Monday, December 30, 2013

How not to construct a structure...

Once, three people were selected for a competition that challenged them to construct the best possible aviary using a limited set of materials and resources. The three people selected for the competition were a mathematician, an engineer and an old farmer.

Each of them was given basic tools, and a pile of lumber to complete their aviary. They were permitted to select the placement for their project but, were only allowed forty-eight hours to find the best place and to finish the construction.

When it came time for the judges to decide the winner they begin by examining the mathematician’s work. She had chosen to build her aviary in a city park where the pigeons were already flying in to eat the breadcrumbs offered by pedestrians. She had used her extensive knowledge of geometry to construct an impressive structure that maximized the utility of the materials. The ceiling was high enough to allow the birds room to flit about and the sides were open enough to allow grand viewing of the birds as they came home to roost. The structure was both elegant and functional. Because of her expertise, none of the material went to waste and almost a hundred pigeons were able to roost in her aviary.

Next, the judges looked at the aviary created by the engineer. He had chosen to construct his aviary in a private park located near a fountain the pigeons used for drinking water and bathing.  His design was far more basic and utilitarian but it was nearly three times the size of the mathematicians. Again, he had used all of the material, but he had spent much of his time studying the strength of the wooden planks and worked out that it he could split many of them in half without compromising their strength. He already had just over two-hundred pigeons roosting in his aviary with some room to spare.

Lastly they came to the old farmer who had constructed his aviary on top of an old building in the middle of the city. In contrast to the others, his was not a large structure at all. The judges stared in disbelief as the farmer stepped into the small lean-to structure he had made and sat on what appeared to be a long bench.

“That is not a proper aviary,” said one of the judges in disbelief. The others joined in “That will never attract the birds … How will that thing keep the pigeons safe?”

“I don’t know much about what a ‘proper aviary’ is,” replied the farmer, “but please come and rest your bones here with me for a spell. Perhaps you will find the sounds and sights interesting”

The judges sat on the bench and one by one began to see hand made bird feeders and small gutters  made into bird baths scattered on the rooftops of all the buildings around them as far as they could see. Birds of every kind that can be found in the city were flitting about from rooftop to rooftop.

The first judge exclaimed, “Why there must be a thousand birds here. How did you do this?”

 “I watched and listened to the birds and went to the places they would normally go. While they may go to the park to scavenge for scraps or to the fountain to get water they always build their nests here. So I constructed the things that they need where they already were,”  the farmer replied.

The second judge remained unconvinced and flipped through his copy of “Aviary Rules and Etiquette.” Pointing to a page from his book he said, “The proper way is to construct a structure and gather the birds inside…”

A second judge joined in, “The only birds worth counting are pigeons. All other species of birds are too fickle and dirty. They will come and go constantly messing up the number of birds you can count as roosting in your aviary. What’s more they will always make a mess of things. Pigeons know how to behave in an aviary and I don’t see very many pigeons around here.

I think you misunderstand,” the farmer replied, “I set out to find birds in the city and provide them with a better home. I don’t care much for a rule book you constructed about which birds can be counted or what kind of structure you think I should have.”

In the end the farmer lost the competition but gained a friend. The first judge apprenticed himself to the farmer and together they began constructing their “new aviaries” and teaching others to do the same. Whenever a person would comment on the beautiful bird songs filling the neighborhoods or the variety of colorful birds filling the area the farmer, the judge, or one of their apprentices would introduce them to the art of building a new aviary. Scores of people who were not, professionally trained aviary experts became bird enthusiasts. Soon countless new aviaries were built and many birding enthusiasts, freed from rigid judgementalism, began enjoying the many birds that called the city home.

The diversity of the bird population in the city stabilized for the first time in many generations. Birds thought to be irrelevant or rare began to flourish and as a result the biodiversity of plant life, insects, and other small animals became stronger. This led to better physical and mental health for the human population as well.

The farmer had a presented the judges with a perspective problem. Rather than follow tradition and man-made rules he saw the beauty in all birds. Instead of finding a way to attract the birds to a structure he contrived and created, he sought the birds where they were and brought life to them. Rather than form an official club or society, he taught others how to do what he did and then released them to do it.

We can sometimes have the same kind of perspective problem. Imagine if we took the aviary out of the story and replaced it with “church plant.” The mathematician could become a theologian and the engineer could be a church growth expert (or you could replace these two with any number of other “official church offices”).

How we view who fits into our mold of church membership often effects who we try to reach and who we count as members (or even saved). We can view membership in the church as a privilege we have earned by being good enough, voting for the proper people, saying the right prayer, or by attending all the right services and camps. We can come to the conclusion that only a certain type of person is fit for the kingdom and focus our energy and efforts there.

We can attempt to attract people to the structures we build (physical and organizational) and try to locate the church in a “sanctified” time and space. People outside of these structures can be ignored if we simply label them as “lost” reinforcing the conclusion that their exclusion is their own doing (If they would just grow up and clean up their ways they could be more like us).

I for one will have none of this and prefer the way of the farmer…

Friday, October 04, 2013

Well, I must endure the presence of a few caterpillars if I wish to become acquainted with the butterflies.

― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Why how we view the atonement matters

Why should it matter how we view the atonement? 

Do we make the bible overly complicated?

Could it could be stated something like this; "as humans we read the bible and attempt to come up with complex theologies and doctrines for what are really very simple truths."

Take for example the biblical truth of the atonement of Christ for our sins. On the surface, the truth is simple: "Our world is wrecked by sin to the point we can’t help but see it as good or ordinary. God put on flesh and entered the world as Jesus. He died on a cross to atone for our sins." This seems a pretty straight forward thought, right?

The problem is our natural, and very human, curiosity makes us ask why. Why did God have to die to forgive our sins? When the kid I was mentoring stole my iPod neither he nor I had to shed blood for me to forgive him. When our neighbor started yelling profanely and threatening our young children and the teenager who was watching them, I did not need a sacrifice to offer him forgiveness.

Because this kind of sacrifice seems to defy logic lots of really smart people, starting with the writers of the new testament, have taken great pains to nail down exactly what happened in this sacrifice/forgiveness thing that God did for us. For thousands of years commentators, pastors, and theologians have tried to offer explanations to explain it and most often have turned to metaphor to help us understand it.

The thing that makes this so important is the metaphor you believe can shape the way you understand atonement and that can have massive impact on how you view and relate to God and other people. 

To better explain what I mean let us look at the differing ways to view the atonement metaphors:

Christ our Ransom or Christus Victor

The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for  many.

This  presentation of Christ’s death as a ransom is fairly widespread in the New Testament. The word used here is lytron which means the price for redeeming or a ransom paid for slaves and captives. The word, which we translate ‘ransom’ or redeem,’ is found in two contexts, the above quotation in Mark and the following passage link it directly to Christ’s death:

For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all.

In the medieval period this metaphor of ‘purchase’ or ‘ransom’ gained great popularity. The Devil, it is thought, had as a result of the fall obtained certain rights or ownership over humankind. Freedom from this bondage needed to be won by means of a payment. The Devil demanded the blood of Christ and so God paid it to purchase our freedom.

The problem with this metaphor is those who take it literally must then admit that God is not all powerful since he had to bow to the devil's demands. Why couldn't God simply have removed the devils ownership from mankind by shear will. This view leaves us cowering in a corner in fear seeing the devil or demons at work in the world who are stronger than God.

The Christus Victor is a sub view of this metaphor. In this view God did not bow to Satan’s demands. Instead Jesus died entered Hell and defeated Satan. His victory grants us freedom from the evil one’s claim over us.

This view was developed to attempt to hold the first point of view literally and yet deal with its shortcomings. The problem is it still leaves the Devil holding the atonement cards with God not being all powerful and able to deal with him directly.

Moral Influence Theory
Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening. Your hands are full of blood! Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. "Come now, let us settle the matter," says the LORD. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword." For the mouth of the LORD has spoken. 
-          Isaiah 1:14-20

With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. 
-          Micah 6:6-8

The moral influence view of the atonement teaches that humans want to do good but are lost in their sin. In this view the purpose of Jesus was to incite progressive moral change for humanity. This moral change came through the teachings and example of Jesus which show us the way to God.
People who hold this view point out that this reading of these Old Testament verses are supported by Jesus in places like Matthew 25 where He directly links the measure of His judgment with social justice. If taken too literally this metaphor could easily to lead a view of God is a creditor who requires us to build up enough karma through good works to earn atonement.

The problem with the moral influence metaphor is there is no reason for the cross. Jesus could have come here and taught us how to live and then ether just stayed here with us (saving all the time between his first and second coming) or could have ascended and waited for judgment day without the messiness and pain of the crucifixion. It is clear from Luke 22:39-44 that the cross was not desirable but that it was the only way.

Penal substitution 

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
... for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood--to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole." He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.

The penal substitution metaphor originates from the idea that divine forgiveness must placate divine justice, that is, that God is not willing or able to simply forgive sin without first requiring a payment for it. This metaphor emphasizes that God, in the person of Jesus Christ, by his own sacrificial choice, was punished (penalized) in the place of sinners (substitution), thus satisfying the demands of justice so God can forgive the sins of humanity. 

In this metaphor God is a cosmic judge who hears the case prosecuted by the devil against humanity. The case is rock solid and we are easily found guilty. The judge, being a righteous magistrate, has no choice but to convict us. Then at the last minute, the judge himself stands up and says he will pay the fine so that humanity can go free.

The problem is this represents a crude model of justice at best, and suggests that sin is a “crime”, which must be “paid for”. Logically it seems to be an offence against justice that an innocent person should be required to suffer in the place of the guilty. It leaves God looking much like a vindictive bipolar drunk who cannot make up His mind whether to punish us or love us.

Governmental Atonement

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement,  through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
- Romans 3:23–26      

Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” So the LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, “Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”
To the woman he said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”
To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you;  through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; or dust you are and to dust you will return.”
-          Genesis 3:13–19
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
-          Romans 8:22
Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?
-          Matthew 6:26–30
The metaphor used here gives us a view of forgiveness of sin where God is to be regarded not as an offended judge (as in penal substation), or as a creditor (as in Moral influence), but as the moral governor or care taker of the universe (thus the name governmental). A creditor can remit the debt due to him at pleasure; a judge may punish as he sees fit; but a ruler must act, not according to his feelings, but with a view to the best interests of those under his care. God could not have simply overlooked sin and needed the atonement to appease Him as cosmic king and governor not because He needed it but, because He was responsible for all of creation and it needed it.

The Reconciler or Neo-Orthodox Reconciliation

But you are our Father, though Abraham does not know us or Israel acknowledge us; you, LORD, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name.
-          Isaiah 63:16
"I myself said, " 'How gladly would I treat you like my children and give you a pleasant land, the most beautiful inheritance of any nation.' I thought you would call me 'Father' and not turn away from following me. But like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you, Israel, have been unfaithful to me," declares the LORD.
-          Jeremiah 3:19-20

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross
-          Colossians 1:19–20

He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—  children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”  The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.  Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
-          Romans 8:14–17

This metaphor paints the picture of a divine family. We are all the children of God but that relationship is broken. We are out of fellowship with our divine family. God shows His love and ends the estrangement by taking responsibility for our sins on the cross and welcoming us back to the family. This metaphor seems to be further supported by Jesus parable of the prodigal son who having broken the relationship with his family is reconciled to them without having to do anything to receive that forgiveness.

The problem with this metaphor is there is no real payment for sin. God fixes the broken relationship but there seems to be no real reason for Christ to die to heal that relationship. This metaphor also leaves open the implication that God universally healed the relationship with humanity and thus all are saved.  


Whatever the bible says about atonement it does not define it. Instead, it offers a wide variety of metaphors and images to communicate the spiritual truth its significance and the implications.
Jesus is named savior, Shepard, Lord, master, teacher, Bridegroom, foundation, cornerstone, lion, lamb of God, king, priest, prince of peace, the second Adam… The Church is depicted as the bride, the body, the family, the vineyard, the temple…

We don’t expect that Jesus is a literal piece of rock that a literal building is being built on or that  He has a lion’s mane . It is the same way with atonement because the work of Christ on the cross is far to enormous in its scope and to rich in its meaning to be captured in a single image or definition. Our words simply fall short of being able to communicate the depths of this spiritual truth.
I believe we should view atonement not as a single metaphor that is better than all the others but we should understand them as all working together to show us a bigger picture of the truth. To explain let me use another metaphor:

A plumber can use a wrench to fix a leaky pipe. A 2 ½ inch wrench works wonders on smaller pipes. It can be used to tighten or loosen pipes under sinks and in basements equally well. No plumber, however, would go to a job with only a 2 ½ in wrench because she knows there are situations where a 3 or 4 inch pipe will be involved. In those cases a 2 ½ inch pipe will be less than useless (trying to use it could damage both the tool and the plumber). She will have a toolbox full of larger wrenches and other apparatuses that better fit the  job at hand. This does not make any one tool better than the others. Though some may be inferior, they all are used to accomplish a job.

So it is with the many metaphors of the atonement. They all point to some truth about the mysterious work of God in saving and restoring humanity yet none of them are able to capture the whole truth of who God is and who we are in God. Atonement then has many views, each one agrees that something needs to be done so that humanity can live in victory and have a proper relationship with God and each one is helpful in understanding and communicating an aspect of that truth. 

Monday, April 01, 2013

Lets Really Give Legislating Morality a Try

This is the second in a series of posts exploring the current debate about the Church and marriage law.
In my previous post Civil Law & The Church I argued that historically the Church only causes damage when we attempt to impose "Christian" moral laws on our society.

**First the ground rules**
I hate being defined by theological litmus tests because I think they miss the mark in so many ways. That does not mean we can’t or shouldn't engage in theological discussions on matters that we feel strongly about. It is just that we should be a little more humble and gracious in how we describe people who differ from our understanding of God and his grace.
In that vein, this series of blog posts will not even attempt to address or debate the theological issues swirling around marriage rights. We will not be considering whether the fact that Jesus spoke against divorce but was silent on homosexuality is important or not, or what it means that so many in the church are willing to overlook Paul’s teachings on  gender roles and on celibacy but not his teachings on homosexuality. There are a great many other forums offering space to debate these issues so please feel free to use them.Our purpose here then is to look at marriage, equality, and civil rights vs religious rights.
**Now the second discussion**

I'd like for us to consider what it would mean if we really attempted to impose such laws in a balanced manner, since it must be observed that all sin, any sin, is a serious matter, because “sin” is “lawlessness” 1 John 3:4

If our goal as Christians is to legislate morality, we should go all the way and really legislate against sin. I know there have been humorous attempts at this before that take scriptures from old testament law and attempt to apply them in todays world.

I stand with many in the Christian tradition that believe many of these texts are cultural and do not apply. Therefore since we have selected certain texts as legitimate for use in this arena let’s just use the scriptures currently sited for keeping gay marriage illegal as a guide for our new laws.

Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because of the gays right? 
"Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.” Eze 15:60

First let’s pass a law keeping all stockbrokers, payday loan providers, and pawn shop owners from receiving tax breaks, getting government backed loans (including student loans for their children), and from any type of court protection (sue them all you want since they don't have any standing in court). Ezekiel does say the sin of Sodom was they were greedy and over fed and unconcerned for the poor, and Paul does say the greedy will not inherit the kingdom of God so we are just being helpful and keeping them from an unbiblical lifestyle. If they truly repent and change their lifestyle, sell all their positions and give the money to the poor, then we can consider allowing them to hold "respectable jobs."
While we are at it we should also pass laws to keep anyone who is overweight from eating unhealthy food, after all overfed people need to be protected from a lifestyle of gluttony. Let us make sure they can only eat salad when in public.

Paul clearly gives his protegee Timothy direction on what kind of people merit exclusion from the Kingdom.
We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine. 1 Tim 1:9-10

Let’s make sure we honor the whole passage here and pass laws making sure anyone found guilty of being deceitful or committing perjury loses their civil rights that are associated with those sins. Paul does tell Timothy they are the same category as murders and  sexually immoral people. Deceitful people will ruin the sanctity of voting and of our court system. We should keep them from participating in polls or from actually voting and certainly from testifying in court.When Paul wrote the epistle to the Romans he laid out sound doctrine against all sorts of perversions. Lets make sure to not ignore any of this passage.

Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts … They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Rom 1:24-31 NIV

We need to pass a law to make sure gossips, slanderers, and boastful people are dealt with. Let’s make sure they have no access to newspapers, TV, or any type of social media what so ever since granting them access to these things would only show we are condoning their lifestyle.

This kind of sin runs deep so lets make sure we are clear on whether this includes celebrity gossip magazines, websites, and TV shows or not.

It seems like I read about a society like this before… Oh yes it was the Pharisees and Sadducees and Jesus had some really harsh things to say to them about this kind of behavior.   

You see Jesus really hit the nail on the head when he talked about specks and planks.  The religious leaders of Jesus day were incensed that he accepted people into his circle even though they were sinners. At nearly every interaction Jesus left their heads spinning as He showed them they were just as dirty as those they condemned.

So whether you believe homosexuality is a sin or not, I’m not sure how you can advocate against granting or denying civil rights for a person based on their sinfulness. Since doing so would logically invite legislation against all us for all kinds of sins. 

Let us instead deal with sin on a spiritual level and with civil law on a civil level. 

Civil Law & The Church

First let me be clear on what these posts are and what they are not.

I hate being defined by theological litmus tests because I think they miss the mark in so many ways. That does not mean we can’t or shouldn't engage in theological discussions on matters that we feel strongly about. It is just that we should be a little more humble and gracious in how we describe people who differ from our understanding of God and his grace.

In that vein, this series of blog posts will not even attempt to address or debate the theological issues swirling around marriage rights. We will not be considering whether the fact that Jesus spoke against divorce but was silent on homosexuality is important or not, or what it means that so many in the church are willing to overlook Paul’s teachings on  gender roles and on celibacy but not his teachings on homosexuality. There are a great many other forums offering space to debate these issues so please feel free to use them.

Our purpose here then is to look at marriage, equality, and civil rights vs religious rights.

Let’s start with a simple question.

Should the church be in charge of or even concerned about how marriage is defined in the secular realm?

In the heart of this question, we should consider what kind of reactions the church has evoked in the name of Christ with other attempts to legislate morality.

Much of the church has failed the world on right to life issues, angrily proclaiming that abortion is murder while condemning and attacking women who have abortions. Some ‘Christians’ are downright nasty to anyone who says, ‘hey, hold on, let’s talk about this.”  I have been verbally abused by Christians, some of whom who know me, because I wanted to talk about the issue instead of just covering my mouth with red tape and dutifully standing up with them. I believe that we should value all life, including the mothers who feel trapped with no options.

“I must say that I am still passionately pro-life, I just have a much more holistic sense of what it means to be for life, knowing that life does not just begin at conception and end at birth, and that if I am going to discourage abortion, I had better be ready to adopt some babies and care for some mothers.”  - Shane Claiborne

 Further muddying these waters many Christians who vehemently oppose abortion, because it is the murder of a fellow image bearer, fully support the death penalty, torture, drone strikes, etc and do not see the problem with their own logic. We need to learn how to love EVERYONE, including the mothers, fathers, abortion clinic doctors, criminals, and enemy combatants.

But should the Church be concerned with the kind of reactions people have to our values? Isn't the truth the truth no matter what?

Let us just for a moment consider that this line of argument is valid. Consider the actual outcome of legislating all of our moral values (because the truth is the truth like it or not).

The temperance movement, rooted in America's Protestant churches, first urged moderation in drinking, and ultimately demanded laws prohibiting alcohol. This eventually led to prohibition, which didn't really stop anyone from drinking. Several underground bars or speakeasies could be found in most every city and moonshine, illegal alcohol, could be purchased by anyone who expended any amount of effort to find it. Prohibition only fueled the illicit trade of alcohol which fed organized crime giving people like Al Capone and John Dillinger great wealth and power.  

Similarly attempts at legislating our moral views have done nothing to stem the tide of abortions or show the love of Christ to those who are hurting or lost, they have only shown the world how judgmental and blind a group of people we can be. They have also given rise to groups like Planned Parenthood, which assists in hundreds of thousands of abortions every year. This group now has the power to hold good organizations like Susan G Komen foundation hostage as they co-opt their message in the name of defeating “Christian” moral legislation.

Moral laws did nothing to stop drunkenness and nothing to stop abortion they only helped organize and give power to groups opposed to the church’s stated values.

It is my contention then that the church gains nothing and risks everything by becoming so embroiled in secular politics. We cannot legislate transformation and no matter how many laws we pass we won't change hearts.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Are you without blemish?

Summary Statement: of Ephesians 1:3-5
God finds pleasure in adopting us into His family. He does not see all the ways we fall short or fail to live up to the standards we absorb from the world around us. God sees us as holy and perfect without defect.

Historical Context:
Alexander the Great had conquered vast territories in a shorter time than anyone else in recorded history. One of the reasons he was so successful because imported Greek values to all the areas he concurred. Alexander insisted on making major cities the center for education and philosophy.1 2
Alexander was driven by certain ideals. These ideals are reflected in Greek myths and poetry. The Greeks saw humans as the center of everything. The naked human form was the highest for of beauty and worship. The Greeks were driven by their ideal of beauty, courage, achievement. How good are you , how well can you climb to the top, how good looking are you, how brave are you... So Alexander wants to make the world Greek. He wants to take the Greek world view and wants to make it everyone’s world view everywhere.
He would conquer a city and in the process destroy it and then re-build. He would build a gymnasium A key idea of the Greek worldview is that it is holistic. So you would go the the Gym and you would offer incense to the Gods, you would do all these sports (discus, javelin,) sweat, work out, tone your body. And then along the edge of the gym would be all these classrooms where you would learn to write classical Greek, learn poetry, and philosophy, and the myths of the Gods. So you would send your kids to school each day and he/she would be immersed in the Greek world view. Ephesus had all the conveniences of a modern Roman city: a gymnasium, a stadium, theaters, and a central marketplace.3
The Greeks would build a beautiful temple to the Gods. In Ephesus Alexander would incorporate the Greek goddess Dianna and Artemis. The Greeks restored a huge temple to this goddess and increased its splendor and reputation 4 They made it the banking capitol of Asia minor bringing wealth and success.
The Greeks were masters of using mass media for propaganda. The theater in Ephesus, which had a seating capacity of some twenty-four thousand,5 would put on the stories of the Greek Gods. Often times a Greek theater would have no back and would be built in such a way that the back of the stage would overlook the city. So when you sat in the theater and watched these dramas featuring Greek mythology and philosophy your own city would be the backdrop 6, People would quickly begin to see their stories in the myths they encountered in the theater.
The main street of Ephesus connected the theater with the harbor and was flanked on either side by a colonnade. Another important feature the Greeks added to the the city was the agora, the marketplace, located southeast of the harbor bringing goods from all over the world to their doorstep.7 The people of Ephesus were able to dine on food from far off lands, wear fashions from exotic regions, and read literature from scholars they would never meet in person.
The Greek worldview was designed to just move in and take over. Something happens, however, when you begin to place the worth of a life on how much you achieve and how pretty you are. If your value comes from how pretty you are, if you worth comes from how you do at athletics, if your merit and standing in the community is based on how well you do in class and how clever you are you begin to view others in that same light. What subtly happens is you are going to end up putting worth on human life.
Soranus of Ephesus wrote “a practical guide to gynecology, obstetrics, and pediatrics.” In it he described a method of assessing the health status of newborns titled “How to recognize the newborn that is worth rearing.” He suggests that the following characteristics are indicative of a worthy infant: “... its mother has spent the period of pregnancy in good health, it has been born at the due time, when put on the earth it immediately cries with proper vigor, it is perfect in all its parts, members and senses, its ducts are free from obstruction and the natural functions of every member are neither sluggish nor weak ... conditions contrary to these indicate the infant not worth rearing.”
Classical Greek literature asserts this same philosophy. Aristotle said “As to the exposure of children, let there be a law that no deformed child shall live.” In his work The Republic Plato writes: “The offspring of the inferior, and any of those of the other sort who are born defective, they will properly dispose of in secret, so that no one will know what has become of them.” A deformed child just doesn’t fit into the Greek world view.
An infant that was deformed or even weak was viewed as a sign of divine displeasure. It was thought to be a curse from the gods. A family with a deformed baby must somehow have a problem with the gods. So they had to get rid of the baby because they didn't want any of that divine displeasure to rest on their household, and they certainly didn't want their neighbors to know, that would be a blow to the status of the whole family.
This gruesome practice, that was perfectly legal under roman law, is sometimes translated as exposure and encouraged throughout ancient Rome. To get rid of an unwanted infant one might resort to abortion (very risky in those days) or drowning, but the preferd method was infant exposure where, “the family would simply take the child out beyond the city and abandon it to die from exposure to the elements.”8
Ephesus had a mountain on the norther edge of the city. This mountain is considered by some scholars to be the sight of the baby dump, others place it closer to the main city gates. If you lived in this city in the ancient world, this is where you would take a deformed, weak, or unwanted child and leave it to die.
Since Ephesus was a large port city with commercial traffic coming and going to both Rome and Asia Minor it also became a slave trade center. A common practice in the ancient world was to raise children into young adulthood to be slaves. People would go up and would sort through the rejected babies looking for ones who might make good slaves. So they would look for deformed babies who still held some potential. They would then bring babies back home and raise them ether as personal slaves or to be sold.

Literary Context:
In Ephesians Paul addresses masters and slaves, so his intended audience is both masters and slaves. The people who first heard this letter would have included folks who had gone up on that mountain and sorted through babies who they thought might make good servants and it would also have included folks who had been raised as slaves, knowing full well their status was because they had been rejected at birth.

I. God sees us with our blemish (1:3-4)
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 9
The word for blameless is ἄμωμοςa and it means “without defect, without blemish.’10 God chose you before the creation of the world to be holy and without defect. He looks at you and He doesn't see a long list of how you don't measure up. He sees you as holy and with out defect.

II. God chose us (1:5)
In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will9
This is the verse that cinches it. God chose to go up the mountain and rescue us not to raise as slaves but for adoption into His divine family even before we were born. He did not just do this on a whim it is all part of His eternal rescue plan.

Original meaning:
It is doubtful that the first people who heard this got into a heated discussion about predestination vs freewill. The first people to hear this probably wept. Adoption for them was going up the mountain and taking the abandon babies that were all screwed up and raising them as your own.
Paul begins “in love God decided beforehand to make you His children.” This text calls out the idea that a deformity is a sign of Gods displeasure. This text says God is the God who hikes up on the mountain and brings home the unwanted, the discarded, and makes them part of his family.

Modern meaning:
Think of the messages we are sent about our value, our worth, and how we measure up or more likely all the ways we don't. We live in a culture that constantly reminds us that we are not good enough. If you go through a checkout isle you are confronted by a plethora of magazines telling you are not the right shape, you don't make enough money, you have bad hair... If you turn on the television or radio you are blasted by marketers telling you how bad your life is and how if you just had their product you could finally measure up.
According to this text the gospel is me coming to the place of realizing I was the baby on the hill left for dead and God hiked up there to get me. God created each of us, He chose us to be adopted into His family. He looks at us and does not see all the ways we fail or don't measure up to some standard. He looks at us and loves us, He takes pleasure in bringing us into His family.
If we can live this text it will profoundly effect the way we live. Every time we are reminded about our deformities about all the ways we fall short this text should leap into our hearts and onto our tongue. If we can take this text seriously we must recognize that God has some weird kids and He loves them all, even if we find them strange or even offensive.

Implications for Ministry:
The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. once said "It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o'clock on Sunday morning.” The Church has a way of becoming a social club. If we are going to take this text seriously we need to accept that we are not called to be tolerant!
The very idea of tolerance implies enduring or putting up with something you don't like or value. Tolerance does not value people but simply puts up with their behaviors or beliefs. We cannot build authentic relationships with each-other on tolerance alone, because tolerance can only look the other way.
Tolerance might deal with differences, but it can't embrace us in full. God far exceeds mere tolerance, He showers all of us with grace. We are to represent God and so we must not just occasionally tolerate people we don't like, we too must show grace and acceptance.
The church should be a gathering of people where we can stand up and say we are wretched, and everyone will nod and agree and then remind us that we are also beautiful...
When we look through the eyes of Jesus, we begin to see new things in people. In the murderers, we see our own hatred. In the addicts, we see our own addictions. In the saints, we catch glimpses of our own holiness. We can see our own brokenness, our own violence, our own ability to destroy, and we can see our own sacredness, our own capacity to love and forgive. When we realize that we are both wretched and beautiful, we are freed up to see others the same way
God loves each of us just as we are, but he loves us so much he doesn't want us to stay that way. We must never confuse acceptance with agreement. Acceptance is not an agreement of people’s choices, beliefs, or behaviors. We must see ourselves as in-process, none of us has arrived or achieved some ultimate level of spiritually superiority. While we must always extend grace and acceptance to everyone, we should always hope and pray that none of us will remain spiritually stagnate.
There is a place for "appropriate judgment," but only among disciples who are in close personal relationships with each-other in which they have invited one another fully into their lives. This kind of judgment is done only in private and it takes the form of discernment and loving feedback. The end goal is for both disciples to be continually transformed by this relationship.

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do - this I keep on doing.
The Apostle Paul to the church in Rome 58 A.D. (Rom 7:15-20)

Works cited:
1. Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Ac 18:23). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
2. Discipleship Journal, Issue 32 (March/April 1986). 1986. NavPress.
3. Discipleship Journal, Issue 122 (March/April 2001). 2001. NavPress.
4. Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Ac 19:27). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
5. Myers, A. C. (1987). The Eerdmans Bible dictionary (342). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
6. Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Ac 19:29). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
7. Myers, A. C. (1987). The Eerdmans Bible dictionary (342). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
8. Price, Christopher. 2004. “Pagans, Christianity, and Infanticide.”
/member_contrib/cp_infanticide.html Last accessed August 11, 2012.
9. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Eph 1:3–4). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
10. Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Vol. 1: Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: Based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition.) (699). New York: United Bible Societies.