Christianity 201

January 11, 2020

Misreading Scripture with the Best Intentions

John 4:9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

A few years ago I had an interesting conversation after church.

The pastor had quoted the verse we commonly refer to as “The Great Commission;” the verse which reads,

Acts 1:8 NLT But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The person who spoke to me has a huge compassion for Israel and is willing to share this passion with any who want to know more about the various facets of how modern Israel fits into Old Testament history, New Testament studies, evangelism and missions, eschatology, etc. We’ve had some great interactions, and I’ve learned much about The Holy Land from our conversations and various items she’s given me to read.

She suggested to me that perhaps the passage in Acts 1:8 might actually be taken most literally. That we should be evangelists in Jerusalem.

Perhaps that has some appeal. As I write this, the forecast for tomorrow (Sunday) in Jerusalem is cloudy with sunny breaks and a high of 10°C (about 50°F for our U.S. readers.) Certainly milder than what’s predicted where I live.

I told her that neither those we call the “church fathers” nor modern commentators have interpreted this passage that way. I mean, it’s an interesting take on the passage, and certainly in first century context it is correct; but we tend to read their commission into our commission and when we do so, we tend to think of Jerusalem as the place where we’re standing or sitting right now. The place we call home. My Jerusalem is the close family, co-workers, immediate neighbors, etc. who in a sense, only I can reach.

Perhaps you grew up in a church where it was diagrammed something like this: City, then state (province), country, entire world.

Jerusalem Judea Samaria traditional interpretation

But people do read scripture differently, and many passages that seem straight-forward are subject to different understandings. So in Acts and Paul’s epistles, my friend at church sees Paul’s consuming drive to bring the Gospel to the Jews; whereas I read Acts and am struck by how Paul was compelled to go to Rome against all odds. (To be fair, both elements are present; “to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”)

Driving home, my wife pointed out that a most-literal reading of the passage would be difficult since Samaria no longer exists and the “end of the earth” (ESV and NKJV) or the even more archaic “ends of the earth” (HCSB and strangely, NLT, above) no longer applies to an earth we know is round and has no ends. (I like the NASB here, “the remotest parts of the earth.” Good translation and very missional.)

I’m not sure I agreed with the pastor’s take on Samaria, however. He chose Toronto, a city about an hour from where we live, as our “modern Samaria” because of its cosmopolitan nature; because it’s a gateway to so many cultures impacting the rest of the world. Truly when Jesus met the Samaritan woman in John chapter 4, it was a clash of cultures in several ways at once.

But Samaria would not be seen that way by those receiving the great commission. In Judea they will like me and receive but in Samaria we have a mutual distrust and dislike for each other. Samaria is the place you don’t want to go to. Your Samaria may be geographically intertwined in your Jerusalem or your Judea. Your Samaria may be at the remotest part the earth and it’s your Samaria because it’s at the ends of the earth.

Your Samaria may be the guy in the next cubicle that you just don’t want to talk to about your faith, but feel a strong conviction both that you need to and he needs you to. Your Samaria may be the next door neighbor whose dogs run all over your lawn doing things that dogs do. Your Samaria may be the family that runs the convenience store where you buy milk who are of a faith background that you associate with hatred and violence. Your Samaria may be atheists, abortionists, gays, or just simply people who are on the opposite side of the fence politically. Your Samaritan might just be someone who was sitting across the aisle in Church this weekend.

And perhaps, just to make things interesting, with its heat, humidity and propensity toward violence, perhaps your Samaria actually is modern-day Jerusalem.

So perhaps you’re thinking, okay, I am going to be a missionary to Jerusalem (so to speak) and I’ll let you be a missionary to Judea. I don’t think it’s that simple. True, in a church setting people may find themselves specializing in different mission fields, but I believe each of us, over the course of our lives, is to be open to be finding ourselves in ‘Samaria situations.’

All David was doing was delivering a ‘care package’ of food to his older brothers, but he found himself on the front line of the battle against the Philistines, and in particular, their MVP, Goliath.

I believe a Christian life, lived to the full, will involve all four types of battle: On the home front, further afield, to the place we don’t necessarily want to go, and to those in places involving 30-hour flights or multiple airport connections.

At the very least, let’s be open to all of these.


  • Some of today’s article appeared previously in October, 2014 incorporated in a look at how this view of Samaria would have influenced the original hearers of The Parable of the Good Samaritan story. The full article was originally published in January 2011 at Thinking Out Loud.

January 30, 2015

Jerusalem, Judea and the Uttermost Places on Earth

John 4:9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

A few years ago I had an interesting conversation after church.

The pastor had quoted the verse we commonly refer to as “The Great Commission;” the verse which reads,

Acts 1:8 NLT But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The person who spoke to me has a huge compassion for Israel and is willing to share this passion with any who want to know more about the various facets of how modern Israel fits into Old Testament history, New Testament studies, evangelism and missions, eschatology, etc. We’ve had some great interactions, and I’ve learned much about The Holy Land from our conversations and various items she’s given me to read.

She suggested to me that perhaps the passage in Acts 1:8 might actually be taken most literally. That we should be evangelists in Jerusalem.

I told her that neither those we call the “church fathers” nor modern commentators have interpreted this passage that way. I mean, it’s an interesting take on the passage, and certainly in first century context it is correct; but we tend to read their commission into our commission and when we do so, we tend to think of Jerusalem as the place where we’re standing or sitting right now. The place we call home. My Jerusalem is the close family, co-workers, immediate neighbors, etc. who in a sense, only I can reach.

Perhaps you grew up in a church where it was diagrammed something like this:

Jerusalem Judea Samaria traditional interpretation

But people do read scripture differently, and many passages that seem straight-forward are subject to different understandings. So in Acts and Paul’s epistles, my friend at church sees Paul’s consuming drive to bring the Gospel to the Jews; whereas I read Acts and am struck by how Paul was compelled to go to Rome against all odds. (To be fair, both elements are present; “to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”)

Driving home, my wife pointed out that a most-literal reading of the passage would be difficult since Samaria no longer exists and the “end of the earth” (ESV and NKJV) or the even more archaic “ends of the earth” (HCSB and strangely, NLT, above) no longer applies to an earth we know is round and has no ends. (I like the NASB here, “the remotest parts of the earth.” Good translation and very missional.)

I’m not sure I agreed with the pastor’s take on Samaria, however. He chose Toronto, a city about an hour from where we live, as our “modern Samaria” because of its cosmopolitan nature; because it’s a gateway to so many cultures impacting the rest of the world. Truly when Jesus met the Samaritan woman in John chapter 4, it was a clash of cultures in several ways at once.

But Samaria would not be seen that way by those receiving the great commission. In Judea they will like me and receive but in Samaria we have a mutual distrust and dislike for each other. Samaria is the place you don’t want to go to. Your Samaria may be geographically intertwined in your Jerusalem or your Judea. Your Samaria may be at the remotest part the earth and it’s your Samaria because it’s at the ends of the earth.

Your Samaria may be the guy in the next cubicle that you just don’t want to talk to about your faith, but feel a strong conviction both that you need to and he needs you to. Your Samaria may be the next door neighbor whose dogs run all over your lawn doing things that dogs do. Your Samaria may be the family that runs the convenience store where you rent DVDs who are of a faith background that you associate with hatred and violence. Your Samaria may be atheists, abortionists, gays, or just simply people who are on the opposite side of the fence politically. Your Samaritan might just be someone who was sitting across the aisle in Church this weekend.

And perhaps, just to make things interesting, with its heat, humidity and propensity toward violence, perhaps your Samaria actually is modern-day Jerusalem.


  • Some of today’s article appeared previously in October, 2014 incorporated in a look at how this view of Samaria would have influenced the original hearers of The Parable of the Good Samaritan story.  The full article was originally published in January 2011 at Thinking Out Loud.

May 21, 2012

William Booth Quotations

This seemed to be a good fit with today’s post at Thinking Out Loud on the Missional mandate of The Salvation Army, of which William Booth is the founder.


“We are a salvation people – this is our speciality – getting saved and keeping saved, and then getting somebody else saved, and then getting saved ourselves more and more until full salvation on earth makes the heaven within, which is finally perfected by the full salvation without, on the other side of the river.”


“While women weep, as they do now, I’ll fight; while children go hungry, as they do now I’ll fight; while men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now, I’ll fight; while there is a drunkard left, while there is a poor lost girl upon the streets, while there remains one dark soul without the light of God, I’ll fight, I’ll fight to the very end!”


“Look! Don’t be deceived by appearances — men and things are not what they seem. All who are not on the rock are in the sea!”


“But what is the use of preaching the Gospel to men whose whole attention is concentrated upon a mad, desperate struggle to keep themselves alive?”


‘Not called!’ did you say? ‘Not heard the call,’ I think you should say. Put your ear down to the Bible, and hear him bid you go and pull sinners out of the fire of sin. Put your ear down to the burdened, agonized heart of humanity, and listen to its pitiful wail for help. Go stand by the gates of hell, and hear the damned entreat you to go to their father’s house and bid their brothers and sisters, and servants and masters not to come there. And then look Christ in the face, whose mercy you have professed to obey, and tell him whether you will join heart and soul and body and circumstances in the march to publish his mercy to the world.”


“I must assert in the most unqualified way that it is primarily and mainly for the sake of saving the soul that I seek the salvation of the body.”


“A man’s labor is not only his capital but his life. When it passes it returns never more. To utilize it, to prevent its wasteful squandering, to enable the poor man to bank it up for use hereafter, this surely is one of the most urgent tasks before civilization.”


“Secular music, do you say, belongs to the devil? Does it? Well, if it did I would plunder him for it, for he has no right to a single note of the whole seven. Every note, and every strain, and every harmony is divine, and belongs to us.”


“In answer to your inquiry, I consider that the chief dangers which confront the coming century will be religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God, and heaven without hell.”


“We are not sent to minister to a congregation and be content if we keep things going. We are sent to make war…and to stop short of nothing but the subjugation of the world to the sway of the Lord Jesus.”


“I want to see a new translation of the Bible into the hearts and conduct of living men and women.”


“No sort of defense is needed for preaching outdoors, but it would take a very strong argument to prove that a man who has never preached beyond the walls of his meetinghouse has done his duty. A defense is required for services within buildings rather than for worship outside of them.”


“Faith and works should travel side-by-side, step answering to step, like the legs of men walking. First faith, and then works; and then faith again, and then works again — until they can scarcely distinguish which is the one and which is the other.”


“You must pray with all your might. That does not mean saying your prayers, or sitting gazing about in church or chapel with eyes wide open while someone else says them for you. It means fervent, effectual, untiring wrestling with God…This kind of prayer be sure the devil and the world and your own indolent, unbelieving nature will oppose. They will pour water on this flame.”


General William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, once told his students, “If I had my choice, I wouldn’t send you to school, I’d send you to Hell for five minutes, and you’d come back real soul winners.”


Sources: SA UK SiteThink Exist, Christian Quotes, Great Quotes, Quoteland, Our Church, Sermon Central


O Boundless Salvation!

O boundless salvation! deep ocean of love,
O fulness of mercy, Christ brought from above.
The whole world redeeming, so rich and so free,
Now flowing for all men, come, roll over me!

My sins they are many, their stains are so deep.
And bitter the tears of remorse that I weep;
But useless is weeping; thou great crimson sea,
Thy waters can cleanse me, come, roll over me!

My tempers are fitful, my passions are strong,
They bind my poor soul and they force me to wrong;
Beneath thy blest billows deliverance I see,
O come, mighty ocean, and roll over me!

Now tossed with temptation, then haunted with fears,
My life has been joyless and useless for years;
I feel something better most surely would be
If once thy pure waters would roll over me.

O ocean of mercy, oft longing I’ve stood
On the brink of thy wonderful, life-giving flood!
Once more I have reached this soul-cleansing sea,
I will not go back till it rolls over me.

The tide is now flowing, I’m touching the wave,
I hear the loud call of the mighty to save;
My faith’s growing bolder, delivered I’ll be;
I plunge ‘neath the waters, they roll over me.

And now, hallelujah! the rest of my days
Shall gladly be spent in promoting his praise
Who opened his bosom to pour out this sea
Of boundless salvation for you and for me.
    
William Booth (1829-1912)

April 10, 2012

What America Can Learn from the Church in Europe

Mike Breen’s blog is hosting a six part series by Paul Maconochie.  This is part one

As a British Pastor I love coming to America. I love the pioneering ‘can do’ attitude of the American people. I love how so many of the churches are full and the way that faith is often spoken about as part of daily life.

In England things are quite different.

Churches are often half empty and the attitude of many of the British people towards evangelical Christianity is pretty negative (to say the least!). A large church in England might have 300 people. Obviously, this is a really foreign reality for people who have grown up in a culturally Christian United States. However, there are some things that we as British Christians are learning that may be useful on both sides of the Atlantic. Britain has become a mission field again in the true sense of the word and the remnant believers have had to change and adapt in order to remain effective as God’s people.

I live in Sheffield, a northern, post-industrial English city where about 2.5% of the population attend church on a Sunday. This means that the vast majority of people in our city never go to church. Ever. Even at Christmas only about 5% turn up in a church building. For us, ‘Build it and they will come’ does not really figure any more. Instead, we have had to learn afresh what Jesus meant when he said ‘go and make disciples.’ One of the most important lessons we have learned is this:

Incarnation is better than intervention.

Intervention says “I really want God to touch my life and make it better. But God is a little scary; I think I need a Pastor to stand between him and me.” Of course we never actually come out and say this; we just act as if it is true. Instead of going to Jesus directly we expect our Pastor to go to Him, praying, fasting and reading the Bible and then to instruct us in what he has learned at the worship service. In return, we pay out tithes and turn up on a Sunday morning before going back to our lives, and to be honest, not changing too terribly much.

Intervention also operates the same way with other people. We want to help others who are poor or struggling or who do not know Jesus, but we want to do it from a distance. So we give money to overseas missionaries (not a bad thing in itself!) and maybe occasionally even take blankets or soup to folks living on the streets before going back to our nice warm comfortable homes.

These things are all good and I am sure that God likes it when we intervene to help people, but I believe that God actually has a preference for incarnation. He does not want to help us from a distance, through our Pastor. He wants to be in every part of our lives. I love Eugene Peterson’s translation of John 1:14; he writes:

The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood.

God wants us to access His presence and His Word for ourselves. He wants to deal with us directly, and He wants us to do the same with the Last, the Least and the Lost.

In recent years in our church we have seen an incredible thing – every day members of the church who consider themselves to be missionaries even while they still live in their home city, and who actually live that way. They believe that if you’re a Christian, it means you’re a missionary. There isn’t really a choice in the matter. They have found that life-on-life engagement with others allows our contagious faith to spread. They share their time, energy and resources with each other and move into the lives of those they are trying to reach. In a city where no-one goes to church, we have begun to see people come to the Lord in the hundreds, most without ever darkening the door of the church.

For those of us with an interventional approach to faith, I believe Jesus brings the challenge of incarnation. Are you living your Christian life from a distance, or up close and personal? If you’re a Pastor, are you fully engaged with the mission of God in an up close and personal way, or do you simply hope by running the machine of the church, others will do it and you’ve fulfilled your part in it?

Paul Maconochie