Friday, September 26, 2014

The Meaning of "In the Name Of"

I've often heard that the phrase "in the name of" is equivalent to "by the authority of".

I would certainly agree that this is one of the meanings, but there are at least two others as well.

The second meaning is "in honor of". For example, if my grandmother dies of cancer, and I make a donation in her name to a group trying to cure cancer, that doesn't mean I've made a donation by her authority; it means I've made it in her honor. We see this type of usage in Romans 14, where Paul says if a person does X, he does X in honor of the Lord, and if he does Not-X, he does Not-X in honor of the Lord.

The third meaning is "as a representative of". If my wife sends me in her name to the PTA meeting to vote on several unspecified issues, that doesn't mean I have to call her on every issue and ask her how she wants me to vote; it means she wants me to vote as I know she would, because I know her. I believe this is the usage intended in Col 3:17 - a form of "WWJD" (What Would Jesus Do?). Act as if you're a representative of Jesus, as his ambassador; this is living in the name of Jesus.

Granted, in all of these meanings is the inherent understanding that what you're doing is in alignment with the desire of the person in whose name you're acting. So in a sense, they are all done "by the authority" of that person. But it doesn't mean you have to have specific authority for all your actions; God has given us free will and a mind and his spirit to know how to make good decisions that make him look good.

HCSB Col 3:17 [So] whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

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Jesus Did Not Believe in the "Nadab And Abihu" Argument for Authority In Religious Matters

Many might get riled up by the suggestion that God didn't lay down specific plans/instructions for how we are to assemble. This is a huge leap for many of us who have been trained since childhood to "keep the pattern" (a la Heb 8:5). But even within the book of Acts we can see how the "pattern" changes over time and distance, with communism being the first way of life for Christians (Acts 4:32), but moving quickly to a model allowing for private-ownership of property (Acts 5:4); with new church roles/offices being "invented" as the need arises (Acts 6:1-6); with allowances being made for different worship practices by different groups (Acts 15:6-35).

So we need to question the idea that "Everything believed and practiced in religion must have divine authority behind it."

Jesus did not believe in this principle. Please bear with me; please don't be reactive without considering what the scriptures say about it. Here are three lines of evidence that Jesus did not believe in the "Nadab and Abihu" principle:

1) He pointed out the example of David eating the showbread (Matt 12:3-4), which was not "lawful" for David to eat. The point Jesus is making is that situational need takes precedence over red-tape law-keeping.

2) Jesus himself practiced things in religion without having divine authority behind it (Example 1): He attended synagogue. Yet synagogue was never commanded, never authorized. It just magically appears somewhere between the Old Testament and New, without any God-given authority, and yet Jesus accepts it and participates in it as a customary habit (Luke 4:16).

3) Jesus himself practiced things in religion without having divine authority behind it (Example 2): He drank a beverage, and ate bread-dip, at the Passover (Mark 14:20, 23), neither of which was authorized anywhere by God. The regulations were very specific about how to keep the Passover, and there was no mention of either beverages or bread-dips, and yet Jesus participates in his Passover worship with these unauthorized things as a part of it.

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Instrumental Music in the Early Church

There is no indication of musical instruments being used in the non-Jewish Christian assemblies during the first six centuries or so after the Resurrection. Therefore it seems to me that a modern-day assembly that worships without instruments more closely resembles the church we read about in the New Testament.

But lacking a specific command that explicitly forbids instrumental music (some misconstrue their inferred understandings as God's commands, but this inventing of commands which God has not explicitly made is a dangerous path, which Jesus condemns in Matt 15), one must consider that perhaps this lack of instrumental music is more an accident of history than an intentional design feature.

The "ekklesia" (the "called out ones", the body of Christ, the "church") had its earliest beginnings in the Jewish Temple and Jewish homes and the Jewish synagogues. In these early days, while they were still exclusively Jewish and still doing Jewish things, like meeting in the Temple, like they had done all their lives, they considered themselves as nothing more than Jewish people, the chosen of God, who had finally found the long-awaited Messiah. They weren't something "new"; they were simply Jews who accepted Jesus as the Messiah.

As Jews, these Christians:

  • still continued to worship in the Temple (Acts 2:46; 3:1; 5:12, 42; 22:17);
  • still thought they were to not associate with non-Jews (Acts 10);
  • still participated in Jewish rituals and sacrifices (Acts 21:24-26; 24:18);
  • still considered themselves as part of the Jewish sects, such as the Pharisees (Acts 15:5; 23:6);
  • still meticulously observed the Mosaic Law (Acts 15:5; 21:24);
  • still participated in the great Jewish feasts (Acts 20:16; 24:11).
These earliest Christians, being Jewish, and still worshiping in the Temple and participating in the worship on the great feast days, participated in worship wherein instrumental music was used.

I don't believe Peter went into the Temple and refused to worship while he was there because of the instrument; if that were the case, I think Luke would have mentioned it. And if he had, it surely would have caused a stir with his fellow Temple-goers, worthy of Luke's mention. It seems to me that Luke's silence on the issue is best explained as Peter simply having no qualms with being in a place of worship wherein instruments were being used.

The same could be said of Paul, who specifically says he "went up to worship in Jerusalem" (Acts 24:11) where his enemies found him, not stirring up trouble, but simply "ritually purified in the temple, without a crowd and without any uproar" (that is, worshiping, not evangelizing - Acts 24:18). It would seem that Paul simply had no qualms with worshiping in a place wherein musical instruments were being used.

By the time the focus moved away from Jerusalem and its Temple, the dominant meeting place was the synagogue, wherein instrumental music was unknown, not because God had forbidden it, but because it was the Jewish tradition from their days as exiles in Babylon, being too sad to play their music (cf Ps 137:1-4; it might also be noted that not only was it tradition to not use instrumental music in the synagogue meetings, the synagogue meeting itself was based on tradition, not on any authorization from God; and yet, Jesus supported this non-authorized tradition as his habit - Luke 4:16). It was this non-instrumental assembly that became the normative model for Christian assemblies by the end of the first century.

So yes, by the time we have any significant records of the habits of Christian assemblies (mostly from outside of the Bible, and mostly after the first century had passed, with only a few hints within the Bible), instrument music was not part of the assemblies, at least in what we might call the mainstream assemblies. But this seems to be more an accident of history than an intentional design from God.

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Monday, September 22, 2014

The Ethiopian Eunuch Knew About Baptism Prior to Philip's Teaching

Archaeology has revealed large "baptistries" ("mikveh") around the Temple; people who were entering the Temple would go down the steps on one side of these baths, into the water, immerse themselves as a purification ritual, and then come out up the steps on the other side so as to not mix the pure path with the unpure path (ex.,

The Ethiopian eunuch of Acts 8 would have been witness to these Jewish baptisms all week long while he was in Jerusalem during Passover Week, wishing he could be baptized, sorrowful that he could not be part of God's community because of his status as an eunuch (Lev 21:18-20; Deut 23:1). Philip preached Jesus to him starting at Isaiah 53:7-8, and when they got three chapters further in (56:3ff), the Eunuch was excited that he might could now be part of God's community. When they came to some water, the eunuch's question was, "What's to keep me from being baptized?" And after he was baptized, he went on his way rejoicing that he could now be part of God's community.

Jesus had told the disciples that they would be his witnesses in Jerusalem, then in all Judea and Samaria, then to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:7). Luke shows this progression in his writing: conversion begins in Jerusalem, and includes the "Judean" (that is, full-blooded) Jews (Acts 2); then the half-Jews of Samaria (first half of Acts 8); then the disenfranchised, like eunuchs (second half of Acts 8); then the non-Jewish Gentiles who were favorable to the Jewish religion (Acts 10); then the somewhat-interested-in-Judaism Gentiles (Acts 13); then the pagans (Acts 14); more of the disenfranchised, like women and those working for the hated Roman government (Acts 16); then the snobbish elite heathen philosophers (Acts 17); then the king of the world himself and his worldly government (Acts 21-28). Luke is not trying to teach us that when Jesus is preached, baptism is part of that process (the eunuch was already familiar with baptism, albeit probably not the baptism of Jesus, which Philip would of necessity had to then explain, I'm confident); rather, he's developing his theme that those who were formerly excluded from the kingdom of God, such as the eunuch, are now welcome.

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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Why Don't Miracle-Workers Empty the Hospitals?

All my life I've heard the question, "If someone can heal the sick, why aren't they emptying the hospitals?", as an argument that healing must therefore not be happening today.

This is the same argument the inhabitants of Nazareth used against Jesus: "What
ever we heard was done at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’ (Luke 4:16ff).

But look at Jesus' reply (paraphrased): "Look at Elijah; he did a miracle for ONE widow, and she was far away, when there were many widows right at his back door step. And Elisha; he healed ONE leper, a foreigner at that, when there were lots of lepers right there at his door."

And then the people hearing Jesus got furious with him.

Jesus says this argument is invalid.

Miracles have always been few and far between; they just seem like a lot in the Bible because the Bible condenses the story and focuses it so that it looks to us like those old "Biblical days" were the "Age of Miracles". Regardless of the existence or lack thereof of true miracles today, the argument that our hospitals aren't emptied by miracle-workers is not a valid argument against them.

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Purpose of the Assembly

Many congregations have the misunderstanding that the assembly is primarily for the benefit of believers, not for unbelievers, and therefore orient their "service", particularly the sermon, to converting the unbeliever, making sure to offer an "Invitation" at the end of each sermon.

Yes, unbelievers may be in attendance, and may be converted as a result of the activities in the assembly (1 Cor 14:24-25), but Jesus said, "Go ye into all the world and make disciples," not "Go ye into all the church". The world is our mission field for converting unbelievers; the church is our place for building up & encouraging those who already believe (1 Cor 14:26b; Heb 10:25).

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The Crux of Christianity

Gal 6:2 Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

It doesn't matter that you're precisely on-time to your 9am Bible Class every Sunday morning; if you're not helping others in their daily struggles, you're not fulfilling the law of Christ.
James 2:8 Indeed, if you keep the royal law prescribed in the Scripture, Love your neighbor as yourself, you are doing well.
It doesn't matter that you can recite the entire Bible from memory, and know the differences between the covenant of Noah and that of Abraham; if you have the resources to get your neighbor's lawn mode during Zero-Toleration Week when he can't, so he doesn't get a ticket for grass that's too high, you're not fulfilling the Royal Law.
James 1:27 Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
It doesn't matter if you know all the correct doctrine, and break no rules of God, and meticulously keep the commands concerning worship and praise and church organization; if you're not making sure the widow woman has heat this winter and the orphan kids have shoes, you're not practicing pure and undefiled religion.
1 Cor 13:1 If I speak human or angelic languages but do not have love, I am a sounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge,
and if I have all faith so that I can move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I donate all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body in order to boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.
It doesn't matter if you have special miraculous capabilities, or extraordinary insight into Scripture, or a faith that drives to success, or even a self-sacrificing generosity; if it's not done out of love, it's no good.

The rich young ruler (Matt 19:16ff) had been a good kid all his life, keeping all the commands he knew to keep, but he still felt like maybe he wasn't good enough to be saved. Jesus told him that although he had kept all "the rules", that didn't matter; what mattered was having the right heart. The ruler wasn't willing to part with his big home and his fancy car and his fine art.

I recently saw a movie wherein the family of the main character had two vacation homes and spent no less than $10,000 per chair to redecorate the living room; this is the type of "rich young ruler" who doesn't see the family of five who's dad is working two jobs and who's mom is frantically trying to get the kids to school and to the dentist, who are struggling to pay the dentist, who are worried they won't be able to give the kids a decent Christmas or to be able to afford to let the kids go to Six Flags with the church group once a year.

The crux of Christianity is not about "keeping the rules"; it's about one-anotherness, "not looking to your own interests but to the interests of others" (Phil 2:4); helping those in need is the very reason for having a job (Eph 4:28).

Nothing wrong with "keeping the rules", particularly how we worship and what we teach in our assemblies; but we've tended to focus on that instead of the real fundamental of Christianity ("by this they will know you are my disciples, in that you love one another"- John 13:35). It's time we re-examine what we emphasize in our assemblies:
Heb 10: 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another....
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The "Law" of First-Century Christianity, Part 2

In Part 1, I said that "God did not give us a bunch of rules. But we have such a need to have them, like children, we find the rules anyway...".

A reader wondered if that doesn't make Christianity a "lawless Religion". Here's my response:

[Gal 3:24] So that the law has become our tutor to bring us to Christ....

The law of Moses has taught us the basic concepts of righteousness: don't murder; don't steal; don't lie; respect your parents; be humane to animals; bathe regularly; honor YHWH only as God, not this god or that goddess; keep sexually/maritally pure; bathe regularly; etc.

Concerning the "lawless"-ness of Christianity: the laws are "written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tablets of stone, but in tablets that are hearts of flesh" (2 Cor 3:3b).

I once served on a grand jury, and the District Attorney, in giving us instructions, told us that if we ever had a question or a doubt about the process, to "do the right thing". Our hearts, having been tutored all our lives by rules/regulations/guidance from our parents/peers, "know" what's right and wrong (in general), without having to resort to a list of specific rules/regulations.

But as concerns specific rules/regulations....

[Col 2:20] If you died with Christ from the elements of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to ordinances, [21] “Don’t handle, nor taste, nor touch”? ... [Gal 4:3] So we also, when we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental principles of the world. ... [9] But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, why do you turn back again to the weak and miserable elemental principles, to which you desire to be in bondage all over again? [10] You observe days, months, seasons, and years. ... [5:1] Stand firm therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and don’t be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. [13] For you, brothers, were called for freedom. Only don’t use your freedom for gain to the flesh, but through love be servants to one another. [14] For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” ... [Jam 2:8] However, if you fulfill the royal law, according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well. ... [Gal 6:2] Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. ... [Jam 1:27] Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

Specifically in regard to the Lord's Supper, I'm saying that Biblically, it seems it was a supper (at night), and it was a full-blown meal, perhaps observed annually at first (it started out as a new twist on the yearly Passover), or perhaps daily as early as Acts 2, but traditionally, at least as early as the late 1st century (in the Didache, with hints of the transformation in 1 Cor 11:23-29), it seems to have been whittled down into a weekly early-morning nip-and-sip. Neither the frequency nor the methodology are specifically commanded; as someone else has often written, the core of the command is to remember Jesus "as often" as you do "this". The apostolic teaching/examples neither condemn nor demand the timing or the size of the meal.

And yes, that is uncomfortable. Like children who want to know the exact limits of the rules mommy and daddy have laid down, we test the "edge cases"; Can we do this? What about that? It's time to "no longer be children, tossed back and forth and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error; [15] but speaking truth in love, we may grow up in all things into him, who is the head, Christ" (Eph 4:14-15, & read the rest of the chapter).

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The "Law" of First-Century Christianity, Part 1

In responding to someone who objected to my claim that "there is no command as to how exactly all Christians of all times are to observe the Lord's Supper", I wrote the following:

In the very earliest days, the church was steadfast in the apostles' teaching: they met daily in the Temple (big group) and in homes (small groups; each led by a shepherd?), they broke bread together daily, and they lived as communists, with no one claiming private ownership of property but contributing their stuff to the group for distribution as needed.

In later times and other places, the "steadfastness" abated somewhat, necessitating the writing of much of the New Testament as a corrective.

Along the way, the church changed as time passed:
  • it was originally composed of Jews only, who remained observant of the law of Moses, and later accepted non-Moses-observing non-Jews into the fold as a distinct sub-group (i.e. "denomination", which "seemed good" to the Holy Spirit and to the church leaders), to an even later change wherein observance of the law of Moses was rejected almost entirely, along with an overall rejection of Jews;
  • ownership of private property was re-established, leading to the need for fund-raising appeals/drives;
  • the organizational structure was modified, adding deacons;
  • the political structure was modified, moving from a centralized government in Jerusalem making decisions binding on the entire church to a distributed localized autonomy led by local elders;
  • the Lord's Suppers morphed from being a full-blown daily evening meal which fed the hungry into a simpler ritual of a nip-and-a-sip morning Lord's Brunch;
  • there was a move from a daily everyone-participates meeting where the focus was horizontally on one-another to a weekly passive sit&listen-to-a-lecture format which became focused vertically on "worship";
  • there was a shift from the Law of Christ being fulfilled by bearing one another's burdens to it being fulfilled by a system of doctrine & practices (which, by the way, isn't spelled out clearly like the Old Covenant system was, but must be "discovered" between the lines by using the correct hermeneutic);
  • there was a shift from being known as disciples because of their love for one another to being known as disciples because of correct doctrine and practices;
  • there was a shift from being filled with the spirit and fanning that flame, to a quenching of the spirit so that his activity is reduced to only the effects which are produced by words on paper.
Depending where along the time-line you take your snapshot of "the first-century church", you'll get different pictures.

It would have been much clearer if God had simply given us a list of rules to keep, the way he did in the old covenant, but he had promised that the new would not be like the old, with its rules written down on stone and papyrus, but one of relationship where God would be with us and we wouldn't need someone to teach us rules, one which Paul says we keep in spirit rather than by the letter of the law.

So keeping to his promise, God did not give us a bunch of rules. But we have such a need to have them, like children, we find the rules anyway by focusing on this example or that inference, and condemn anyone who discerns different rules than what we've found.

The fact remains that "there is no command as to how exactly all Christians of all times are to observe the Lord's Supper".

Go to Part 2

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