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An Interpretation of Hebrews 6:4-8 and Hebrews 10:26-31

April 27, 2013

Here’s a paper I wrote on the warning passages in Hebrews. I couldn’t figure out how to copy and paste the footnotes, so I left the bibliography at the end – in case you’re interested. Also, the paragraph breaks are really weird for some reason, but I’m not going to fix that right now.

It can be said that one of the most highly debated and controversial texts in the Bible are the Hebrews warning passages. Additionally, these verses are the cause of much anguish among those who are cognizant to the seriousness of sin, but have not been taught how to reconcile these passages with the rest of the Bible. While there is certainly an abundance of nuanced views on this subject, Tom Schreiner and Ardel Caneday, in The Race Set Before Us, discuss what are essentially the four major approaches to these passages, while adding their own unique and helpful interpretation.

I do not intend to rehash, nor undertake a detailed analysis of these views in this paper. Instead, I wish to approach these passages (specifically Hebrews 6:4-8 and 10:26-31) from a contextual perspective, highlighting and comparing the similarities between the audience of Hebrews and their Old Testament counterparts, examining the parallels (and differences) of their situations, and explaining how the warning passages can be understood in light of these curiously overlooked associations.

Before I begin a comparison of Hebrews and the Old Testament, it is important to understand the style in which Hebrews is written. Most conservative scholars agree that Hebrews is a very pastoral letter, containing numerous examples of exhortation and exposition. In other words, Hebrews is essentially a sermon written to a particular group of people.

I contend that these two points are necessary to understanding the overall flow of Hebrews. First, the sermonic nature of the letter clues the reader to the striking parallels that Hebrews shares with Deuteronomy. I believe a closer examination of their complementary themes will help us better understand the warning passages of Hebrews. Also, I contend that in light of the deuteronomic nature of Hebrews, we can reasonably narrow down the audience of this letter to those Jewish Christians who were living in Jerusalem – probably sometime in the mid to late 60’s.

While my purpose here is not to prove the audience of Hebrews, it may be helpful if I briefly examine one potential challenge to my statement – that of Hebrews 13:24. Many scholars contend that the phrase “those from Italy send you their greetings,” refers to Christians who had once been residences of Italy, but were now exiled in another area (where the author is writing from). In other words, the author is writing to Christians in Italy and is sending greetings from their exiled friends. It is possible, though, that the author is writing from Italy to Christians residing somewhere else (say, Jerusalem), and he is sending greetings to them from Italy.

As I further explain my position in the course of this paper, further evidence to support this claim will be provided.

In order to support my view that Hebrews is best understood in light of Deuteronomy, it is necessary to observe the immediate context of both books. First, note that Deuteronomy occurs immediately before Israel enters the Promised Land. Forty years earlier, Moses had led Israel out of Egyptian captivity and they were supposed to enter Canaan at that point. Because of Israel’s sin (specifically, her refusal to trust God to conquer the giants of Canaan), she was forced to journey in the wilderness for forty years. One aspect of Israel’s discipline was that the unfaithful generation would die in the wilderness (aside from Joshua and Caleb), and their children would inherit and conquer the land. Deuteronomy is essentially a sermon from Moses to that second generation of Israelites, expounding the history of Israel in the wilderness, including an extremely detailed exhortation based on the ten commandments.

Hebrews takes place in a very similar context, but with interesting twists. First, the New Covenant has a similar structure to the exodus: Deliverance through Christ (the greater Moses), the beginning of a new creation (The Promised Land), apostasy (rejection of Christ), 40 years of “wilderness,” and it’s culmination in the destruction of the old world (the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70). Notice, though, that in the Old Covenant, Israel’s sin is punished with death, whereas in the New Covenant, the 40 years are marked by grace (“Father forgive them”). There will be judgment, but more than just Caleb and Joshua will prove to be faithful. Further, the identification of Jesus as the greater Moses is important. Just as Moses preached a sermon to the Israelites to persevere and remain faithful, so Jesus preaches to the Israelites to do the same.

With these immediate contexts in mind, a brief overview of the broader contexts will be helpful to our understanding of the warning passages. In the introduction to his commentary on Hebrews, Robert W. Ross makes the astute point that “The Epistle to the Hebrews is best comprehended when the five books of Moses are familiar ground.”

With this in mind, let us reflect on the major events and themes that have led up to Israel’s imminent crossing into the Promised Land. First, there is the theme of creation. Following the creation of the world, we are given a number of “lesser” creation accounts that contain similar structures to the Genesis 1 narrative. The destruction of the world by flood and subsequent re-creation through Noah and his family (which includes a 40 day and night “wilderness” journey) is a fairly obvious example of this, but there are also similar themes in the Pentateuch, culminating in the destruction of the old world (Egypt) and salvation of the Israelites for a new world. Second, there is the theme of exodus. Before the Israelites ultimate journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, there are a number of accounts detailing the various forays into and back out of the land of Canaan before it had matured into the land flowing with milk and honey. Third, there are the varying degrees of restructuring that God does to His people to make them into a priestly nation, beginning with Abraham’s call out of paganism, followed by God’s choosing of the Levites to be the priestly tribe and representative firstborns of Israel, and also to the whole sacrificial system which allowed Israel to draw (relatively) near to God. Finally, there is the mustering of God’s army, as seen in Numbers, as they prepare to conquer the Canaanites.

While there is much more that could be highlighted in terms of major themes in the Pentateuch, I believe these four examples (along with the sermonic nature of Deuteronomy) will help to bring greater clarity to the big picture of Hebrews. I will next highlight some of these same themes that are fulfilled in the life and ministry of Jesus. First, bypassing creation for a moment, Jesus’ life mimics the exodus story of the Israelites. Beginning with the slaughter of baby boys under Herod and His protection in Egypt, followed by His baptism and forty days in the wilderness, and culminating with His journey into the new Promised Land as the perfect resurrected Joshua, Jesus’ life is essentially a recapitulation of Israel’s exodus. Second, Jesus’ ministry is marked by His restructuring of Israel into a true priestly nation. We see this primarily in His healings, in which Jesus specifically heals those particular maladies (blindness, lameness, leprosy, etc…) that are referenced in Leviticus as barring a Levite from being priest. In other words, Jesus is restoring Israel back to their original purpose. In addition, Jesus’ sacrifice as the perfect Lamb is the fulfillment of the whole sacrificial system and made the way for Israel to appropriately draw near to God. Third, Jesus musters an army – beginning with the calling of the twelve disciples – in order to conquer the new Promised Land.

This naturally leads us to the fourth and final theme: the new creation. Moses was providentially placed in a position to lead Israel out of captivity. This new world was inaugurated when they crossed the Red Sea and the Egyptian army was destroyed, but the old world did not officially conclude until forty years later when Israel crossed into the Promised Land. Despite Egypt being destroyed, the Israelites refused to let go – often pining for the “old days” and grumbling about God’s provision. This is precisely what is occurring in the New Covenant. Jesus has inaugurated a new world, but the Israelites are not conquering it like they should. This is part of the reason why the kingdom is being given to the Gentiles, though It should be noted here that Jesus did not come to minister to the Gentiles (Matt. 15:21-28).

Certainly there were symbols and signs of what was to come, but Jesus came to judge His people and to show them what the true Israel looked like. This point is important because Hebrews is written to the children of these same Israelites whose parents had rejected Christ during His life, but were now converts to Christianity and were in danger of falling away – as many had already.

The end of the old creation concluded in AD 70 with the destruction of Jerusalem and it’s old covenant rituals, but for the forty years leading up to this event, these Israelites were acting just like their forebears in the wilderness. This is the point of Hebrews, and this context is necessary for properly understanding the warning passages.

Regarding the following exegesis of Hebrews 6:4-8 and Hebrews 10:26-31, and given the similarities that I suggest Deuteronomy and Hebrews share, it will be helpful to analyze the structures of both books and compare where the warning passages of Hebrews line up with the same in Deuteronomy. Meredith Kline broadly outlines Deuteronomy in this manner: Preamble (1:1-5), Historical Prologue (1:6 – 4:49), Covenantal Stipulations (5:1 – 26:19), Sanctions (27:1 – 30:20), and Covenant Continuity (31:1 – 34:12).

Generally speaking, Hebrews is structured in a similar pattern: Preamble (1 – 2), Historical Prologue (3 – 4), Covenantal Stipulations (4 – 10), Covenant Continuity (11) and Sanctions (12 – 13). While I do not want to press this comparison too hard, I do want to draw attention to a couple of points. First, both authors emphasize Israel’s failure in the wilderness. This is the context that sets up both covenantal stipulations. Second, the reason the first generation failed to receive the Promised Land was not because of idolatry, but because of her faithlessness.

Dr. Telford Work rightly acknowledges this when he writes, “This denial of God in God’s own presence is the most blatant apostasy.”

This is precisely the link between Moses’ warning for them to not be like their fathers and Hebrews 6:6b: apostasy is akin to what their father’s did to Jesus at the crucifixion. Moses is pressing the second generation to be faithful, and the author of Hebrews is doing the same.

First of all, notice that the Hebrews 6 warning passage is preceded by a call to leave the elementary teaching about the Christ. Of course, this does not mean to abandon this teaching, but to mature from it. These foundational teachings – the milk of Hebrews 5:12-14 – are the root of the Christian faith. The same can be said for the Ten Commandments, which precede the warnings beginning in Deuteronomy 6:15. These commandments were the foundation for God’s covenantal relationship with Israel. They were received in the wilderness, but they were to be carried into the Promised Land. The Ten Commandments were the stones (literally) upon which the new world would be built. Of course, Jesus is the cornerstone upon which the church (and the new creation) is built (Acts 4:11-12), and the warning is to not return to the old ways, but to trust God and move forward.

This church that is built upon the chief cornerstone is precisely who is described in Hebrews 6:4-6. But who, exactly, were these people? In one sense, the church certainly refers to all who possess faith in Christ. But are the authors of Acts and Hebrews talking about all Christians in these passages? I suggest the answer is “no.” Going back to Acts 4, notice that Peter is accusing the Jewish leadership of rejecting Christ. He then proclaims that salvation is found only in Christ and it is the Jews who are believing the gospel. We are not told specifically how many more are converted, but at the beginning of chapter 4 we are told that the number of Christian men were 5,000 and the impression is that there are more by the end of the chapter. This is highly significant when we pair this information with what we read in Colossians 4:11, meaning, that if there were so many Jewish converts to Christianity 25 years earlier, where have they all gone?

While it is true that many were either martyred or fled the city (Acts 8), it would appear that in Colossians, Paul is insinuating that many have abandoned him. Remember, as well, that this abandonment is taking place as the Gentiles are converting at a miraculous pace.

I believe this understanding helps to make sense of the following verses in Hebrews 6:7-8. This passage is highly symbolic, and many scholars at least recognize some of the associations related to these symbols, if not the particulars. Others, though, seem to dismiss any typological connection. For instance, George Guthrie states that “we should be careful of associating specific theological constructs with the images of rain, crops, thorns, and even being ‘burned.’”

I believe this completely misses the meaning of these verses. To begin with, “land” carries a very specific meaning in scripture. John Owen associates “land” with those who hear the gospel, but I think this is too broad for what is described here.

Instead, the Bible often associates land with Israel, as opposed to the sea, which is often used to symbolize the Gentile nations. This is especially true when the term is not directly used to refer to a specific location (such as “the land of Goshen”), but is purposefully used as a metaphor. Add this to the related symbols in the passage, and it becomes clear that the author is making a specific reference to which his readers would be familiar.

This is further supported by the phrase, “useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled.” This is a reference to the events of Acts 8. The persecution (tilling) of the Jerusalem Christians and their subsequent flight to Judea and Samaria is the event that triggered the evangelization of the Gentiles and their incorporation into the church. The rain, then, corresponds to the events of verses 4-5. Baptism is the public event which brings a person into the church and is also the event with which the church is to assign regeneration (John 3:5).

However, this does not simply mean that all who are baptized will necessarily persevere – that is the point of verse 8. The symbolism here, though, would be extremely poignant to this Jewish audience. First, the reference to thorns and thistles obviously points back to the The Fall (Genesis 3:17-19), but while this does fit with the whole agricultural theme of Hebrews 6:7-8, there is a greater implication – Adam is made of ground and he will return to ground. This is true of the whole human race. Because of this, man will also produce thorns and thistles. We see this right away with the birth of Cain. He refused to worship God rightly and he killed his brother Abel, who was righteous. So began the story of Israel, full of numerous episodes of brother on brother strife: Ham versus Shem and Japheth, Isaac versus Ishmael, Jacob versus Esau and Israel versus Judah, just to name a few. This is true in Hebrews as well – those baptized Jews who persevere versus those who do not.

Similarly, there are multiple symbolic meanings in the reference to “being burned.” Again, this thought fits well with the agricultural theme, but the allusion to fire expresses a greater concept. Here, I believe John Owen is correct when he recognizes the association between this burning and the burning of hell, but ascribes the immediate meaning to “the temporal destruction of the obstinate Jews.”

The destruction of Jerusalem was close at hand, and fire would play a significant role. Josephus provides a rather chilling account of these events, describing first the destruction of the temple by fire at the hands of the Romans, followed by the burning of the rest of the city.

He later adds that 1.1 million Jews died in the siege and that “the number of deaths exceeded all previous destructions by God or man.”

While there certainly is a strong connection between the passage I just considered, and Hebrews 10:36-31, I think there is significant difference in the author’s focus. Specifically, whereas Hebrews 6:4-8 centers on the broader concept of perseverance in the life of the Christian and the danger of returning to the Old Covenant  system, Hebrews 10 is more concerned with worship. The first clue is in understanding what the author is referring to with the phrase “sinning willfully.” Many scholars have ascribed this to any sin of commission, and have rightfully pointed out the connection between willful sinning and the Old Covenant distinction between intentional and unintentional sins (Numbers 15:30-31).

However, the passage that immediately follows this pronouncement sheds some light on the actual sin (Numbers 15:32-36). In this account, a man is put to death for gathering wood on the sabbath. In order to understand this, a misconception must first be resolved. The issue here is not about working on the sabbath, but is rather a reference to kindling your own fire on the sabbath (Exodus 35:3). This man was gathering wood to stoke his own fire, rather than gather, with the rest of Israel, around God’s fire. This is the same sin that led to Nadab and Abihu’s deaths (Numbers 3:4), except in this case, God killed them, as opposed to the congregation. The relevant point we need to draw from this is that this particular sin is related to worship – specifically false worship. This is not necessarily about idolatry, though, but about refusing to worship God in the manner He has prescribed.

This type of false worship is fundamentally what is occurring in the first century Jerusalem context. God is destroying the old forms of worship and has instituted a new form – one that consists of a new temple, a new sacrifice and a new people. This new worship is only found in Christ, and a return to the old worship is apostasy. Notice, too, that this particular sin is connected to the “forsaking our own assembling together” in verse 25.

The author of Hebrews is not chiding his audience about skipping church. He is warning them to not forsake this new worship for the old. This is about abandoning Christ. The Right Reverend Montefiore makes a great point about the nature of apostasy when he writes, “The primitive church held that apostasy was much more wicked than refusing to accept Christianity. Rejection of Christ might be due to ignorance while an apostate denies him whom once he has known.”

The apostate removes himself from the blessings of Christ when he removes himself from the church. Salvation can only occur by uniting oneself to Christ and His true sacrifice (vs. 26).

A proper understanding then, of apostasy, helps us to appreciate what is happening in the rest of the passage. Notice first the connection of verse 28 with Deuteronomy 17:6. The issue is not primarily about the proper way to administer justice, but directs our attention to back to Deuteronomy 16:21 (this is a bad chapter break) and the following verses. This particular type of multiple-witness justice is executed upon those who engage in improper worship. If this type of evil is to be purged from the land in such a severe manner under Moses, how much harder will God execute His justice on similar evils in the New Covenant? Lest we forget, the blood of bulls and goats could never take away sins (Hebrews 10:4), and the Old Covenant contained only shadows of the one to come (Hebrews 10:1). In Christ, though, the Lamb has taken away sins.

The Old Covenant worshipper was required to bring their offering to the tent of meeting (Leviticus 1 – keeping with the wilderness worship scenario) and place their hand onto the head of the animal before slaughtering it and giving it to the priest for an ascension offering. In this way, they were accepted by God. This placing of the hand on the head, though, is  better translated “to lean or lay upon,” which more properly connotes the connection, or “joining,” that is experienced in the ritual.

This action symbolized the death of the worshipper, because death was required in order to draw near to God. Of course, in this scenario, sin was never taken away and the death of the animal was only good enough to allow a nominal nearness. In the New Covenant, the worshipper is joined to Christ at his baptism. This is the “leaning” moment. Through this connection, we join in the death of Christ (Galatians 2:20), and this death is what allows us to draw near to God in worship. The apostate, then, by rejecting Christ, is ripping himself away from this union, or as the author of Hebrews puts it, is “trampling under foot the Son of God, and regarding as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified.”

Regarding the punishment that verse 27 tells us this apostasy deserves, we must again recognize that while there are allusions to the horrors of hell and final judgment associated with this verse, the more immediate meaning refers to the impending destruction of Jerusalem. A closer examination of the context, though, helps us to put this picture of destruction in perspective. Remember, this letter is most likely written in the mid to late 60’s. The destruction of Jerusalem is right around the corner. In fact, it may have already begun, as the Roman siege on Jerusalem began around AD 67.

If this particular apostasy meant turning away from the true worship of God in Jesus to the Old Covenant forms of worship, this meant that these apostates would have to remain in Jerusalem to worship. In one sense, the warning is this: “If you reject Christ and remain in Jerusalem, you will be killed!”

My theory is this scenario lines up perfectly with Matthew 24. Here, Jesus explains to His disciples what will occur at the end of “this world.” The end of the old covenant administration coincides with the destruction of Jerusalem. Jesus warns about the false teachers who will mislead many – this is surely the Judaizers, the apostates of Hebrews. Jesus predicts the spreading of the gospel through all the world – this is the story of Acts and Paul’s epistles. Jesus tells them that many of them (Jews) will fall away – as the writer of Hebrews confirms. And, finally, Jesus councils them to flee the area when they see the armies gathering. Perhaps this is a secondary function of Hebrews – a final letter to prepare them for the end. At the beginning of Matthew 24, Jesus is leaving the temple (an action with significant symbolism) and He is just two days from being crucified outside the city. Jesus has abandoned Jerusalem because she is now Egypt and Sodom (Revelation 11:8). The true Holy City now resides in Jesus, outside the city. This may be what the author is referring to in Hebrews 13:12-14 as he encourages them to “go to Him.”

Understanding the context of Hebrews helps to provide important and practical council for those who struggle with the warning passages. First of all, realizing these particular apostasies were related to an abandonment of Christ and not simply to a struggle with daily sins, will help the Christian come to terms with their standing in Christ. The struggle with sin is part of the Christian life. Certainly sin must be mortified on a daily basis, and it is often an exhausting and bloody battle, but the battle can only occur in Christ. Fighting sin is not abandoning Christ. When we give up the fight is when we are in trouble. This, though, is why God has given us the church. When the church gathers together to worship, we draw near to God in Christ. Here we are strengthened, renewed and fed. We are girded up in order to go back out into the world and conquer. We are also aided and encouraged by our brethren (Hebrews 13).

Also, Hebrews teaches us about our own context in this world. Do the warning passages apply to us? Definitely, but the context is different. We are not in that wilderness time period, enjoying the benefits of the New Covenant, while struggling against the inadequacies of the Old. Living in Christ’s kingdom means that we can look forward to the perfection of this world, as opposed to the destruction of the old one. In practical terms, this means that we do not adhere to Paul’s warning about getting married (I Corinthians 7:6-8), or take Jesus’ woes about pregnancy to heart (Matthew 24:19). Instead, we can rejoice in the call to marry, have children, and grow the kingdom! That is not to say that we can not still abandon Christ, but as stewards of this new creation working in the Spirit to bring heaven and earth together, it becomes much harder. After all, in order to abandon the faith, there must be an alternative, and the beauty of the New Covenant is that the alternative becomes more insignificant as each day passes (Matthew 13:31-33).

Bibliography

Alexander, T. Desmond. From Paradise to Promised Land. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1995.

Bruce, F.F. The Epistle to the Hebrews, NICNT. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1993.

Caneday, Ardel and Thomas R. Schreiner. The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance. Downer’s Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2001.

Ellingworth, Paul. The Epistle to the Hebrews, NIGTC. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1993.

Guthrie, George H. Hebrews: The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998.

Harrison, Everett F. and Charles F. Pfeiffer, eds. The Wycliffe Bible Commentary. Chicago: Moody Press, 1962.

Josephus. Thrones of Blood: A History of the Times of Jesus, 37 B.C. to A.D. 70. Uhrichsville, OH: Barbour Publishing, 1988.

Kistemaker, Simon J. Hebrews, New Testament Commentaries. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1984.

Lane, William L. Hebrews 1-8, Word Biblical Commentary. Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1991.

Millar, J. Gary. Now Choose Life: Theology and Ethics in Deuteronomy. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998.

Montefiore, Hugh. The Epistle to Hebrews, Harper’s New Testament Commentaries. New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1964.

Owen, John. Hebrews, The Crossway Classic Commentaries. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1998.

Sadler, M.F. The Second Adam and the New Birth. Monroe, LA: Athanasius Press, 2004.

Wenham, Gordon J. Exploring the Old Testament: A Guide to the Pentateuch. Downer’s Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2003.

Work, Telford. Deuteronomy, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2009.

Wright, N.T. Colossians and Philemon, TNTC. Downer’s Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1986.

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One Difference Between the Secular and Sacred

February 2, 2013

Last week I got a hankerin’ for some Caedmon’s Call and pulled out my collection of albums. For those that don’t know, Caedmon’s Call is a Christian band with a folk/rock style, known for their deeply personal lyrics and tight harmonies. They had a pretty big cult following as well. You can learn more about them here if you’re interested. Anyways, Caedmon’s Call is one of the handful of bands that I call “my all-time favorite.” This doesn’t necessarily mean that I think they’re one of the best bands ever, but they were very important to me and I listened to them so much that I memorized every note on every album. I also attended numerous concerts and even camped out with them one weekend at a sort of “fan-camp.” Like most everyone else’s favorite bands, they happened to be my soundtrack for a specific point in my life (late 90’s to the early 2,000’s). Here’s why: one of the other things Caedmon’s Call was known for was their reformed theology. I became reformed in my theology sometime in the late 90’s. Their lyrics dealt with the same issues I was dealing with at the time and, in fact, probably influenced my progression in a number of ways. I even talked with members of the band at numerous times (usually after concerts) and could tell that they were excited about the same things I was excited about. It didn’t hurt, of course, that they were phenomenal song writers and musicians as well.

Well, oddly enough, nowadays I don’t really listen to them all that much, despite still considering them one of my favorite bands. It’s not that I don’t like them anymore, because I really enjoyed listening through their catalogue last week. They still hold up really well for me and that enjoyment was more than just nostalgia. No, the reason I don’t really listen to them anymore is because I’ve moved on in life. Their lyrics were such a big part of who I was 10-15 years ago, that when I listen to them now, it’s like recalling my life from that time period. This is not a bad thing, but it does have a very limited interest for me. I’ve moved on. I’m more mature. I’ve developed my views, my theology, my tastes. But here’s the interesting thing that I noticed as I was listening to their albums last week: They did too. At some point, it seems their interests and views went in a different direction than mine (not a bad one, mind you, just different) and that’s when I stopped listening. But for about a ten year period – and 6 or 7 albums – their growth matched mine. Last week I listened to those 7 albums in chronological order and it was fascinating to see how their views matured in the same ways mine did. This is especially apropos of reformed theology, where it’s easy to get excited about the basics of the doctrine, but just as easy to apply them in the wrong way. One of the (many) similarities I noticed in their early lyrics and my early “reformed life” was an unbalanced view of depravity – especially in regards to my own personal sin. It’s easy for a newcomer to reformed theology to become obsessed with his sin and “unworthiness,” and this often leads to depression or even questioning your salvation – this is a common theme in many of Caedmon’s Call’s early albums. Many of my fellow reformed friends never seemed to get over this misapplication of the doctrine and they still struggle with it today. I was able to move beyond it and as I listened to the later albums, it became apparent that the band did too. Perhaps their music even influenced my journey… who knows?

The point I want to make with all this is that this progression is a good thing. In my opinion, the mark of a good band is growth. I want to be able to track a band over a number of albums and see that they’re moving in a specific direction. I mean, isn’t that the point of good art – to say something about your outlook of the world in a way that affects others? To express truth in a way that causes others to think and act? Perhaps this is idealism, but I think this is the goal for many artists. This doesn’t mean the goal has to be life-changing or even world-changing. It just has to be true – people will relate to that. I think this is what accounts for Caedmon’s Call’s big following – despite never really having the support of the Christian music industry.

Speaking of the Christian music industry, this is the other point I want to make: There is a big difference in writing folk songs for the people and writing songs for the church. I don’t think many in the Christian music industry (or the church, for that matter – yes, there is a biiiiigggg difference) really get this. Often the line between pop/folk music and worship music is blurred… in many cases,  I’m not sure there even is a line. There are many, many things wrong with today’s popular worship music, but the one I want to highlight here is similar to what I was just talking about in regards to Caedmon’s Call: a progression of maturity. As I said, you want a folk band to mature. That is what is so great about good folk music – they relate to the people where they are in life. You don’t want this progression, though, with your worship music. Unfortunately, that’s what we get.

From time to time I like to listen to the numerous Christian music stations here in Nashville just to gauge the scene and see what is popular. 95% of the time I’m pretty disappointed at the fluff that’s put out there, yet, it’s hard to be too critical. After all, if we’re strictly talking in terms of folk/pop music, then we’re talking subjectively. Who’s to say what other people like, and who’s to say what hits people at particular times in their life. I mean, I could probably make a good case for why much of the Christian music scene is bad, but there are a lot of talented musicians and writers in that scene, and at the end of the day – as I’ve already stated – a lot of it comes down to subjectivity. But I can say objectively that this is wrong when it comes to the music of the church. One of the travesties of the line-blurring between the secular and the sacred is the assumption that our worship should come from the same place our folk lyrics come from. Music plays such a massive role in the church that our worship leaders/writers are often the biggest influence theologically. This is not good when you do even a quick survey of today’s worship music. To begin with, because the worship writers are also the folk music writers, that maturing process is inherent in their music. Again, this is good in folk music, but it’s bad (BAD!!!!!!) in worship music. And there’s no accountability. How do you make a worship song today? One or two musicians get together with their guitars and a bible, hammer out a catchy tune, find a phrase or idea that affects them emotionally or they think will affect others, and mold it until it fits into their tune. Perhaps I’m generalizing a bit, but this is not too far off from the truth (and this is coming from someone who has written and played a number of “worship songs” in his past).

Now, don’t misunderstand me, I’m not questioning the motives or intentions of these writers – I’m simply questioning the process that is accepted in today’s churches. There once was a time when our hymn writers were theologians first. Hymns were analyzed before they were introduced to the church the way a creed was analyzed. Nowadays, our theologians are talented musicians with little to no biblical knowledge and a deadline, yet their views are being sung by millions of Christians every Sunday (and throughout the week). We (hopefully) require a thorough education for our pastors, and sometimes even of our worship leaders… but what about our poets? From at least one perspective this seems woefully unbalanced. Think about it – a pastor normally only preaches to his immediate congregation (there are obviously exceptions), and presents his sermon on a weekly basis – a little maturity and growth is expected – yet he still needs to be thoroughly educated for this task. The songwriter, on the other hand, has his “sermon” preached to millions of Christians across the land on a continual basis. When a worship song becomes popular, it gets put into regular rotation – there is no chance for development. Of course, this is why style is more important than substance. A catchy hook is more important than good theology because the church inherently knows that there is no spiritual development in it’s music and so instead of maturing in her understanding and practice of worship, she re-emphasizes the goal of worship to emotional connection. Frankly, it’s hard to put all the blame on the songwriters, though. After all, they’re still receiving some sort of theological education from their pastors. I live in the center of “Christian Songwriter World” and I make a point of listening to the variety of preaching in this city. If we ever wanted to figure out what was wrong with the American church nowadays, this would be great place to start.

Spiderman 3

January 23, 2013

Spiderman 3

I recently re-watched Sam Raimi’s Spiderman trilogy with my family. It had been at least 5 years since I had watched any of them, yet I still considered Spiderman 2 to be my favorite superhero film. The recent onslaught of subpar superhero flicks (with the notable exception of X-Men: First Class and The Dark Knight, although neither of them are great), had left a bitter taste in my mouth for this particular genre, so I wanted to see if this franchise held up. I’m happy to report that not only did they hold up, but that I really enjoyed them – yes, even part 3. Before I talk about Spiderman 3, though, let me make a few quick comments about  the first two films. Oh, and these movies are over 5 years old, so I’m going to talk about them as if you’ve already seen them, and there may be spoilers.

Most critics consider these to be good films, so the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed myself while watching them is not that big of a surprise. What I was (pleasantly) surprised with, though, was how well the CGI held up. One of my biggest complaints with the current superhero films is their poor camera work. Given that this genre normally includes a hefty number of fights and action scenes, you would think that the filmmakers would have figured out a way to film these scenes so that the viewer could actually see what is happening. After watching Spiderman 1&2, I’m beginning to think that this has less to do with technology limitations and more to do the direction. I don’t know enough about making films to know how difficult filming action scenes are (especially ones involving CGI), but perhaps it is fairly difficult and directors can be forgiven for overly editing and jump-cutting their action scenes (I’m especially looking at you, Christopher Nolan). However, is it really the case that Sam Raimi and his team are really that much more skilled than everyone else? Who knows? All I know is that I was able to easily track the movements of every character in every action scene and never got lost in the midst of a fight or chase. Raimi’s use of spacing is superb and his blending of CGI and live action was really good (obviously not perfect, but I don’t think this has ever been the case in any movie).

The second comment I want to make is in regards to story. Raimi gets the perfect mix of realism and comic book action… which is I’m looking for in my comic book films. The recent move toward ultra-realism has been interesting, but ends up making for a duller movie. Frankly, I like my villians to have crazy powers resulting from lab experiments gone wrong. Of course, the problem is that often these sort of comic book movies end up looking like the Joel Schumacher Batman films – really cheesy and cartoony. The problem with going too far in the other direction, though, is that your superhero movie no longer looks like a superhero movie (I’m still looking at you, Christopher Nolan). I’m still of the opinion that the best “realistic” superhero film is Unbreakable – which is not even part of an actual comic book franchise. The key to having the right mix of realism is making the real aspects the heart of the story. Spiderman, at it’s heart, is about a young man learning to use his powers wisely, and maturing into adulthood. The biggest battle that Peter Parker has to fight is not with Doc Ock or Sandman, but with his pride and understanding of responsibility. The villains in most superhero films (The Avenger franchise, The Dark Knight franchise, etc…) are the penultimate fight. The fate of the world hangs in the balance. The story is about the battle of good vs. evil, and the personal issues only serve to move the story along. The reverse is true in Spiderman. The villains are the catalyst for moving Peter Parker from an immature, prideful boy to a heroic man who learns what is most important in his life, given his extraordinary powers.

Spiderman 3

This film was widely panned by critics, and honestly, not without some cause. From the start, let me state that while I have a lot of good things to say about this film, this is still a clunky film from time to time and has some serious story issues. This is also the least effective CGI of the three films. Perhaps this has to do with there being 3 villains and fight scenes involving up to 5 characters at some points (including one that turns to sand – very hard to make that look realistic!), but Raimi’s sense of spacing is still evident and I was never lost in the battles. For many, the largest problem with this film involved Peter Parker’s descent into depravity – not so much that he descended into depravity, but that he did so in such a cheesy fashion (his strut down the street, lamely pointing at all the pretty girls and especially his big dance number in the jazz club). Frankly, I thought this was fantastic. Not only was Tobey Maguire clearly having a lot of fun with these scenes, but they ultimately have an important point in the story… I’ll get to that in a bit.

Here’s what I think is fantastic about the film:

1) The character arc of Peter Parker – In Spiderman 3, Spiderman is a beloved figure. Everyone loves him. He is known as a hero and inspires the city (New York). Peter Parker, after dealing with his doubts and frustrations in Spiderman 2, has figured out how to live as a Superhero. His life is not without struggles (mainly financial), but he has learned to balance his academic life, his work like, his personal life and his faithfulness to his “calling.” In fact, he’s ready to take the next step with MJ and propose. Aunt May tells him that this is a big responsibility (he should be used to that, right?) and that a husband must always put his wife first. I think the ramifications of this bit of wisdom probably went over a lot of people’s heads, and they just shook their heads and said “of course, a husband puts his wife before himself.” This is certainly true, but I think the bigger implication (and one Aunt May is getting at… I think she knows who Peter is) is that Peter must put MJ before the city as well. The ring on his finger will symbolize a higher priority than the costume. Peter, of course, thinks he’s ready, but immediately shows he is not because of his narcissism. Let’s face it, being universally loved could do that to a person, but that is no excuse. He hurts MJ – and this is long before he comes under the influence of the symbiote.

2) The character arc of Mary Jane – most love interests appear in superhero films to simply be the reason for the hero to do what he does. They rarely get to have development. MJ’s character starts out as a young woman verbally abused by her father. Kirsten Dunst does a superb job of always letting that insecurity and fear of being abused/rejected always have a place on her face. There’s always a twinge of doubt and a little emotional bruising evident in her expressions. While MJ certainly exhibits all the qualities that a superhero’s love interest is supposed to have (beauty, smarts, a good screaming voice…), MJ goes through something that no other love interests get to do – to have her life torn apart, not by a villain, but by her own lack of talent. MJ always wanted to be a stage actress. She headlines in Spiderman 3, but is torn apart by critics the next day. Frankly, her voice is just not good enough. To add insult to injury, her directors fire her, but forget to tell her, so she shows up to her next practice, only to see another girl in her place. Humiliating. On top of that, Peter is so self-obsessed, that he fails to see her pain. Dunst plays this so well, that despite the fact that she is held hostage in each of the 3 films by the main villain, this moment of pain is clearly the worst moment for her. She mistakenly runs into the arms of another man (she quickly realizes her mistake and runs away), despite knowing that the love of her life is Spiderman.

3) The clear Christian themes – first off, let me say that I have no idea whether Sam Raimi is a Christian or not. I do not think an artist has to be a Christian in order to portray Christian themes in a piece of art. In fact, since the best of art is epitomized in the Christian story, a good artist will simply be true to his art, tell a truthful story, and any Christian themes will flow naturally out of this. This is certainly not always the case, but it often is. In the case of Spiderman 3, the symbolism is a little too prominent, though, to be accidental. Raimi was doing something here. After Peter Parker has let the love of his life down, his life goes into a bit of tailspin. He finds out that the man who killed his uncle in the first movie is still at large. To make matters worse, this means that the man he let die in the first movie was innocent of the murder. Rather than this information causing him reevaluate his desire for revenge, he becomes obsessed with it. He immediately finds the guilty party and exacts revenge… even finding pleasure in the fact that he killed him (he’s mistaken, of course, as the guilty party is The Sandman). Enter the symbiote – a black, alien substance that attaches itself to a host. Apparently, it is attracted to those who exude negative traits, making Peter Parker a perfect host. This amplifies the sinful side of Peter, and he embraces this sin. This is why Peter is ridiculous – sin is ridiculous. Spiderman was a beloved character by everyone because he was heroic… he was good. But now, Peter is strutting down the street, looking silly, thinking he’s The Man, and flirting with every pretty girl out there (they all role their eyes at him and move to the other side of the street). The world sees how ridiculous he is and they scoff, but he can’t see it himself. He’s blinded by sin. In fact, while I’ve never seen anyone mention this before, it is readily apparent to me that Raimi has Peter act out all 7 Deadly Sins: Wrath, Greed, Sloth, Pride, Lust, Envy, Gluttony. Even more brilliant, as I’ve stated, is the fact that he makes Peter look ridiculous as he commits these acts… this isn’t like Seven, where the crimes are calculated, dark, and intelligent – Peter is a dolt… he’s regressing. Eventually this culminates in Peter hurting MJ even more. He immediately realizes he has gone too far and something is wrong with him… he needs help. Where does he go? The church. On top of the church, Peter battles the symbiote. He struggles to rid himself of the black stuff. He perseveres. He wins. The very next scene? A symbolic baptism – Peter taking a shower. Of course, pre-“baptism,” Peter is consumed with anger for the man who killed his uncle and is obsessed with seeking revenge. Post-“baptism” he forgives him, and in the process, is forgiven as well (by Harry). Do unto others…

This, ultimately, is what the Spiderman series was building toward. It wasn’t about keeping New York safe, or about Peter Parker learning how to use all of his skills in order to be the best superhero. It wasn’t about overcoming bad guys, but overcoming himself. Spiderman doesn’t have the “perfect ending.” Tragedy has struck and our hero is mourning. It seems he gets the girl, but it remains to be seen what the future holds. There was a parade in the middle of film, but not at the end… Spiderman receives no accolades for this fight. Yet it is a happy ending, and the film ends with a sense of victory because Spiderman has overcome adversity and has done what is right. Smashing the enemy’s face is easy (relatively speaking)… forgiving them? That’s gospel.

Come Quickly, Lord Jesus

December 15, 2012

Earlier today (yesterday as of this posting – 12/14/12) a terrible tragedy occurred. The type of tragedy that rocks a nation. The type of tragedy that causes anger and sadness. I doubt anyone who heard about this tragedy said, “Huh. That’s too bad,” and went on about their business without a second thought. Many have commented on Facebook and Twitter and are still commenting as more details are made available to the public. One comment that I have read many times is “Come quickly, Lord Jesus” or some variation of this statement. I wonder what is meant. On the one hand, this phrase is so ingrained in America’s predominantly evangelical mindset that it may just simply be a way of expressing frustration, grief, and confusion. On the other hand, there may be a lot of thought behind it. In fact, I’m willing to bet that this is mostly the case.

When a terrible tragedy occurs, all the sin that ravages our lives and land becomes enormous. It dominates the landscape. Even the small things become great. We feel helpless. We know that God is in control and that He has a purpose, but at that moment it’s of little consolation. Evil fills our world and we see it on the news, hear about it the lives of friends and family, and experience it in our own lives. Sometimes it even wells up in our own hearts. As Christians we know that evil is not good and it’s not part of God’s ultimate plan. We know that evil did not exist at one point in time and that there will be another point in time when it will no longer exist. When tragedy strikes, we want that time to be now. We long for it. We wonder why it hasn’t happened yet. We become frustrated with God, wondering why He allows bad things to happen, why He allows bad seeds to grow and produce poisonous fruit, why He creates life, only to allow it to be snuffed out in an instant. We don’t understand, but we do know that He told us to pray. So we pray. “Come quickly, Lord Jesus.”

This prayer is appropriate. We should pray it, and often. In fact, this is the theme of Advent, which the church is currently celebrating. It is good for us to desire the coming of our Lord. But why does He come? Herein lies the problem. Many who pray “Come Lord Jesus” are praying that He would come and take them away. They see tragedy occur and evil deeds done and they want to leave. This world is full of evil – Heaven is not. We don’t want to be here – we want to be there. But this is not just escapism. They don’t say this prayer in desperation and despair, but then wise up once the sun rises again. Their theology says that this world is bad. Evil is rampant because this is an evil world. God will one day destroy this world and make a better one – a perfect one – but before that happens, He’s going to come get His people. So they pray for Jesus to come and whisk them away, because this is what the Bible tells us will happen. Only it doesn’t… but you knew I was going to say that.

The theme of Jesus’ coming has a number of meanings for the season of Advent. Primarily, I think, it has to do with the birth of Jesus. One of the aspects of Advent is reading through the Old Testament stories that anticipate the coming of a Savior. Typical Advent readings spend the first three weeks reading about how Abraham trusted God, how Joseph saved his family, how Rahab protected the spies, and how Daniel survived the lion’s den. Then, in the last week before Christmas, the readings focus on the actual story of Jesus’ birth. Reliving the Old Testament stories and sharing the anticipation with our fathers is extremely beneficial and comforting. Of course, we know the outcome – we get to celebrate Christmas! Jesus’ birth, though, is not the only coming that we should celebrate. Throughout Jesus’ life, He said He would be coming soon. He wasn’t talking about the rapture – He was talking about the destruction of Jerusalem.

In the old covenant, Israel had been the priestly nation. God had given them a land and temple at the center of the world in order to change the world. They were to pray, sing, and offer sacrifices on behalf of the world. They were to invite the world to worship God with them. And they were to go out into the world and covert them to the one true God. The problem was, Israel thought they were special. They thought the other nations were rotten. They didn’t want to have anything to do with them. But God wanted the whole world to worship Him. And He wanted the whole world to be one. Israel should have known that their priestly job was only temporary and that the end goal was to prepare the world for the coming of Jesus. They should have known that this meant that they would join with the Gentile nations to make a whole new nation – a whole new world. Jesus came to usher in a new world. He did this at His death, resurrection and ascension. The thing is, He also came to destroy the old world. He could have done it right away – Israel was no longer needed. But God was gracious and for 4o years the church grew and the gospel went out into the world – to the Jew first and then to the Gentile. Many Jews believed and were saved. They were made new. Unfortunately, many did not. And they hated the Christians. They persecuted them mercilessly. They killed many Christians. And in A.D. 70, Jesus came in judgment (through the Roman army) and wiped them out. This is what the whole New Testament is all about. That’s the context. And when the writers of the New Testament quote the Old Testament over and over again and look forward to the coming of Jesus, this is what they were talking about. So Advent had a whole new meaning for them. And this is also what we celebrate when we celebrate Advent today. When I read Psalm 27, I think about how those first Christians sang this Psalm as they were being persecuted and their friends and family were being murdered… and how they were looking forward to Jesus’ coming.

Yet, there is still another way to celebrate Advent. Much like the Jesus’ birth, the events of A.D. 70 were a one time event in the past, and we’re way beyond that now. Jesus is still coming. But not in the way that many think. As I’ve already stated, many look forward to Jesus coming to destroy this evil world and establish His kingdom. That already happened though. It’s not going to happen again. This defies expectations, because bad exegesis, fantastical theological deductions, and our culture have ingrained in our minds what a second coming is supposed to look like. It’s hard to wrap our heads around events that happened so long ago, and don’t look like what we think they should look like. But getting this right is vitally important – for a number of reasons. Here’s two: First, our outlook on life changes significantly when we realize that we now exist in a new world, that Jesus is the King, and ALL authority and power has been given to Him – and therefore His church. It’s easy to say that Jesus is King, but it’s much harder to live like it. It becomes easier when we understand what happened in the New Testament and A.D. 70. Evil, all of a sudden, becomes less of a threat. Sure, it exists – sometimes in mind-numbing proportions – but it doesn’t reign. There can’t be two rulers and Jesus already claims that right. Jesus is not the rightful heir of a kingdom that is overrun by evil, waiting patiently and gathering an army so that He can one day conquer and rule. He is already King. He already rules. The kingdom is His. Yes, there’s still bad guys out there, but that’s what we’re for. We’re the police force, in a sense. Our job is to meet with our King, receive our instructions and go out and destroy evil. We don’t use swords and guns, though. Which leads us to the second reason – understanding that Jesus is King, helps us understand how He comes to meet us.

God always met His people in worship. To be more specific, though, He always met His people at the table. When the Lord comes to meet with His people, He does it over food. He met Adam and Eve in the garden at a fruit tree. He later met His people at an altar, and after the appropriate offerings, they ate together. Later, in the Promised Land, wine was added into the mix. Jesus, of course, met with His disciples over bread and wine. And now He meets us the same way. Having a meal with our King means we have peace with Him. But much like the food we eat everyday, this holy food and drink strengthens us. It builds us up and prepares us for battle. Our battles are fought with prayer and singing. Instead of swords of steel, we brandish The Word. The world tells us that if you want to wipe out evil, you amass an army and drive them out with tanks and weapons. Well, our army is already amassed – and it’s growing every day across the planet. But instead of tanks and weapons, we raise families, we love our spouses, we our kind to strangers, we invite our neighbors over for dinner, we educate and discipline our children, we work hard at our jobs and even harder in our homes, and most importantly, we regularly attend worship where we pray, sing, hear the Word and eat with our King. Every week. And this here is the kicker. Most churches don’t do this. They don’t understand that this is the heart of worship. We internalize worship and shift the emphasis to what we’re learning and feeling. We replace congregational worship with community groups. We get rid of communion because it cuts into our 45 minute sermons, videos, skits and special performance music. We do all this and we fret. We fret about evil and the direction our country is going. We get scared and worry about what will happen next. We blame the government, the culture, the atheists, the schools and the media. We don’t blame God, though… well, at least not directly. But we do call on Him to come and take us away from it all and destroy this place… and wonder why He doesn’t. We only have ourselves to blame.

The events that happened at that elementary school in Connecticut are horrible. We should weep with those who have suffered and be angry at the evil that occurred. But we should not ask Jesus to take us away from it. It should cause us to pray harder, to serve more, to invest time in others, to gather together as communities and sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. It should cause us to fight. Jesus is coming, but He’s not coming to take us away. He’s coming tomorrow when we gather for worship, and the next week and the next. He wants to feed us. He wants to prepare us for battle. He wants to give us peace. He wants to use us to make this world perfect. He’s coming quickly. What will we do?

The True Promised Land

December 13, 2012

Yesterday I overheard someone talking about the importance of modern day Israel in regards to biblical theology. I decided to hold my tongue – primarily because I was not involved in the conversation – but also because the argument against such a view requires a bit of time surveying the scriptures and laying a new theological foundation. This could take a long time depending on how much knowledge a person has of the Bible – particularly the Old Testament. My wife, who was the one actually engaged in the conversation, later asked me if there was an appropriate response next time this topic came up. While I’m not sure that what I’m about to write is necessarily an appropriate response, I do think that it provides a starting point for giving people who hold this view a new perspective.

First of all, I should say that what I’m about to write about Israel is strictly biblical. I don’t spend a whole lot of time reading and analyzing all the goings on in the Middle East and I don’t completely understand all the intricacies involving the political history of the nations involved in these disputes. Frankly, this is because it doesn’t really matter – at least in theological terms – and I won’t be writing about them here. Because I’m dealing with the theological aspects of Israel, and because what I’m preparing to write about Israel may come across as negative (in theological terms), I’m sure some will consider my position to be anti-Semite, or insensitive, or even non-Christian (given how much the future of Israel is wrapped up in the modern church’s theological views). This is really not the case, but I do want to state at the start that regardless of how one feels about Israel (and the Middle East in general), Christians should always feel sympathy for the hardships that are occurring over there. A theological position that says that Israel does not really matter anymore does not necessitate that Israel does not matter in terms of the suffering that they face, the innocent people who are caught in the crossfire, or any injustices that they face. One can still pray for Israel the way that one would pray for any other nation – that God would prevent further suffering, that the gospel would spread throughout the land, and that justice would be served.

A large part of the impetus behind the Christian’s support for Israel is for the land of Israel. In other words, it’s not just that the people of Israel are important theologically, but the land that they inhabit is also important. This is because there are actions that need to be accomplished in this land in order to bring about the coming of Christ. For instance, many believe that the temple must be rebuilt in Jerusalem and that the sacrificial system must be re-instituted. So, if in the near future, the Middle-Eastern conflict resulted in the people of Israel being preserved, but having to relocate to another land, this would be regarded as a serious setback by many Christians. This view of the importance of the land is tied back to God’s covenant with Abram in Genesis 15. My intention is not to lay out every detail of this view (there are too many variations on this view to even count!), but to show that the proper understanding of the Promised Land leaves every Israel-centrist view without a leg to stand on. Also, because I want to attempt to present a view that is “conversationally appropriate,” I will not be laying out every detail that supports my view, but rather presenting a (hopefully) easy to understand concept that explains some of the key moments of biblical history in broad strokes.

To begin with, let me explain why the Promised Land and the Israelites were important at in the Old Covenant. From the very beginning, God’s plan was to bless the whole world. The way that God chooses to bless the world is through a mediator. This is probably fairly obvious to us now, as we know that Jesus Christ is the mediator for the world, but this was not a new concept that began with Jesus’ death and resurrection. From the beginning God has appointed mediators. Adam was the first mediator. God formed Adam out of the dust of the ground and breathed life into him (This is key for later… don’t forget!). He then placed him in the garden and told him to tend and keep it (literally, to guard it). Part of what it meant to be a mediator was leading worship. Already we see that Adam is mediating between God and the earth through his dominion, but we also see it in his relationship with Eve. Adam is the one who received the command to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam then told Eve. This is partly why the sin belongs to Adam, even though Eve ate first – Adam was responsible. He had mediated God’s command to Eve, and then stood by and allowed her to be deceived by the serpent. He knew better. He was to lead his wife into proper worship, but failed. Later on we see that Noah is a mediator and the first thing he does after the flood is lead his family in worship. Abraham is a mediator too. Abraham is constantly setting up altars where ever he happens to be living at the time. The rest of the patriarchs do the same thing. Moses is a really good example of this form of individual mediator – 1 Corinthians 10:2 tells us that Israel was baptized into Moses – this is a type of mediation.

After this particular mediation, we start to see a community of mediators. First, in the firstborn sons at Passover, who are later replaced in Numbers 3 by the Levites. Part of what it means to be a mediator is to be a liturgical servant – a priest. They would lead the worship practices for Israel. This also meant taking care of all the holy things associated with worship – including it’s transportation while in the wilderness. Now that God has established certain rules to go along with worship, participating in worship could be a dangerous activity. The Levites were there to take on that burden. They were consecrated specifically for this special task. While the Levites were mediators, though, for the rest of Israel, Israel was a mediator for the rest of the world – the Gentile nations. Israel is called a priestly nation, and their participation in the worship of God was not strictly for their own benefit – they were worshipping for the whole world. This included prayers, singing, and the sacrificial offerings. Just as the Levites had an extra burden placed on them as mediators to Israel, the Israelites had an extra burden on them that the rest of the world did not have. For instance, just look at the Law. Much of what is commanded of the Israelites did not apply to the Gentiles – even the God-fearers. The same goes for the feasts – the Gentiles were not required to attend every feast as the Jews were. Perhaps the most obvious burden was circumcision – this was strictly a Jewish ritual. A Gentile could be a worshipper of God (attending the feasts voluntarily, offering sacrifices, worshipping, etc…) and not have to be circumcised. Speaking of the Gentiles, ultimately this mediation was supposed to be for the whole world. Israel’s worship was to naturally lead toward service to others. This was not a difficult task, as there are numerous accounts of Gentile God fearers throughout the Old Covenant – sometimes whole nations – yet Israel struggled with this duty.

At this point I want to highlight the progressive aspect of Israel’s priestly service. As I’ve stated, worship was at the center of this service and it was for the whole world. I hinted earlier to Adam’s priestly service in the garden, but let me emphasize this point – the garden was the place of worship in the beginning. There are numerous details that support this statement throughout the first chapters of Genesis, but in order to keep this short, let me emphasize one aspect of worship: the place of worship is where God met His people. We see this in the garden when God comes to meet with Adam and Eve. Of course, they’ve already sinned and are afraid to meet with God and so the very first worship service in the garden never actually takes place – they’re driven out before it happens. What’s important for our purposes, though, is to see that worship is central to the world. By central I don’t mean placement (although this is often literally true, as we’ll see), but rather in the figurative sense. Eden is where Adam lives, and worship takes place in the garden within Eden. This worship is to flow out into Adam’s work in the garden, but ultimately it is to flow out into the rest of the world (I won’t speculate as to what things would have looked like had Adam not sinned, but it’s pretty clear that Eden was not the only location of importance – God created the whole world – the whole world was meant to worship Him). Regardless, we know that Adam failed in this task. Later on we see that Adam does worship God (God accepts Abel’s offerings, but not Cain’s), and, as I’ve mentioned, the rest of the Patriarchs establish worship throughout the lands. What appears to be happening in these instances is that God is preserving and choosing people to carry out His plan, but they are people without a land. Where ever they happen to be, they are the “holy land” and worship is established in their midst and God meets with them.

God eventually makes a covenant with Abram, and promises to give him a land for his offspring. This is the Promised Land. This is not fulfilled until Joshua leads the Israelites into Canaan, but we see a change in the worship practices while they’re in the wilderness. God no longer meets with His people at various altars – He only meets with them in His designated spot – the tent of meeting. Numbers 2 describes for us the centrality of this worship. The twelve tribes were to encamp around the tent of meeting – three on each side. I’ve already mentioned the Levites role in this worship, but let me emphasize one aspect of their role that I haven’t yet – the Levites were to guard the tent of meeting. No one but the priests were allowed to enter the tent of meeting and the Levites were to kill anyone who tried to enter. This harkens back to Adam’s role in the garden as guardian. Adam unfortunately, allowed an outsider to enter into the holy place – He should have killed the serpent (or at least died trying!).

When Israel finally takes possession of the Promised Land, we see the building of Solomon’s temple. This is only accomplished once David has driven out the last enemy and cleansed the land. Israel is now a “Holy Land” and a new, “permanent” place of worship is established. The Levites are still the guardians of this worship and they are placed at the gates of the temple. Israel is at the center of the world, Jerusalem is the at the center of Israel, and the temple is the center of Jerusalem. Israel is in the perfect position now to be the mediators of the world! Not only should their worship attract the world to them, but they are strategically positioned to send out missionaries. Of course, we know how this turns out: the temple is destroyed and Israel is exiled. This, though, is not the end. Eventually the king of Persia allows the Jews to return to their land and rebuild their temple. What’s interesting to note, though, is that when the temple is finally rebuilt and Jerusalem is finally re-established as home for Israel, the emphasis seems to be placed on Jerusalem as the Holy Land – the center of worship (as opposed to the temple) –  and Levites are placed at the gates of the city.

Perhaps I should emphasize one important aspect of this progression of worship – when God establishes a new and greater place of worship/role for Israel, He never returns to the old ways. They’re done. We’ve moved on to better things. So as we move into the New Testament and the incarnation of Jesus, we’re in a world where Jerusalem is still the center of the world, but have failed in their mission. They’ve been given numerous opportunities to fulfill their duties, but they have chosen not to do them. The nations have only been blessed because God has sent Israel to them through captivity and exile. Yet God has brought Israel back to her land and given her one last chance. Once Jesus begins His ministry, most of his miracles and parables have something to do with the sins of Israel and the destruction of the temple. Jesus (the true Israel) is preparing to do what the nation never did. Jesus will be the mediator for the world that Israel never was. But here’s the key – the nation of Israel was never the fulfillment of that promise to Abraham. Before we talk about this, though, we need to talk about the elephant in the room: A.D. 70. As much as modern day evangelicals want to ignore this date, it can’t be done. A proper understanding of the New Testament hinges 100% on this date. What I’m talking about, for those who don’t know, is the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. On this date, Rome wiped Jerusalem off the face of the earth. The temple was completely destroyed – not one stone was left standing. As I’ve said, when God moves on to the next phase, He never leaves it so that we can go back. Isn’t it interesting that after all this time, the church (or even Israel) has never returned to that previous form of worship? Guess what – they’re not ever going to either. We’ve already moved on.

Remember that promise about a Promised Land? A Holy Land? It started out as a garden,  and it eventually moved around with the Patriarchs, who sometimes marked it with stones. Later it moved with Israel in the wilderness, crossed the Jordan, and conquered Canaan. After that is was established as a city and eventually a nation. It didn’t end there. The Promised Land was always about dirt. There’s dirt in a garden, dirt in the Middle East, dirt in Canaan and dirt in Jerusalem. That dirt was only “holy dirt” insomuch as God was dwelling in that dirt. Once He walked in the garden, later He resided in a pillar of fire and a cloud. After that He resided in an ark and eventually His home was a temple. But that was just a temple made of stone. Now He dwells in a temple made of flesh. And that stuff about dirt? Guess what we’re made of? That wasn’t just some incidental information at the beginning of the Bible. God wants us to know that we’re made of dirt. But dirt’s not a bad thing. If it’s holy dirt, it’s a great thing. What do you get when you mix dirt and water? Clay. Moldable clay. The church is made of dirt. It’s also holy. We’re one in Christ when we’re baptized – turned to clay. We also pray and sing for the world. We worship God. We offer ourselves as living sacrifices. There’s no going back. Who needs a temple made of stone? Not God – He has something better. Who needs a sacrificial system? Not God – He sent His only begotten Son. Who needs the nation of Israel? Not God – He has the church. But Israel needs Him. That’s why we worship Him. That’s why He sends us out. We’re the true Promised Land.

The Conversion of Saul – Acts 9: 1-19 (With additional focus on Acts 1-9)

September 29, 2012

This is a rough draft of a paper that I just wrote for a class I’m taking. The style is rather informal, as it’s intended to be for a Bible Study, there’s a lot more that I needs to be said and expanded upon (which I may do later) and I have a feeling some of the punctuation and spelling (and other technical stuff) got a little discombobulated on the transfer from there to here, but I’m too lazy to care about that right now… I need to focus on my coffee.

When I was young and growing up in the church, the big, miraculous conversion story was very popular. I remember sitting in the pews of “big church” listening to special guests stand on stage and present their personal stories of deliverance from drugs, sex, gang violence and even murder. They would talk about how they had hit rock bottom, or even almost died, when Jesus did something unbelievable that saved them. I once remember a lady talk about how she had gone through a horrible period in her life. Her husband, father, and son all died in separate incidents within the span of a few months. She had grown up in the church, but had pretty much abandoned it in her adult life. After the first death occurred, she turned to the church for comfort, but she quickly rejected it after the other two deaths. She recounted how she had taken a walk around a lake one morning to meditate on everything that had happened and near the end of her walk had decided that she would take her life as soon as she got home. As she was about to leave the park, she noticed how beautiful the sun looked reflecting on the water and took a picture with her polaroid camera. As she was walking home she looked at the picture and saw what was clearly an angel coming out of the water in the sunlight, wings spread and carrying a sword. She immediately walked into her house, got on her knees by her bed, and asked Jesus into her life. She believed that Jesus had sent that angel to her to give her hope and to show her that Jesus was on her side and was fighting for her. She then passed around the polaroid to those of us in the audience.

I still remember the shiver down my back as I stared at that picture. I also remember thinking how lame my conversion story was. In fact, that was always the case with all of these remarkable testimonies. I felt a little inferior, a little unworthy. Iʼm pretty sure I wasnʼt the only one either. After all, the majority of us Christians do not have some fantastic, miraculous conversion story. Of course, the older I got, the more skeptical I became. I had seen a number of these converts with the amazing testimonies turn out to be frauds, and I began to question the motives behind these stories. Despite the shiver down my spine, thereʼs still a part of me that doubts the polaroid was real. Still, because I believed the Bible was true, I did not become completely cynical, because I knew that the apostle Paul had experienced one of these amazing conversions. As rare as they may be, there was always the possibility….

The conversion of Paul is one of the better known stories of the Bible. Even those who rarely open their Bible are at least somewhat familiar with the story. If asked to sum it up, most people would say something like this: “Saul was a bad guy who killed Christians, he saw a bright light on the road to Damascus, heard Jesus speak to him and he was saved, becoming a great missionary.” I think that because most people think of the story in these terms, the whole “bright light/voice from heaven” scenario becomes associated with Paulʼs moment of conversion. And even though we most likely have not experienced anything remotely similar to this incident in our own lives (and probably donʼt know anyone who has), we are still aware of people who claim to have had similar experiences, and we automatically assign some sort of special blessing to their lives or ministries. After all, if Jesus saw fit to convert someone in this manner, then there must be something special about them – just look at what Paul did after his encounter!

Now, I donʼt want to downplay anyoneʼs conversion experience – even the oneʼs that are pretty extraordinary. I think it behooves us, as Christians, to accept the testimony of a fellow believer on itʼs face, rather than question their motives or experience. Obviously this is hard to do – as Iʼve already stated – but until an experience is found to be contrary to the teachings of scripture, Iʼm not sure it is profitable to question a brotherʼs honesty. That said, we do need to realize that even if these remarkable conversions do occur from time to time, they do not have a lot in common with Paulʼs conversion. This is because Paulʼs conversion was a very specific incident that recapitulated certain events of old covenant history, as well as inaugurated certain events in the new covenant.

First, we should remember what Paulʼs context was. We are first introduced to Paul at the death of Stephen as he is witnessing his stoning at the hands of fellow zealots. He was a vicious persecutor of the early church, and it was his threats that caused the church to scatter to various regions. At this point, I should mention that I believe Paulʼs conversion occurred in A.D. 30. Popular scholarship normally dates his conversion around A.D. 32 – 33, and that is certainly possible, but I believe the scriptures tell us differently if studied closely. Hereʼs a quick summary of the reasons why I hold to an A.D. 30 conversion:

1. In Galations 1 and 2, Paul begins his letter by detailing the events after his conversion. In Galations 2:1, he mentions that after fourteen years, he went up to Jerusalem with Barnabas because of a revelation.

2. In Acts 11, we read that Paul and Barnabas are sent to Jerusalem for famine relief, based on a revelation of Agabus.

3. Later on in Acts 12, we read that during this visit, Herod dies a gruesome death because he did not give glory to God. We know, historically, that Herod died in A.D. 44.

4. Given the dating by Paul in Galations 2, Paul appears to have been converted in A.D. 30.

This may seem insignificant, but I believe this particular dating sheds some interesting light on the situation. For starters, if this dating is correct, then all the events of Acts 1-9 take place the same year as Jesusʼ death and resurrection. For our purposes, what this means is that while weʼre only introduced to Paul at the stoning of Stephen, it is highly likely that Paul was around and aware of all of these events, perhaps even including Jesusʼ death and resurrection. If this is true, as I believe the Bible makes clear, then it gives us some great insight into what was most likely running through Paulʼs head at the moment of his conversion.

As we well know, Paul was a pharisee of pharisees. He tells us later in Acts 22 that he was well educated. This means that Paul knew the Old Testament scriptures backwards and forwards. It wasnʼt just a story – it was his story, his history. He most likely had the book of Joshua memorized and knew all the details of Israelʼs conquest of Canaan. When Paul stood by and watched the stoning of Stephen, he clearly heard Stephen say, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” This infuriated Paul, because this was blasphemy. Stephen had just accused them of killing their Messiah, and now he was mocking them by announcing that He was truly the King! No wonder Paul started pursuing and killing Christians all over the land. But now, as he lay on the ground somewhere between Jerusalem and Damascus, blinded by a bright light, he heard what Stephen saw – the voice of the King saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Not only did he realize in that moment that Stephen had been right, but if he had indeed been a witness to all the events that had happened in the last 6 months or so, imagine how they played out in his mind.

1.Remember that crazy prophet, John the Baptist? He was baptizing people in the Jordan river, and when he baptized that Jesus guy, they say that God exalted Him before Israel – He must have been trying to be just like our own Joshua (He even took the same name!), who was exalted by God before all Israel after they passed through the waters of the Jordan river on their way to the conquest of Canaan.

2.Remember how we caught Jesus? His own disciple, Judas – one of the “twelve” – betrayed him… well, I heard they had a special ceremony in an upper room to find his replacement… whatʼs the big deal about the number twelve anyways? – oh, wait, didnʼt Joshua set up twelve memorial stones once they crossed the Jordan?

3.I heard that something strange happened in Jerusalem not long ago… something about fire coming down from heaven onto the heads of Christians… they claim it was the fire of Yahweh – You know, just like the fire of Yahweh that they used to burn up and consecrate the city of Jericho after they defeated it and began the conquest… hmmm. 

4.And didnʼt this new faction called The Way have some issue a while back with a husband and wife lying about money and keeping it to themselves? I heard they died right there on the spot – sort of like Achan… he was killed too when he lied and kept the treasure to himse… um, this is getting eerie….

5.Iʼm noticing a pattern here.. letʼs see, what happened next? Well, the Gibeonites made a covenant with Israel, and Joshua gave them important jobs in the service of the Lord – that kind of corresponds to those Hellenists whoʼve become Christians… I heard they appointed some of them to do important jobs in the service of their Lord.

6.And remember how the king of Jerusalem gathered the other kings of the land together to kill the Gibeonites, but God protected them and caused the sun to stand still – well, our leaders in Jerusalem were angry with Stephen and wanted to kill him too… in fact, just as they were about to, didnʼt he say something about the Son standing in the heavens? This is getting too hard to ignore…

7.And then God sent stones down from heaven to kill the Canaanite kings because of their sin – which makes sense because, as the “righteous” hand of God, we stoned that blasphemer Stephen and… oh no.

Of course, hereʼs the rub: this time, the one who was stoned did not deserve it. God allowed it to happen, though, which means that not only is there a new conquest taking place, but God is going about it in an entirely different way. Death is still involved, but now the church is giving her life (just like Jesus) to ensure victory. The death of Stephen was really bad news for the Jews. Yes, they had killed the Messiah, just as Stephen had accused them of, but Jesus had asked the Father to forgive them… after all, they didnʼt really know what they were doing. But now… oh, but now… they had begun killing the Bride. Jesus never asks the Father to forgive them for that. Theyʼve now gone too far, and will continue to, as they slaughter more of the church… Paul even has had a hand in this. God is gracious, and Jerusalem will be given forty years (talk about a recapitulation!) to repent and follow the true King, but by A.D. 70, the Avenger of Blood will have made Himself known to all the world!

This may seem like a lot to expect from Paul, as we are not really told specifically what he was thinking at the moment of his conversion, but there is certainly some precedent already established in Acts. The very first sermon by Peter is full of Old Testament scriptures being interpreted in light of Jesusʼ death and resurrection. Peter does this again in Solomonʼs Portico. So does Stephen. We also see Philip presenting the gospel through the Old Testament story. Later on, of course, we even see Paul doing the same thing. The fact is that every story in the New Testament is in some way a recapitulation of a previous story in the Old Testament… sometimes multiple stories. For instance, think about the testimony Paul heard from Stephenʼs lips just before his death. While on one hand Stephen is simply laying out the broad history of Israel in chronological order, many of his points of emphasis are not necessarily points that would be stated if it were only that. Stephen is showing the Jews how Jesus fulfilled all these Old Testament events, and frankly, there are way too many to mention here. For a  quick example, though, just look at how he emphasizes Mosesʻ confrontation and striking down of the oppressive Egyptian. It takes up a rather large portion of his speech, which seems odd if this is simply a re-telling of Israelʼs history. I think it is also highly likely that Stephenʼs speech, as well as his martyrdom, also passed through Paulʼs mind at his conversion.

Finally, I want to suggest one more Old Testament event that possibly contributed to Paulʼs conversion. Names have meaning in the Bible. Not just in the sense of definition (for instance, Jesus means “salvation”), which is often important, but also in the sense that names are used to identify a person with a particular event or person in history. So, to use the same example, Jesus is the same name as Joshua. This is not a coincidence. Jesus is a new Joshua. Just as Joshua led his people in a conquest of the Promised Land, so the greater Joshua does the same. I think this was not lost on Paul as he recounted the conquest in his mind. And speaking of Paul, as you are well aware, his Jewish name was Saul. I also do not believe this is a mere coincidence. The only other Saul in the Bible is, obviously, the first king of Israel. When Paul is recounting his conversion experience to the Romans in Acts 26, he mentions that when he heard the voice from heaven say “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” he heard it in the Hebrew language. In 1 Samuel 26:18, David says essentially the exact same phrase to king Saul. This is usually lost on us because it is translated “pursue” in the Old Testament, and “persecute” in the New Testament, but they both mean the same thing. I think when Paul heard this phrase from Jesus on the road to Damascus, he would have immediately recognized this phrase from David. The Jews were well aware that the Messiah would be a descendant of David, and both Sauls were from the tribe of Benjamin. So, in terms of recapitulation, this was perhaps the most powerful of all for Paul at that vital moment: A son of Saul persecuting the Son of David! Saul was no hero of the Jewish faith. Perhaps Paul realizes in that moment the path he is headed down, and converts.

If, indeed, Paul was aided in his conversion by his new understanding of these Old Testament stories, then Iʼm sure it came as no surprise to him that he was now entering into his own recapitulation of the Old Testament. As I mentioned earlier, this is what sets Paulʼs conversion story apart from the conversions that happen after the conclusion of the Bible. Of course, in a sense, all of our conversions are mini stories that retell the story of the whole Bible (Old and New Testaments), but with Paul it is more specific and recorded for our own good and understanding. We are told by Luke that Paul was without sight for three days. Again, thatʼs an interesting detail that doesnʼt seem important to the story unless it has a meaning. Naturally, three days is meant to direct our minds toward the death of Christ. I think it is no coincidence that Paul is blind and without food or water for these three days – Paul is following in Jesusʼ footsteps (as he does throughout the book of Acts) and this is meant to imply a sort of death. He is then resurrected (in a sense) by Ananias. Itʼs also possible to think of Ananias as a new Samuel. After all, Samuel was the one who anointed Saul with oil, and then later David, after Saul had rejected the Lord. This time, the old Saul who had rejected Jesus was now dead, and now the new Saul was like David, a man after Godʼs own heart, and he was anointed (baptized) for service by Ananias. Oh, and just in case the stories werenʼt similar enough, Samuelʼs name means “I have asked for him from the Lord,” and Ananias means “Whom the Lord has graciously given.”

Ultimately, itʼs important to understand what exactly conversion is. Conversion, for Paul, was not experiencing the bright light and voice from heaven. These things aided his conversion, the same way the Holy Spirit, working in the hearts of men, aids in their conversion. But at the end of the day, conversion is simply deciding to reject this world and choosing to follow Christ. So, in a way, all conversions are the same – they all boil down to a choice. Paul would have understood this. After all, as weʼve already discussed, he was well aware of the story of Joshuaʼs conquest. And at the end of that story, after Joshua has led Israel to conquer the land and settle in it; after he has divided the territories and given the allotments for each tribe; and after he has grown old and led the people in covenant renewal at Shechem, he gives this final charge to the people Israel: “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you swell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

… As It Is In Heaven

July 13, 2012

In my last two posts (here and here), I made the case that weekly communion was necessary because the church is united to Christ through the Lord’s Supper – it’s where true life is found. I also made the case that because Jesus is King and the church is united to Christ, the church determines just how much Satan and sin affects our world. When the church is worshipping and obeying properly, the world becomes more conformed to God’s Word… and, of course, the opposite is true as well.

Perhaps many who read this are skeptical of this particular view of the sacraments and the kingdom. Given the popular biblical worldviews of many evangelicals today, this would not be surprising. Of course, I contend that the biblical support for my views are abundant and clear, and perhaps I will post more on this subject with regards to theological and exegetical discussion, but I want to draw the reader’s attention to a more practical reason for seriously contemplating my views. I think it’s safe to say that about half of our country is made up of conservative, Bible-believing, church-attending Christians. Maybe this number is a little less, maybe a little more, but I think I’m pretty close to the mark here. This especially becomes obvious around election time or when a major issue like homosexuality or abortion comes to the forefront. Not only is half the country conservative on these issues, they’re passionate as well. Churches are preaching on these topics, bringing awareness to these topics, and fighting for their values and beliefs in regards to these topics. There are a seemingly great number of ministries and institutions established across our nation as a direct result of these issues. Conservative Christians are not silent when it comes to these issues. Just take a look on Facebook for proof.

So what gives? Why, with more than half the country adamantly against homosexuality and abortion, is nothing changing? How come all the protests, all the preaching, all the teaching, all the serving in clinics, all the financial support, and all the voting are not making a dent in the battle against these immoral practices? Even those who somewhat agree with me – that the church must lead the way – are not really seeing much change in the world through their commitment to expositional preaching and teaching. In fact, it seems as if many are panicking because they see the re-election of President Obama being a deadly blow to their fight against these issues, as it’s highly likely he’ll be in a position to appoint a couple of liberal Supreme Court judges during the next term. Clearly the church recognizes they have an important role in the fight, but what exactly does this role entail?

I should mention that there are two aspects in regards to the administration of the sacraments. One aspect deals with the consistent practice of the sacraments (and worship in general) and how it changes the world. This should come as no surprise to evangelicals, seeing as how the majority affirm the efficacy of preaching the gospel. Yet it seems to be a sticking point with this same crowd that God would ordain water, bread, and wine to be equally as effective. Only emphasizing the preaching, though, is like flying a jet with only one engine. Remember the Dream Team? They completely dominated every team they played in the 1992 Summer Olympics. They won every game by an average margin of 44 points. Suppose, though, that they had played the game with only two players. Even if it had been Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson, they still would have gotten their butts whooped (Well, they may have won the Angola game, but still…). This is sort of how our American evangelical churches treat worship. Yeah, preaching and prayer is pretty powerful, both capable of putting up a triple-double any given night, but that type of worship is not going to win any medals. And it’s not going to change the world. But at full strength, well, we’re talking triple digit margin of victory.

The other aspect of the sacraments is the relationship of the sacrament to a specific cultural issue. For instance, in a previous post I made the analogy between the Lord’s Supper and marriage. Because the world takes it’s cue from the church, I maintained that if our worship reflected proper spiritual unity through the sacraments, then the world begins to understand how to practice proper physical unity in their relationships with each other. On the one hand, I think this is because when the church worships properly, then their own marriages begin to properly reflect the marriage of Christ to His bride, which sets an example for the world to follow. On the other hand, though, the world is watching the church, and even if this isn’t done consciously, it is looking to the church’s worship for guidance in how to order it’s own life. The world inherently knows that it is incomplete, and it also inherently knows that the church has the answer. The degree to which the world rebels against the church is directly related to how clearly the church proclaims the answer through her worship.

With that said, let’s talk about abortion. We all agree that this is probably the biggest moral issue in our culture today. And, as I’ve already mentioned, the church is barely making a dent in stopping it. Well, the world is watching us. And what do they see? They see a church that doesn’t give life to it’s children. If the sacraments are how life is imparted to the church, and the church withholds these sacraments from it’s children, then our children do not have life. The majority of our evangelical churches believe that children are not mature enough for life in Christ, so they don’t baptize them. The rest of the evangelical churches (and our Catholic brothers and sisters) baptize them, but don’t give them the Lord’s Supper. The world sees this… and they copy us. If we’re adamant about defending the lives of babies in the womb that we will probably never know, why are we not rigorously defending the spiritual lives of our own children by giving them Christ? Heck, not only do we not wash them and feed them, we don’t even let them sit in the worship service to hear the preaching of the Word (you know, the one means of grace that everyone agrees is effectual). Of course, one might make the point that when a child is aborted, their life is ended, whereas when a child is denied life in Christ until she can make a mature profession of faith, at least she can still have life. That may be true… of course, not having life for the first 7 or 8 years of your life is bound to cause some sort of damage… perhaps the kind that causes evangelical youth to leave the church in astounding numbers when they go to college. Just a thought. Here’s another thought. Jesus wants our children to be brought to Him… It’s pretty clearly stated in His Word. If you can’t wrap your head around the theology of it, at least just do it because He told you to. Or maybe just do it for the world.