God Directed Deviations

Christianity, Church, Culture, Ecclesiology, The Church, Theology

Are Contemporary Church Meetings ‘Built On’ the Synagogue Model?

The ancient synagogue of Kfar Bar'amThe word “assembly” in James 2:2, and the word “congregation” in Acts 13:43, is translated from the Greek word sunagógé, which is translated as “synagogue” in all 56 other places that it appears in the New Testament books.  Christ’s followers, as it appears by the usage of the terms in 45-49 A.D., (the time of the writing of James), were still using the “Jewish” concept of gathering/worshiping ‘based on’ or ‘built on’ the synagogue model as late as 70AD. The phrase “assembling together” in Hebrews 10:25, and the phrase “gathering together” in 2 Thessalonians 2:1, is translated from the Greek word episunagoge, which is very interesting: . The prefix epi means “upon”, and the rest of this word is sunagoge, the exact same word used for synagogue everywhere else in the Bible. It would appear then, that they, the early Apostles and assemblers, were giving their ‘stamp of approval’ for the synagogue model to continue, or ‘baptizing’ the synagogue concept into early Christian practice way before the Constantinian institutionalization of the church. A few questions:

1. Do you think it was the intention of the Apostles or other church leaders to ‘build upon’ the synagogue model and adapt it to fit their contemporary gatherings?

2. What was unique about synagogal gatherings?

3. Does this mean that contemporary meetings or assemblies, those that are commonly called ‘institutional church’ might have their roots in scripture and early church practice?

Christianity, Culture, Hermeneutics, Ministry, Morality and Ethics, Religion, Scripture, The Gospel, Theology

When Judaizers Skip Window’s Mites on the Sea of Galilee.

skipping-stoneNT Wright says this about Jerusalem and the Ministry of Jesus,

“It was in this world that Jesus grew up, and to this world that he addressed his preaching. If we are to understand the thrust of Jesus’ ministry, we must project ourselves as far as possible into the worldview and mindset of a first-century Jew”.*

This was pointed out by a friend on social media and when I read it, it caused me to recoil a bit. Maybe it’s because of some wild propositions I’ve seen recently regarding the New Covenant, maybe it’s because some seem to think that just because they’ve smelled the fossilized leather one of Jesus’ sandals or skipped window’s mites on the Sea of Galilee that they have better biblical interpretive skills, or maybe it’s simply that I’m mentally fixed on this issue at the moment, I don’t know, but it’s the last part this N.T. Wright quote that bothers me.

“If we are to understand the thrust of Jesus’ ministry, we must project ourselves as far as possible into the worldview and mindset of a first-century Jew”.*

While I would agree that any holy due diligence seeks to understand culture, history, audience, language, etc., should be encouraged, I’m not so sure that ‘projecting ourselves into mind-set of a first-century Jew,’ is really our goal.

“For who has known the mind of THE LORD JEHOVAH that he may teach him? But we do have the mind of The Messiah, The Christ (Aramaic Bible in Plain English) 1 Corinthians 2:16 in conjunction with Isaiah 40:13

In the early church, those who taught a combination of God’s grace and human effort were called “Judiazers.” The word Judaizer comes from a Greek verb meaning “to live according to Jewish customs.” The word appears in Galatians 2:14 where Paul describes how he confronted Peter for forcing Gentile Christians to “Judaize.”  I fear that Judiazers are again on the rise and that the subtle doctrinal encroachments that are being put forth now are only the first of many waves.

Our goal is not be conformed to this world, or the history of it, but to be transformed by the renewal of our minds, that through the testing of them, ‘we may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.’ (Romans 12:2)

How does this renewal come? By thoughtful reflectiveness in faith, by not thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought, and by appropriating the blessings of unity in a multi-function ekklesia. (Romans 12: 3-21) By being “made new in the attitude of our minds” (Ephesians 4:23). By becoming a new indigenous and celestial species, (2 Corinthians 5:17). By embracing the death of our crucified selves and living in the reality of Christ living in us. (Galatians 2:20).

Also, I’m stuck in the idea of ‘understanding the thrust of Jesus’ ministry.’ Why do we want to understand the thrust his ministry? Why not try to understand His truth, ‘Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth,’ (John 17:17) and let ministry flow from there?  Trying to unravel the mysteries of Jesus’ ministry and steps before His teaching’s seems to be reverse engineering ourselves into a state of clever paralysis.

Finally, if it’s true that here is neither Jew nor Gentile (Galatians 3:28) and that we are all and equally Abraham’s seed (Galatians 3:29), then Why chase after the minutia of the mind of the first-century Jew instead of the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. Yes, even the deep things of God. (1 Corinthians 2:10)

*S.C. Neill and N.T. Wright, The Interpretation of the New Testament, 1861- 1986 (2nd ed., Oxford, OUP 1988) 379-403
Church, Culture, Doctrine, Ecclesiology, Eschatology, God's Kingdom, Hierarchy, Mission, Morality and Ethics, Preaching, Religion, The Church, Theology, Worship

Andy Stanley was Calling the Church to end its Templish Behavior. So, why all the ruckus?

andy-stanley-why-in-the-worldIf you’re reading this, then it’s unlikely that much background is required, but last week Andy Stanley said;

“The “temple model grants extraordinary power to sacred men in sacred places who determine the meaning of sacred texts.”

Sure, the megachurch pastor is passionate about taking the Church back to what he feels Jesus called it to be, or better yet forward to what it’s supposed to be, but he’s not ‘trouncing’ the temple of old, the covenant that made it a necessity, or the possibility of a future one. He was simply saying that templish behavior is not what the church should be doing now. In fact, Stanley says, and rightly so that like the Galatians, many are attempting to blend the “temple model” with Jesus’ teachings. That clearly did not work ‘back then,’ it is certainly not working now, and it’s future ‘working’ is highly dependent on some very specific eschatological (end times) interpretations.

Some believe that this blending is possible, and that the idea of having certain templish (old covenant) behaviors AND certain new covenant actions or characteristics is a ‘both & and’ deal. Personally, I don’t think that’s possible.  The New covenant was an ‘end’ deal. The end of the old.  When has JESUS plus _________, ever resulted in any good fruit? What scenario could possibly exist when Jesus’ sacrifice becomes insufficient? What situation could ever take place that would necessitate the reactivation of the priesthood as a special mediatory class within God’s oikos? What events could possible reduce the infinite opening to the access to God that He initiated at the rending of the temple curtain?

Some would answer those questions by saying ‘because God said he would,’ and that ‘it is written in His word.’ I find those interpretations lacking, inconsistent, and at odds with other interpretations from other genuine believers.

It’s not the first time that Jewish Christians tried to hold on to their Old Testament thinking and assimilate Jesus into them even though Jesus, long ago, had initiated a movement that was a complete departure from the temple model and its old covenant Petri dish. This happened when some ‘messianic jews’ called on gentiles who became Jesus followers to get circumcised.

The Apostle Paul, who was always trying his best to ‘be all things to all people,’ who was capitulating, or acquiescing, to the Jews who had received Christ by participating in temple rituals, ‘sacrifices,’ and other templish behaviors, put his foot down and on this issue and ‘withstood Peter to his face’ over the hypocrisy and momentary lunacy towards any inkling of backtracking into the old covenant or its old container.  Just because Paul, or any other of those who accompanied him participated in the dying temple’s activities, doesn’t suggest that he was approving them.  Likewise, Jesus’ participation in temple activities shouldn’t be used as a permission slip to continue those activities post His death, burial, and resurrection.

Stanley said that “When you blend the old with the new, the result is usually 99 percent temple thinking and 1 percent Jesus.” I think he’s right. There is now, amongst God’s people, zero ‘space’ for templistic thinking. It kills mission momentum and replaces it with ‘monumentum,’ the idea that God still dwells in monuments made by human hands.

The old covenant, to include ten commandments, no longer apply ‘as law’ because in the doctrine of Christ they are completely superseded. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus demands much more of us than the ten commandments. He not only forbids murder and adultery, but also the causes, hate and lust (Matthew 5:21, 22, 27, 28). I know, some of you are about to blow your stack right now, but hear me out.

Paul wrote that the ten commandments have been replaced by something much better:

“But if the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance, which glory was passing away, how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious? For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness exceeds much more in glory. For even what was made glorious had no glory in this respect, because of the glory that excels. For if what is passing away was glorious, what remains is much more glorious” (2 Corinthians 3:7-11).

What was ‘passing away’ has now passed. What was becoming obsolete is now obsolete;

‘By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.’ (Hebrews 8:13)

What was ‘disappearing,’ is likely STILL disappearing because the church is still clutching onto it. “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.” (John 20:17) The old law and the commandments engraved on stones, were a ministry of death that had to disappear. Christ brought something better.

Some of you will get all wonky when I say that Christ ‘replaced’ the old covenant with the new. But, and I was told, I need to own it because it’s what I think. You’re free to call me on it in the comment section. Although we can learn much from the Old Testament and its structures (Ebenezers, Tabernacles, and Temples, etc), because the old helps us to understand the new, we now live under the New Testament, a covenant of grace.

We are not under the law of Moses, This is stated many times in the New Testament. “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!” (Romans 6:14, 15). “Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another – to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God” (Romans 7:4). “But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter” (Romans 7:6). “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2).

“For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4).

“Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor” (Galatians 3:24, 25). “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” (Galatians 5:18). “For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace” (Ephesians 2:14, 15).

Likewise, templish behavior, or containing the church within coordinates, is no longer necessary and works ferociously against living and moving and having our being in Christ. It kills mission.

I’ll pick this up again by listing out what other templish behaviors keep the church from being the church in part 2 of this series. Is there another temple coming? I can honestly say, “I’m not sure.” Will Christ reign from a physical temple for a literal 1000 years? I don’t think so. Will the temple be rebuilt just so the ‘antichrist’ can come and be the abomination of desolation? I can’t get there hermeneutically or eschatologically. But, what does it matter? I am a believer living under grace in the new covenant. Christ is my mediator (priest) whose sacrifice will never become anything less than it is now to be once again propped up by the blood of bulls and rams (Hebrews 10:4) The Spirit of God does not dwell in temples made by human hands, never did, and never will. Yes, his presence was there in the tabernacle and in the temples, but he was not confined to it, included in it, or circumscribed by it. Any action the church takes to do any of those things is templish behavior. Andy, in his comments, just scratched the surface of this issue. I am glad his voice was heard.

Christianity, Church Leadership, Ecclesiology, God's Kingdom, Hierarchy, Leadership, Missiology, Mission, Morality and Ethics, The Gospel, Theology

The ‘Deacon Language’ of the New Testament is a Language of Mission.

165083439In the New Testament Greek, diakon- words like servant (diakonos) in Mark 9:35;

“And Yeshua sat down and he called the twelve and he said to them, “He who wants to be first shall be last, and the [servant] ( of every person.” (Aramaic Bible in Plain English)

and Matthew 20:26

“It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your [servant] (deacons)

and service/ministry (diakonias) in Ephesians 4:12;

“For the equipping of the saints for the work of , to the building up of the body of Christ.”

and service/mission (diakonian) in Acts 12:25

“And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their , taking along with them John, who was also called Mark.”

and administrations/functions/services (diakoniōn) in 1 Corinthians 12:5

“And there are varieties of [ministries]  (diakoniōn), and the same Lord.”

all generally refer to the carrying out of a mandated task on behalf of Christ’s authority. When the Apostle Paul speaks of the diakonia that he has received from God he is referring to his divine commission to bring the revelation of the gospel of Christ to all. So, on the basis of New Testament usage, ’diaconal’ language about the Church and the ministry is primarily a language of mission.

I say ‘primarily,’ because mission should predominate church activity. The reason we gather, worship, receive instruction, and so forth, is SO THAT we are equipped, fueled, and propelled into mission for the common good, through love, to the edification of the church, and the reconciliation of all things. Mission is primary over what most would consider ‘ministry.’  Mission continues to happen after, or as a result of gathering.  Church, or should I say ‘the gathering of the church,’ is mission’s respite.

A few Questions;

What is the difference, in your view, between mission and ministry?

Should ‘mission’ be primary or the center of church activity? Why or Why not?

If mission has become secondary or nonexistent in a local church , then what sorts of things have become primary?

Culture, Discipleship, Ecclesiology, Missiology, Mission, Missions, Short-Term Missions, The Church, The Gospel, Theology

Like God’s Manifold Nature, Mission Unfolds Too

11004722_10153158134500087_1343540905_nImagine an infinitely unfolding autobiography written on an equally infinite unfolding piece of paper where the author forever reveals himself.  The manifold nature of God is like that.  It gives me great comfort to know that God is manifold and that He will never cease to be so.  It has been popular of late to say things like ‘God is a sending God,’ ‘God is a missionary God,’ etc.  I think those ideas are true, but dwelling on God’s sent-ness without considering His manifold nature ultimately limits our missiology.  The Apostle John says;

“Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”

This likeness or ‘similarity,’ is certainly not exhaustive because we don’t become God or gods, but continue in some process of forever growth throughout eternity because God infinitely persists in unfolding Himself to us. As I have been meditating on this, I’m relating God’s manifold-ness to mission.  One popular pastor is noted for saying that;

“Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more”*

There’s much to cheer in this quote, but ultimately I can’t accept that ‘missions will be no more,” because we simply cannot justify that idea with scripture.  Yes, the psalmist says “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you.” (Psalm 22:27), but then what?  Likewise Paul the Apostle wrote about God’s mission to ‘reconcile all things,’ (Colossians 1:20), but again, then what?

I would rather say that ‘I don’t know what’s next in mission,’ than to say that ‘mission will be no more.’  With that said, I love looking at how groups of people move and how they are moved. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ (Acts 17:28) When looking at movements, and in particular, Christian movements with respect to mission, I often wonder at what kicked them off or why some persist and other do not.  Also, and to be clear, I’m not talking about  waves of emotional experiences and captivated crowds that bear no long-term fruit.

In looking at the most natural of movements, I like to muse about how plants grow.  Lately, I given much thought to spiraling plants.  Now, I’m certainly no botanist, but I think it’s a valid idea that I can learn a thing or two about God the creator and how things that he has created move, their purpose, and trajectories.  I’ve always loved looking at spiraling plants.  In my mind they’ve represented a sort of spring-loaded intelligently designed example of mission.  But, util recently, I think i’ve gotten things backwards.  I’ve looked at these plants as spiraling inwards in order to latch on to something and then reach outward and upward from there. There are some plants that do that.  But most, upon closer examination, spiral outwards, or unfold.  The picture in this blog represents one like that.  I suppose what I’m trying to get at is that the mission story is still being written.  We can’t, at least I think, get at the heart of mission by limiting ourselves to what has already happened.  We can, and certainly should learn all we can by analyzing the great movements in scripture and those of history, but if mission, or should I say the Missio Dei (God’s Mission) is like Him (manifold), then ‘forgetting what lies behind and pressing onwards and upwards to the high calling of Christ’ (Philippians 3:14), might be the thing to do.

In correlating Christian movements with natural plant growth, I’m wondering what valid comparisons and conclusions I can make.  And so, A few questions:

1.  Is mission, to you, a movement which is constantly unfolding or spiraling outward? Or, is it better represented in some other way?

2.  What does your gut say? Will ‘mission be no more,’ or is there something else?

3.  If God is a manifold and a missionary God, then how should that affect our mission right here and right now?

*Let the nations be Glad – John Piper (p.15)