Christianity 201

August 29, 2017

Precept Upon Precept

When I wrote this article for Thinking Out Loud, I was expecting to write about three paragraphs. When I was finished it was much longer, and something that I felt would have been a good of not better fit here…

It began with a  conversation I had last week at the local Christian bookstore concerning Bible features. As the guy was looking at one in particular, he said, “Oh good, it’s got the precepts.”

The first time, it didn’t really register. Then he looked at another and said something like, “Does it have the precepts?”

Huh?

It turned out he was talking about what most of us would call cross references; the notations of other passages either in a center column or at the end of the verse where something related may be found.

The idea of ‘line upon line, precept upon precept’ is taken from Isaiah 28:, 9-10 in the KJV. The NASB has:

To whom would He teach knowledge, And to whom would He interpret the message? Those just weaned from milk? Those just taken from the breast?  “For He says, ‘Order on order, order on order, Line on line, line on line, A little here, a little there.’”

The NLT is really contradictory to this idea on its rendering of this:

He tells us everything over and over–one line at a time, one line at a time, a little here, and a little there!”

implying that the learning or teaching or knowledge is linear, but not necessarily cumulative. In other words, one line at a time, doesn’t mean that line B is necessarily building on line A, but to say upon is to imply that it is or does.

(In case you’re wondering if there’s any irony to be found, you’re wrong; the verse itself is reiterated in scripture, albeit 3 verses later in verse 13.)

As we discussed this the idea of “Out of the mouth of two [or three] witnesses was brought into the conversation. This is found in the Old Testament twice.

The one condemned to die is to be executed on the testimony of two or three witnesses. No one is to be executed on the testimony of a single witness. (Deuteronomy 17:6, Holman)

A solitary witness against someone in any crime, wrongdoing, or in any sort of misdeed that might be done is not sufficient. The decision must stand by two or three witnesses. (Deuteronomy 19:15, CEB)

Those OT passages are cited in the NT by Jesus and by Paul.

But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. (Matthew 18:16, NIV)

This is the third time I am coming to you. Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.  (2 Corinthians 13:1, ESV)

In the Corinthian example, you have to go back to the previous chapter to get the context. Paul is speaking about sorting out matters concerning people who have been found in sinful practices.

Capital crime. Wrongdoing. Sin. Denial of Sin. Nowhere do these passages suggest something related to “the establishing of doctrine.” But don’t get me wrong:

I believe the Bible always corroborates itself on matters of important doctrine.

In other words, it’s internally consistent. I’m just not sure that we need to force it [scripture] into a situation where everything has to be said twice or three times in order to establish a doctrinal pattern, or make it conform to an overarching systematic theology. Or, to come at it differently, it may reinforce something but in an entirely different way than our Western way of thinking can process too simply.

I think to do so is to doubt the value of what we read the first time. It’s saying to God, ‘Now, if you’ll just show me one more time where you say this, then I’ll obey.’ I think that undermines the text somehow. That doesn’t mean to imply that at a crossroads of life we don’t ask God for confirmation of what we are to do. There is the example of Gideon, who put out a second fleece.

So what are precepts? Yourdictionary.com says

precept pre·cept. … The definition of a precept is a guiding principle or rule that is used to control, influence or regulate conduct. An example of a precept is a commandment found in the Ten Commandments.

At that we would need to get into the differences between a rule and a principle. Principles are timeless, never location-specific, widely applicable. Rules apply to one group of people in one particular situation at one unique point in time. The rest of that we need to save for another day.

A cross-reference is simply:

•noun: cross reference; plural noun: cross references
–a reference to another text or part of a text, typically given in order to elaborate on a point.

Anyone who has been reading the Bible for any length of time knows that sometimes the Bible editors have chosen to take us to a reference to a rather obscure part of the verse, not something which indicates its overall meaning. There are times when I have been completely mystified as to the inclusion of a particular reference. Many of you know the danger of over-spiritualizing things, and I don’t want to be guilty of under-spiritualizing something, but… They’re. Just. Cross-references.

Here’s my concluding statements on this:

We read scripture not so much because we’re trying to learn precepts as we are recognizing the importance of understanding the ways of God.

and

If God is saying something to us with unmistakable clarity through a scripture passage, we don’t need to start hunting around looking for a second verse.

July 10, 2014

Church Life: The Spectacular and the Ordinary

Modern Church Interior

With a name like Christianity 201, we know some people reading this are in church leadership, and we try, once each month, to include an article which looks at the workings of church life. For this one, we’re introducing you to the writing of Maryland Church of Christ pastor K. Rex Butts who blogs at Kingdom Seeking (KingdomSeeking.com) where is blogroll includes many of our personal favorites! To read this article at source (with pictures!) click the original title below.

Discernment and Mission: Seeing Beyond Our Own Church

Many commentators treat this statement simply as a summary of what’s going on among this early movement of Jesus followers. While it’s entirely appropriate to this passage as a summation, we miss a lot if we limit this text to mere rhetorical strategy. Regarding v. 24, Luke Timothy Johnson says, “it is also a triumphant assertion of the movement’s growth despite the attempts of a tyrant to suppress it through the harassment of its leaders” (The Acts of the Apostles, p. 216). Therein is a clue regarding what ought to challenge every church’s understanding of what participation in the mission of God may involve.

Baptisms and Bible-Studies

Let’s first take a few steps back and think about church and mission. I think it’s fair to say that when it comes to the church and the mission of God, there’s a lot of for the spectacular occasions. For example, in the book of Acts, churches love to talk about chapter two where the Spirit is poured out and 3,000 plus people are baptized upon hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ preached. The same is true for chapter eight where an Ethiopian eunuch is baptized after basically asking Philip to study the Bible with him.

Churches love stories like these and would love for them to be the stories of their churches. That’s why churches talk about their yearly number of baptism or about the evangelistic Bible studies taking place, as if the number of baptisms and evangelistic Bible studies are the sure marks of a good church (don’t get me wrong here, I’m all for baptisms and evangelistic Bible studies). However, turn to Acts chapter twelve and we won’t find any spectacular stories of baptisms and evangelistic Bible studies. What we find is a church struggling in turmoil and this is where churches today must pay attention because, as I’m suggesting, they can learn a lot about what participation in the mission of God may involve.

A Theological Conundrum and Persecution

At this point in the book of Acts, its somewhere between 41-44 CE during the reign of Herod Agrippa and the church is facing a lot of challenges. First, Peter has already baptized Conelius and his household (ch. 10). The baptism of Gentiles has now thrusted a theological conundrum upon the church that results initially in a counsel (ch. 11) but one in which the church, through the ministry of Paul, will wrestle with for the next several decades. Second, Herod has begun persecuting the church, having James executed and Peter arrested (presumably to suffer the same fate as James).

While Peter is rescued from his imprisonment by an angel of the Lord, the church doesn’t know this. So when Peter returns to his church gathered at the house of Mary where, according to v. 12, “many people had gathered and we praying” (churches brag about baptisms but how often do they brag about gathering for prayer?). Peter, who already realized it was the Lord that rescued him from prison, tells the church that it was the work of God. Then we are told about Herod’s death (which also is the work of God), which says something about the continued unstable political climate the church lived within. But… With all these challenges facing the church, “the word of God kept on increasing and multiplying” (NET).

Seeing Beyond Our Church

Why did the word of God, the gospel of Jesus Christ, keep increasing and multiplying? This is, after all, what matters. The answer is none other than God. God was at work and this early Jesus movement believed so, which is why they continued faithfully following Jesus even when the difficulty of their circumstances escalated. If more churches would understand that the multiplication of the gospel is the work of God then they might also understand the futility and unnecessary need for the utilitarian thinking that undergirds many books on ministry. The increase of God’s word is the work of God that happens through the faithfulness of the church and not through turning this multiplication into an end that justifies whatever means gets the job done. This is not to say that churches should cease casting vision and planning for ministry. Rather, vision and planning for ministry must begin with the question of discerning: how must the church live faithfully as participants in the mission of God within the current circumstances?

As I suggested earlier, Churches love to talk about the mission of God when it involves preaching, a lot of evangelistic Bible studies, and especially a lot of baptisms. More importantly, Churches love the mission of God when it means church growth with lots of people joining their church. But… That is not how God always works. Sometimes God is taking that large church gathering in Jerusalem and scattering it though out the region (cf. Acts 8:1-3) so that the word of God may keep on “increasing and multiplying.” Sometimes God simply needs the church to gather for prayer and fasting so that Barnabas and Saul can be sent off as missionaries to serve somewhere else (cf. Acts 13:1-3) so that the word of God may keep on “increasing and multiplying.” Sometimes a church’s best vision and planning for future ministry is not how God is working. Sometimes the vision for growth and new ministry Churches have for their church is not how God is working. And let’s be clear… The mission of God is about the increase and of God’s word, not the increase of their church or our church per se.

The question is then, are churches willing to participate in the mission of God even if it means faithfully walking down a path different than it envisioned? The answer to this question takes discernment but the story here in Acts is inviting and challenging churches today to see beyond the realm of their own church so that they may fully live as participants in the mission of God.

April 27, 2013

When God Doesn’t Say Yes

Six months ago we introduced you to WhyTheology,  the blog of Troy Medley. This look at the book of James appeared as part of a series of Lent readings.  Click here to read this one, and the click around to see more of the series.

Text
KJV Below (Link to NIV)

13 Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.

14 Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:

15 And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.

16 Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

Comment
The main thrust here is that no matter what our circumstances, happy or sad, troubled or free, we should be in communication with God because it “availeth much.” However, this passage does raise some issues. What about the times I prayed in faith and the sick weren’t healed? Do I simply have to wait until they are “raised up” on the last day?

On the one hand it is tempting to say that our prayers merely change us, but not God (I think C.S. Lewis said something similar), but that doesn’t seem to be the case with this passage. Here, it seems that our prayers do accomplish something. That it is important to bring others into the prayer and fervently pray. So how do we reconcile the disconnect?

I don’t know for certain, but I have an idea. I think of it like I think of my relationship with my (still very young) children, after all, Jesus taught us to think of God as our Father. Now, when my kids ask me for something, I will do everything in my power to get it for them (or do it for them), at least most of the time. This doesn’t mean I didn’t have other plans, I very well may have and they were good plans, but there are certain aspects of those plans that can be done other times, or the particular aspects of which may be open to change (you want Strawberry Jelly instead of Grape? no problem).

Yet, other times it is not in my children’s best interest for me to fulfill their requests. If they want another cookie at dinner, sometimes I need to say no because the sugar makes it hard for them to sleep, and they’ve really had a large meal. Sometimes it’s even trickier. For example, my daughter likes to get herself stuck in places and ask for help. Sometimes, I leave her there for a bit because a) she really can get it out and its good for her problem solving skills, or b) she needs to face (at least briefly) the consequences of her actions, or c) sometimes I’m doing something else.

Now, I’m not suggesting God is ever busy doing something else, but I am suggesting that, in some way, perhaps a way we can’t see or even begin to comprehend (my kids don’t understand the complexity of sugar and how it affects sleep and future health issues), but that doesn’t mean it’s not for their betterment. Remember, we have a full eternity with God coming up, that’s the ultimate benefit of prayer. Sometimes, it may be in our best interest, in a way we can’t begin to fathom yet, for God to say “no,” even for our fervent prayer. Yet in that prayer, the “no” is still for our betterment.
Question
Have you ever had God say “no”? What might that situation look like if you put it in terms of a young child to a parent who says “no”? Do you think that our relationship with God can still be improved through the “no” answers that God gives to our prayers? In what ways?

November 21, 2012

God’s Promised Presence

Cindy Holbrook blogs at Living Inside Hope, where this appeared under the title Finding Grace in God’s Sight. You’re encouraged to click through to read this and more at her blog.

Finding grace in God’s sight has very little to do with comfort and ease. Finding grace in God’s sight may very well be the answer to our problems and the beginning of new and hair raising adventures. All at the same time!

“Safety does not consist in the absence of danger but in the presence of God.” ~ Believer’s Bible Commentary

More and more we are hearing a call. It is a call to move out of what we consider a comfort zone, and move into a different place that God wants us to move in. Oh, and it will involve effort on our part.

Some of us may very well feel that we have lost God’s grace and favor at this particular season. When in fact, we may indeed HAVE His favor and the only thing is that we cannot recognize it.

Let us look at Moses and a spectacular prayer he made while he was talking to God about what was going to be the next step in his and Israel’s journey. A journey, mind you, that had almost culminated with Israel’s utter destruction. Mose’ intercession and God’s grace stopped that event. It could not be one without the other. If there was no compassion and grace in the nature of God, no matter how Moses had interceded, God would not have granted him favor.

Yet, that is another story. This is the story of Mose’s prayer about finding favor with God and what was to come.  Read this prayer and exchange between Moses and God:

So the LORD spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. And he would return to the camp, but his servant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, did not depart from the tabernacle. Then Moses said to the LORD, “See, You say to me, ‘Bring up this people.’ But You have not let me know whom You will send with me. Yet You have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found grace in My sight.’ Now therefore, I pray, if I have found grace in Your sight, show me now Your way, that I may know You and that I may find grace in Your sight. And consider that this nation is Your people.” And He said, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Then he said to Him, “If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here. For how then will it be known that Your people and I have found grace in Your sight, except You go with us? So we shall be separate, Your people and I, from all the people who are upon the face of the earth.” So the LORD said to Moses, “I will also do this thing that you have spoken; for you have found grace in My sight, and I know you by name.” (Exodus 33:11-17 NKJV)

Believer’s Bible Commentary came to this conclusion:   Moses asked for God’s presence to lead His people to Canaan. Then the Lord graciously promised that His Presence would go with them. Moses insisted that nothing short of this would do. Like Noah, Moses had found grace in the Lord’s sight and received his request. “Safety does not consist in the absence of danger but in the presence of God.”

God’s grace may not be remaining in the place where we’ve been. It may very well be on the move and He is telling us that He will be the one going with us on this next ‘leg’ of our journey. Yet in and through Jesus Christ, we have been given grace. Here, in these verses, God let’s us know what His grace includes.  His presence. His rest.

God didn’t say, kick back Moses, and sit a bit. Smell the roses. Buy that new television set and charge it to Me because I’m pouring out my prosperity on you. Yes there are seasons like that, but this isn’t one of those seasons. There is too great of challenge for that.

God promised His presence. God promised His rest.

Moses in turn, knew what he himself needed to continue to find grace in God’s sight and he knew enough to ask for it. God’s grace is divine. It only comes from Him so even as He gifts it to us, we should indeed be asking for it. No other person or thing can bestow on us the grace of God. Only God can do this. In the very asking of it is the acknowledgement that it is His alone.

Moses asked God to show him “HIS WAY” that he many KNOW GOD and receive grace and favor from God.

Moses then asked “and consider that this nation is Your people.”

Moses first looked to his personal relationship with God. That mattered first and foremost. He didn’t try and separate God from God’s ways. Rather, he wanted God to show him His WAYS so that he could learn to KNOW GOD. We cannot split God’s ways from God himself. We must learn His ways. We study His Word not to learn more stuff. We study His Word to learn His Ways that will cause us to know Him.

And then Moses asked a particular thing for those to whom the LORD had made him responsible. He wanted them to be considered by God as His people.

Surely we are asking God many of the same questions. Where are we going and how are we to fulfill His call? Who is He going to send to us in this work?

Nor can we ignore the call about helping others. There are more catastrophes happening than ever now. We are connected globally now and we see human need at every longitude and latitude.

The nations we live in are facing great turmoil. Our churches are facing great turmoil. Our families and friends are facing great turmoil.

The great commission is becoming the great pressure for all of us. God is ‘forcing’ out His laborers into the harvest field and we are it!

This time we are facing can bring about calamity to us and our children. Or this time can be a divine and glorious moment where God brings us out and into a new place He has planned for us.

This is a time when His presence must go with us. This is a time where we must have His rest. We must have His power and grace to work with Him in faith and trust. For that is a portion of His rest. Only a portion to be sure, yet a portion not to be overlooked. The final rest He gives us will be a successful and triumphant outcome, if not in this world, then in His heavenly Kingdom where our true inheritance lies.

We have found grace in God’s sight for we have received and accepted the gospel of grace (Acts 20:24)

Even though we can’t see all of God’s ways right now for us. Even though we may not see every twist and turn ahead and God isn’t giving us a clue about it. Even though it seems we have more burdens and responsibilities that the LORD is placing upon us.

His presence now goes with us. He will give us His rest.

This is what we can count upon. This is where we meet with God.

 

We find grace in God’s sight, if we find grace in our hearts to guide and quicken us in the way of our duty.  ~ Mathew Henry