so get out.”

“No,” said the Palestinian, “This land is ours. My family has farmed this land for almost 500 years.” But the soldiers would not listen. They arrested Chacour’s father and dragged him away.”

Next Butzer talks about his two visits to Israel, he writes:

“Additionally, I would have told the commissioners about my two trips to Israel with Jewish groups and how those trips helped me better understand Israel’s claim of sovereign statehood and its desire to protect its borders and live in relative peace without the daily threat of suicide bombings on buses or in crowded marketplaces. I would have shared what I had learned – that Israel responds to terrorist force with force of its own, just as we do in the United States. I would have told them about our conversation with a Palestinian Muslim news reporter, a citizen of Israel, who chooses to live in Israel rather than Palestine because Israel, like America, grants him true freedom of the press, while everything he writes for Palestinian publications must pass through the censorship of Hamas. And I would have urged the commissioners to realize that any unilateral demonizing of Israel for human rights violations that ignores ongoing Palestinian terrorist activity, or any denial of Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign nation, seriously threatens long-standing relationships between Presbyterians and American Jews.

In short, I would have suggested that my varied experiences in the Middle East help me to hear all sides of this complex conflict and then assist others to work for reconciliation and compromise.”

After you read Butzer’s article, go back to the article on Presbyterians For Middle East Peace, I linked to in my earlier posting, “After Pressure from BDS leaders, GA Middle East Committee Moderator Is Removed”.  Something you need to know about PFMEP: the group is made up of very conservative, moderate and very progressive Presbyterians. And they are very careful about giving out the correct facts. They after all belong to different camps in the PC (U.S.A.) and are careful not to offend each other. So read what they are saying and do not brush off their concerns.

Now read about the Moderator of the General Assembly, Neil Presa’s  in the article on the PNS. It was posted there by the Office of the General Assembly’s communications department. The title is, “Statement from the Moderator about the GA221 Middle East Issues Committee.”

There are quite a few issues to note with this OGA posting. First of all it isn’t a direct communication from the Moderator; it has been written by Toya Richards Jackson an associate for communications. So at best it is interpretive.  And then there are all of the non-answers to so many questions. The communication tells us that Butzer resigned but does not tell us that he was asked to resign. The communication states that no lobbying group pressured the Moderator, but we know that he did not google Butzer’s name to find out if he was open to listening to Jewish leaders as well as Palestinian leadership. We can be fairly certain that Presa didn't google to find out if Butzer attended an interfaith Seder dinner, which seems to be one of his sins.

Someone must have brought to the Moderator’s attention the fact that Butzer had close ties to the Jewish community in his city. Sadly they didn’t know about his care for Palestinian refugees.  We all know the Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church is a part of the Boycott, Divestment Movement, so there are some conclusions we might make. But we cannot be sure. What we do know is that the whole truth has not been told by the OGA or by Moderator Neil Presa. The mistrust will continue to grow.

Adding to the mistrust is the apparent need to not post comments on the PNS site. I am sure others, as I have, have written comments and have not had them posted. Perhaps they will wait until the article is neatly tucked away in the archives as they did with the OGA’s comments on the IPMN’s Zionism Unsettled booklet.

The moderator of a committee, during General Assembly, guides their committee as they deliberate. They only have about three days to do their voting before it all goes to the plenary and everyone votes on all the issues. The moderator does make some of the important decisions. In the last General Assembly in that same committee when a commissioner asked if I could speak on something, the moderator allowed the commissioners to vote on that request. That is giving power to the commissioners.  That was an excellent gesture. There are all kinds of reasons why one needs a moderator who is fair and moderate. Butzer would have been such a moderator.

I have pointed to two very good articles. The Outlook’s article written by Butzer can be commented on either via Facebook or by registering on the Outlook site which is not hard to do. The important thing to do is to keep posting comments not only here and at the Outlook but also on the PNS site whether they post them now or not.  Perhaps others can come up with some more suggestions.

And here is my final thought. Lies are generally born in hell.  After all the Bible tells us that Satan is the father of lies. The battle is not against flesh and blood, as the Scriptures also states, it is “against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of the darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Prayer is the great weapon against deceit and manipulation. Pray at home and in the car. Pray, if you are there, on the floor and in the hallways and hotel lobbies of the General Assembly. Come to the door of the committee room, stand outside and pray.

Pray for whoever is moderator and vice moderator of that committee. Pray for the commissioners. Pray for the Israel/Palestine Mission Network and all of their followers, (they will overload the committee), so pray for them and their speakers. Pray for those of us who will testify whatever our viewpoint.

And pray for Rev. Albert Butzer that God will cause him to flourish. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Ousting the Moderator of the General Assembly Middle East Committee: an ideological power play

It cannot be stated with any more forceful terms than Presbyterians For Middle East Peace have stated it. Until now the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has not been known for its ideological purges, but when the Stated Clerk, Gradye Parsons, and Neil Presa, Moderator of the General Assembly ousted Rev. Al Butzer from his week old position as Moderator of the 221 General Assembly committee on the Middle East, because of pressure from the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, denominational leadership slipped into a new and dangerous arena.

Much of the Jewish community and many Presbyterians have questioned the bias of the leadership of the PC (U.S.A.) when it comes to Israel and the Jewish people, they can be certain now that, yes, many in leadership are prejudiced.

Presbyterians for Middle East Peace have put out a press release today titled “After Pressure from BDS leaders, GA Middle East Committee Moderator Is Removed.” Go there to read about the inane reasons for ousting Butzer from his position.

One of the disgusting contrasts in this issue is that just a few months ago the PC (U.S.A,) leadership during a controversy over a horrific publication, Zionism Unsettled, by the Presbyterian Israel/Palestine Mission Network, refused to speak against the booklet because, they wrote, the denomination is a diverse denomination with many different views. But apparently not diverse enough to allow a well respected Presbyterian pastor the right to moderate a GA committee because he manages to have friendships with both Jews and Palestinians. Horrors, what if he doesn't agree with the BDS movement or the Presbyterian leadership!

And will this rebuild trust within those Presbyterians who have begun to believe they simply can’t trust their own denomination? Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the midst of a church struggle wrote, “Trust will always be one of the greatest, rarest and happiest blessings of our life in community, though it can emerge only on the dark background of a necessary mistrust. We have learned never to trust a scoundrel an inch, but to give ourselves to the trustworthy without reserve.”

In the midst of some dark times I believe we have some lessons to learn—at this point I no longer believe we can trust Presbyterian polity on any issue—power has become too important to too many in leadership. But at the same time we know the strength and trustworthiness of God and the trustworthiness of friends. A friend once wrote to me, “We had a first light snow last night, spring is coming.” And so it is.

The 2014-2015 Horizon's Bible Study "Reconciling Paul" - a continuing review # 5

A man slowly becoming a wolf, in Charles Williams, 'The Place of the Lion', seeks his prey. He snarls, “Slowly, Lord, slowly! I’ll make sacrifice—the blood of the sacrifice,” and at that a sudden impatient anger caught [another] young man.

“Fool,” he cried out, “There’s only one sacrifice, and the God of gods makes it, not you.”

I was reminded of this scene as I studied the fifth lesson in the Presbyterian Women’ Bible Study, “Reconciling Paul.”

Starting with the Shaker song, “Simple-Gifts,” lesson five of the Presbyterian Women’s Horizon Bible study barely begins with Scripture before skipping much of the text. The author, Hinson-Hasty, uses some of the text to supposedly prove that humanity is called to strive to bring about the new creation; not through proclamation of the good news of redemption but by less consumption and a sense of interdependence with nature.  

She simply skips over the important meat of the text to write about what she refers to as “ecocide.” Jesus Christ and his redemptive work are only explained as they fit within ecological problems. This is how Hinson-Hasty puts it as she writes about 2 Corinthians 5:20:

God and human beings are understood here as working together, co-groaning, co-travailing, in the process of giving birth to a new creation. “New creation is being birthed not only within individuals, but within the whole cosmos. In this lesson, you will explore in greater depth Paul’s understanding of new creation, consider the whole creation as an interdependent reality, and begin to think about the work of reconciliation as a partnership between people and planet earth.

The lesson, “Reconciliation and the Whole Creation,” covers 2 Corinthians 5:11-6:10, which includes rich promises.  God reconciles us to himself through Christ Jesus. We are made new and promised a place in God’s new creation. The apostolic witness is the call to proclaim God’s reconciling act in Christ.

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and he has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him. (2 Cor. 5:17-21)

Hinson-Hasty correctly insists that the new creation in Paul’s writing includes more than the individual, and many scholars agree with her that ‘new creature’ may be translated ‘new creation.’ Still by simply ignoring the redemptive parts of these particular verses, ‘not counting their trespasses,’ and “He made him who knew no sin to become sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him,” Hinson-Hasty, has turned the meaning away from its Christological center.

The reconciling is to God through the work of Christ. The work the Christian is to do in this case is to call sinners to the gift of Christ that they might be reconciled to God. Does this preclude being concerned about the health of the earth? Absolutely not, but the author is reading more into the text then is there. And not only is she adding her own political views to the text, she is taking away the importance of the good news of Jesus’ redemptive work.
Hinson-Hasty also uses some of the text of Romans 8:19-23 to explain Paul’s meaning of 2 Corinthians. She writes:

In Romans 8:19-23 the whole creation is groaning and travailing together in pain like a woman in labor. In a sense, the whole creation gets caught up in a larger process of bringing something new into being, co-groaning and co-travailing, in the ongoing acts of creativity and redemption.

But, this isn't the meaning of the Roman’s text; the groaning of creation is not bringing something new into being, but creation and the redeemed are waiting for the new in the midst of pain. The acts of creativity and redemption belong to God alone. The pains are like childbirth, but the action is God’s final act of resurrecting the bodies of his adopted sons and daughters. Then creation will be free.

F.F. Bruce writing of this chapter in Romans notes the glory of the whole event which includes not only the redeemed but also fallen creation:

When the day of glory dawns, the glory will be manifested on a universal scale in the people of God, the glorified community of Christ. Something of the glory is already visible: Paul elsewhere sees a special splendor in the church as the fellowship of the reconciled, and thinks of it as being displayed even at this present time to celestial beings as God’s masterpiece of reconciliation: ‘that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places’ (Eph. 3:10).  But what is now seen in limited and distorted fashion will be seen in perfection when the people of God at last attain the goal which he has ever had in view for them—complete conformity to his glorified Son.

Bruce goes on to speak of a transformed universe which occurs when the redeemed are completely transformed. But this is God’s work; creation, including redeemed humanity waits. And speaking of the groaning, and waiting, Archibald Thomas Robertson in his Word Pictures in the New Testament, writes, “This mystical sympathy of physical nature with the work of grace is beyond the comprehension of most of us. But who can disprove it?”
Robertson goes on in several places to show that both the children of God and nature are waiting for the coming of Christ.

The Horizon’s lesson begins with a song, Simple Gifts, written by Shaker founder, Ann Lee, who believed she was the second coming of Christ, yet the lesson fails to lift up the hope of the Christian, the true second coming of Christ and the bodily resurrection of those who belong to Christ. 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Jesus is risen!

Christ is risen and death is swallowed up in his victory.  Its sting is gone, united in his death we are destined for resurrection. He was raised bodily. Touch and see where I was wounded he said to Thomas. Jesus took the time to go through all of the Hebrew Scriptures explaining the promises of his coming, life, death and resurrection.

"Oh foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into his glory?

Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, he explained to them the things concerning himself in all the Scriptures. Luke 24: 2526)

In another appearance Jesus turned his disciples eyes back to the holy word:

Now he said to them, "These are my words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about me in the Law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled."

Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures and he said to them: "Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  (Luke 24:44-48)

Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday & Holy Saturday and guilt: it is about me

I sat here for an hour listening to videos and thinking what I should write for Good Friday and Holy Saturday, instead I kept turning to my own particular sinfulness. It isn’t those pushy progressives messing everything up; it’s my own disobedience to Christ. It’s my own desire to disengage from the battle at hand and go pick peas and roses and sit in the sun and read novels. It’s me wanting to take a lazy train to somewhere, but not a plane to Detroit. It’s me wanting to sit outside at a café with some coffee or a good dark stout and think about something besides … well God knows. But I am not alone in this, there is the Church.

And in the Church, that group of individuals, who name Christ as Lord, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer puts it, is that place where we see our guilt and confess our guilt.  He writes, “The Church is precisely that community of human beings which has been led by the grace of Christ to the recognition of guilt towards Christ.”

And guilt towards Christ is apostasy. And here Bonhoeffer speaks words that themselves open my eyes to my guilt:

It is a sign of the living presence of Christ that there are men in whom the knowledge of the apostasy from Jesus Christ is awake not merely in the sense that this apostasy is observed in others but in the sense that these men themselves confess themselves guilty of this apostasy. They confess their guilt without any sidelong glance at their fellow offenders.

Going further Bonhoeffer writes “With this confession the entire guilt of the world falls upon the Church, upon the Christians, and since this guilt is not denied here, but is confessed, there arises the possibility of forgiveness.”

This is from Bonhoeffer’s Ethics, and there is much more including the church’s confession as spoken by the individual for the church. It begins with words that remind the reader of the Decalogue:

The Church confesses that she has not proclaimed often and clearly enough her message of the one God who has revealed Himself for all times in Jesus Christ and who suffers no other gods beside Himself. …

Picture by Ethan McHenery

Monday, April 14, 2014

The 2014-2015 Horizon's Bible Study "Reconciling Paul" - a continuing review # 4

This is Holy Week and I am attempting to write my review of lesson 4 of the Presbyterian Women’ Bible study, Reconciling Paul with the week’s somberness and final celebration as my focus.  

In lesson 4, "Carrying in Our Bodies Jesus' Acts of Healing, Reconciliation, and Love," the text, 2 Corinthians 4:7-5:10 carries the events of Holy Week, the suffering and resurrection of Jesus Christ, into the lives of individual believers as well as the whole church. While Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty, the author of the lesson, focuses on that part of the text which speaks of Christ’s suffering and death there is no mention of resurrection.  One is left with advocacy for the oppressed which is good but not the final blessed outcome of the gospel.

As Hinson-Hasty shows Paul speaks of carrying about in his body the death of Jesus.  However, in order to do justice to that statement the text surrounding it is needed. This isn't just about death; it is about resurrection, not an abstract idea of eternality but real bodily resurrection.

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death works in us, but life in you. (4:7-18)

Jesus’ life given to the believer is real life based on the fact that a bodily resurrected Jesus sees and guides the Christian through the Holy Spirit and makes himself known in the midst of trials. And as Colin Kruse points out in his Tyndale commentary on 2 Corinthians the being delivered over to death and carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus is not “a mystical” statement, but a reality of the suffering of Paul and his companions.  Nor is the life of the resurrected Jesus mystical, but is truly “manifested in his body.” Kruse writes:

Thus the one who proclaims the crucified and risen Lord finds that what is proclaimed in his message is also exemplified in his life. On one hand he is daily subject to forces which lead to death, but on the other hand he is continually upheld, caused to triumph, and made to be more than a conqueror by the experience of the risen life of Jesus in his mortal body (cf. Rom. 8:35-39; 2 Cor. 1:8-10; 2:14; Phil. 3:10; 4:1213).

Hinson-Hasty focuses the idea of God’s power in bodies to marginalized bodies and how God’s power overcame the marginalization.  She writes:

Understanding the body in this context [the way some bodies were marginalized in ancient Rome and its many conquered lands] punctuates the radicalness of Paul’s use of the metaphor “treasures in clay jars.” When Paul claims that God is made manifest in a weak, earthenware vessel, he directly challenges the dominant hierarchical scale upon which people in his culture judged and valued different bodies.

So her focus is on such groups as women and slaves but this misses the point.  Paul isn’t here pointing to only the oppressed; he is referring to all bodies. Human bodies (which include the soul) are like earthen vessels. We are all prone to crack and break; we are all sinners, rich and powerful, poor and marginalized. And it is those who have Christ who have the treasure of God found in Jesus Christ. His glory shines through the broken vessels spreading to others with the life that belongs to God.

And this is not possible without the resurrection a Christian reality that Hinson-Hasty never addresses in this study. There are hints but one is reminded of a sixties song that speaks of Jesus but never quite passes by his death.
Hinson-Hasty writes:

For Paul, God’s power is best exemplified in the crucified body of the Jewish Jesus. The broken Jesus still remained a treasure and overcame defeat, even in the death dealt to him by the most powerful empire of his time. By using the metaphor of “treasure in clay jars” to describe the body of the community, Paul associates the power of the community of faith in acts that make the strong weak and the weak strong.

Speaking of Gnosticism, Hinson-Hasty wants to emphasis that Paul is not “saying that we can or even should try to escape from our bodies.” This is true but it misses the promise of God of our own bodily resurrection when we shall be like our Lord.  But here the author attempts to clarify the future and make way for better things—and yet she leaves the reader without hope:

Paul says that the realization of God’s redemptive future will be embodied, realized in fragile bodies, even if in an imperfect way.

The community of believers gathered at Corinth had realized and embodied some of Jesus’ teachings and yet there were more to be realized. Both Paul and the Corinthian church were living within the boundaries established by Greco-Roman culture, but they were growing beyond the limitations that their culture imposed on them.

Hinson-Hasty’s view of the Christian’s future is entirely materialistic and progressive. While it contains the promise of good deeds which she will later connect to those Christians who rightly stood for equality in South Africa, it nevertheless leaves death and sin unconquered.
Jesus Christ, lived, died and rose again. The Christian carries that death in his body too often suffering as Christ suffered. But the Christian also carries the life of Christ infusing God’s world with the love of Jesus.
Picture by Stephen Larson

Friday, April 11, 2014

The 2014-2015 Horizon's Bible Study "Reconciling Paul" - a continuing review # 3

The third lesson in the Presbyterian Women’s Bible Study is “Covenants and God’s faithfulness.” The biblical text is 2 Corinthians 3:1-4:6. This lesson, written by Hinson-Hasty, covers a wide range of theological issues.  Yet, the most important issue in this lesson is the author’s denial of the biblical teaching that “God’s full and final revelation is only in Christ.”

Three theological issues drive this study: (1) Hinson-Hasty’s misunderstanding of evangelical eschatology and its connection to covenant theology; (2) God’s covenant/s; (3) the denial of the uniqueness of Jesus.

I have added the first issue, eschatology, the return of Christ, to an already loaded posting because of a quote by Hinson-Hasty. Under the subtitle, “Paul’s Jewishness and the Consistency of God’s Covenant,” when writing of the new covenant, she states:

For example, premillennial evangelicals promoting what is known as “new covenant theology” look upon such passages as these in Paul’s letters to support their belief that clear distinctions are made throughout the biblical text  that prove that the “new covenant”  supersedes the “old covenant.”  In other words from the perspective of “new covenant theology,” God’s full and final revelation is only in Christ.”  Judaism is an unfulfilled religious faith and represents only a partial fulfillment of God’s covenant.

First notice the words ‘premillennial evangelicals.” There are the dispensational premillennial evangelicals who uphold a teaching called the rapture, a fairly recent teaching. They believe in two second comings of Christ, once to gather believers out of the world and then again to set up his kingdom. But the other branch is classic to many of the early church fathers and mothers. That is the teaching that Christ will return and set up a thousand year kingdom.

There is one other teaching that is classic and that is amillennialism. That is the teaching that the thousand year kingdom refers to the whole church age. In the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), among evangelicals and orthodox, the latter two definitions are probably well represented.  Dr. David Torrance, a brother to Thomas and James Torrance is undoubtedly, from his writings, a premillennialist, and he sees the Jewish people, whether in rebellion or in obedience, as the elect of God. But he also believes that to experience salvation they must experience the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

Earlier Hinson-Hasty insists that those who claim that “God exclusively reveals the path to salvation in the person of Jesus Christ,” have used the claim to “marginalize people of other faiths,” and later infers that because of the Holocaust the church must rethink her position on the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. For Hinson-Hasty, this all revolves around the idea of God’s covenant. The question is has God annulled the covenant with the Jews in order set out a new covenant?

Hinson-Hasty writing of God’s covenant with Abraham (Genesis 12 & 15) calls it a perpetual covenant and divides it from a conditional covenant giving the text of Deuteronomy 12-1 as an example of the latter.  She sees the abrahamic covenant as different because it rests solely upon God’s faithfulness and the consistency of God’s care.  And it does rest on those two attributes of God.

However, Hinson-Hasty in attempting to make an allowance for salvation outside of Jesus Christ empties the covenant God made with Abraham. The promises in each instance of God’s covenant making are all there in the covenant to Abraham, not only land, a small thing compared to the promise of being God’s people and blessing the nations, but also all the promises of the Messiah are in God’s covenant. It is the Messiah who will bless, redeem and sit on the throne of King David ruling the nations. The ‘new’ covenant does not change the Old Testament covenant it fulfills it. It is one covenant.

The Jewish people have not ceased to be the chosen, in obedience and disobedience they are still the Lord’s. God, to fulfill the promise, sent them into exile in Babylon, away from the land, that they might return minus the idols they so loved. This was God’s consistent care and faithfulness to all of us, Jew and Gentile.  God in consistent care and love fulfilled the myriad promises to Israel that a redeemer and king would be sent and this was for all of us. Salvation comes through Jesus Christ.

Hinson-Hasty is making the case that both the covenant to Abraham and the ‘new’ covenant that Paul writes of which is tied to Jeremiah 31:31-33 rests on God’s faithfulness and that “the new covenant should not be seen as contrary to the first.” I think she is right but she is missing the messianic part of the whole covenant.  Hinson-Hasty quotes Romans 3:1-4 which is:

What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, the Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God. What if some were unfaithful? Will their unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness? Not at all! Let God be true ….

While I concur with that verse, Paul doesn't leave the matter there. He goes on to speak of how God is faithful. It is the fulfillment of rich promises to the Jew first and then to the Gentile:

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by his grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in his blood through faith. (Romans 3:21-25 a.)

Although, as I have stated,  Hinson-Hasty appeals to the Holocaust as a reason for Christians to change their views about the superiority of Jesus, the truth is it was those Christians who held to the superiority of Jesus Christ and his Lordship who refused to be fettered by Hitler’s bigotry. In answer to the German Christians who were insisting on the Aryan clause in the church’s constitution which would exclude Jewish Christians from the church, Karl Barth wrote:

The fellowship of those belonging to the Church is not determined by blood, therefore, not by race, but by the Holy Spirit and Baptism. If the German Evangelical Church excludes Jewish-Christians, or treats them as a lower grade, she ceases to be a Christian Church.

And yet, Barth is the one who wrote most of the Theological Declaration of Barmen which among other things states:

1. I am the way and the truth, and the life: no one comes to the father, but by me.” (John 14:6) Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. … I am the door: if any one enters by me, he will be saved.” (John 10:1, 9.)

Jesus Christ as he is attested to us in Holy Scripture is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death.
We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events, and powers, figures and truths, as God’s revelation. (8.10-8.12)

Truthfully, Hinson-Hasty is simply pushing for Christians to deny that salvation is only in Jesus alone.  She, like most pluralists, denies the uniqueness of Jesus. She writes:

There is a wonderful diversity of faith traditions beyond Judaism and Christianity that make up the religious landscape of the world—Baha’i, Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, Muslim, Sikh, and many more. Amid this colorful diversity, Christians need not insist on their own superiority to explain or claim the efficacy of their own faith. Learning about the faith traditions of other peoples, entering into authentic relationship with others, and seeking to understand the mysterious God who inspires us all bears the greater promise for us to deepen our understanding of God’s unconditional love and begin to embody that love ourselves.

Certainly, we should not claim our own superiority, we like everyone else are sinners, but we should winsomely, kindly, joyfully proclaim the superiority of Jesus Christ.  But what is that superiority? It is that God took on our flesh, lived among us, suffered and died for us and rose again. It is, that in our faith, given by the Holy Spirit, we are united to the resurrected Jesus and are given in grace, eternal life, his righteousness, and forgiveness.  

Picture by Ethan McHenry