Saturday, November 20, 2010

Evangelical freestyle

Friday was one of those days that we'll remember for a long time. I took the day off work because Lisa was catering dinner for about 200 people. She doesn't do this sort of thing often; she needs a good reason to want to work that hard. Nevertheless, I know my job when it comes to catering. My job is to do whatever needs to be done. So my day started taking the girls to the community center so they could swim their 1000 yards. If Lisa kept her routine of taking the girls, then it would either extend her day, or create time pressure on the food preparation. My taking the girls to the pool gained Lisa some time. How much time, Lisa had no idea.

Gabby lollygagged in the pool. It was Friday and I've relented that the girls' Friday routine need not be as rigorous as Monday through Thursday's. With a half lap to go, and Claire already finished and ready to leave, I coaxed Gabby (age eight) to swim freestyle as fast as she could. I had to walk fast to keep up with her. I saw her take two breaths in the 25 yards, but she told me she took three. Unfortunately, the burst of energy did not prevent her from lollygagging in the shower for 45 minutes. I'm glad she showers on the community center's dime rather than on my own.

By the time we joined Lisa at the Evangelical Free Church where the dinner was being held, it was practically noon. We all worked in the kitchen all afternoon prepping, cooking, and cleaning until suddenly the food was all hot and ready to put out in the chafers. I had never been in an Evangelical Free Church before, and I guess I still can't say that I've attended one, but in case you're interested Evangelical Free is not like sugar free. The place was loaded with 'em!

A funny coincidence leads to angst

Lisa has catered two events in the last two years, and other than our family, one person has attended both events. A coworker of mine seems to be following Lisa around.

When she recognized me, she asked me if I attended that church. I explained that Lisa was helping a long-time family friend. It immediately caught me as odd that I was in a position where in the time allotted and with the background noise, I could not express what I believe. I had to choose a label: Evangelical Free or not-Evangelical Free.

I did not have time say that while I've never attended and don't intend to attend an Evangelical Free church, that I consider the people there brothers and sisters. I could not express that through October we celebrated the Lord's Supper in our home with many people from different denominational labels. I could not say, that I find church labels offensive but I find the Gospel to be the "power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes." Romans 1:16

This week I read a little bit from John Calvin's Institutes. I also ready a bit from Herodotus' Histories. I have to admit, I enjoy Herodotus much more than Calvin. I've been working on a blog post about Calvin, but I hesitate to publish because it will offend. I don't identify with Calvin. He doesn't represent the Christian faith as I see read it from the pages of the Bible. I do identify with Herodotus. He writes, I think, historical fiction – that is to say he embellishes the tale to emphasize the irony of life and death and fate. Herodotus struggles to understand the world without saying aloud, "The gods must be crazy." Calvin presumes to invent a god who is crazy, impose him upon the world, and burn at the stake those who disbelieve him (google "Servetus").

I haven't given Calvin a second thought for years, but recently read a research summary from Barna ( Is There a "Reformed" Movement in American Churches? ). I am annoyed that a segment of Christianity still associates itself with Calvin. Aside from the despicable Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, KS, I doubt that Calvin would give passing grades to many churches in America. Would Calvin really lend his name to churches who do not exhibit his murderous rage? Why then, would churches identify themselves according to Calvin? Do people actually read Calvin before proclaiming themselves Calvinist?

The Apostle Paul asks, "Is Christ divided? Was [Calvin] crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of [Calvin]?" (1 Corinthians 1:13) So I took some liberty with that translation, but the point is can we really label Christianity according to sect? By doing so, we offend Christ.

In a more general sense, organized church frustrates me because you just can't from point A to point B – point A being Scripture and point B being everything that happens in a church building on Sunday morning. I'm also puzzled by folks that say that the New Testament does not prescribe church practices. It seems to me that the New Testament just doesn't prescribe their practices, and so they jump through hoops to dismiss the prescriptive practices in the New Testament.

They say that the Book of Acts is descriptive; not prescriptive. OK, maybe, but Acts describes what the Apostles did, and that sounds like a reasonable model to emulate. Good enough for Peter
might be good enough for us. Even if you discard the Book of Acts, Paul is emphatic regarding church practices in 1 Corinthians 14:37, "If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord's command." Read 1 Corinthians 14:26-40. That's prescriptive!

Does your dispensational predilection make you uncomfortable with Paul's directive? ("Was [Clarence Larkin] crucified for you?") Perhaps Paul's instructions had an expiry date in margins of the original autographs? Not OK, but what about Jesus' teaching in Matthew 23:8-12?

"But you are not to be called 'Rabbi,' for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth 'Father,' for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called 'Teacher,' for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted."

Do we think that God is fooled when we use synonyms for Rabbi like, "The Reverend" and "Pastor"? Why do we revere any man other than Jesus? Why do we revere other men's writings above Scripture? Are we really supposed to make some people more important than others? Surely, we are to make other more important than ourselves, but that's universal and not specific to the one man with a title or a book.

By the way, the word pastor appears once in most English translations of the Bible (Ephesians 4:11). It was not used in context of an ecclesiastical position, but rather describes the realms of gifts in which people operate. In the Greek, poimen, appears several times. Why is it translated shepherd everywhere but Ephesians 4:11? It's translated pastor because the translators are injecting common practice into Scripture rather than asking us to derive our common practices from Scripture!

Jesus tells us not to make distinctions among us because, ". . . you are all brothers." You might think that followers of Jesus might try to take His words as Gospel truth, but then again . . . what would we do with Calvin? Just because the "Reformers" were anti-Romanist, doesn't mean that either were right!

There is a better way to go about this than the sectarian status quo! "His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness." 1 Peter 1:3 (NIV) In Matthew 7:15-23, Jesus tells us what to do with Calvin and a lot of other so-called leaders, but I don't expect everyone to agree with me.

From angst to thanks

As I worked last night clearing the buffet, washing pots and pans, and mopping the kitchen floor, I debated with Calvin and marveled that his ideas have endured his Putrification. Nevertheless, last night I was confident that I was where I was supposed to be. Some fellow-believers—mostly unknown to me–were coming together in a building owned by an institution that I cannot understand. However, they were coming together to raise money for a school and orphanage in Guatemala. Their generosity would have a direct and immediate impact upon poor in a foreign country.

Command those who are rich in this present world . . . to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.

1 Timothy 6:17-18 (NIV)

I'm thankful that Christians can some days work together for furtherance of the true kingdom. To the extent that my family and I could work for last evening's success, I am thankful for the opportunity.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Acknowledgement offering

Combined Old Testament / New Testament word studies enlighten us to the meaning of New Testament Scripture passages. This methodology is underutilized or poorly executed because Old Testament Scriptures are usually translated from Hebrew while New Testament Scriptures are translated from Greek. How do we find adequate word correlations between the two languages?

While promoting Hebrew over the Greek, scholars fail to tell us that their Hebrew sources are, in fact, relatively modern translations of the autographs they represent. God has preserved His word through opportune translations not by preserving original manuscripts. Scholars might also fail to tell us that the writers of the New Testament utilized Greek sources for their Old Testament quotations. For instance, Luke 3:23-38 does not agree with the Hebrew text in Genesis 11, but it does agree with the Septuagint (LXX). It's a minor discrepancy, but it demonstrates what record Luke presumed to be authoritative. Likewise, Luke 4:18 does not agree with the Hebrew record of Isaiah 61, but it does agree with the LXX, and in this case what's missing from the Hebrew is important for Christian theology.

When it comes to understanding New Testament vocabulary and concepts, often the best place to research is in the ancient Greek translation commonly known as the Septuagint, or LXX. While LXX most accurately refers to the Greek translation of the Torah, the ancient Greek translations of the Old Testament as a whole, at the very least give us a relevant commentary regarding the meaning of the original words and phrases. They also help us define the meaning of New Testament vocabulary more precisely.

Thankfully, The Apostolic Bible makes the Old Testament Greek translation accessible to the modern Bible student. Over a year ago, when I was reading in the 2 Corinthians 9, I came across the word homologia. The Apostolic Bible translated the word in English as "acknowledgement offering." The word offering is italicized because it was inferred by the translator. In the LXX, the first occurrence of homologia is found in Leviticus referring to a type of sacrifice. The translator of the Apostolic Bible apparently believed that the usage of the word in 2 Corinthians was an allusion to the sacrifice in Leviticus.

"Speak to Aaron and his sons, and to all the congregation of the sons of Israel! And you shall say to them, The man, a man from the sons of Israel, or of the foreigners lying near them among Israel, who ever should offer his gifts according to every acknowledgement offering of theirs, or according to every choice offering or theirs, as much as they should offer to the Lord for a whole burnt offering what is acceptable unto you is an unblemished male of the herds, and of the sheep, and of the goats."

Levitucus 22:17-19 (AB)

Homologia is often translated, "confession"; however, "acknowledgement" is arguably a better word choice regardless of whether the word alludes to ritual sacrifice. The Apostolic Bible does not translate homologia as "acknowledgement offering" in every instance. Nevertheless, there is no compelling evidence in the context as to why a different word would be more appropriate. Furthermore, parsimony, requires us to examine whether we can translate a word the same way in each occurrence. If, for instance, homologia alludes to Leviticus 22, then it should be translated in such a way as to bring the Old Testament sacrifice into the idea. In other words, if the writer's vocabulary was likely framed by his knowledge of Old Testament vocabulary, then our translation should attempt to convey the thought and not just choose a compatible word.

As I looked at homologia again recently, I found evidence that the New Testament usages of homologia are deliberate references to Leviticus 22. To support this assertion, it helps to first look at the other Old Testament references in summary.

  1. Deuteronomy 12:6, 17 establishes the conduct of acknowledgement offerings: the presenter ate from his own offering. He offered his acknowledgement offering at the Tabernacle or Temple – the place where "the LORD your God himself should choose."
  2. In Jeremiah, a remnant of Israel escaped Nebuchadnezzar and established themselves in Egypt. In Egypt, they vowed to offer acknowledgement offerings to the queen of heaven rather than to the Lord. For this betrayal Jeremiah tells them,

    But hear the word of the LORD, all Jews living in Egypt: 'I swear by my great name,' says the LORD, 'that no one from Judah living anywhere in Egypt will ever again invoke my name or swear, "As surely as the Sovereign LORD lives." For I am watching over them for harm, not for good; the Jews in Egypt will perish by sword and famine until they are all destroyed. Those who escape the sword and return to the land of Judah from Egypt will be very few. Then the whole remnant of Judah who came to live in Egypt will know whose word will standmine or theirs.

    Jeremiah 44:26-28 (AB)

  3. In Ezekiel chapters 40 through 48, the prophet records a vision of the Messianic kingdom. In chapter 46, Ezekiel foretells the Prince entering the temple through the east gate to offer acknowledgement offerings. Only the Prince could enter through the east gate, because God had entered the new temple through the east gate to establish his throne forever.
  4. In Amos 4, the prophet rebukes Israel for their impiety. While they loved the rituals including the acknowledgement offerings, their hearts were far away from God.

Homologia appears in three passages of the Book of Hebrews (chapters 3, 4, and 10). The three contexts refer to Christ Jesus as our "chief priest", our "great chief priest", and the "great priest over the house of God." The appearance of the word "priest" near homologia echoes back to the ministry of the priests and their preparation and administration of the sacrifices. For instance, we easily understand Jesus' ministry as a priest compared to the offering for sin in Hebrews chapter 5, why would we overlook Jesus' ministry as priest in the acknowledgement offering? Only because the meaning of the word was lost in translation.

Hebrews 3:1 tells us to "contemplate the apostle and chief priest of our acknowledgement offering – Jesus Christ." In the NASB, this phrase reads, "consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession." The NIV says to "fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess." When we translate homologia as "acknowledgement offering," then a better picture of participation with Christ, our priest, appears. When we use the word "confession", we are active, but when we use the word acknowledgement offering we are interactive. Interacting with our great chief priest!

This image is intensified in Hebrews 4:14-5:10. The writer of Hebrews encourages us to keep the acknowledgement offering because we have a chief priest who is able to sympathize with our weakness. Because of Jesus Christ as our chief priest, we are encouraged approach the throne of grace with confidence. If we translate homologia as "confession," it becomes unclear what we bring with us when we approach the throne of God. Nevertheless, when we observe the acknowledgement offering, we present something of ourselves, and by Old Testament pattern, something of our free will! We have confidence in our priest that our offering will be received.

The three occurrences of homologia in the Book of Hebrews most certainly are allusions to Leviticus 22. Nevertheless, the Apostle Paul also uses the word homologia in 2 Corinthians 9 and again in 1 Timothy 6. 1 Timothy 6:14 nods toward Leviticus 22 when Paul tells Timothy to keep the command (the acknowledgement offering) without spot or blemish. Just as the sacrifices of the Old Testament could not be blemished, neither should our acknowledgement offering. Paul instructions in 1 Timothy mirror Moses' instructions in Leviticus.

Paul commends the Corinthians' intent to give an offering to the holy ones in Jerusalem. Paul equates their gift to an "acknowledgement offering to the good news (Gospel) of the Christ." Like Timothy's acknowledgement offering before many witnesses, so the Corinthians sacrificial giving to help their brothers in Christ would glorify God and result in "the simplicity of the fellowship." It would also result in an abundance of grace.

What is our acknowledgement offering?

We know from 2 Corinthians 9 that an acknowledgement offering can supply the needs of fellow believers. In 1 Timothy 6 and Hebrews 3 and 4, the acknowledgement offering appears to be more abstract. An acknowledgement offering might take many different physical forms. So what is the substance of our acknowledgement? Hebrews 10 answers this question.

And having a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of belief, with hearts being sprinkled from a wicked conscience, and the body being bathed with clean water. Let us hold fast the [acknowledgement offering] of the hope unwavering! For trustworthy is the one promising. And let us mind one another for stimulating love and good works! Not abandoning the assembling of ourselves, as the custom with some, but encouraging one another, and by so much more as much as you see the day approaching

Hebrews 10:21-25 (AB)

The acknowledgement offering in 2 Corinthians 9, 1 Timothy 6, Hebrews 3, 4, and 10 are all focused on Jesus Christ. Paul ends 2 Corinthians chapter 9 exclaiming, "Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!" Our acknowledgement offering is in response to Christ. 2 Corinthians 9 says it is an "acknowledgement offering to the Gospel of Christ." Hebrews 3 tells us to contemplate Jesus Christ as "the apostle and chief priest of our acknowledgement offering." In the same passage verse 14 tells us that "we have become partakers of the Christ." Just as the Old Testament worshipper ate part of his acknowledgement offering, we too participate in Christ's sacrifice. Hebrew 4 tells us to observe the acknowledgement offering because Jesus is our great chief priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses. Hebrews 10, again encourages the acknowledgement offering because Jesus Christ is a great priest over the house of God. In every case, the acknowledgement offering is made because of Jesus Christ.

Our acknowledgement offering is made to God, the Father. The Corinthians monetary gift brought glory to God. Timothy is told to make his offering in the sight of God and Christ. Hebrews 4 tells us to approach the throne of grace with confidence. Hebrews 10 tells us to draw near to God having a clear conscience and a cleansed body. Whereas the Old Testament worshipper made his acknowledgement offering at the Tabernacle or the Temple, we make our acknowledgement offering before the very throne of God!

Nevertheless, the acknowledgement offering is not only between a man and God. Our acknowledgement offering is also outwardly active. Timothy's acknowledgement offering was before many witnesses. The Corinthians, likewise, sent a gift to believers in Jerusalem. In Hebrews 3, after we are told to contemplate Jesus Christ, we are told to encourage one another. Likewise, In Hebrews 10, we stimulate each other toward love and good works and encourage one another. While our acknowledgement offering focuses on Christ, it also reaches other people, especially fellow believers.

So about the acknowledgement offering we know several things. It is to be spotless and without blemish just as the Old Testament sacrifices were also to be. In 2 Corinthians 9 and also in Hebrews 4, we see that the acknowledgement offering results in grace. When we need God's favor, we bring to him our acknowledgement offering before his throne with confidence. Our acknowledgement offering reaches beyond our personal relationship with God touching other people with encouragement. Our acknowledgement offering is made to God, our Father, with Jesus the Christ acting as our great chief priest of God's household. In our offering we also become partakers of Jesus Christ. What is this acknowledgement offering we bring to God our Father?

The actual substance of our acknowledgement offering is summarized in Hebrews 10:23. "Let us hold fast the acknowledgement offering of the hope unwavering!"

Regardless of its physical expression, the acknowledgement we offer to God through Christ is our spotless, unblemished, unwavering hope that God will fulfill what he has promised! What greater offering can we bring before God than the full conviction that His word is true? If we hold this unwavering hope, then it will guide our thoughts, our actions, and our relationships. In this hope we stand before God in Christ receiving his grace which we then reflect to fellow believers and the world!