Heaven Opens

Mark uses the word that is at the root of our word “schism” twice in his gospel.  First, heaven “schisms” at Jesus’ baptism, the Spirit descends, and the Father speaks.  Second, the veil in the temple “schisms” at the crucifixion when Jesus “breathes his last” or “gives up the ghost.”  The verb is basically “ex-pneuma”, Jesus “out-spirits.”

So heaven is torn open when the Spirit comes on Jesus in his baptism, and the blue, heaven-colored veil of the temple is torn apart when the Spirit exits at his crucifixion.

The movement of the Spirit at these two heaven-tearing events suggests an avenue for thinking about what happens on Pentecost when the Spirit comes, not on one man, but upon all of the assembled disciples.  This a radical fulfillment of God’s plan for the ages, which Ephesians 1 tells us is to unite all things in heaven and on earth in Christ.  Before the incarnation, heaven was closed, curtained off, and God and Man could not unite.  But Jesus’ ministry causes a double tearing of the curtain that opens wide the way for God to dwell in his people by the Spirit, and for all of us to unite with the one who now says to each, “you are my beloved son.”

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One. Done.

In John 17, Jesus prays, “that they may be one.”  This verse is championed by many as a cry for organizational unification.  Those of this opinion will say that in order to see the answer of Jesus’ prayer, we must see every Christian in the one true church (whichever group that might be), or we must somehow get all the varieties of churches to merge and combine.

Now it may be that union and unification are good goals and that the divisions and divides in the church are wrong, harmful, and lamentable.  But it is not clear that Jesus’ prayer in John 17 is really about the circumstance of today’s unhappy church divisions.

At this point in his prayer, Jesus turns from praying about his immediate disciples to praying about those who will come to believe through the preaching of his disciples.  It is that larger group that Jesus prays will be one.  And there is good reason to believe that the unity Jesus prayed for was achieved.

When Paul writes to the churches, he insists that there is no longer any Jew/Gentile division.  He scolds Peter in Antioch for withdrawing table fellowship when Jews from Jerusalem visit.  By ceasing to eat with the Gentiles, Peter is denying the gospel.  There is One Table.  When you separate table fellowship from other Christians, you are denying the gospel.

In Ephesians, Paul tells the Gentiles that Jesus has accomplished a new oneness by the cross.  Jesus “has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.”  So there is the answer to Jesus’ prayer that they may be one.  He did it.  He made them one.  The reconciliation by the cross is accomplished. Finished. Done.

So it seems much more likely that on the eve of the cross, Jesus is praying for the fulfillment of God’s plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth, than that Jesus was praying about some distant form of desirable church unification.

To be sure, it may be that structural church unity is downstream from Jesus prayer in John 17, but it also seems certain that the way ahead is by giving thanks that the one new man has indeed already been created, and that we must now behave like it, especially by refusing to deny one another table fellowship.

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Old man, old … self?

For no reason at all, other than political correctness, the ESV guys for Ephesians have changed the word “man” to “self” in Ephesians.  Chapter 4 tells us to put off the old man and put on the new man. But the ESV knows better and protects our delicate cultural sensitivities by telling us to put off the old self and put on the new self.  Ugh.

It may seem like a harmless concession to the political concerns of our sorry culture to change “man” to “self”, but it is not.  When you read the faithful King James, which tells you to put off the old man and put on the new man, you are only half a thought away from making the association of old man = Adam and new man = Christ.  That’s good.  That’s what *should* be handy in the linguistic mind of the scripture.  But the ESV pretty effectively eliminates the possible Adam/Christ association by restricting things to the merely personal.  In our sorry culture, it’s always just about you and your personal self, after all.

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What you Think, What you Do

In the Donatist controversy, the early church concluded that sacraments are valid in their *doing*, and that doing is not invalidated by the personal failings of the man who officiates.  So the slogan was “doing the work, does the work,” or “the work works,” or “ex opere operato.”  If your dear pastor Cleanthus failed in the face of Roman persecution, don’t worry, your baptism is still good, and the eucharist he served is still valid.  Doing the work, does the work.

The reformers said the same.  Calvin told men that their baptism was valid, even at the hands of some scoundrel of a corrupt and worldly Roman priest.  The sacrament does not somehow fail because of the failed piety or doctrine of the priest or people. The sacrament is what God says it is, and that is not changed or limited by the kinds of human confusion or failings that often come into the mix.

So baptism is what God says it is, and baptism does what God says it does, whether it is performed in a Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Catholic, or Orthodox church.   And the eucharist is what God says it is, and the eucharist does what God says it does, whether it is celebrated by Baptists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Catholics, or Orthodox.

So the church is mistaken to impose tests of doctrinal understanding for participants.  As if the sacrament will somehow go wrong if the participant has the wrong idea in his head as he eats and drinks.  That is the gnostic error: you must get up to the desired level of enlightenment and knowing to enjoy the corresponding spiritual experience.

So a Methodist, a Pentecostal, a Catholic, and a Presbyterian ought all to be able to sit side by side and pass the bread and eat, and pass the wine and drink, and all be fine because doing the work does the work, in spite of the fact that each has a different idea in his head about what’s going on.  Jesus said “do this,” not “think this.”

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The Washing of Regeneration

“Regeneration” has two distinct and different meanings.  1) The way the Bible uses the term.  2) The way theologians use the term.

2.  Theologians talk about “regeneration” as an equivalent to the term “born again” and by that they usually mean an ontological change in the soul of a man as he is changed from being dead in trespasses and sins, to being alive by the Spirit in Christ.  This is what happens when you come to faith and Get Saved.  You used to be Dead spiritually.  Now you are Alive: born of the Spirit.  That is generally what theologians are talking about when they talk about “regeneration.”

1.  But the Bible doesn’t use the term that way at all.  In fact the word regeneration, (palin-genesia, again-generation) occurs only twice in scripture:

Matthew 19:28 Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world [!!regeneration!!], when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Matt. 19:28 ESV)

and

Titus 3:5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, (Tit. 3:5 ESV)

You can see how the ESV translators in Matthew recognized their problem.  The Greek word is clearly “regeneration”, and it is translated that way in all traditional English translations, but the ESV guys knew that the English word has come to mean something that doesn’t fit what Jesus is talking about.  What to do, what to do?  Ah!  Change Jesus’ word!  There.

Or, we could actually submit ourselves to the Bible and retrain our thinking.  We could use the word “regeneration” and learn that in the Bible, it is talking about the new age, the new world that comes after the end, in the resurrection.  In the regeneration, the Son of Man is sitting on his glorious throne.  THEN is the regeneration.  Not when you Get Saved.

So when Paul refers to baptism as the washing (loutrou) of regeneration, he is not saying that baptism effects some kind of ontological change in the soul.  He is saying that baptism marks you, prepares you, for the age to come.  Those who are baptized are marked for life in the regeneration, when the dead are raised, a new genesis, and Jesus sits on his glorious throne.

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After the Temple … sacrifices?

The beingjewish dot com website has an article that answers the question “why don’t we have sacrifices any more if we are following Torah?”

The writer does an unhappy bit of handwaving exegesis:

When the First Holy Temple was destroyed, there was no place to bring sacrifices. It was, in fact, forbidden to bring sacrifices, since there was no Temple. We then asked Hashem, how will we attain atonement? Hashem said, through Hosea: “Take words with you and return to Hashem. Say to Him, ‘Forgive all sin and accept the good we do. We will offer prayer instead of animals” (Hosea 14:3).

The problem with that is that when Hosea prophesied, the temple was still standing.  This prooftext had nothing to do with substituting prayer for sacrifices.  Hosea was urging the people to come sincerely, and their prayers were figuratively regarded as offerings, which of course was a common idea.  David talks about bringing the sacrifice of praise in the Psalms and would be astonished if anyone read that to mean he should not also bring sacrifices to priests at the altar.

And that “we will offer prayer instead of animals” translation is terrible.  ‎  וּֽנְשַׁלְּמָ֥ה פָרִ֖ים שְׂפָתֵֽינוּ׃ There is no “instead of” at all.  “And we will offer the bulls of our lips.”

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Fire and All …

April 26 there was a fire in the Zion building that destroyed part of the north end.  All of the new construction is okay, and 80% of everything else, too, unless you count smoke and water damage, especially smoke, which goes everywhere and ruins everything.  All the stuff in my office was taken away by the restoration company for cleaning and treatment.  Much is not worth keeping and will be tossed.

So I get a new computer.  Which always seems to take days.  I finally got the hard drives out of the smoke pods, and I’m copying files at this moment.  I had a lot of photos from many years on that machine, and they take time.

Downloading and installing must-have apps: Pixwizard, GIMP, and Goldwave are essential.  Roxio Creator is my go-to for the sermon CD’s.  Office 365 lets me deactivate my install from the fire PC and activate it on the new PC.

I like the little $30 CA speaker system I got for this machine.  It has two little stereo speakers plus a woofer box about half the size of a shoebox.  Handy thing is, it has a physical desktop volume knob with an off switch and earphone jacks.  I’m going to need ear buds because our temporary office suite doesn’t have a door on my office.  One of my neighbors likes to listen to talk radio and music during work, which absolutely distracts me.  I have some spare earbuds now, and I’ll bring them.

I got the compleate Shakespeare audio on CD and ripped them to mp3.  The little SanDisk player came with a decent set of earbuds, so I have a spare now.  I’m listening through EVERY play.  I need to be topped up with language and cadence as I point towards the King Saul project on Sabbatical this summer.

And with the fire, that Sabbatical will be easier to prepare for: no VBS, and no adult class preparations while we’re out of the building during restoration.  Looks like it will be the end of the summer, at least.

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Perkins and the Bard

perkins and the bardAs I point towards my late summer sabbatical and my renewed work on The Tragic History of King Saul, I am spending more time with Shakespeare, trying to soak in the language as much as possible.  I am also going to be teaching an early summer class at Zion on the Puritans.  As it turns out, the first one on my reading list is William Perkins, who was a contemporary of Shakespeare.  Good!, I thought.  I will get even more Elizabethan language to soak in, and perhaps some interesting twists and turns of phrase to steal for King Saul.

But so far, Perkins is, well, pretty *regular*.  Sometimes reading Shakespeare, I get the impression that the vocabulary and language have just changed *so much* since his day.  But reading Perkins, I realize that the vocabulary and language have not changed *all that much* — it’s just that Shakespeare had such a broad command of the language, his word gardens are so thick, it can be overwhelming.  Only part of it is the distance in time.  Most of it is the marvel of Shakespeare.

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“… that they may boast in your flesh.”

This time through Galatians, I have been thinking about the motives that Paul attributes to the circumcision party.  They have visited Paul’s gentile churches and have erroneously taught that in addition to believing in Jesus as Messiah, gentiles must also be circumcised and commit to Torah.  After all, they (evidently) argued, the covenant to Abraham was an everlasting covenant with an everlasting covenant sign, so to enter fully into that covenant and be an heir of Abraham, you must accept the everlasting covenant sign: be circumcised. Thus these guys could preach Genesis 17, and evidently they were persuasive. That seems to be something like the logic that the circumcision party was using.

The thing that has puzzled me has been the idea that these false teachers have two motives for their mission: 1) not to suffer persecution, and 2) to boast in the gentile Christians’ circumcision:

12 It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. (Gal. 6:12-13)

It is not entirely easy to answer “persecution from whom?” and “make a good showing before, and boast to whom?”  The Romans weren’t persecuting any Christians yet.  You couldn’t boast to the Jews in the synagogue next door; they would not be happy that the gentiles were circumcised unless they also took their place in the synagogue with other gentile God-fearers.

I’m now of a mind that the circumcision party were Jerusalem Jewish Christians who were currying favor with the Jews of power and prestige in Jerusalem who had come into the church.  Acts 21 tells us that there were a LOT of Torah-observant Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, for whom circumcision was an important deal:

And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law, 21 and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs. (Acts 21:20-21)

Moreover, Acts 6.7 tells us that a great many of the priests were converted.  So there evidently was a significant number of highly respected, perhaps wealthy, influential Torah men in the Jerusalem church.  These were the kinds of guys you wanted to impress favorably, and that you did not want to offend and make your enemies.    In their zeal for Torah, such men would withhold table fellowship from gentiles, and want to see gentiles be circumcised and come under Torah.  Paul knows these guys, because he was one of them — or actually he was advanced in Judaism beyond them all.  And now, even Peter is afraid of the trouble these guys can cause, so Paul is about the only one who isn’t afraid at all of what they think of him and his ministry:

 10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Gal. 1:10)

The Jerusalem wannabe’s took the circumcision and Torah message to the gentile churches in order to curry favor with the Jerusalem Important Guys.  They may have been sent and sponsored.  If they go and come back with a report that the gentiles are being circumcised, they are celebrated.  But if they refuse to go on such a mission and stand up in Jerusalem saying, “No way, man!  Torah is OVER!”, they would pay.

I sure don’t envy James his job pastoring a church dominated by these guys.  And I wonder if this is part of Paul’s poor opinion of the Jerusalem apostles “those who seem to be something.”

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Why have you left me?

tenebraeWorking on Psalm 22/Matthew 27 last week, I was struck by the connections between David’s psalms of trouble and Deuteronomy 31

they will forsake me and break my covenant that I have made with them. 17 Then my anger will be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them and hide my face from them, and they will be devoured. And many evils and troubles will come upon them, so that they will say in that day, ‘Have not these evils come upon us because our God is not among us?'(Deut. 31:16-17)

David’s psalms of trouble are full of that language; especially Psalm 22.

So it seems that when David was in trouble, he laid out his life next to Deuteronomy 31 and compared. He began his career with a rocketing rise of success. Scripture says, “David had success is all his undertakings, for the LORD was with him.” So later, when things go wrong, David has to reconsider. Why did God leave? Was it something David did?

Sometimes his self-examination results in a psalm of repentance, because he realizes his sin. But sometimes he doesn’t see how his deeds have deserved this trouble. “judge me, O LORD, according to my righteousness and according to the integrity that is in me.” (Psalm 7) That’s Psalm 22. It is the Psalm of a righteous man who suffers while God hides his face, and somehow that is all in God’s plan.

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