Monday, December 14, 2009

Binding and Loosing

Scott Wiley wrote:
was this during a temple worship? An equivalent of the synogogue?
This question asked by Scott draws my attention. If you think about it, you'll find there is no scriptural authority for the Synagogue (having developed probably during the Babylonian Captivity when observant Jews had no access to the Temple), but by the time the New Testament opens, the Son of God seems to accept it as a God-inspired worship format, even though he was unable to produce a Book/Chapter/Verse for its existence.

This ties in with the terms "binding" and "loosing", which we, not being part of the Rabbinical culture in which Yahshua lived and taught, don't quite "get".

In Yahshua's day, there were two main schools of Rabbinical thought, as founded by two great rabbis, Shammai and Hillel, who had been born just a generation or two before Yahshua. Much of the testing of Yahshua made by the religious authorities was not so much a challenge against Jesus as a simple inquiry into which school of thought his teachings fell (for example, see this entry on divorce, where we find that Jesus sides with Shammai rather than with Hillel).

Not just any Rabbi could "make the rules" as Shammai, and Hillel, and Yahshua himself, did. Only those who had "authority" could do so. So when Yahshua comes along and "teaches as one having authority" (Luke 4:32), he's challenged by the religious leaders who ask him where he got this authority. They understood that not just anyone could claim to be a Rabbi with authority, but that he must be given that authority by two other such authority-bearing Rabbis. Yahshua essentially said, "I got mine from John the Immerser, and God Himself when I was immersed. Do you accept their authority?" (although he does it in a Rabbinical questioning method which most of us Westerners don't quite comprehend - Luke 20:1-8))

Normal Rabbis could teach from the Torah and the Prophets and the Writings, but only those things which had been handed down from more authoritative Rabbis through the years. But authority-bearing Rabbis could interpret the scriptures afresh: we see Yahshua doing this in the Sermon on the Mount - "You have heard it said ..., but I say ...".

When a Rabbi enforces a particular teaching on a student, he is essentially binding that teaching, and when a Rabbis releases a student from a teaching, he is essentially loosing that teaching. The collection of bindings and loosings that a Rabbi teaches is called his "yoke". After fussing about the harsh religiosity of his culture, Yahshua said, "Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (Matt 11:28-30).

Yahshua gave to the church this authority to bind and loose, the first time apparently to Peter:

And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the forces of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth is already bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth is already loosed in heaven. (Matt 16:18-19)

... but the second time more generally to his followers:

If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. ... I assure you: Whatever you bind on earth is already bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth is already loosed in heaven. Again, I assure you: If two of you on earth agree about any matter that you pray for, it will be done for you by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there among them. (Matt. 18:15a; 18-20).
We see this authority being exercised in the church about 14 years after its inauguration, when the previously Jew-only church starts being opened to non-Jews. Many staunch Pharisees and other "conservative" Jewish believers insisted that these new Gentile converts be converted to Judaism in order to participate fully in the Jewish church. But a council was called at Jerusalem, and it was decided, via the Holy Spirit, that they would heed Peter's voice, which stated:

Why, then, are you now testing God by putting on the disciples' necks a yoke that neither our forefathers nor we have been able to bear? (Acts 15:10)

And from that time on, a new term arose, "Christian", which seemed to better fit this new school of thought that followed Rabbi Yahshua but which included decidedly unJewish Gentiles as full disciples.

Now, having laid all that background, I'm drawn back to Scott's question, or more accurately, to the underlying issue of authority for what we do as the church. Can we "invent" a synagogue if we can't make it to Temple? Can we bind a law on the believers that "Christians don't drink"? Can we loose a law on women that says they can't speak in 21st century Western mixed assemblies? Do we have that authority to "tie up heavy loads that are hard to carry and put them on people's shoulders", and to "lift a finger to move them"?

I honestly don't know. I've believed all my life that church doctrine was established in the first century, and anyone who teaches a different doctrine is accursed (as per Gal. 1:6-9). But looking at all this background, I'm left wondering if the church does have the right to modify the specifics of how that doctrine is implemented.

I think it would be a stretch to say the church can loose something that is fundamental to first century doctrine (such as the physical, bodily resurrection of Yahshua); but perhaps it can ease up on other issues, such as women remaining silent in a mixed assembly.

I really hate to even bring this up, because of its incredible potential for abuse, and because it's so far outside the boundaries of orthodoxy for most of us, but it's a question that nags at me.

Did Yahshua give us, the church, the authority to mold our own form/practices, or are we limited to restoring the first century church in all its particulars (except for those we deem not applicable - *cough*) as those of us raised in the Restoration Movement have been trained to believe?

I don't know, but I find it an interesting and uncomfortable question.

1 comment:

Nathan R. Hale said...

This actually puts the Roman Catholic perspective on the authority of the church in a different light for me...interesting.

I feel like I should be reading whatever books you're reading...where do you do your research into Jewish culture?