Thursday, April 28, 2011

Tradition-Awareness Exercise

(Matthew 15:9) But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

All my life, raised in "mainstream" Texas churches of Christ, this verse has been applied against everyone but "us", because "they" don't have the truth and they "invent" doctrines. But that's really not consistent with the context of the passage.

In context, Yahshua is condemning those religious leaders who believed that all the answers were in the text of the Bible, and that it was imperative that they dig and analyze and apply their human logic to determine exactly what God meant and how the scriptures should be applied in everyday life. On the surface, this sounds like a very noble thing, but in practice, it resulted in the leaders making laws where God had not made laws. These laws eventually became known as the "Oral Law" (or "tradition of the elders", as verse 2 puts it), as opposed to the written Law from which they were derived.

It was these traditions which Yahshua condemned as vain worship.

In another place, Yahshua pointed out how that "poring over the scriptures" thinking that's how to find eternal life (John 5:39) does not result in finding that life; instead, life is found by putting your trust in Yahshua, not in the Scriptures and your own understanding of them.

We see the same principle at work in today's church. We've pored over the scriptures and dug and analyzed and applied human logic to come up with laws which we deem binding, which God never specified. For example, I suspect that some on this list would absolutely deny the validity of a church which had a sign out front that said "Church of God" instead of "Church of Christ". Did God ever specify that the sign out front should say "Church of Christ"? No, but some of us have created a tradition that is now taught as doctrine. Another example is that a faithful Christian must attend worship services each of the three times a week that the local church meets. God never specified a thrice-weekly schedule, nor that Christians are unfaithful if they skip attendance "too often". But this tradition has become, in the minds of many, a doctrine. Yahshua condemned such man-made doctrines as vain worship.

If you doubt that this is really an issue in today's church, I challenge you to pick any well-established tradition at your local church and try to change it. Confusing tradition with doctrine is a natural human tendency, and we need to be wary of it in ourselves. I suggest you make it a habit to change things up at your church and in your personal life often, just to exercise your tradition-aware muscles.

Welcome to the Party! - Heb 12:23

There are many wonderful aspects about the venerable King James translation, but sometimes this version just... well, it just misses it.

For example, translating baptizo as "baptize". Here the Catholic influence is seen in the translation, as the translators let their tradition get in the way of properly translating the word as "immerse", instead opting to transliterate a Greek word into English letters. The word, properly translated, is "immerse"; it is not "baptize".

Another place where the Catholic influence is seen is Acts 12:4, where the word "Easter" is introduced into the Bible. This is just out-and-out a bad translation. It's not even properly a "translation"; it's a complete fabrication. This word is "Passover", and should have been so rendered.

A Jewish influence is seen (not just in the KJV, but in most English Bibles) in that the name of God, YHWH (JHVH in older or Germanic-flavored English) is either hidden behind the man-made phrase "the LORD" or translated as the man-made combination of the consonants of YHWH with the vowels of "Lord" (~ "edonai" in Hebrew), becoming "JeHoVaH". It started out as a reverence for God's name; the scribes didn't want readers to mis-use the name. It seems a great presumption on the part of the scribes, to change God's Word after so many warnings against doing so. (Many Bibles have an introduction that explains that they have done this.) It would be like whiting out every instance of the name "Jesus" from the New Testament and printing "Christ" or "the Lord" instead, "out of reverence for the name of Jesus". How is it reverent to change God's Word from what He inspired to what we think is appropriate?

And speaking of the body of Christ, that reminds me of still another Catholic influence which is woven throughout the entire New Testament of most English Bibles: The word "church" is not in the Bible.

It's "assembly", or "congregation" or "gathering".

The word "church" derives from the Germanic "kirk" and the Latin word "circe", and from even older variants of the word from pagan sources (none of which words are in the Bible). It refers to a circle, and most often referred to the circle of worshipers gathered in pagan (specifically Druid) ceremonies.

The word in the Greek most often translated as "church" is "ekklesia", which you'll see in the names of Spanish churches often, such as "Iglesia de Christo" (Assembly of Christ).

When the New Testament was completed, there was no word "church" in the text; it was "ekklesia" (gathering, congregation, assembly). But as the ekklesia of Christ spread out over the earth, and the Catholic church developed, the Catholic church absorbed many pagan believers, along with many of the pagan concepts and terms (Christmas, Easter, the word "church", etc). By the time the original Greek New Testament was translated into Latin, and then into English many centuries later, the word "church" had become firmly entrenched in the mindset of believers of the time. Accordingly, when King James commissioned the translation of the Bible into English, resulting in the King James Bible, he set down as one of the principles of translation that older established ecclesiastical words, such as "church", were to be kept, even if it violated the text of the Bible (you can see the king's list of rules for yourself, particularly #3 which specifically mentions keeping "church" instead of using "congregation", at

So now, 2000 years later, we read in our Bibles of "the church", which is an unBiblical concept. It is Biblically "the assembly". I recommend that you start reading "assembly" or "congregation" every time you see the word "church" in the New Testament; that's what God intended you to read. And if you wind up changing the sign out front of the assembly building to read "Assembly of Christ", you'll only be more Biblical in doing so, even though you'll be branded a change-agent or worse by your brethren.

Please do not misread me: I am not declaring the King James Version to be a bad translation, or unreliable, any more than any translation has flaws. I'm simply saying it does indeed have flaws, and should not be worshiped as perfect.

So why is this article titled, "Welcome to the Party!"? Because, once again, the King James misses it.

Here is Hebrews 12:22-23 in the KJV:
22But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels,

23To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect....

The phrase "general assembly"? The Greek is panēgurei, and means "festal gathering". Here it is translated by the Holman Christian Standard Bible:
22 Instead, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God (the heavenly Jerusalem), to myriads of angels in festive gathering, 23 to the assembly of the firstborn whose names have been written in heaven, to God who is the judge of all, to the spirits of righteous people made perfect....
If you're a believer, then the welcome is to you: Welcome to the party!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Denominational Church

Written a couple of years ago on the Church_Of_Christ Yahoo!Groups email list.


dan best wrote:

To Shawn
You said,
"Contrary to popular belief, the Messiah’s ekklesia is inclusive of what some refer to as “denominations".
How did you determine this? This is a question that has been debated for many years. Since there are no mention of denominations or its sub groups in the New Testament it seems to me that this is an unanswerable question from God at this time. Now it is evident to me that a disciple can be considered by God as a member of the ekklesia without any involvement in denominations or their sub group.

Kent replied:

According to merriam-webster (, the definition of "denomination" is:

1: an act of denominating
: a value or size of a series of values or sizes (as of money)
: name, designation ; especially : a general name for a category
4: a religious organization whose congregations are united in their adherence to its beliefs and practices

Looking especially at definition #3, we see the church leaders in Acts 21 specifying two categories of members of the Messiah's ekklesia using general names:

1) "Jews ... who have believed" - verse 20
2) "Gentiles who have believed" - verse 25

Furthermore, each group had its own distinctive set of beliefs and practices: the Jews were "zealous for the law" (v. 20), whereas the Gentiles had "no greater burden [concerning the law] ... than [a few] necessary things" (15:28 & 21:25).

Take a synagogue of Jewish Christians from the mid-first century and a Gentile assembly from the same time period, and plop them down side-by-side on Main Street USA, and I daresay that although both wore the name "Ekklesia of the Messiah" on the Sign Out Front, everyone would refer to the two groups as different denominations. Even if you don't apply the term "denomination" to these groups, they are definitely "sub groups" within the church.

Furthermore, we have a very clear-cut case of "denominations" in 1 Cor 1:10ff; Paul did not approve of these denominational divisions, but he did testify to their existence, and considered their factional members as "brothers" and "God's church" and "saints".

So it seems to me that there IS mention of denominations or sub-groups of the church in the New Testament, sometimes approved and sometimes not, depending on the circumstances.

My two cents.


We tend to make a big deal out of the idea that the Scriptures are "breathed-out" by God, but forget that the word "inspire" doesn't necessarily mean "breathed-out", but rather may mean "breathed-out and breathed-in".

When God blew into Adam's lifeless form, He breathed out, but at the same time caused Adam to breathe in.

Likewise with the Scriptures: He has breathed them out, but His Spirit gives us understanding as we breathe them in (1 Cor 2:12ff).

Dressed in Light

On the Church_of_Christ Yahoo!Group from several years ago:

billysh226 wrote:

In the first place Adam wasn't born,he was created.Adam became corrupt when he died spiritually by his disobedience. That's why God made the first blood sacrafice and clothed them with animal skins{Gen.3:21}.
Kent responds:

Whereas I certainly do not dispute this claim that God killed [an] animal[s] and clothed Adam and Eve with animal skins, for that seems to me to make the best sense of the passage, it's good to realize that's not what the text says.

The text does not mention the killing of animals at all. Nor does it say that the skins came from animals.

If I had to offer any other hypothesis than the one billysh226 makes above, and which most of us have believed all our lives, I would suggest that perhaps before the Fall, Adam and Eve were dressed in light, much like Jesus and Elijah and Moses were dressed in light on the Mount of Transfiguration.

Being so clothed, they were not ashamed.

However, when they sinned, their light went out, and they were ashamed of what they had become. In this hypothesis, they were not ashamed because they now associated nudity with sin; they were ashamed because they no longer fully bore the image of God, Who is Light.

It would be kind of like you as a teenager being told by Mom and Dad to not get a tattoo, and then getting drunk one night and coming home covered in tattoos. You could not hide the evidence that you had broken your parents' trust. (Not a great analogy, I know, but it's the first thought that comes to mind.)

Adam and Eve could not hide the evidence that they had broken God's one rule, and now things had changed drastically, just as He had warned them they would. If it was merely a matter of becoming aware of their nudity, they might have tried to bluff their way through by pretending all was the same as before, which would have been possible if their external appearance had not changed.

But they couldn't bluff their way if their external appearance had changed. But perhaps they could cover themselves with leaves and such, and hide the fact that underneath the leaves their lights had dimmed.

God then prepared human skin to wrap around our bodies, to fulfill the job that the light formerly did.

There are flaws with this hypothesis, and so I really don't fully subscribe to it. But I do find the idea interesting. Perhaps the glow of an expectant mother is a very dim remnant of that original light. Perhaps the encouragement to be light bearers, etc, are based on cultural reminders of once being dressed in light. Perhaps the angels of light are more reminiscent of what we looked like originally, and what we'll be like in the resurrection. Perhaps Moses' face glowed after meeting with God as as result of his cellular matrix being slightly recharged with the natural state of our bodies.

But regardless of whether this idea has merit, or some other idea might have merit, the main point I started off with, and with which I want to finish, is that the actual text says nothing about the death of an animal, or of the skins provided to Adam and Eve being from animals. That's a meaning that we've inserted into the text rather than taking out of the text.

Drop-Box Giving at Church

Seen in an old post at the Yahoo!Groups Church_Of_Christ email list:

George K. Howsepian wrote:
The greatest glory to God in our giving is when we give anonymously. I've advocated this for years. The passing of plates or hats or whatever in public is coercive and glorifies the donor. We don't blow horns when we drop our donations into a plate in public but we might as well be. An alternative would be to have a drop box in a private place and allow the cheerful giver to drop in whatever he will, whenever he will. That's just my opinion.

Kent responds:

I've been thinking along these same lines for the past few years.

It seems that the widow who gave her last two cents dropped it into a drop-box. Of course, it was still possible to observe who gave what, but I suspect it was also possible to drop the money off more anonymously than our current method of passing the plate.

I've also been thinking that it's time to bring our contribution support into the 21st century. I and my friends almost never carry cash or checks; we do everything with a check-card. When I floated the idea by a few friends a year or so ago to set up an automatic debit on a year-by-year basis, they discounted the idea because it removes the weekly remembrance that we're intentionally setting aside something for the Lord. At the time, I sort of bought into their arguments. Now a year later, I don't think that's the purpose of giving. The purpose of giving is foremost and primarily to take care of the poor/needy, and secondarily to take care of local church expenses (as I understand things), not to remind me of my relationship to God.

I'm confident that Joseph the Levite did not sell a parcel of land every week to bring to the Apostles; if he can make a one-time contribution, I see no reason why I could not set up a weekly contribution once a year and then forget about it the rest of the year. The advantage is that the poor/needy and the church needs would get a more consistent gift than if I'm having to remember to write and carry a check or go to the ATM every week.

Another advantage, as you mention, is that it would cease to be coercive. I wonder how many people avoid going to church just so they don't have to avert their eyes when the plate is passed.

Combining the yearly auto-debit plan with a drop-box would be ideal, as when I have an extra 75 cents in my pocket on a Wednesday night, I might dump that into the drop-box instead of into my coin jar at home. Over a year's time, with fifteen or twenty people doing that every week, that could add up.

I might even suggest two drop-boxes at each exit instead of just one: one would be designated for the poor/needy, and one would be designated for other church expenses. After the published budgetary needs are met per period, then anything in one or the other box would go specifically to that area so designated. (In other words, if the preacher's budgeted salary payment is $5 short, and there's $10 in the poor/needy box, then $5 would come out of the poor/needy to meet the published budgetary need, and then the remaining $5 would go to where it's designated. Of course, this policy would need to be clearly published at each drop box.) I think this would encourage more people to give, because they could be more confident that it's going to help some widow with medical bills instead of paying off the stained-glass window repair, and then the church might actually have the funding necessary to do its job of
helping the needy instead of relying on Good Will and the government to do its job.

Revisiting "Which NT Church"?, Part 2

heb12347 wrote:
To presume that Restoration has anything to do with cultural or local features misses the point altogether (and appears to be a dodge - not an accusation, just an impression). Restoration has to do with those features that are of age-lasting and spiritual significance: the plan of salvation, worship that is in spirit and truth (matters that are identified as "musts").

Kent responds:

Ah, but now you've moved into the realm of "picking and choosing":

"Hmm, we don't do 'baptism for the dead', so we'll put it in the non-must category. Oh, and miraculous gifts also, they need to go into the non-age-lasting category. Let's see, saving up every Sunday to help Christians in famine, let's make that into an age-lasting and spiritually-significant "must", but let's change it from a one-time famine-relief effort to on-going local church support. And kneeling in prayer is obviously a cultural thing, so we can dispense with that, but, oh, that guy that proved his humility by bowing his head in prayer? Let's keep that. Yeah, that's spiritually significant."

In addressing the question of restoring the New Testament church, the question remains valid: "Which NT church?"

My point is that the term "NT church" is ill-defined. All my life we have tossed around the phrase with the meaning that there was only one church described in the New Testament (and gave Eph 4:4 and others as proof text), and then went about doing the sort of picking-and-choosing as above to define and defend a particular version of the NT church.

I'm all in favor of restoring the age-lasting and spiritually-significant features of the NT church; I just think we need to be wary of our conclusions, and realize that the next person over, equally honest and truth-seeking as ourselves, may find an entirely different church in the New Testament than what we find.

In other words, my point is that the NT church may not always "look like" the church we define and defend as the NT church. If an all-Jew church moved in next door to our assembly building, and they put a Sign Out Front that said Church Of Christ, and they used Hebrew phrases and incense and observed Passover (with a Christian meaning to it) and woreprayer shawls and yarmulkes, most of us would dismiss them as being something other than a true "Church of Christ". But Paul wouldn't have. And neither would God. I daresay that if Jesus came to visit us before his next return, he'd be more comfortable going to church there than in our building, not because that is more "right" than our version, but because it's more in line with the culture he knew as a kid.

Let's be careful about which "NT church" we define and defend, is all I'm saying.

Revisiting "Which NT Church"?

A couple of years ago the following exchange took place on the Church_of_Christ Yahoo!Groups email list.


heb12347 wrote:

It comes down to this: is it possible to restore the NT church? That is the goal.

Kent responds:

NT church?

- The church of the early years that was exclusively Jewish and did things with a decidedly Jewish flavor, including worshiping in the Temple and keeping Jewish vows and celebrating Jewish holidays and insisting on circumcision and becoming fully Jewish in order to be a member of the Messiah's church?

- The church of the mid-century that was composed of a mix of Jew and Gentile, with an uneasy truce between the two cultures, which eschewed Torah-keeping for non-Jews, but had its own strange customs brought over from paganism such as Love Feasts bordering on the orgiastic and praying for the dead and glossolalia (speaking in "tongues") (which things Paul endeavored to tone down into more Christ-like versions).

Of course, if you had said "first century church" instead of "New Testament church", I could have also added:

- The church of the late-century that began to look with distrust on the Jewish community, but which nevertheless adopted much of the structured rigor from that culture and began to make laws which we don't find in the text of the New Testament, along with structures such as a tiered eldership and formal rituals in worship and special clothing for the officiators and special rote prayers and liturgies.

Please don't misunderstand me to say that I believe the goal of restoring the NT church is a bad or faulty goal; I believe it's a good goal. I just think we need to be careful about thinking that we've even properly defined what that church looks like, and even more careful about thinking we've reached our goal, which is what seems to be the perception in some of our churches.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Helping the Street Beggars

So you pull up to a traffic light, and there he is, the "homeless" person begging for a hand-out.

You intuitively know it's a scam, but you worry that he really does need help. You either pull out a dollar or two and give it to him, wondering if you're contributing to drug/alcohol abuse, or you look the other way and rush through the light when it turns green, feeling guilty the whole time.

Here's a possible solution, although it would require several groups to cooperate.

A church could provide debit cards, in the denominations of $1, $2, $5, and $20. These cards could be used at participating grocery stores, Wal-Marts, filling stations, city utility/tax offices, the city's bus system, etc, but could not be used for cigarettes, alcohol, lottery tickets, etc.

These cards would then either be pre-sold or assigned to members of the public, and when you pull up next to a street beggar, you could give him one of these cards. If the card is pre-sold to you, then you'd need do nothing further. If the card is assigned, your bank account would be charged when the card is used. Any cards not used within 6 months would be considered a donation to the church's benevolence work.

(Lots of tweaks could be made to this plan, but this is the basic idea.)

Now you can give money to the beggar, knowing the money won't be used for "vice" products (I'm sure the beggars could trade/sell their cards, but it adds a level of difficulty to them to do so). And if the beggars in town get most of their donations via a card, they'll either use the cards as intended (or work around the system, unfortunately), or they would leave town to find one that donates cash instead of cards.

Would this plan (or something similar) work?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Top Evolutionist Says Creationist Critics are Right, Just Not Scientific

Pro-evolution magazine Discover interviewed top evolutionist Lynn Margulis this month. It's an interesting interview. Here's a couple of excerpts.
Peter and Rosemary Grant, two evolutionary biologists [went to the Galapagos islands to do actual research rather than theory]. ... They saw lots of variation within a species, changes over time. But they never found any new species--ever.
Some of you might recall how I've argued that what is actually observed (true Science is observable, repeatable, testable) is "variation on a theme", within limits. This is what the science says; what the textbooks say is that evolution goes beyond these limits to create new forms of life. When pressed for evidence, what is trotted out is examples of "variation on a theme".
The critics, including the creationist critics, are right about their criticism. It's just that they've got nothing to offer but intelligent design or 'God did it.' They have no alternatives that are scientific.


Friday, April 08, 2011

And You Thought Dragons Were Mythical


Now, since reptiles grow all their lives, I wonder what these would look like if their lifespans were ten times longer, like was the case for humans prior to the Great Flood of Noah.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Just Wandering Through Some of Acts

As part of a conversation elsewhere:


In this particular case, Saul was going to the synagogues in Damascus to arrest any Jews who "belonged to the Way", in the name of the High Priest (Acts 9:1-2).

You may recall, at this time, the name "Christian" did not yet exist, and the only Christians in existence were Jews (who observed the Torah and who had not quite gotten beyond their belief that the Messiah was only for Jews and for converts to Judaism (involving circumcision for the males and immersion for both sexes).

By Acts 15, a loud segment of the Way was composed of Pharisees who insisted on this conversion process for non-Jews (Acts 15:5).

When the Good News reached Phillipi, Paul and his companions did not find a synagogue (probably because there weren't enough Jewish men in town to fulfill the minimum number required to have a synagogue, because they likely had been expelled from this Roman colony (Acts 16:12) when Emperor Claudius expelled all the Jews from Rome (Acts 18:2)). So they went to the river-side, where by tradition would be a back-up location for Jewish assemblies. There they found women, one of whom was Lydia, who after conversion, opened her house up as an assembly place (Acts 16:15,40).

In Thessalonica, the Jews who were jealous of Paul's, et al, popularity, expected to find him in Jason's house (Acts 17:1-9). They did not find Paul and his crew there, but they did find "some of the brothers" (v 6). Perhaps these brothers were some of those who had heard Paul & Silas teaching in the synagogue, who "were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas", along with God-fearing non-Jews and women (v 4).

In Corinth, Paul spent all his time reasoning (note, not "lecturing") in the synagogue (Acts 18:4) with both Jews and Greeks. When his listeners resisted, Paul left the synagogue and started meeting next door in Titius Justus' house (vv 6-7). Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, apparently went with them (v 8), and his successor, Sosthenes (who was a co-writer of 1 Cor (1 Cor 1:1)), seems to have become a believer but remained at his post as new leader of the synagogue (v 17) (or alternatively, the Christian assembly was referred to as "synagogue" (as also found in James 2:2) and had a "leader").

In Ephesus, Paul engaged in discussion (note, not "lectured") with the Jews in the synagogue (Acts 18:19), who wanted him to stay around a while. He had to leave, but Priscilla and Aquila still hung out in the synagogue, which is where they first heard the Jew Apollos teaching about Jesus (Acts 18:24-26). Later Paul returned to Ephesus, where he engaged in discussion (note, not "lectured") in the synagogue for 3 months (Acts 19:1-8), until the Jews became hardened, at which time Paul broke away and "began a new congregation" in the lecture hall of Tyrannus (v 9).

And so forth and so on.

So at least in the early days, if you wanted to find an assembly of Christ, you started at the local Jewish meeting place, and went from there.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Direct Operation of the Holy Spirit

One of the controversies in the assembly of Christ is that of the nature of the Holy Spirit's operations in the present day. One side says that the Holy Spirit can directly operate on a person's heart; the other says that the Holy Spirit only operates through the text of the Word.

I just came across this passage which seems to have relevance:
2 Tim 2:24 The Lord's slave must not quarrel, but must be gentle to everyone, able to teach and patient, 25 instructing his opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them a change of mind to know the truth.
What this says to me is that the instruction of the Word is instrumental, but that ultimately, a mind-change is a function of God's will in each instance, not of what he has said at some time or another. This seems to me to be a direct action of God on a person's heart.