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).

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