The Not So Simple Plan

 

I don’t know how many of you will read this post to the end because…..well because it is primarily about my Tribe, the United Methodist Church.  But I would encourage you to hang with this post because it will have something that is a reflection of our culture….and a challenge to those who are more than fans of Jesus.

Here’s a brief background for this post.  In the United Methodist Tribe, our “official” group that develops our official “beliefs” and “social principles” is called the General Conference and it meets once every 4 years.  These “beliefs” are published each 4 years in what we call The Book of Discipline, or called “The Discipline” for short..  Since 1972 our official “stand” on human sexuality is that all persons are equally in need of God’s grace and are people of worth and should be allowed to attend any United Methodist congregation (we turn no one away).  However, the only form of “sex” that has God’s blessings is that of a monogamous marriage between a man and a woman.  We further believe that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching and that no self-avowed or practicing homosexual is eligible for licensing, commissioning or ordination in the United Methodist Church.  This has been our stand since 1972.  Every 4 years attempts have been made to declare other forms of sexuality are OK and that the Bible is wrong.  Yet each time our wording, that I consider to be most gracious yet true to the Biblical Standards for sexuality, has been preserved by the General Conference.

However, in recent years, there has been open disobedience without much in the way of consequences for this rebellion.  Clergy and Bishops have broken their vows to support  and maintain the standards set in The Discipline.  In 2016, this General Conference was facing the same attempts to change our Discipline to declare that homosexuality is now OK.  Some attempts to change our stand had already been voted down by the body when a motion was presented and passed to form what we call the Commission On A Way Forward.  A group of individuals were selected by the Bishops to serve on this Commission with the charge to form a plan that would settle this issue once and for all.

After several meetings they formed 3 plans that will be submitted to a called session of General Conference in February 2019.  I won’t go into all 3 of those plans, but I refer you to the website and you can read for yourself. (Click Here for the Report of Commission on Finding A Way Forward).  But I will give you my summary of those 3 plans:

  1. The Traditional Plan:  Maintains our current wording and belief but with mandatory penalties for those who violate The Discipline.
  2. The One Church Plan:  Every church, every lay person, every pastor, every Annual Conference determines their own view of human sexuality–without fear of penalties for anyone who disagrees.  Summation:  YOU get to choose.
  3. The Connectional Plan:  Regional Conferences would be formed based solely on their views of human sexuality and then churches and pastors select which Conference they want to be aligned with.

I’ve said a lot and could have said even more.  At the risk of sounding like a late night Infomercial Hawker….but wait, there’s more!

Now a group has come up with and will present what they call “The Simple Plan” (Click here for that report).  It will remove all of what is termed “restrictive language” concerning homosexuality and ordination in the United Methodist Church.  Let me say this:  to my gay friends, you are my friends and I love each one of you.  I am not judging you or your relationship with Jesus if you have one.  I am, however, maintaining my conviction that the Bible IN CONTEXT is the source of authority for life and faith.    Furthermore I do not consider you or any gay person an abomination.  I reserve that term for churchians and tenured pew sitters.  After all, it was only towards the “really religious” folks that Jesus was ever tort or gruff.

Here is what The Simple Plan seeks to accomplish, in my humble opinion:

  1. The Elimination of The Bible as the source of morality, faith and life.  If it can’t be trusted in the arena of human sexuality, how can it be trusted anywhere?  Taken to its conclusion–God is nothing at all like the Bible portrays Him and this includes the concept of God being Gracious and Merciful.  The Simple Plan declares that The Bible is unreliable.
  2. It reduces the Creation Saga to a fanciful myth and pigment of the imagination of writers.  In the Creation Saga, God establishes all order, including human sexuality.  The gift of sex is reserved for husband (man) and wife (woman).  Only this act of intimacy has God’s blessings.  All other sex is outside the blessing and approval of God.  Notice, I did say ALL other sex, not just same gender sex.  The Simple Plan reduces the Creation Saga to a mythological context with no real application for today.
  3. It promotes feelings as the final determinant for what is authoritative for life in the Church.  For millennia, the people of God have relied upon The Bible.  Granted, it’s been misused and taken out of context to justify all kinds of immoral behavior and systems.  But it was, and should continue to be, the Guide for determining holiness of both heart and life.  The Simple Plan throws out this Sacred Writ for what we believe about ourselves–not what God says.
  4. It reduces humanity to the status of slaves and prisoners.  I know that some liberal-progressive-ProAgressive (a term a friend uses and I have to agree with it) will argue me that The Simple Plan doesn’t created slaves and prisoners–rather it liberates.  Not so fast, bucko!  You are defining people by whom they want to have sex with–i.e.–that humans beings are nothing more than sexual beings.  Sex creates bondage when it is engaged in outside the place that is blessed by God.  The Simple Plan says that a person is identified by their sexual partner, rather than the whole person.
  5. It closes the door for personal transformation.  This is akin to Point 2, but goes deeper.  The Simple Plan closes the door to the act of God’s Grace to change and transform us from sinner to saint.  It avoids even the hint of sin, ergo, without sin we do not need to experience change.  All we need is to declare that God has created and blessed who we really are.  There is no model for personal transformation, but emphasizes self-acceptance.
  6. Finally, The Simple Plan demonizes everyone who disagrees with the plan.  While insisting that they be heard, they refuse to listen to other views and resort to calling them bigots and declaring they really don’t know Jesus.

In reality, The Simple Plan is nothing really new.  In fact, it’s rather old.  I mean, really, really, really, really, really, REALLY old.  It goes back to Eden.  The Simple Plan promotes the lie that Satan told Eve and Adam.  “Look, you can be–you NEED to be your own God.  Forget what God said.  Be who you want to be.  This fruit is just what you need to be a complete person–and your own God.”

You see, in reality, nothing is simple about sin.  It is convoluted and destroys those who allow it to define them.  My prayer, and my hope, is that the Tribe for which I have been a part of for 62 years–The Tribe where God called me to serve–will adopt The Traditional Plan.  And if not–then I know God will lead me to where I can continue to experience transformation and offer transformation to a world led astray by The Serpent’s Lie.

Eliminating Cultural Bias As Followers Of Jesus

 

Well, I know, it’s a deep subject for such a shallow mind as mine.  But the Holy Spirit finally led me to the concluding post about this scourge and plague infecting the Body of Christ known as Cultural Bias.  I could go on and on listing views and even honest beliefs people hold as the truth from the Throne of God Himself that are influenced more by the culture of humanity rather than the richness of heaven itself.  But all good things must come to an end, or so we are told.  And even bad things come to an end.  When life gets tough there are some words often repeated in the Bible I turn to:  “and it came to pass”!

What the Holy Spirit reminded me of was back in the ninth grade in Mrs. McPeters’ typing class.  Yes, I am that old.  At the risk of sounding like an old geezer, back in my day it was all about typewriters when it came to “publishing”.  But I do remember, probably much to the surprise of Mrs. McPeters, that the first lesson in operating a typewriter was in knowing the home keys, the position to put your fingers BEFORE you started typing.  Oh yes, there were computers back then, but the one you hold in your hand has far more capabilities that those back then that took up very large rooms.

And the very first thing we typed was this:  “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”  This sentence utilized every letter in the alphabet.  Our first appointed task was to type this sentence, over and over and over and over and over.  Talk about boring.  But then she added stress–she started timing us on how quick we could do it.  I now understand what she was doing–making sure us students started in the right place, otherwise we would never master the typewriter.  And this is where the Spirit offered me a jewel known as wisdom.

The home keys for the left hand are asdf and the home keys for the right hand are jkl;, unless you type with 2 fingers using the biblical method of “seek and ye shall find”.  If we began there we would indeed type The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.  But…if I change the home key for the left hand by moving it only one place to the right, it looks something like this: Yhr wuivy ntoen goc jumpd obrt yhr lsxy foh.  Well, that certainly make a lot of sense.  The spell correction feature of WordPress is scratching its head wondering, “What in the world is he trying to spell?”

Starting in the wrong “home keys” is not only disastrous for keyboarding, but also in living.  The influence of cultural biases affect our thinking and will create theological nonsense just like that sentence when my fingers were NOT on the right home keys.  So my mind began racing away by thinking of 7 simple steps to overcome cultural bias as Followers of Jesus.  It was then I heard the Holy Spirit say, “Holf on nih noy.”  Oops, my fingers were on the wrong home keys.  What He really said to me was, “Hold on big boy.”  So I thought, are there more than 7 simple steps?  Is it like a 12 Step Recovery Program?  I now can see the Holy Spirit doing a face palm.

Then it hit me, the word I needed to focus on is “simple”.  By use of this word I do not mean “simplistic”, rather basic.  The Bible is a narrative, THE Narrative of God.  “In the beginning” God creates perfection.  It remains perfect until Adam and Eve mess it all up and fall out of this perfect relationship.  Then the Bible becomes the narrative of 2 stories.  One narrative is how humanity keeps messing up God’s Intended Design.  The other narrative is how God faithfully and persistently seeks to restore His Image Bearers.

Everything in the Bible is about this narrative, this story of falling and restoring.  Unlike what most of us were taught, the Bible is not a library of different books.  It is the unfolding narrative about us falling and how God is seeking and working to restore us.  So to overcome the influences of cultural biases here’s what we all need to do–what I am doing.  I read.  I allow those words, just those words, soak and simmer into my mind.

Then I explore and study the what, where and when those words were spoken.  In other words, I seek to know the context, but always filtering those thoughts through the narrative of me falling and God seeking and working to restore this fallen Image Bearer.  And that is why I did not use the words “easy steps” and used the words “simple steps” because it is not easy, but it is doable because of this simplified process of allowing the Bible to speak TO us instead of us speaking FOR the Bible.

One of the good things, perhaps very few good things, about this internet thing is the easy access to uncovering the contexts of this Biblical Narrative.  I do not have to be a Hebrew and Greek scholar.  All I have to do is visit www.blueletterbible.org and see what people like James Strong and Joseph Henry Thayer have discovered about the ancient Greek or what Strong and Heinrich Friedrich Wilhelm Gesenius can share about the ancient Hebrew.

I can also visit www.biblegateway.com and look at that passage from a variety of translations and paraphrases and find certain nuances from each translation.  I can Google and find out the history of those times and places.  All the while listening to the Holy Spirit.  Many times I wrestle and struggle with the Narrative, but I do not wrestle or struggle alone.  I have my Companion, the one Jesus promises to freely give me if I only trust in Him.

So, first open the Bible then open your heart before you open your mind.  Our mind is where the junk and garbage of these cultural biases live.  Do not allow your minds to influence your heart as a Follower of Jesus.  The restoring work of God begins in the heart because this is where His Image resides and longs to be released and unleashed upon the mind, and then the world.  Jesus gives us a new heart that is designed to transform this mind that is polluted with the biases of our culture.  I cannot stress enough that you begin listening with your heart first.  Oh, you want me to give you a passage from the Bible on this?  Ok……you asked for it; Romans 12:1-2 (NLT):

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.  (emphasis mine)

Better yet, listen to how The Message puts it:

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.  (emphasis mine)

Oh, one more thing.  This does not mean, by any stretch of even MY most active imagination, that I have mastered the Bible.  It does mean that The Bible, This Word of God, is mastering my life.  I am now being processed by God’s Word, and I am learning so much more than I ever have before.

Cultural Bias And Women Clergy

 

I was going to wait until I finished this series of posts before I addressed this issue.  But the Holy Spirit won’t leave me alone, so here goes:  What does The Bible really say about women as teachers, pastors, or preachers?  As with all these posts about the influences of cultural biases and how these biases may be keeping us from seeing “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help me God”.  I am not expecting anyone to change their view, and especially on this one.  So let’s take a deep dive on this controversial subject.

Here is the approach I am taking.  I am using the Bible IN its contexts AND looking at the whole picture of the narrative the Bible tells, not just bits and pieces to backup my position.  Much of the Bible is written in light of its current context and culture.  I believe what some see as biblical approval and biblical disapproval of certain issues are really passages about how to navigate in a culture that does not reflect the original intention of God in creation.  For example, slavery was not a part of God’s Original Design.  So how do we live faithfully as God’s people in the midst of something He clearly never intended?  And could it be that the role of women, in a culture that clearly does not honor them as being image bearers of God, can be misinterpreted as well?

Here are some of the passages I typically hear from those who say it is unbiblical for women to be pastors and preachers, and my response from looking at the contexts:

11 Women should learn quietly and submissively. 12 I do not let women teach men or have authority over them.  Let them listen quietly. 13 For God made Adam first, and afterward he made Eve. 1 Timothy 2:11-12

Seems pretty clear, doesn’t it?  Until you look at the classical Greek and the original meaning of those words.  The Greek word Paul used is authenteō and it means one who acts on his (or her) own authority, autocratic.  Could it be that Paul is warning against women, or anyone for that matter, to do things that God has not called them to do?  The context is about order in worship.  Worship should not be chaotic and Paul chastised the church at Corinth for some of their ways of making worship more about them and thus, less about God.

And when Paul wrote this letter Timothy was leading the church at Ephesus.  Did someone just think, “So what?  What’s that got to do with anything?”  Glad you asked!  Ephesus was the home to the Temple of Artemis and was considered one of the 7 wonders of the world.  Artemis was considered, among many things, to be the goddess of fertility, and you know how fertility normally occurs–SEX!  When women went to the Temple of Artemis they would adorn themselves with signs of sexuality–beautiful, seductive dresses, jewelry, hair fixed just all, all to seduce men by exerting power over them through sex.  There’s more to say about Artemis’ Temple, you can Google that for yourself.  Suffice it to say, “Couldn’t Paul be telling Timothy that church at Ephesus shouldn’t look or act like those going to the Temple of Artemis, that celebrates sexuality?”  I’m just saying….

Well, let’s look at some more passages

21 And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.  22 For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23 For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. 24 As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything.

25 For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her 26 to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. 27 He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. 28 In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. 29 No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church.30 And we are members of his body.  Ephesians 5:21-30

I just heard someone say, “Aha, you radical liberal, you just sunk your own ship!”  In the immortal words of Sheriff Andy Taylor, “Now hold on just a minute, Barney.”  Context!  The context is verse 1, NOT verse 22:  “Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children.”  And imitating God hits the high point in verse 21, NOT verse 22:  “And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”  It is all about how we honor God by submitting to each other regardless of status or gender.  The Greek word used is hypotassō and it means to arrange under, to subordinate; to subject, put in subjection.   

If you expect women to submit to men, then men should submit to women, if Paul is correct in verse 21.  The remainder of these verse are about how do we honor each other, respect each other by showing humility to each other.  It certainly isn’t by being lords and dictators over anyone.  Now, just hold on to that thought about imitating God, OK?

Let’s look at another passage that people believe disqualifies women from being pastors and preachers.

34 Women should be silent during the church meetings. It is not proper for them to speak. They should be submissive, just as the law says. 35 If they have any questions, they should ask their husbands at home, for it is improper for women to speak in church meetings.  1 Corinthians 14:34-35

Someone was just thinking, “Would you like for me to throw you a float.  Your ship just sank.”  Now wait a minute Barney!  Context, if you don’t mind.  There was a lot of chaos and confusion in the Corinthian worship.  Paul is speaking about order in worship, again.  That word for silent means just that–silent–to not disrupt the worship service, which was happening at Corinth.  Here is their cultural context–not that God designed it that way–it was just the way they did it.  People were segregated in meeting places, and one way was by gender. Women were placed in the area farthest from where the speaker was–just like in the Temple.  Mr. Peavy hasn’t been born yet, so could it be that the women who could not hear whoever was speaking, so they shouted from the rear of the room, “We didn’t hear that, would you mind repeating that?”

Remember context–and in the case of 1 Corinthians 14, it isn’t about women cannot speak, but it is about so many speaking that there is no chance for people to learn about Jesus.  I’ve heard several men “preachers and teachers” who spoke in unknown tongues.  Oh, they were speaking English, but I didn’t understand a word they said.  I’ve also heard several women preachers and teachers who spoke with clarity and wisdom.  What if the context was maintaining order and reducing chaos, instead of saying women can’t be preachers?  I’m only asking a question…

A couple of paragraphs ago I asked you to hold on to that thought about imitating God, and allow me to pursue it now.  The Bible opens up with life as God designed it to be–it reflects His intentionality.  But in Genesis 3 we see both Adam AND Eve moving in the opposite direction, against God’s intentionality of creation.  From this point forward in the Bible, the narrative is that God seeks to bring us back to His Intended Design.  It is also the narrative of humanity continuing to go against His Intended Design.

This resulted in the forming of cultures that God never designed or intended, but that we humans did because of our sinful nature.  Part of the narrative is our failings.  The rest of the narrative is about God moving to restore His Intended Design to His creation.  This movement of God to restore is always counter-cultural; moving in the opposite direction to what the world says is right.

When Jesus came in our humanness it was the final part of how God one day will restore His creation back to His Intended Design, where men and women together reflect His Image–to be restored to being His Image Bearers.  That plan not only included the death of Jesus, but also the Resurrection of Jesus.  But that ultimate plan included one more step:  The Coming Of The Holy Spirit into the hearts of those He is in the process of RESTORING.  The prophet Joel described to a fallen people how God would do a brand new work in His people,  It is all about restoring what had fallen because of sin–which includes us.  We read in Joel 2:28-29–

“Then, after doing all those things, I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.  Your sons and daughters will prophesy.  Your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions.  In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on servants—men and women alike.

According to Strong’s Hebrew dictionary the word prophesy means to speak by inspiration, meaning inspiration of God.  Joel said both men and women would prophesy–young and old see visions.  He would pour out His spirit on servants–men and women.  Is Joel right or did he get the message from God mixed up?  Fast forward a few centuries.

The Holy Spirit came to those disciples in that upper room at the Feast of Pentecost.  It’s all in Acts 2, but I want to highland, IN CONTEXT, a portion of Peter’s message in verses 14-18–

“Listen carefully, all of you, fellow Jews and residents of Jerusalem! Make no mistake about this.  These people are not drunk, as some of you are assuming. Nine o’clock in the morning is much too early for that.  No, what you see was predicted long ago by the prophet Joel:

‘In the last days,’ God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.  Your sons and daughters will prophesy.  Your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams.  In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on my servants—men and women alike—and they will prophesy.

There are 2 words with a connectional word:  sons AND daughters.  Then a few lines down:  men AND women alike.  What?  They will prophesy.  Did someone just think, “Oh, that’s not really preaching.”  No wonder the North American church is in such a state of decline!  Alas, you may be correct–much preaching I have heard was not prophecy in the truest meaning of that word.  Prophesy in the Greek means “to be a prophet, speak forth by divine inspiration”.  To prophesy doesn’t mean you foretell the future!  Prophecy is FORTH-TELLING not foretelling.  It is about the present moment, not future moments that truly we do not come close to fully understanding.  Oh, it may include something about the future–but it is about the consequences if you do not apply the inspiration of God’s Truth in the here and now.

And even for Paul, who understands the rich extravagance of God’s grace could not fully wrap his mind around this issue of women preachers.  He grew up in a culture, actually, 2 cultures that most often demoted women to second class citizens.  But an epiphany came to Paul in Galatians 3.  The context is being under the influence of the Holy Spirit and living by faith in Jesus.  Here are the verses (26-28) that comes out of that context:

26 For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. 28 There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.

In the beginning, God chose to reflect His image in 2 unique forms–we call them male and female, men and women.  Neither form is better than the other.  Truth is, each single form comes up short in revealing the image of God.  But when you put those 2 images together, as God INTENDED, the image of God becomes clearer.  I know there are those (who shall remain nameless) point out that the responsibility for the Fall rests solely on Eve.  Clearly, this is the early Jewish belief, which culture did influence Paul.

But the sole responsibility does not rest on Eve for this tragedy.  Adam was present, too.  I have a very good friend who insists Adam wasn’t present when the serpent was deceiving Eve.  But Genesis 3:6 says:  “The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too.”  Adam should have fought for her against the Serpent, but he didn’t.  Adam didn’t do a thing–and that was his first sin.

And when they were confronted by their Creator about what happened, Eve was honest:  “I was deceived.”  And Adam?  He takes no personal responsibility but blames Eve, and thus his second sin:  “This woman you gave me made me do it.”  Hard truth time:  Adam is blaming God.  “God, if you had not made her, I would be OK.”  So, men are the only ones who can lead in church?  If that’s so, men we have a very bad track record on leading, from the very beginning.

Now, back to my beginning.  I’m not asking anyone to change their views on this matter.  The purpose of this series has been to prod each of us into examining if we are being influenced by our culture.  If so, where at?  Remember, the Kingdom of God goes counter-cultural to everything this culture thinks is right and true.  Now excuse me, I hear a noise outside my office, people shouting something about tar and feathers and something else about a stake and fire…..

Cultural Bias: Does God Expect Us To Be A Christian Nation?

Does God insist on us being a “Christian” nation, and does this fulfill our mission?  Before I am tarred and feathered for my reflections on this topic, know that I am a Dad and a Father-In-Law to active duty combat veterans.  I support them and the fellow soldiers in all their duties for our nation and around the world.  I admired theirs and so many like them, who pledge to defend and support the Constitution from enemies both foreign and domestic.  Furthermore, I believe this U.S. to be the second most important document ever penned by human hands.  The most important document ever penned by human hands is the Bible.

This edition is directed towards the United States church and how the culture of nationalism bias has infiltrated, even polluted the Mission of the Church.  By insisting that we, the good old U.S. of A. MUST be a Christian nation misses the mark of who God is calling us Followers of Jesus to be in this fallen creation.  Does righteousness exalt a nation?  Absolutely!  Does abandoning the truths of God destroy a nation?  You bet!  But in an attempt to be righteous and avoid being evil, many Christian Americans have mistaken our calling as being that of creating a “Christian” United States of America.

Many of those who hold this view, point out that God formed the nation of Israel in the Old Testament to be a Godly Nation.  This quote from Exodus 19:6 is often their rationale:

And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.’ This is the message you must give to the people of Israel.”

But remember, that the Bible wasn’t written in English.  The Old Testament language was Hebrew and that word Nation is gowy and it means “a massing of people, a foreign nation”.  God set up Israel as a “foreign” nation, one that is counter-cultural to this fallen creation.  But notice 1 phrase and 1 key word; one is about ownership and the other is about purpose.  The phrase is “My Kingdom”.  This speaks about ownership and in order to be a citizen of a “kingdom” one must submit to the Rule of The King.  This is not a democracy, though often some vainly imagine this is what God wants.

The key word is “Priests”.  This is the purpose of God’s people.  It is to serve Him and the people He loves.  And who are the people He loves?  Everyone!  And He wants His Kingdom of Priests planted right in the middle of the Kingdom of the Enemy who is ruining His Creation.  I believe it is wrong to interpret this passage as a call for nationalism.  But it has in so many corners of the U.S.

And one of the, perhaps unintended results is that well-meaning Christians are looking to the political process for our country’s redemption.  Much of our chaos has been produced through this political process.  God is not looking for a defined geographical space to be “His” nation.  God is looking around this globe for “pockets of priests” who will serve Him first, then serve the people He is reaching out to reclaim and restore.

I want you to look at this passage from the New Testament and see it in perhaps a different way.  It is 1 Peter 2:9.

For you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.

And though some may jump on that word “nation” as their proof, here is the Greek word for “nation”.  It is ethnos and according to Thayer’s Greek lexicon is means a multitude (whether of men or of beasts) associated or living together; a company, troop, swarm.”  And, get this, in Strong’s lexicon it means ” a tribe; specially, a foreign one.”  And do not overlook that key phrase from Peter:  Royal Priests.  Royal means we serve under a King, THE King.  

Our Mission, as chosen, called and Royal Priests is to live together like a swarm invading the territory of the Enemy, the territory that Satan stole from God.  It’s not geography or politics folks.  It is The Kingdom of God whom we have been chosen and called to serve.  Not a political identity.  So Church, let’s be the swarm!

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Cultural Bias And “The Church” Conclusion

 

 

 

(Here is the rest of the conversation going on in my head about cultural bias and the church…Due to the nature of this mind, viewer discretion is advised.  The Spiritually immature, not to be confused with “new believers”, may not be able to comprehend these thoughts. Please read the first part before reading this one:  Cultural Bias And “The Church”)

Mr. Churchian:  First you’re talking about Greek and now Latin?  All of that is irrelevant.

Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter:  Besides, we speak English, American English.  I agree with Mr. Churchian, Greek/Latin–that doesn’t mean a thing!

Me:  (Fighting hard to keep my gift of sarcasm in check)  Yes, we speak American English (I’m wondering why Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter insists on the KJV) but yet there are different meanings to words now than when these wonderful letters and books were written.  I know that we cannot all be Greek and Hebrew Scholars and this is why there are so many resources that can help us to understand in a deeper way the intent of the writers by looking at the original meanings of those words.

Mr. Churchian:  Well, I know what I know!

Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter:  And I know all I need to know!

Me:  (Now I’m smiling again!)  And that, my dear brother and sister in Christ, is the problem.  What you know is what you have been taught by well-meaning people who have been enveloped in that fog of misinformation called “Church Cultural Bias”.  We have accepted, BLINDLY accepted what we have been told about what it means to be a follower of Jesus.  And at the root of this, I’m calling it what it is, this DECEPTION are these 2 diametrical words:  the original word Ekklēsia and that substitute word Circulous.

Circulous is a “circle”.  A circle is a closed system.  What ever is outside that circle must be allowed in to be a part of the circle.  The circle then supports itself.  Whatever is allowed to be a part of the circle must have 2 key attributes:

  1.   First, it must conform.  If they do not conform, then the circle is no longer symmetrical.  And God knows we can’t have circles unless they are symmetrical.  And Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter I know how important symmetry is to you. (She’s smiling now, but wait for it!)
  2.   Second, it must contribute something to the existing structure.  They must be able to reflect the current image.  God knows we cannot have people in jeans with tattoos and piercings a part of the circle that is full of suits, ties and women wearing conservative fashionable dresses.  They must be able to add to the existing and prevailing views, otherwise we would not be uniform.  And Mr. Churchian, I know how important contributing to uniformity is to you.  (Now he’s smiling, but wait for it!)

And all of this must happen within the confines of a specific geographic location, otherwise known as The Church Building.  Am I correct in this, Mr. Churchian and Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter?

Mr. Churchian and Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter:  (In unison) ABSOLUTELY!  Thanks for finally coming over to our side!

Me:  ‘Hold `em thar’ horses!’  What I just described is the Body of Christ as Circulous, a “circle”.  The circle exists to serve those already in the circle.  Anything that doesn’t support the circle is deemed both unnecessary and unimportant.  The focus is entirely on human activities; what WE do.  It creates that sense of entitlement, and I know how both of you feel about “the entitlement generation”.  The circle produces consumers.  As long as the pastor, staff and leadership puts out “consumables” for you, everything is great.  When they no longer put out consumables, it’s time to replace them.  This, my Sister and Brother, is the Body of Christ as a circle.  I see you nodding your heads in agreement.  But remember that Circulous is a substitute word for the original word.

The Body of Christ as the Ekklēsia focuses on the One who does the calling.  By focusing on the One who does the calling, the focus is on the life that God offers us and the foundation of that life that God offers us is about dying daily to self in order to live in unselfish ways in order to care about and for others.  Putting it another way, here are 3 things the Ekklēsia is not:

  1.   It does not look like a geometrical circle.  It looks more like coloring outside the lines.  I know how much both of you detest coloring outside the lines.  But when Jesus was in our human form He was the Master Artist of coloring outside the lines.  Jesus continues coloring outside the lines by storming the strongholds of human values and culture.
  2.   It is not being uniform.  Our Creator loves unique diversity.  Look at the animal kingdom.  You have an armadillo and you have the giraffe.  Look even at horses, varieties of sizes, shapes, colors, and purposes.  God loves diversity so He created us uniquely and loves it when we use our uniqueness to honor Him.  Think about the beauty of a rainbow.  The colors are not the same.  When the light hits those raindrops at the right angle, then the beauty shines.
  3.   It does not focus inwardly.  The One who calls us is always looking outwardly.  Thus, to respond to that call, the Body of Christ also looks outwardly.  The Ekklēsia cannot be confined to a postal or 911 address.  All that happens inside the geographical location is designed to drive us out of that location to where real people are enslaved by sin, bringing light to the dirtiest and darkest places on earth.

Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter:  Well, that’s not what I was taught!

Mr. Churchian:  Well, I earned my way to be here and everyone else should earn their way, JUST LIKE I DID!

Me:  Well, it wasn’t what I was taught either.  And I admit, I haven’t earned my way into the circle.  But I have been called out by God’s grace.  Called back to my Creator, my Father.  I have been called out to follow Jesus wherever He wants me to go in order to do whatever He wants me to do.  Now, if you two will excuse me, Jesus has left the building, so I must also leave the building….

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Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him!

Jesus-Left-Building-2

(Maybe Elvis had it right)

Cultural Bias And “The Church”

 

 

In this my personal journey (which I am sharing through this series of blogs) about the influences of what I am calling “cultural bias”, I have already discovered many things that have caused me to question much of what I have been taught, and what I have taught over the decades.  I am already questioning the term “christian” as the dominant term to describe people who believe Jesus is the Savior of all (see: Which Is A More Accurate Term:  Christian Or Disciple?).  Where else has cultural bias, even “Christian Cultural Bias” influenced us, and maybe even changed our true identity and real purpose?  So now I address another issue where I see an over-abundance of cultural biases.  (Here is the conversation going on in my head…Due to the nature of this mind, viewer discretion is advised.  The Spiritually immature, not be be confused with “new believers” may not be able to comprehend these thoughts.)

Me:  What does the Bible really say and teach about “the church”?  Well, let’s look at what the One whom we are supposed to reveal said about “the church”.  Jesus only mentions the word “church” twice.  Well, truthfully He never said the word “church”.

Mr. Churchian:  “You idiot!  You need to be tarred and feathered and run of town!  Blasphemer!”  (He’s looking for either a torch or a pitchfork….not sure)

Me:  Well, as I am fond of saying, “The truth will stand even when the world is on fire.”

Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter:  “Now you know the word ‘church’ IS in the Bible.  So, Mr. Smartypants, what word did Jesus use if it wasn’t church?”

Me:  Oh my, did you ever ask the wrong question.  In the Greek…

Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter:  “Wait a minute, we’re not talking about the Greek.  We’re talking about English, you know, the language Jesus used.”

Me:  As I was saying before I was rudely interrupted, the Greek manuscripts use the word ekklēsia.  Ekklēsia has been translated as “church” in the Gospels.

Mr. Churchian:  “Aha!  Proves my point!”

Me:  Not so fast, bucko!  According to James Strong, in Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, ekklēsia means “a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place; an assembly”.  Joseph Henry Thayer, primary editor of Thayer’s Greek Lexicon says it means an “assembly, company, congregation, multitude”.  It is used to describe secular, Jewish and Christian settings.  In other words, it can accurately be translated “synagogue” as well, public arena, stadium, or town square would all work in place of the word CHURCH.  More than likely, the preferred language of Jesus was Hebrew, the common language, and the Hebrew equivalent is the word qahal, which means assembly or congregation.  This is the most likely word Jesus would have used.  Remember that the audience of Jesus isn’t 21st Century Americans.  His audience is 1st Century Jews.

Mr. Churchian & Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter:  (Sitting silently.  Their faces are still angry red, but there’s a look of confusion now, finally they break the silence, in unison, of course) Huh?

Me:  The Bible was originally translated from Hebrew and Greek into Latin, the “official” language of the Roman CHURCH.  A few had attempted to translate some of the Bible from Latin into English…

Mr. Churchian:  Look, I showed up to argue with you and prove you wrong, not to hear a history lesson.

Me:  I’m getting there, be patient.  Now, as I was about to say before I was rudely interrupted, the Bible was not translated into English until John Wycliffe led a group of scholars who rendered the Latin texts into English…

Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter:    (frustrated) Get to your point!  Enough of this nonsense!

Me:  I’m trying but y’all keep interrupting me.  As I was about to say, the Bible appeared in the English language, much to the consternation of the Roman CHURCH, around 1382.  In fact, after his death, Roman CHURCH authorities exhumed his body and burned it to ashes.  That will definitely teach Rev. Wycliffe a lesson, won’t it!  Patience please, Mr. Churchian and Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter, stop rolling your eyes at me.  I’m getting to my point.

Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter:  Well it’s about time!

Me:  As I was saying before I was rudely interrupted, again, it was the Wycliffe Bible translation that first used the word “church”.  Wycliffe wanted fellow Catholics to be able to hear and read the Bible in their own language.  His concern was not necessarily about rendering the best meaning of those original words; just getting them into the language of ordinary women and men was the goal.

Mr. Churchian:  Now are you ready to repent, you blasphemous sinner?  The word is CHURCH!  Hey, anybody seen my torch?  Get my pitchfork while you’re at it!

Me:  (Sigh…….)  Well, overlooking that last interruption, Wycliffe and his crew chose the English word “church” when translating the original word ekklēsia.  However this is a translation from Latin to English, not from Greek into English.  John Hus promoted this idea of the “common” language to the point, and he was burned at the stake by the Roman CHURCH.  An interesting side-note: they used a copy of the Wycliffe Bible to start that fire.  Surely by now Wycliffe has learned his lesson.  But in 1526, William Tyndale and his team published the first New Testament that was taken entirely from the Greek texts.  And…

Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter:  (Angrily) Get to the point!  I need to be dusting the covers on all my King James Version Bibles!

Me:  (Now I’m rolling my eyes AND sighing) And for the Greek word…

Mr. Churchian:  I still don’t know what the Greek has to do with it (while shaking his head in disgust)!  It’s all Greek to me!

Me:  And for the Greek word ekklēsia, Tyndale and his crew translated it congregation.  Truthfully, the word they used was congregacion, which was the way they spelled “congregation” back then.  The word “congregation” fits both the Greek word AND the Hebrew word.  When the Roman CHURCH set out to put the Bible together, they selected Latin as their OFFICIAL language.  No problem there–but…there isn’t a Latin word for ekklēsia so they opted for the word circulous which is translated either “circle” or “circus”.  It was chosen because in their culture, gatherings or congregating, happened in, you guessed it–CIRCLES!  Circle or circus (which the latter is a better fit for many congregations today in the U.S.) became the English word CHURCH.

Me: (Amazed I haven’t been interrupted again)  NOW my first major point:  The Latin word circulous and the Greek word ekklēsia, have 2 diametrical meanings.  Excuse me and forgive me Mr. Churchian and Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter, I was so caught up in this moment I may have used a word that you may not understand–diametrical.  It means one thing is completely different from another thing.

Me (continuing without interruption, PTL!):  Circulous refers to the actions and activities of people.  Ekklēsia refers to the action and activities of the One who does the calling out.  Circulous/Circus/Church focuses on the people–they are the “star” attraction (sorry, I couldn’t let that one slip by me–the circus reference about the church).  The Ekklēsia focuses on God who calls us out from the world to be visible assembly of–you guessed it–Jesus Christ.

(This conversation will continue in the next edition.  And remember–Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him!)

Which Is A More Accurate Term:  Christian Or Disciple?

We all have some way of self-identifying:  “I am a husband.  I am a wife.  I am so-and-so’s daughter/son.  I am a parent, grandparent.  I am                  (fill in the blank).”  Self-identifications such as this is a good way to identify our roles–at home, work, community, family, church, etc.

If you consider Jesus to be your Savior, then how do you usually identify yourself:  a Christian or a Disciple?  I know, I know, it sounds like I am about to strain at a gnat just to swallow a camel.  You may be thinking, “What difference does that make?  There’s more important issues going on in the world, in our nation that needs to be address.  Christian or Disciple, really?”  Yes, really!

We find the first use of this word “christian” in Acts 11:26–The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.  Well, well, well, it seems that Jesus did not use that word “christian”.  The Greek word is “christianos and it means “follower of Christ”.  And it seems that this word “christianos” is used only 2 other times in the New Testament.  Could it be, mind you I’m only asking a question, could it be that the word “christian” should not be our first choice of words when self-identifying with Jesus?

Well, what about the word disciple?  It is the Greek word mathētēs” that means “a learner”.  Furthermore it seems that word mathētēs” is used an additional 267 times for a total of 268 times.  This means that for every time the word christian is used, the word Disciple is used 89 times.  I’m not against the use of the word “christian”, but…

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When we self-identify by the use of a word, it usually means we are describing a role and a purpose for our life.  Strictly speaking out of my culture and experiences, many use the word “christian” as a title, not a role or purpose in life.  Contrary to what is often heard, the Great Commission is not about creating christians but making DISCIPLES!  The cultural bias that often drives a congregation is twisted up in the word christian, that does not mean now what it did those 3 times the New Testament writers chose that word.  The cultural bias I see is that the word “christian” is a title, not a role.  Before Antioch they were called “people of The Way”.  “The Way”, by the way, came from a phrase used by Jesus that described His Role and Purpose.  (John 14:6–“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.”)

There are 3 Key Qualities of a Disciple:

Disciples Listen

Do you remember when you were in school and the teacher said those 7 most feared words?  “Take out a clean sheet of paper.”  It mean it was time for a test, pop quiz or announced.  When listening to Jesus, we need a clean sheet of paper.  Not for the test, that comes later.  But we need to listen with an open heart and open mind.  We need to listen to Him directly; not what someone else said about what He said.  We need to approach each passage as if it were the first time we read it.  Listen to God’s mind and heart.  There are some “deep” passages, but what we need for life–for our role and purpose isn’t rocket surgery or brain science.  You just need to listen.

Disciples Learn

Don’t be like you were when you were a kid and your parent was talking to you.  You know, letting it go in one ear and out the other.  Begin to uncover and discover how the Good News is designed to work in our life.  Memorization is a tool, a very good tool, but go deeper.  There is a wisdom in God’s Truth that we need to accept and embrace in our journey through this life.  Explore how this Good News can make a difference in your life.  I once heard this illustration.  When a duck dives into the water for food, it comes back up at a different place.  Internal transformation is the beginning point and the source of the Power that comes only from the Holy Spirit.

Disciples Apply

Information and knowledge are not enough.  The key is application.  It has been said, and very well I might add, that Wisdom is the APPLICATION of knowledge.  Unfortunately, the cultural church has been inundated with the Intelligentsia.  The Intelligentsia is a status class of educated people engaged in the complex mental labors that critique, guide, and lead in shaping the culture and politics of their society.  In others words, lots of thinking and talking but not a whole lot of doing.  Someone once told me that C. S. Lewis defined The Intelligentsia as people who are educated beyond their intelligence.  I cannot verify C. S. said it, but I know more than a few that meets that definition of The Intelligentsia.

The goal of Jesus’ teachings was APPLICATION.  Once a student listens, then learns, they are now ready to apply that knowledge.  Knowledge with application is like a coke (I’m from the south, so the word ‘coke’ refers to a variety of different brands) without the  carbonated water–it’s flat and loses its true taste.

Jesus wants Disciples, after all that was His invitation.  People who will listen, learn and apply The Good News of The Kingdom of God.  Being a Disciple isn’t a title–It is our role and purpose.  This is just me, OK?  If I believe the writers of the New Testament chose their words carefully (and I do believe that), if Jesus never asked for people to become christians (and He didn’t), then maybe I need to self-identify as DISCIPLE.  Yep, I think I will do just that!

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to HIM!

Cultural Bias And Holy Communion-Part 2

Well, this is the sixth in my series about how cultural biases may have, probably have influenced our understanding of the Bible, especially in the U.S. churches.  I had intended to do only one blog per issue, but the Spirit has prompted, well actually SHOVED me, dragged me screaming, into going deeper because there exists a deep misunderstanding about Holy Communion by some who occupy the pews.  The issue is about “who”–WHO can receive these sacred symbols?

Let’s begin with the 2 camps known as The Closed Camp and The Open Camp.  The Close Camp Rule state that only members of their Tribe are allowed to receive the sacred symbols.  No ifs, ands, buts or maybes–you have to be a full member of Their Tribe.  The Open Camp Rule state that church membership is not a requirement.  And now things become a little more complicated.  Have you ever noticed how humanity tends to make the grace of God more complicated?  Or is that just me?

Within The Open Camp there are 2 Sub-Camps.  Both agree that church membership is not a requirement, both Camps agree that this is that powerful reminder of God’s Grace.  There are some other points they agree on, but here is where it becomes a bit more complicated.  First there is The Open Camp But You Have To Be Worthy.  This Camp says, “Stay away from this Table until you are worthy of it.”  Those who hold this view have hitched their wagon to 1 Corinthians 11:26-27 (NLT)

26 For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes again.  27 So anyone who eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily is guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.

At the ripe old age of 21, I had an older member who refused to celebrate Holy Communion all because her father had drilled it into her head, “Don’t receive it until you feel you are worthy.”  The position of This Camp is that this Table, HIS Table, is a Reserved Table.  Your reservations for His Table are made through your performance.  They may not agree with my conclusion, but as I often say, “The truth will stand when the world’s on fire.”  Though the Table is not a “Members Only Club”, it is demeaned and devalued into “The Table For Only Those Who Perform Very Well.”

The other is The Open Camp For Those Who Need Grace.  This Camp says, “If you are hungry for God’s grace, then there’s a chair for you at this Table.”  The Communion Table becomes more of a doctor’s office for the sick, than a “Heisman Award” for the really good folks.  This Camp sees Holy Communion as a Means of Grace, a way to connect with God’s Grace.  And I am proud to say that I have a lifetime membership in this Camp.

I understand that some will say, “Look, the issue is much more in-depth (which is just another way of saying ‘complicated’) than you have presented it.”  But when I take my cultural eyeglasses off and simply read the Bible, here is what I see and understand; and it’s not all that complicated.

For those who must insist that we become worthy BEFORE we receive the Sacred Signs, and base it on 1 Corinthians 11:26-27, you’re not applying this verse in its context.  See what some of the Corinthians were doing.  They were having a private party for their own kind.  Kinda like those who say Holy Communion is only for ‘their’ kind of folks.  So you think you’re “worthy”?  You better check out verses 28. 39 and 30.

It is called The Lord’s Table for a reason, and a purpose.  The Reason it is The Lord’s Table is because He alone has set the table and provided the meal, so HE  gets to decide who receives the invitation.  Luke 14 describes the invitation sent to those on the little dusty trails, in other words, those on the fringes.  Mark 2 describes that He is looking and calling for the sick, not the allegedly healthy.  And who can forget John 3:16 and THAT powerful word WHOSOEVER.  Everyone is a WHOSOEVER.

I don’t think anyone should come to The Lord’s Table casually or out of habit.  It is a sacred moment where we can both SEE and TASTE that The Lord, He is Good!  And I certainly do not believe that it’s a performance based reward.  This, The Lord’s Tableis for anyone who needs to be reminded of these 2 eternal truths:

  1. We need God’s grace every moment of every day
  2. God freely gives us the grace we admit to needing because of the death of Jesus.

Holy Communion has this Message:  “For anyone who needs and wants My Grace, pull up a chair at My Table, and have a Feast!  Don’t worry about the cost.  I’ve taken care of that, too!”  And that, my friends, is something to celebrate!

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to HIM!!!!

Cultural Bias And Holy Communion

 

Who is ‘authorized’ to administer (or serve) Holy Communion/The Lord’s Supper/The Eucharist/The Mass?  This was the question I asked in the beginning of this series of blogs.  As I prayed and reflected on this topic, as with the other topics I’ve already addressed, I am finding it taking me deeper than my original intent and adding additional, call them questions or angles, that may be getting in the way of understanding this powerful moment of Holy Communion.  Before I get to the others questions the Spirit has confronted me with, allow me to address this original question.

In every Tribe and Tradition of which I am familiar, in order to serve or administer or oversee (ecclesiastical requirements) this “Sacrament”, one must be a licensed, commissioned or ordained pastor.  In my Tribe, to be “qualified” you must be either “ordained” or a “licensed” local pastor.  In the case of a local pastor, you can only serve Communion in the congregation to which you are appointed.  Truthfully, from the time of my entrance into this calling, I have always had an issue with my Tribe’s rule.  But in order to be licensed and then ordained, I kept the party line in tact with my papers and what I said in my interviews.  (In one paper I had to do, I ripped apart the commentator…turned out he was the one who “graded” my paper, so I had to redo it….edited of course to fall in line with the author of the commentary I ripped apart….lesson learned!)

The rationale behind such views is that a properly credentialed person is necessary in order to protect the sacredness of this powerful moment.  It is as if Holy Communion (notice the use of caps) loses both the “Holy” and the “caps” if someone administers or oversees it who is not “properly credentialed”, thus becoming only “communion” (lower case ‘c’) which in turn, the powers that be, believe diminishes its effect.  Really?  It loses its purpose and power when someone administers it who isn’t ecclesiastically qualified?  That the sacredness of God’s grace is not present?  Wow!  I never realized that God could not move in a moment UNLESS He has someone ecclesiastically qualified like me!

My long-standing “disagreement” on this issue is based on this passage from 1 Peter 2:5-9

And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple.  What’s more, you are his holy priests.  Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God. As the Scriptures say,  “I am placing a cornerstone in Jerusalem, chosen for great honor, and anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.”  Yes, you who trust him recognize the honor God has given him.  But for those who reject him, “The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.”  And, “He is the stone that makes people stumble, the rock that makes them fall.”   They stumble because they do not obey God’s word, and so they meet the fate that was planned for them.  But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people.  You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession.  As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.

We call this The Priesthood Of All Believers.  Unless Pete’s first letter was limited to only ecclesiastically qualified people, then I believe that “proper” Holy Communion (again, notice the caps) can be administered by anyone who has turned away from sin, accepted the Gift of God expressed on The Cross, and is growing in that Grace.  Either we who seriously follow Jesus (meaning being a Christian is more than a name, but a life-long commitment of heart, mind and will) are ALL Priests or NONE of us are to be considered Priests.  Ecclesiastical Authority does NOT make one a priest.  Only the authority of the One who Created us, Redeemed us, and Transforms us has such authority!!!! (Notice the use of multiple “exclamation marks”; that means I’m passionately serious about this!!!!)

Jesus revealed and modeled the new work of Priests, this Priesthood of All Believers. (See Hebrews 9:11-12 and Hebrews 4:14-16).  The mission of Priests in the Old Testament were to presents the needs of the people to God and to reveal God’s mind and heart to the people.  Jesus did this perfectly by becoming both the Priest who stands before God to represent the needs of the people, and the perfect sacrifice that meets all the needs of all people.  Picture this:  Jesus REPRESENTING us BEFORE God, and then PRESENTING the heart and mind God TO us.

And there is no clearer picture of the Heart and Mind of God than in the Holy Moment of Holy Communion.  We present and re-present to each other the perfect Sacrifice through Holy Communion.  And who better to “preside” over that moment than anyone who has been touched, redeemed and now being transformed by this marvelous Grace?  Certainly it doesn’t take ecclesiastical credentials to “preside” over this Sacred Meal.  Maybe I’m missing something, but I do not see ecclesiastical credentials as a requirement in the first century Body of Christ.  So why now is it necessary?

Enough for now…there are some more cultural biases I see around the Sacred Meal…and as hard as it may be to believe….I have something to say about them, too….later!

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure ALL the glory goes to HIM!!!!

Cultural Bias-The Bible And The Role Of Elders And Deacons

(This is the third post in a series around this question:  Are we reading our own Cultural Biases into the Bible?)

In examining the issue of cultural bias influencing one’s understanding of the Bible, nothing is protected from examination–even the practices of my own Tribe, the United Methodist Church.  Here is today’s question:  Are ‘deacons’ and ‘elders’ to be considered clergy (pastors/preachers) or laity (the person in the pew)?  Who’s right?

In case you may be unaware of this, but in my Tribe the offices of Elder and Deacon have traditionally been restricted to clergy or those engaging in specialized ministries–us folks who go through extensive education and even more extensive inquisitions from what we call the Board of Ordained Ministry (the Board of Ordained Ministry prefers the term “interview”, though it often looks more like an inquisition).

In other Tribes, the offices of elder and deacon are given to the laity; from among the rank and file membership.  Though my knowledge of these Tribes is limited, my experiences with members and pastors is that the deacons and especially the elders, carry great authority, even to having pastors and other staff fired, and of course, choosing who will be “hired”.

The first mention of Elders in a church is found in Acts 11:30 when Paul and Barnabas delivered a love offering from the churches in Antioch to the church in Jerusalem.  The word that has been translated as “elder” is the Greek word presbýteros, (pronounced pres-boo’-ter-os) and is comparative to the Greek word présbys ( which means elderly).  It refers to someone who is older;, a senior.  It is the same word used to describe key leaders in the Sanhedrin as well as local community leaders.  In other words, the church “borrowed” this word from the Jewish tradition.

First mention of “deacon” is in Romans 16:1, a letter Paul wrote around 57 A.D.  The Greek word used is diákonos, (pronounced dee-ak’-on-os) probably came from an obsolete word diákō (pronounced dee-ak’-o), which means to run on errands, an attendant, a waiter at table or in other menial duties, and one who executes the commands of another such as a master; one who is a servant, or attendant.  Now this doesn’t sound like someone with great authority or who carries around a big stick.

As I did my due diligence in this research there’s another word or “office” described by Paul–bishop!  It’s mentioned only twice in reference to people:  1 Timothy 3:1-2 and Titus 1:7.  It’s the Greek word episkopḗ, (pronounced ep-is-kop-ay’) and means  inspection, examine, and to visit.  It comes from the word episképtomai (pronounced ep-ee-skep’-tom-ahee) and means to go to see, relieve:—look out, visit.  By the way, it’s the same word found in Matthew 25:36 when Jesus said, “I was sick and you visited me.”  This “office of bishop” is seen only in a limited number of Tribes, mine included.

From these passages I see nothing about these offices (deacon, elder, bishop) being limited to clergy/preachers.  Furthermore, I do not see nor hear that idea of wielding great power or authority, especially the offices of deacon and bishop.  So how did these offices of the early church become what they are today?  In other words, “Where does this show signs of cultural bias?”

What I see is the influence of the Roman Catholic Tribe.  Now to my Roman Catholic friends, please understand I am NOT picking on you or putting your Tribe and Traditions down.  I’m simply stating a historical fact.  The first major organizing of the church resulted in the formation of what we know as the Roman Catholic Church/Tribe.

The first significant reorganization of the church happened in 1517 when Martin Luther posted his “95 Theses” (FYI, use of drums and guitars in a sanctuary were not listed in this document).  This led to what we now call the Protestant Reformation.  As bodies of believers, churches reorganized and new Tribes formed.  Over the decades and centuries these newly formed Tribes either copied the formal clerical structure of the Roman Catholic Tribe, or in an effort to distance themselves, went in the opposite direction of putting major leadership among laypersons rather than preachers.

This was influenced by Western Civilization of creating a hierarchy of authority and power.  Tribes such as mine, used the term “elder” and “bishop” to create that sense of authority and power.  These offices and roles were a far cry from the very first churches.  The influence of Western Europe and England are seen in how the Greek words are translated, in particular, the office of Bishop.  The word most commonly used in the English language is OVERSEER.  That sounds like an office filled with great authority, when in reality it is a word about visiting the sick, examining and looking at what happens.  OVERSEER also was used to describe an office in the ancient Feudal System.

At least to me it seems we have brought cultural biases when it comes to the offices of deacon, elder, and bishop/overseer.  And I find myself at odds with my own Tribe in the use of these offices.  I am also at odds with other Tribes that use these offices as forms of power and authority rather than offices of serving, caring for and caring about people.

Again, I am not asking or expecting anyone or everyone to agree with my thesis that these offices are another way that we have added cultural bias to our understanding of the Holy Writ.  But if we have added our cultural bias to even one part of the Holy Writ, then there is a high probability that we are adding our cultural biases into other parts.  What if, mind you, I’m only asking What If, What If we spend our time in the Holy Writ without the teachings and commentaries of our Tribes and listened to what was written?  What If we sought the Giver of all Wisdom to guide us in the struggle of understanding it for ourselves?  What If we looked back to the original languages as to the meaning of those words without adding cultural influences on those words?  What If we sought the Holy Spirit to be our Guide, instead of primarily resting upon our cultural biases?

A very good friend, mentor and spiritual guide in my life came out of a Tribe with a very strict legalistic background.  But now Tim embraces Grace and the understanding that the body of Christ is more than one Tribe, than God longs for Relationship over Rules.  I asked him once what led to his personal transformation.  He told me it happened as he was reading the Bible and the Holy Spirit began to challenge his personal cultural biases.  Maybe this is what we all need.

 

Cultural Bias–The Bible And Divorced Pastors

 

This is the second in this series around the thoughts of how cultural bias influences the truth of The Bible.  Remember that we all tend to read our personal cultural bias into the understanding and application of The Truth of The Bible.  It is a struggle to set aside personal and cultural biases for the sake of The Holy Writ.  Let me share with you again where I come from.  I am:

  1. A disciple of Jesus
  2. A pastor
  3. I am divorced
  4. I have remarried

I am, with the help of the Holy Spirit, setting aside my personal and cultural biases for the sake of first, understanding The Truth of The Bible and second, a true application of that Truth from The Bible.

And as promised from the first post, I am addressing the issue and question of divorced pastors.  More specifically is this question:  “Is a pastor disqualified  from future service if he or she is divorced?”  Well, let’s just see what we find in The Bible.  Today I am breaking away from my own cultural bias by not using the New Living Translation© nor The Message©, which are my personal favorites.  Instead, I will use the King James Version© because this is the translation that many use to justify their church cultural bias.

1 Timothy 3:1-7

1 This is a true saying, if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.  2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; 3 Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; 4 One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; 5 (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) 6 Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.  (emphasis mine)

Titus 1:5-9

5 For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee:  6 If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly.  7 For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not self willed, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; 8 But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; 9 Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.  (emphasis mine)

OK, no beating around the bush.  Let’s cut to the chase.  The church cultural bias of many is that if a person has been divorced or remarried after they divorce (some Tribes allow it so long as they don’t remarry) they cannot become a pastor/ preacher/ elder/ deacon.  And if they become divorced while serving in these offices then they are disqualified from any future service.  This cultural bias comes from that one phrase in the King James Version© the husband of one wife.

The application of this phrase is that they cannot, must not ever be divorced.  However, this application is not consistent with the interpretation of this passage.  When Jesus used the word “divorce”, the Greek phrase was apolyō autos gynē.  It means “put away his wife” or in legal terms–divorce.  This is NOT the same wording in either 1 Timothy nor Titus.  The Greek phrase from 1 Timothy 3:2 AND Titus 1:6  is anēr mia gynē, which means guess what?  “The husband of one wife”!  Instead of meaning “They cannot have been divorced, why can’t it mean “They cannot be a polygamist?”  Why can’t it mean, “They cannot have a spouse and someone on the side”?  The phrase anēr mia gynē literally means “one-woman man“.  Furthermore it is written in the PRESENT TENSE, not the PAST TENSE.  The application is for the current condition of the person in question, not their past.

Now, someone reading this may be thinking, “Well, what does the Greek language have to do with all this?”  Many years ago I offended an older “saint” when he challenged my use of modern translations.  He told me, “Look preacher, I only read the original Bible and I think you should, too!”  I replied, “Well, I am impressed with you, truly impressed.”  A bit disarmed, thinking I was paying him a high honor, asked, “What do you mean?”  And I replied, “I had no idea you could read and understand Hebrew and Greek.  This is most impressive.”  His reply was, “I’m not talking about Hebrew and Greek, I’m talking about the King James Version.”  His was offended when I said, “The original Bible was written in Hebrew and Greek.”  To his dying day, I do not think he believed me.

Those who insist that divorce disqualifies anyone from church leadership has applied an application that is inconsistent with the original Truth.  I have noticed that some do give allowances, in fact, the only allowances they claim that The Bible approves of:  adultery or abandonment by the other spouse.  Even this is a misapplication of The Truth of  The Bible.  If someone has been divorced, it is a sin, for any reasons according to God’s Intended Design.  Those 2 exception clauses were added by men, Moses and Paul.  But when we confess our sins, any sin, God forgives us and we are no longer called that by God.  (You can see the previous post here.)

Church Cultural Bias often excludes those who, like myself, have been divorced and remarried because of the wrong application of The Truth of The Bible.  If someone currently possesses those qualifications of leadership share with Timothy and Titus by Paul, then they are qualified to hold those positions and offices regardless of  the fact they may have been through divorce.  If God wipes the slate clean, then why can’t people?

Post Script:  I am not asking, nor expecting, anyone to agree with my applications of The Truths found in The Bible.  I only ask you to consider the possibility, even remote possibility, that you are making a misapplication of Spiritual Truths by bringing into your applications your own biases.  I know sometimes I am guilty of this…

Cultural Bias-The Bible And Divorce

 

This is the first in a series of posts about how cultural biases influence the truth of The Bible.  As I accepted this challenge from the Holy Spirit, I realize, especially on today’s topic, that I am influenced by certain biases based on who I am.  Today’s subject is DIVORCE (and try to imagine Tammy Wynette singing “D-I-V-O-R-C-E“).  My personal culture is challenging me and I confess it is a struggle.  For I am:

  1. A disciple of Jesus
  2. A pastor
  3. I am divorced
  4. I have remarried

On those last 2 bullet points, I will address in the next post.  But for now, let’s just focus on the single issue of divorce and The Bible.  Let’s look at the oldest known manuscript from the New Testament which is Mark 10:2-12

Some Pharisees came and tried to trap him with this question: “Should a man be allowed to divorce his wife?”  Jesus answered them with a question: “What did Moses say in the law about divorce?”  “Well, he permitted it,” they replied. “He said a man can give his wife a written notice of divorce and send her away.”

But Jesus responded, “He wrote this commandment only as a concession to your hard hearts. But ‘God made them male and female’from the beginning of creation. ‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.’ Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together.”

10 Later, when he was alone with his disciples in the house, they brought up the subject again. 11 He told them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery against her. 12 And if a woman divorces her husband and marries someone else, she commits adultery.”

To understand what The Bible says about divorce, you need to understand what God says about marriage.  We see this in Genesis 2:24–“This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.”  Even Jesus quotes this in Mark 10:6-9.  Marriage is a life long commitment of a man and a woman.

So, what about divorce?  There are 2 camps on this issue.  One camp says that since the death of Jesus, this “law” has been abolished.  God is all about the love now and the “law” doesn’t apply.  Sound familiar?  Isn’t it easy to justify our views!  Yet Jesus said in Matthew 5:17-19–17 “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved.”  So much for this cultural bias.

The other camp says that if divorce happens, neither should remarry, otherwise they are guilty of adultery.  Adultery is a violation of the boundaries God provided for His gift of sexual intimacy.  I will address the issue of sexuality later, but for now, let’s understand that the only expression of sexual intimacy that God approves of and blesses is that between husband (man) and wife (woman).

I admit that at times I am not the brightest light bulb in the box, but it is very clear that God, and thus The Bible, does not approve of divorce.  Now remember my own cultural bias–I am divorced and have remarried.

So let’s set the facts:

  1. Divorce is a sin
  2. Remarrying results in adultery, which is also a sin

I believe that the biases around divorce are not about the Principle, rather it is in the Application of this Truth.  I think most of us would agree the divorce violates God’s Intended Design.  So how do we apply this, I’ll call it “Truth Principle”, to the lives, like myself, who are found in the muck and mire of divorce?  I might as well use myself as our case study.

First, I violated God’s Intended Design, thus I had sinned.  How do I apply this Truth Principle to my life?  Well, what should any of us do when we have sinned?  I brought this sin of divorce to the place I had always brought my sin:  to the foot of The Cross.  It wasn’t easy.  The part that wasn’t easy at first was believing He would actually forgive me and give me a fresh start.  After all, I was a “pastor” and would He even want me any longer because of my sin?  I was broken and a mess.

I was ready to pull a “Jonah” and walk away from His calling.  With a handful of people, God used them to let me know that I was forgiven.  But now there were 2 deeper issues for me:  “Could I forgiving myself?  And what does God do with me now?”  There were those who were beating me up over the divorce and I don’t know why.  I was doing a real good job of beating myself up.  Right after the divorce my best friend at night was Jack, Jack Daniels that is.  But God stayed faithful to me and in this process He taught me this:  “Look bonehead, if I can forgive you, and I have, then it’s OK to forgive yourself.  Jesus already took your guilt and condemnation.  You’re carrying around false guilt and false condemnation.  STOP IT, ALREADY!  I’ve got work for you to do!”

The Spirit then reminded me of these passages:

Psalm 103:12 (NLT)

He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.

Isaiah 43:25 (NLT)

“I—yes, I alone—will blot out your sins for my own sake and will never think of them again.”

2 Corinthians 5:17 (NLT)

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

1 John 1:9  (NLT)

But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.

The Principle Truth of the Bible says that I am forgiven, my sins are forgotten by God, I have a brand new life and that He has cleansed my sin from me.  But the cultural bias says that because I have remarried, I am now guilty of adultery BECAUSE I am divorced.  But am I now guilty of adultery?  Cultural Bias says “YES” But the Principle Truth of The Bible says “NOT AT ALL” because God has forgiven and forgotten my sin.  Had I not brought my sin to The Cross, then most definitely I would be guilty of adultery.

Here’s the application of this Principle Truth of The Bible.  God no longer sees me with the label of “divorced” even though the Cultural Bias calls me more than divorced, it calls me a “Divorced Pastor”.  Tell me this:  if someone was guilty of stealing but repented and confessed to God and trusted by faith in the redeeming work of Jesus on The Cross, do you still call that person “Thief”?  If their sin was gossiping and they turned away and were forgiven by God, do you still call them “Gossiper”?  If she was a prostitute and she came to Jesus and turned away from her old life would you still call her “Whore”?  (I suspect someone reading this is more upset by the word “whore” than the fact they put labels on people that God refuses to put on them.)

Cultural Bias treats divorce different from every other sin because it puts the moniker over the person for the rest of their lives, even though God doesn’t.  I know that to some this may sound like self-justification for my own sin.  But here’s the truth:  I have walked through this dark night of the soul.  I was allowing cultural bias define me rather that the Principle Truths of God’s Word.  And I have approached this subject with great struggle and with even greater humility.  I am NOT one of those who loves to show off my scars.  I would rather keep them hidden.  But if my scars helps one person to be set free from this cultural bias and rip off that horrible name put on them by cultural bias, then God has used my scars for His Glory, and I’m OK with that.

If you are divorced, first and foremost GO TO THE CROSS!  Allow that most precious blood pour over you and hear The Father say, “It’s gone and forgotten!  You are a brand new person!”  Now you are free to live your life by God’s Design.  I have learned much from my sin and apply those lessons every day.  God brought a wonderful gift into my life when I was in the dark night of my soul.  Her name is Debbie.  Debbie lavished God’s Grace on me and though I was reluctant (I mean VERY reluctant) to fall in love with her, I did.  I see her as one of God’s wonderful gifts and try (not always successfully) to treat her the way any of God’s gifts need to be treated.  With respect, honor, gratitude and joy.

wedding reception