Sunday, January 31, 2010

One Cuppers?

On a discussion list of which I'm a member the question of one cup or multiple cups in the Lord's Supper was raised. Here's what I wrote about it:

As I understand it, the Passover meal (at least in modern times, and probably in Yahshua's time as well), incorporated within it "4 cups" which were specially set aside for certain times of the meal. This phrase does not mean a literal number of cups, but rather a literal number of special significances to the drinking of each person's own individual cup. We'd say in modern parlance, "four toasts".

If memory serves, there were two cups before the main meal and two afterwards, with the fourth and last one serving to close the meal, much like a closing prayer closes most church assemblies in our Western Church of Christ culture. The four cups, or toasts, each have special meaning: "I will bring out," "I will deliver," "I will redeem," and "I will take".

Luke, in chapter 22, refers to two of these four cups, one before the main meal, probably the first one as that serves more as an introduction to the meal, which is implied with Yahshua's comments about being happy to eat the meal with them, and since it's a cup of blessing, and one after the meal, probably the third cup, that of "redemption" -- "I will redeem" -- a cup of blood for a new covenant.

Paul also refers to the "cup after supper", in 1 Cor 11:25.

So Yahshua was not saying, "Take this physical cup and share it amongst yourselves"; he was saying, "Take this cup and participate in it amongst yourselves; I'm not participating in it until the kingdom of God comes".

Each person had his own cup, just as each person had his own plate. But at four times within the meal, everyone drank at the same time in a symbolic "toast" to the meaning of that drink.

There's a LOT of fascinating material in the Passover meal that we non-Jews have missed. For example, three pieces of Matzah bread (crackers) are placed in a three-pocketed cloth, one piece per pocket (think Father, Son, Holy Spirit), and at a certain point in the meal, the middle piece is taken out, broken in half, half is wrapped in a linen cloth and hidden while the other half is put back in the pocket, and after a while, the kids are sent to find the hidden piece. The kid finding it brings it back to Papa for a small redemption (a dollar, or a piece of candy, etc), and then that piece is distributed out to everyone to eat a grape-sized piece.

Tell me you don't see Yahshua's body broken, wrapped in linen, hidden in a tomb for a while, redeemed, and shared by his disciples in the Passover.

It's also interesting to note that Matzah is pierced, and those piercings are in stripes ("he was pierced for our transgressions"; "with his stripes we are healed" - Isa 53:5, NIV, KJV).

Near as I can tell, Yahshua intended for his followers to continue celebrating the yearly Passover, but now, instead of it celebrating the deliverance of Israel from Egyptian slavery, it would celebrate the death of Yahshua and the delivery of his New Israel from slavery to sin and death. But in our withdrawal from Law-keeping and Judaizing, we rode the pendulum too far and have divorced ourselves from a lot of culture that would be enlightening to us and which I believe Yahshua intended us to use for our educational and spiritual growth.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Dividing by claiming to be "of Christ"

H. Clay M writes concerning 1 Cor 1:10-17:
Here's the text:

10I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 11For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, "I follow Paul," or "I follow Apollos," or "I follow Cephas," or "I follow Christ." 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. 16(I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else. 17For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

Verse 12 What I mean is that each one of you says,

"I follow Paul," or

"I follow Apollos," or

"I follow Cephas," or

"I follow Christ."

13 Is Christ divided? <>End Text

Look at the last group "I follow Christ" Now that sounds good and
that is exactly what the CoC/SOF* was doing . . EXACTLY!

Well in context Paul corrects them, those that say "I follow Christ"
just as much as he condemns the others.

It is WRONG to be divisive. (.) period PERIOD!

It is wrong for "US" in the CoC/SOF to say we are Christ's church therefore we are the only saved.

That is un scriptual and it is arrogant and it is divisive!

Paul wrote the church at Galatia and plainly said who among would NOT enter the Kingdom of God!

Now one would think Hey this is an important text! Let's test ourselves.

Here it is: Galatians 5

18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Why it list those that cause DIVISION!

Even if they claim they follow Christ?

I Corinthians 1 certainly makes that abundantly clear to me!
* CoC/SOF = Church of Christ / Sign Out Front (those congregations that have a sign out front proclaiming "Church of Christ".

Speaking Where The Bible Speaks ...

Over on the Yahoo!Group, Norman wrote:
I believe we will all agree that the *motto*; speak where the Bible speaks and silent where is silent is a good pattern to follow regardless of where it started. That is teaching of the churches of Christ today.
But Wendy wrote a response which I find to be full of wisdom, and I'd like to share it here. She wrote:
The simple matter is that the Bible does not speak. We interpret. And we bring our cultural, educational and experiential backgrounds into the interpreting process.

So what the Bible "says" to a Chinese convert may be very different from what it "said" to a Syrian Christian of the 2nd century, and from what it "says" to an American Christian of the 21st century brought up in a Restoration faith tradition or an Australian recent convert who was raised in a nominally Christian highchurch Anglican South African home (me).
So the ideal of speaking where the Bible speaks and being silent where it is silent sounds good on paper; it's a noble ideal. But in practice, it too fails to provide a definitive method for determining "gospel truth". It seems to me that until Christians realize that fallible human logic and interpretation color greatly our understandings of the Bible, we're going to continue believing that "we have the answers and everyone else is wrong", thus dividing the body of Christ, against his very wishes, on various and sundry issues that God never made clear(!) are issues.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Determining Church Doctrine

I've grown up in (and am still part of) a culture that insists church doctrine should be derived from the Bible; but not all the Bible, but from the New Testament; but not all the New Testament, but from those parts that "apply to us today".

A core part of the methodology for determining what applies and what doesn't is the use of CENI - Commands, Examples, and Necessary Inference.

However, in recent months I've had cause to revisit these basic principles, and I'm not sure they hold up as a reliable means of determining church doctrine.

The first part of CENI, "Commands", should be the easiest to apply; if God commands it, do it. Yet here are some commands from God that I daresay are not considered binding on Christians today in my church culture.

1 Tim 5:23 - Don't continue drinking only water, but use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.

This command is "tweaked" by explaining that "wine" means "grape juice", and by explaining that the command was specifically for Timothy and not for all Christians. Fair enough, but it's a command in the New Testament that is not considered binding.
1 Tim 2:8 - Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands ....

Of course, if I try lifting my hands in prayer this coming Sunday morning, I would soon find myself in a discussion with the church leaders about my "inappropriate" behavior. So here we have another command which is not considered binding. Interestingly, this is a command that is not only denied as binding, but is actively opposed by many Christians in the name of "expedience". I can't help but recall Jesus' words: "Disregarding the command of God, you keep the tradition of men" (Mark 7:8).
Rom 16:16; 1 Cor 16:20; 2 Cor 13:12; 1 Thess 5:26; 1 Peter 5:14 - Greet one another with a holy kiss (and similar phrases).

Here we have a command that is not given once, but at least five times. And yet, do we bind it? No, we explain it away.
Mark 10:21 - Go, sell all you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.

This one is explained away as applying only to a specific man in the scriptures, and not to all followers of Jesus. Again, fair enough.
1 Thess 4: 2,11 - [Y]ou know what commands we gave you through the Lord Jesus. ... to seek to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, so that you may walk properly in the presence of outsiders and not be dependent on anyone.

And yet we seldom hear these commands espoused from the pulpit as binding on Christians. In fact, we tend to encourage one another to "make a splash", if not in our personal/business lives, at least in our evangelistic lives. We seldom hear that it's a requirement that Christians work so that we're not dependent on anyone.
1 Cor 14:1,39 - [D]esire spiritual gifts, and above all that you may prophesy. ... [B]e eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in [other] languages.

This is explained away as applying only to the Christians still living in the "age of miracles", and therefore doesn't apply to us today.
1 Cor 14: 26,29 - Whenever you come together ... [t]wo or three prophets should speak, and the others should evaluate.

In context, this command is also dismissed as belonging to the "age of miracles", and thus we dismiss the principle entirely of having two or three speakers, publicly evaluated by all, replacing it with one paid pulpit preacher, whose word is traditionally not publicly evaluated by all.

The point is not that these are commands we are failing to observe; the point is that the idea that the "Commands" part of CENI is a potentially unreliable methodology for determining what Christians should and should not do, allowing lots of room for humans to "pick and choose" the commands we want to keep and explaining away the others. A "principle" that turns out to be so variable is not really a principle, is it?

The second part of CENI, "Examples", is also problematic. The idea is that if we see the New Testament Christians doing something, we should be doing it also. Here are some examples however that we do not consider binding.

Acts 2:44,45; 4:32,34; 2 Cor 8:11-14 - Now all the believers were together and had everything in common. So they sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as anyone had a need. ... [N]o one said that any of his possessions was his own, but instead they held everything in common. ... [T]here was not a needy person among them, because all those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles' feet. This was then distributed to each person as anyone had a need. ... But now finish the task [of sharing] .... It is not that there may be relief for others and hardship for you, but it is a question of equality — at the present time your surplus is [available] for their need, so that their abundance may also become [available] for your need, that there may be equality.

How many of us in the church practice voluntary communism? Hmm-mm??
Acts 21:5 - [A]ll of them, with their wives and children, escorted us out of the city. After kneeling down on the beach to pray....

How many churches kneel as a group to pray?
Luke 22:41 - [Jesus] knelt down, and began to pray....

How many individual Christians kneel to pray?
Mark 6:41 - [L]ooking up to heaven, [Jesus] blessed and broke the loaves.

I suspect that if I looked up to heaven during my prayer the next time I led a prayer in the Lord's Supper, I'd again find myself in a discussion shortly thereafter with the church leaders.
Luke 18:13 - [T]he tax collector, [praying], would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest....

Ah, finally, an example we follow. Sort of - we bow our heads and close our eyes, but we don't strike our chest.
So again, we find that just because we find an example of a practice in the New Testament, that doesn't mean we apply it to ourselves as binding. So the "Examples" part of CENI also fails us when determining what we should or should not do as Christians.

Necessary Inference
The last part of CENI, "Necessary Inference", might be okay, except that we often bind the "inference" part on Christians while neglecting the "necessary" part.

For example, it's an inference that each church had a multiplicity of elders in the first century. We see passages like Acts 20:17 -- "[Paul] sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church" -- and conclude that a church had multiple elders.

It's a valid inference. But it's not a necessary inference. What I mean is that it's not the only inference possible. For example, what if "the church" in Ephesus was not a single congregation, but a half-dozen or so house-churches, each with their own pastor/shepherd/elder? Could the passage in Acts 20 still make sense? Yes, it could. In fact, we see a similar situation in the book of Colossians, wherein Paul writes to the saints there, and mentions the church meeting in Nympha's house.

There's an inference that churches had a multiplicity of elders. But there's also an inference that there may have been multiple churches, each with its own elder. Neither inference is necessary.

So What Then?
So if CENI doesn't work reliably, what then? It seems to me that perhaps Romans 14 addresses this issue:

[D]on't argue about doubtful issues. One person believes [this; another believes that]. ... Therefore, let us no longer criticize one another.... I know and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself. Still, to someone who considers a thing to be unclean, to that one it is unclean. ... Do you have faith? Keep it to yourself before God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves.
2 Timothy 2 also addresses the issue:
[Do not] fight about words. ... Be diligent to present yourself approved to God. ... [R]eject foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they breed quarrels.
The question is, "Which arguments are foolish and ignorant, and which are not?"

Whatever the answer to that question is, it's clear that we "must not quarrel" (2 Tim 2:24), and that we should "[a]ccept anyone who is weak in faith" (Rom 14:1), "bear the weaknesses of those without strength" (Rom 15:1), and "be fully convinced in his own mind" (Rom 15:5) about what he believes.

In other words, my church culture has defended a culture for all my life, a way of doing things, a set of doctrines. But it seems more and more to me that we have created laws where God has not, based on our own logic systems, logic systems that are demonstrably fallible. The basics, according to God-As-Man himself is thus:

"This is the most important," Jesus answered:

Listen, Israel! The Lord our God, The Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.

"The second is: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these."

Then the scribe said to Him, "You are right, Teacher! You have correctly said that He is One, and there is no one else except Him. And to love Him with all your heart, with all your understanding, and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself, is far more [important] than all the burnt offerings and sacrifices."

When Jesus saw that he answered intelligently, He said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God."

So, the legalities of burnt offerings and sacrifices and when the Lord's Supper is taken and how many elders a church has and whether women are silent when they sing in the assembly or not or having a kitchen in the building are far less important than loving God with all your being, and treating your neighbor as yourself.

I'm not saying CENI is useless, or bad; I actually think it's a good general principle for determining what Christians should and should not do. But it's not infallible. So don't treat the results you get from this method as infallible.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Creative Tooth Repair

In the evolutionary mindset, tooth decay due to bacterial action is a normal part of the "survival of the fittest" mentality.

In the creationist mindset however, it is recognized that in the beginning, there was no tooth decay nor plaque nor gum-rot, and the question is raised, "Why not? What prevented these things? Can we restore that state?"

I suspect that in the beginning, bacteria in human mouths functioned as a cleaner of teeth and restorer of tooth enamel. When the Fall occurred, that bacteria "devolved" to become a producer of plaque and tooth-rot.

If we were to put resources into researching how to turn bacteria back to their original purpose, we might just put Crest and dentists out of business. Just think, no more fighting with your kids to get them to brush their teeth; no more need to floss.

I suspect it's possible. But as long as the research dollars are being poured into the labs of scientists who don't believe bacteria ever had such a role and never will, then this suspicion will not likely ever be confirmed.

Philosophical foundations matter when doing science. I believe the wrong philosophical foundation has had a stranglehold on research for the past 50 years, and as a result, I'm still having to floss.

And wear glasses.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Culture or Scripture?

I was walking across campus today when a thought caused me to question a doctrine I've held for a long time. I got to wondering if I had learned this doctrine from "church", or from the Scriptures.

And I realized that we often hold to doctrines because we've sung these doctrines in our church songs since we were two years old, not because the doctrines are actually taught in the Bible.

Just another good reason to question everything, even dearly-held doctrines.

Friday, January 08, 2010


Being curious how visible my blog is to Google, I searched for "westing peacefully". About four or five hits down, I saw a link that looked odd, so I clicked on it.


Apparently someone has set up a screen-scraper bot that just goes and collects random text from random sites and pastes them together on a page that at first glance looks like a real web page.

I was bothered that searching for my blog resulted in a first paragraph that was quite pornographic textually.

What's wrong with people?!

Oh yeah, I forgot; we people are corrupt from conception. (Note, conservative church of Christ preachers: I didn't say we're guilty from conception; I said we're corrupt; there's a difference. See here and here for more.)

As long as we people remain in our corruption, we will do things like create/run this screen-scraper bot (and much worse things as well), which serves no purpose I ken except to tarnish other people's work.

May the Ruach Kadesh* move in the hearts of all persons everywhere, particularly right now the creator of this bot, to draw them unto God. May there be peace on Earth, and good will to all persons.

*Englicized Hebrew for "The Holy Spirit", variously rendered as Ruach Ha'kodesh, Kadesh Ruach, Ruach Ha Kodesh, etc, depending on the writer.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Rethinking the Way We "Do" Church

Recently I've been challenged to rethink the way we "do" church.

Because this rethink challenges the way I've always done things, it was easy at first to just ignore it, but it's starting to wear down my passive defense. Since I'm supposedly committed to doing things in a Biblical manner rather than in the comfortable traditional manner, I have to consider that perhaps we do need to rethink our practice.

The practice to which I refer is basically the lecture-sermon format, in which one man spends half an hour lecturing to an audience of passive (and often sleeping/bored) listeners. We have thought this to be a Biblical model, because after all, Paul and Peter and Timothy "preached".

But here's another look at this format, from basically two sides of the same coin:

Side 1:

- much of the early preaching was not "lecturing", but rather "dialoging".

For example, when Paul went to Corinth, he did not preach in the synagogue, but rather "reasoned" (Acts 18:4 NKJV).

And when he went on to Ephesus, "he himself entered entered the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews" rather than "preached" to them (Acts 18:19 NKJV).

"reasoned" - Acts 17:2

"sat and spoke" - Acts 16:13

This does not mean there was not lecturing, but it does mean that perhaps the "lecture format" with which we're familiar is unBiblically skewed in favor of passive listening on the part of the assemblers.

Side 2:

- the assemblers' participation was not just "listening", but also "sharing".

When Yahshua visited the synagogue in his home town, he stood up, apparently signifying his desire to speak/read, and he was allowed to do so (Luke 4:16).

We see this same pattern later in the synagogue when the leaders ask the visitors if they have any words of encouragement for the people (Acts 13:15).

Even in the first gospel sermon (Acts 2), there was give-and-take between the speaker and the listeners (see esp. v 37).

Paul, when writing to the Corinthians (14:26), seems to point out a pattern with which we're unfamiliar: "Whenever you come together, each one has a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, [another] language, or an interpretation. All things must be done for edification." And he goes on to fill this chapter with specific instructions to keep this organized chaos "decent and in order" (v. 40).

Putting this all together, I'm starting to get the distinct impression that the early church meetings were often more of a "sit down and everyone contribute" type of meeting than rather than the lecture format of our modern-day Sunday meetings.

Accordingly, I'd like to suggest the following idea:

Rather than have one man stand up and give a 5-7 minute "sermonette", or a 25 minute "sermon", how about instead having 5 men come to the mic and give a[n] (absolute maximum no exceptions allowed ever!) 2-minute "here's what I learned this week via God's grace that I'd like to share with you" message. (If it can't be said in two minutes, it needs to wait for a different occasion, and if the speaker can't limit himself to two minutes, the speaker needs to not speak at all.)

For example, the other night I learned that "matzoth" is the Hebrew word behind "unleavened bread" (such as in Exodus 12:15). Gives me a better handle on seeing the word "Matzah" on the box of crackers on the store shelf.

See, that example took maybe 30 seconds, and edifies people like me who feed on tidbits of information like this. It won't edify people who need emotional-laden messages, or people who need deeply meaningful messages, but those types of people will be edified perhaps by one of the other four speakers who have a different style of message.

Another example might be someone saying that Proverbs 10a ("A righteous man cares about his animal's health") helped him decide to take his sick cat to the vet, an application of scripture to everyday life via God's Spirit.

A third example might be my previous blog entry about the Sabbath; takes 2 minutes to explain, but can challenge our thinking about our attitude toward "Sabbath-keeping".

There might even be time between each speaker for questions/dialogue.

This format would help to train the men to speak boldly in front of people, without putting pressure on them to work up a whole sermon (or even sermonette). It relieves the regular preacher of always having to come up with a sermon. It presents different information/styles to the people which one man can't provide. It involves people more.

It seems to me to be an idea worth considering.

The Sabbath

From the very beginning, God made the Sabbath "special" ("hallowed", "sanctified"); note that it's not "special" because of the Ten Commandments/Law of Moses, but because God made it so from the very beginning.

Yahshua, on the different issue of marriage (Mark 10:6), refers to the way things were established by God at the beginning. His example leads me to conclude that the same principle applies to the issue of the Sabbath. Therefore, I must conclude that the Sabbath (seventh day, not first) is still "special", not because it was part of the Mosaic Law, but because God made it so from the beginning.

I'm not real sure what to do with this information, but there it is: the Sabbath is still special.