Christianity 201

November 20, 2012

We’re Outsiders on the Inside

This weekend we were reading Romans 11, especially the passage that talks about being “grafted in.”

Ingrafted Branches
11 Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. 12 But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their full inclusion bring!

13 I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I take pride in my ministry 14 in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. 15 For if their rejection brought reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? 16 If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches.

17 If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, 18 do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. 19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” 20 Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.

22 Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. 23 And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24 After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!

We’re not going to delve into that today, that’s just a bonus reading for what I discovered about 30 minutes later in John Fischer’s blog, The Catch in a post titled Outsiders.

“He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God”(John 1:11-13).

We owe so much to the Jewish forefathers of the faith, and in a strange way, even to their rejection of Christ, because that has made it possible for us Gentiles to be included. And I believe we need to be on guard against thinking now we have an inside track on God, lest the same thing happen to us.

It’s a theme repeated throughout the Old and New Testament: those on the inside rebel, get hard hearts and reject the truth; those on the outside receive it gladly. Jesus told parable after parable about the invited guests and those at the front of the line being usurped by “outsiders” – latecomers if you will. Of course this is all a part of God’s long-range plan for both Jews and Gentiles to be saved, but I do believed there is something to becoming stodgy, smug and self-important in our faith.

It might be good for us to think of ourselves as outsiders – as uninvited guests who got in on the party only because the invited guests had other things to do. It might be good for us to identify more with prostitutes and sinners (“ragamuffins” according to Brennan Manning) than with the religious, lest we too become like the Scribes and Pharisees (“beware the leaven of the Pharisees” Matthew 16:6).

It might be good for us to be eternally grateful for the grace of God that has somehow found us when we are so undeserving. No background. No pedigree. We’re like a bunch of mutts who got picked up at the pound one day short of our doom by a generous master who bought up the whole place – adopted us all.

Why do I suggest we think like this? Because it is necessary to the Gospel of Welcome for us to offer the good news to other undeserving folks like us. If we ever think of ourselves as above anyone, then we are closing someone off to the gospel.

Stay an outsider. Stay a sinner (don’t sin, but see yourself as one). Stay grateful. Stay amazed that you got “in.” And stay close to the door, so you can welcome in other vagabonds and ruffians like yourself.

Like that grand lady still shining her light over those coming to America: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” (Emma Lazarus, from her sonnet, “The New Colossus” now bronzed inside the Statue of Liberty.)

Lest we forget who we are.

~John Fischer

May 1, 2012

What Theologians Talk About: Grafted In

So when theologians and seminary academics get together, I somehow doubt they turn on the television to watch 30 Rock or The Voice.  And definitely not The Simpsons. Chances are it’s more like the item we chose to post here today.  Actually, this one is too long to post in full, even with a page break, so you must link; but even if you only get halfway through, it’s important to know that:

  1. There is still not consensus about the interpretation of every single Bible passage, even among Evangelicals,  however…
  2. We can learn a lot in the discovery process of looking at the Biblical evidence that supports different positions, and hearing the heart behind each commentary.
  3. We presently see through a glass darkly; we’re not all theologians…

For example, consider this passage in Romans:

NIV 11:17 If some of the branches have been broken off,  and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others  and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, 18 do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. 

and this, earlier in Romans:

NIV9:6 It is not as though God’s word  had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.( Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children,  but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.

Questions arise

  • Are we grafted in to the promises given to Abraham and Old Testament Israel or are we grafted in to the church?
  • Is Israel the ethnic, national Israel or does it refer to a spiritual Israel?
  • Is there a relationship between the olive tree in Romans and John’s vine and branches narrative?
  • Biblically speaking, is every Jew an Israelite?
  • If Israel is in unbelief, how can we be grafted in to that?

Hey, I didn’t say this was easy.

Calvin L. Smith of King’s Evangelical Divinity School in the UK attempts to answer this. He posted his answers on February 12th.  He begins:

In Romans 11:17-24 the Apostle Paul likens Gentile believers to a wild olive shoot grafted into a cultivated olive tree.  The obvious question is, what is it that Gentiles are grafted into? Less obvious, it would appear from the widely differing interpretations, is the answer. Consequently there is considerable division among Christians over the relationship between the Church and Israel. This post explores this issue. It is rather lengthy (I do, eventually, get to an answer), but that’s because I’m often asked about this so it makes sense to post something with a little detail I can people them to…

Continue reading here…  Even if you only scan this or only dig deep into three or four paragraphs, there is value to this, because God’s word is living and active… and sometimes challenging.

HT: Living Journey