Christian Community, Worship

“Why We Do What We Do.”

You may have asked yourself before, “Why do we do what we do in worship services?” or perhaps, “Who plans the order of the services?” or maybe even, “What are the requirements for leading any given part of the worship services?”

Different aspects of the worship services are purposefully planned for each Sunday morning
service. Those who lead the different aspects are essential in communicating our unity as
the body of Christ and our purposefulness in gathering to worship. If you won’t think me
irreverent, perhaps you will permit me to use the analogy of getting your car washed to illus-
trate designing and leading a worship service. Let’s imagine that our participation in a wor-
ship service is like getting our car cleaned by a professional business. Some of you may pre-
fer to wash your own car, but for the analogy’s sake let’s imagine that a full team is required for the job. Picture your unwashed car as an unplanned worship service that requires a team effort in order to plan, prepare, and achieve the goal of producing a clean car (ie. an intentional worship service). It is helpful to picture a worship service as a “vehicle” that provides for us an opportunity to give fully to God what He has already given to us, everything!

So, here is a quick comparison between the service of a professional car-washing business and the service needed during a Sunday morning worship service. The car-washing business provides: Welcome > Hospitality (ie. vacuum, a place to wait, etc.) > Rinse > Wash > Scrub > Rinse > Dry > Detail > Send Off. When compared with a Sunday morning service, the car-washing business’ order of service provides insight into the team effort and unity that is needed when participating in a worship service. Worship services may constitute: Welcome > Hospitality (ie. coffee, information, etc.) > Gathering Song > Prayer > Greeting (Passing of Christ’s Peace) > Scripture Reading > Songs of Response > Prayer > Sermon (Scripture Reflection and Application) > Prayer > Response to God’s Word (Individual and Congregational response) > Prayer > Offering > Announcements (ways to get involved and apply God’s Word in our lives together) > Benediction (Blessing/Sending).

Just as there are many different stations that require many people to work them in order to get your car cleaned, there are many different aspects to serving and leading in a worship service. We need you! We are all different parts of the same body, and each part offers something unique.
May God empower us through His Holy Spirit to be examples of Christ’ love, service, and leadership! Let us love, serve, and lead one another even as Christ leads us in worshiping our living God whose kingdom is among us!

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Christian Community

“Eat, Pray, Live…Together”

Where Two or three

“In Their Midst”
by Burden Studio (burdenstudio.com)”Where two or three are gathered
in my Name, there I am in the midst of them.”
(Matthew 18:19) 

“Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

In his book Life Together, Bonhoeffer says that “whether it be a brief, single encounter or the daily fellowship of years, Christian community is only this. We belong to one another only through and in Jesus Christ. What does this mean? It means first that a Christian needs others because of Jesus Christ. It means, second, that a Christian comes to others only through Jesus Christ. It means, third, that in Jesus Christ we have been chosen from eternity, accepted in time, and united for eternity.”

Bonhoeffer’s definition of Christian community reminds me that we all individually find our identity in Jesus Christ, and because of that we Christians are only connected through and in him. We need each other. We cannot say to the weaker believers in our congregation, “you must leave,” or “we don’t need you,” or “things would be so much better without you,” for in doing so we would be casting out Jesus Christ. Just like the rest of us, their identity is in Jesus Christ, and he alone is our hope and salvation. As a community of Christians, we are united solely through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ now and forevermore!

Unity is important because our story of salvation is in God’s story of salvation through Jesus Christ. This is the reason we gather together in worship, gather together for Bible study, and gather together to share a meal. Bonhoeffer recognized that “our salvation is external to ourselves.” He said, “I find no salvation in my life history, but only in the history of Jesus Christ.” This is true for all of us.

So, anytime we are gathered together let us remember that we gather and fellowship solely because of, through and in Jesus Christ.

“All glory to him who alone is God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord. All glory, majesty, power, and authority are his before all time, and in the present, and beyond all time! Amen.” – Jude 1:25 (NLT)

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Christian Community

Humanity in the “Imago Dei”

Imago-Arts-IMG_1518Do not allow your view of humanity to be skewed by the image of evil, rather view all of humanity through the image of God. We see the best of humanity in Jesus Christ who teaches us what it means to be human. For he alone restores the “likeness” of God to those who are being restored by, through, and in him.

“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.” – John 13:34

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Christian Community

An Evaluation of “For Whom Were Gospels Written?” by Richard Bauckham and “Patristic Counter-Evidence to the Claim that ‘The Gospels Were Written for All Christians’” by Margaret M. Mitchell

9780802844446_p0_v1_s260x420Introduction:

Bauckham begins his argument introducing two questions: 1) Were Gospels written for Christians or for non-Christians? 2) Were the Gospels written for a specific Christian audience or for a general Christian audience? The first of these questions he answers according to the scholarly consensus that all of the Gospels were written for a Christian audience. In answering the second question, Bauckham addresses whether or not the gospels were written for specific local churches or for the purpose of circulation to every late first century Christian community.

Position:

Bauckham constructs his argument by confronting the assumption on which arguments concerning the Gospels have been based, particularly, the view that the Gospels were written to specific Christian communities. He says, “The unargued assumption in every case is that each Gospel addresses a localized community in its own, quite specific context and character.”[1] Bauckham proposes an alternative to this view. The alternative consists of the Gospel writers writing for the purpose of reaching an audience in any church to which the Gospel might circulate and the Greek language understood. Bauckham’s purpose for arguing this alternative view is to open discussion that has not taken place, and to propose this view as more plausible than the localized view that the Gospel writer’s wrote for specific communities.

Bauckham makes some good points that require further investigation, but he makes certain assumptions regarding the Gospel writer’s intentions, especially in the Synoptic relationship. He says, “Most likely Matthew and Luke each expected his own Gospel to replace Mark’s.”[2] Although this is a possibility, Bauckham does not address the probability of Matthew and Luke adapting Mark’s story and style to meet specific needs for a specific purpose. While he does acknowledge that the churches in the first and second centuries were connected and diverse, Bauckham does not acknowledge the effect that the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70ce would have had on the Gospel writers. The possibility of Jewish-Christian sectarian groups (groups that consisted of Jew and Gentile Christians that lived in isolation)  arising outside of Jerusalem immediately following its destruction in 70ce is not mentioned.

Argument:

Bauckham argues that redaction criticism in the late 1960s attempted to claim that the Gospel writers were writing for specific situations within a Christian community. He says that redaction criticism developed an allegorical reading of the Gospels in hopes of “reconstructing not only the character but the history of the community behind the Gospel.” In her article, “Patristic Counter-Evidence to the Claim that ‘The Gospels Were Written for All Christians’,” Margaret M. Mitchell responds to Bauckam’s essay by examining patristic evidence for a pre 1960s interpretation of the Gospels being written for a localized community. Mitchell agrees with Bauckham, in that, redaction-critical readings can use allegory to the point of projecting onto the life of Jesus the concerns of a “hypothetically reconstructed local church community.[3]” However, Mitchell argues against Bauckham’s view that “all readers without exception before the mid-twentieth century missed the (alleged) hermeneutical relevance of the Matthean community to the interpreter of Matthew.”[4] Mitchell insists that the interpretation of gospels is more complex and ancient than what is presented in Bauckham’s essay.[5]

Reading Strategy:

Bauckham’s argument against a particular ‘reading strategy’ would be strong if every Gospel contained the same accounts. In using the example of J. Louis Martyn’s proposal for interpreting John 9 as a narrative of the Johannine community’s expulsion from its local synagogue[6], Bauckham argues for a general process that was taking place throughout the Diaspora. A question for this proposal is that if it really were a general process, then how come the other Gospel writers do not address it?

Another argument made by Bauckham is that everything that was written in the Gospels did not necessarily need to be pertinent to everyone who read them. One example he uses is Mark 15:21, where Mark mentions Simon of Cyrene as the father of Alexander and Rufus. Matthew and Luke do not mention Alexander and Rufus in their Gospels. This raises the question of why they were important enough for Mark to mention them in his gospel. Bauckham makes the observation that Matthew and Luke’s exclusion of Alexander and Rufus could be another example of how the latter of the Synoptic Gospels would abbreviate Mark’s texts.[7] Another possibility that Bauckham offers for Alexander and Rufus’ exclusion from Matthew and Luke is that they may have been alive when Mark wrote and dead by the time Matthew and Luke wrote their gospels. But if Alexander and Rufus were such important figures that most of the first century Christian communities would have known them (if Mark truly wrote for all the churches), then it seems that Matthew and Luke, having been recipients of Mark’s Gospel, would have known of their importance also.[8]

Gospels and Letters:

Bauckham makes a good observation concerning the Greco-Roman bios in asking, “Why should he [the Gospel writer] go to the considerable trouble of writing a Gospel for a community to which he was regularly preaching?”[9] Bauckham defines the genres of letters and Gospels in order to illustrate their use in the context of the writer’s absence. He says, “The obvious function of writing was its capacity to communicate widely with readers unable to be present at its author’s oral teaching.”[10]

Bauckham does not address the possibility of the Gospel writers writing for the sake of permanence and distinction. David C. Sim in his book, Apocalyptic Eschatology in the Gospel of Matthew, argues for reading the Gospel of Matthew as a work to an apocalyptic-eschatological Jewish Christian sect who has broken ties with Jerusalem and ‘formative Judaism’. Sim goes on to say that Matthew’s community was affected by a combination of factors stemming from the aftermath of the events from 66-70 CE. These factors included conflict with Jews, Gentiles, and the wider world of Christians. Matthew’s community was considered to be withdrawn from society as an alienated group.[11] If an apocalyptic-eschatological sectarian group of Christians were experiencing persecution from the rest of world around them, then a leader of the community may have seen the need for writing a Gospel that would distinguish those on the inside from those on the outside. A Gospel written in this context could have been used to promote group solidarity and social control within the sectarian group.[12]

Patristic Evidence:

Mitchell notes that although Bauckham uses the patristic sources from the second century to illustrate the travel patterns of the church leaders during the first century, he does not cite second century patristic sources regarding the origin and interpretation of the original readers of the gospels.[13] She says a possible obstacle for Bauckam’s argument is that early traditions associated each of the gospel writers with a specific locale: Mark with Rome (and/or Alexandria)(or Syria[14]), Matthew with Judea, Luke with Achaia, and John with Ephesus (and/or Patmos).[15] Bauckham dismisses the influence of Clement’s statement as proof that patristic sources thought of the gospel writers as writing locally, and says that it does not “strictly require this conclusion.”[16] Mitchell illustrates that Bauckham’s interpretation of Clement of Alexandria concerning Mark’s Gospel is incorrect. In her translation of Clement of Alexandria, Mitchell shows that in the tradition about Mark’s gospel there was no “‘envision[ing] of a gospel beginning to circulate’; here Mark’s gospel (singular – the text says nothing about ‘copies’) does not move beyond the Roman Christians who asked him to write it, who are presented as a rather specific group who in turn receive the document from him.”[17]

In another instance, Mitchell recalls Papias’s tradition about Matthew’s peculiar language, particularly about Matthew composing “the sayings” in the Hebrew language, which Bauckham does not discuss.[18] Mitchell makes the point that “for Papias language of composition differentiated Matthew’s readers from Mark’s readers.”[19] This would seem evident since not every Christian in the late first century spoke or read Hebrew. Mitchell notes that, “this presumption about the Semitic original of Matthew was to be a constant in patristic and medieval gospel interpretation, and from it considerable inferences about Matthew’s local community were made.”[20] In the third century, Origen inferred that Matthew’s gospel was written specifically for Jewish Christians.[21] Furthermore, Mitchell explains that this tradition “depends upon the assumption – held already in antiquity by such scholars as Origen and Jerome – that language, place and addressees of the gospels can be correlated with one another.”

Hermeneutics:

Bauckam states in his essay that reconstructing the historical situation of the Gospel writer’s community has “no hermeneutical value since the Gospels were not addressed to or intended to be understood solely by such a community.”[22]  Contrary to Bauckham, Mitchell notes the importance of recognizing the historical situation of the gospels before encountering the text.[23] This is important for Mitchell’s argument because she illustrates that early Christian biblical interpreters were concerned with historical validation of apostolic or sub-apostolic authorship.[24] Bauckam makes the statement that only modern redaction critics “simply assum[e] that the question about the context in which a Gospel was written and the question about the audience for which a Gospel was written are the same question.”[25] Mitchell counters this statement with examples of Christian commentators who combine these two questions in their writing gospel prologues in medieval manuscripts, “which are based on complex histories that extend back to late antiquity.”[26]

Conclusion:

Mitchell provides significant evidence from the patristic writings to show the plausibility that the thought of the Gospel writers writing for a localized community did not originate in the 1960s, as Bauckham proposes. According to Mitchell’s research, “patristic interpreters of the gospel thought it important to ask where when and to whom each of the four gospel was originally written.”[27]

Mitchell’s conclusion calls for movement beyond extreme dichotomies (“either the gospels were written for ‘relatively isolated, introverted communities’ or for ‘any and every Christian community’”).[28] Furthermore, Mitchell utilizes the works of Irenaeus and Origen to argue for a both/and theological approach to interpreting the audience of the gospel writers as local and universal.[29] I agree with Mitchell in her assessment that modern scholars should strive for “methodological flexibility” as we encounter questions that require different approaches.[30] Mitchell’s illustration of “universality and particularity in a deliberate theological and rhetorical tension”[31] in John Chrysostom’s work provides insight for modern biblical scholars to leave room for the mystery of God’s work and revelation.


[1] Richard Bauckham, ‘For Whom Were Gospels Writen?’, in The Gospels for All Christians: Rethinking the Gospel Audiences (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 11.

[2] The assumption here is that since Matthew and Luke utilized Mark’s Gospel in their own works, they must have anticipated that their own Gospels were going to be circulated also (Bauckham, 13).

[3] Margaret M. Mitchell, “Patristic Counter-Evidence to the Claim that ‘The Gospels Were Written for All Christians’”, New Testament Studies, Vol. 51, Issue 01, January 2005, (UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 37.

[4] Bauckham, 47.

[5] Mitchell, 46.

[6] Bauckham, 23.

[7] Bauckham, 25.

[8] Joel Marcus makes this rebuttal also (Mark 1-8: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary [The Anchor Bible; New York, NY: Doubleday, 2002], 27-8).

[9] Bauckham, 29.

[10] Ibid.

[11] David C. Sim, Apocalyptic Eschatology in the Gospel of Matthew [Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2001], 182.

[12] Sim identifies the specific functions of apocalyptic eschatology in five distinct groups that may overlap on certain points: 1. Identification and legitimation, 2. Explanation of current circumstances, 3. Encouragement and hope for the future, 4. Vengeance and consolation, 5. Group solidarity and social control (Ibid, 64).

[13] Mitchell, 47.

[14] Marcus, 36.

[15] Mitchell, 47.

[16] Mitchell, 48.

[17] Ibid, 49-50.

[18] Ibid, 53.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Bauckam, 45.

[23] Mitchell, 55.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Bauckam, 16.

[26] Mitchell, 57.

[27] Mitchell, 77.

[28] Ibid., 78.

[29] Ibid., 61-67.

[30] Ibid., 78.

[31] Ibid., 74.

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Christian Community, Worship

“Roll Away Your Stone”

Illustrating The Powerlessness of the Law and the Empowerment of the Holy Spirit using lyrics from the song

“Roll Away Your Stone” by Mumford & Sons.

***Listen to “Roll Away Your Stone” by Mumford & Sons before continuing***

Background Information: The Law is an extension of God’s grace to His chosen people, the Jews. The Gentiles (non Jews) were considered pagan because of their worship of many gods instead of the one, true God. What separated The Gentiles from God was their idolatry. The Gentiles were to recognize sin by looking to nature and their perception of the one, true creator God. (Rd: Romans 1:18-25) The Jews, contrary to the Gentiles, were chosen by God to be His people. God established a covenant relationship with the Jews beginning with Abraham. God initiated communion with them! The Jews covenant relationship with God consisted of both God and the Jews maintaining their part of the covenant in order to maintain their relationship. God extended grace through the Law of Moses so that the Jews would be able to recognize and abstain from sin that broke their communion with God.  However, in revealing their sin, the Law amplified the power of sin even more because the Jews were not able to keep the Law of Moses in order to maintain their communion with God as His people. Therefore, the Jews, in their inability to maintain their part of the covenant with God by keeping the Law, became just like the Gentiles being unable to maintain a relationship with God. The Jews received the curse (being kicked out of the Promised Land and taken into exile) for not keeping their part of the covenant, instead of the blessing (God’s presence with His people in the Promised Land). (Rd: Isaiah 49:13-17; Romans 2:12-29) God is faithful and maintained his part of the covenantal relationship and proved it by “doing even more than we could ever ask or imagine!” Praise be to God for Jesus Christ our Lord, who empowers us through the Holy Spirit to be free from enslavement to Sin! He recreates our identity as the children of God who have been restored to His Glory (image)! We who are in Jesus Christ are the “New Israel!”

“Roll away your stone, I’ll roll away mine.
Together we can see what we will find.”

This lyric line exemplifies our criticism of not being able to completely keep the Law on our own and bring about our own salvation. We are skeptical of our hope in Jesus Christ being able to fulfill the Law on our behalf. We ask the question, “Is resurrection, a new identity, really possible?” We then say to Jesus Christ, “If it really is possible, then you do it first!” This is where we find our true selves. Jesus Christ has resurrected from the grave with an indestructible life that has enabled and empowered us to live a new identity through the Holy Spirit!

“Don’t leave me alone at this time,
For I am afraid of what I will discover inside.”

This lyric line is a reminder of our identity apart from the resurrected Jesus Christ. It is because Jesus Christ is resurrected that we will be resurrected! We have the same Holy Spirit that is in Jesus Christ! (Rd: 1 Corinthians 15:12-23)

“You told me that I would find a hole,
Within the fragile substance of my soul.”

This lyric describes our own inability to fulfill the Law leaves us feeling powerless, defeated, inadequate, broken, and worthless.

“And I have filled this void with things unreal,
And all the while my character it steals”

This lyric line depicts the broken state as we dwell in self-deception and pride that leads us to estrangement with God. We are made in the image of God and He is our origin. When try to give ourselves purpose we begin to redefine our origin in things other than God. God is revealed to us in Jesus Christ, who is our true origin. (Rd: Colossians 1:15-20)

“Darkness is a harsh term don’t you think?
And yet it dominates the things I seek.”

This lyric line really helps us to see the point Paul is making in Romans 7. Paul sets up an imaginary figure in dialogue to illustrate the powerlessness of the Law. Paul is communicating that, if you really want to take fulfilling the Law seriously, this is the conclusion to which you will arrive. “What I want to do, I don’t do, and what I don’t want to do is what I end up doing. What a wretched man I am!”(Rd: Romans 7:14-25)

“It seems that all my bridges have been burned,”

This depicts our attempts to fulfill the Law and failing. In trying to fulfill the Law and trying to invoke our own salvation, we place ourselves in enmity with God. In our attempt to fulfill the Law, our sin becomes more evident because we are powerless to keep the Law. Paul indicates Jews powerlessness to keep the Law by recalling their exile from the Promised Land to Babylon and the destruction of the Temple.

“But, you say that’s exactly how this grace thing works”

This lyric exemplifies our discovery of true, undeserving grace. We are ready to accept our freedom from sin, on Jesus Christ’s behalf, through the reception of Grace by being empowered by the Holy Spirit.

“It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart,”

This line illustrates the powerlessness of works and the empowerment of Grace. It is our encounter with Jesus Christ that changes our hearts and minds, and not in our attempts to perform acts of righteousness. It is not by works (works = “a long walk” to get home) that we would be able to work at keeping a Law that is impossible to fulfill on our own. (Rd: Ephesians 2:8-9)

“But the welcome I receive with the restart.”

This line details that it is only by the empowerment of the Holy Spirit that we are able to receive and extend grace in every failure. The Holy Spirit enables us to live in the grace-filled Law of the Spirit. (Rd: Romans 5:12-21; Luke 15:17-24)

“Darkness is a harsh term don’t you think?
And yet it dominates the things I seek.
Darkness is a harsh term don’t you think?
And yet it dominates the things I seek.
Darkness is a harsh term don’t you think?
And yet it dominates the things I seek.”

These lines are communicating a revisiting of our state when we try to pursue our own righteousness through performing works of the Law. Just as Isaiah communicates, when we encounter grace in the person Jesus Christ “our righteousness is as filthy rags.” Throughout our lives in times of temptation we reiterate our powerlessness to be able to fulfill the Law even when we try our very best to perform works of righteousness. God has revealed Himself to us! He has come to us, and not us to Him! Isaiah exclaims the words of the Lord to His people, “Here am I, here am I!” (Rd: Isaiah 64:4-65:1)

“Stars hide your fires, And these here are my desires”

This lyric line illustrates our pride. There are times in our lives when we indulge in self-proclaimed darkness and call for the stars themselves to hide their light. We still maintain a longing to be able to fulfill the Law on our own. Even our best attempts at fulfilling the Law are futile when we are confronted with the Holiness and grace of Jesus Christ. (Rd: Philippians 3:2-16)

“And I will give them up to you this time around.”

The confession that we are powerless, and not Lord over our own lives.  We are empowered by the Holy Spirit to be free from sin that we may become slaves of righteousness. (Rd: Romans 6:14-19 & Roman 10:9 )

“And so, I’ll be found with my stake stuck in this ground
Marking its territory of this newly impassioned soul!”

This lyric line accentuates our reception of the Holy Spirit as the reclaiming of our created identity seen in Adam and Eve, and even more so. Now, in our encountering Jesus Christ, we are not simply seen as created beings, we are now children and if children then we are heirs with Jesus Christ in his resurrection! Because of our encounter with Jesus Christ, we commune with God by the Holy Spirit of God dwelling with/in us! We “stake” our claim in our new identity, being empowered by the Holy Spirit to fulfill the Law and receive the full blessing of the Covenant, God’s presence! We are the first fruits of a new creation! (Rd: Romans 8:1-27)

“Hide your fires, these are my desires
And I will give them up to you this time around.
And so, I’ll be found with my stake stuck in this ground
Marking its territory of this newly impassioned soul!”

This phrase is reiterating our confession in our new identity. Paul exclaims in the beginning of Romans 8, that we who have received the Holy Spirit of God, by believing the word about Jesus Christ, are free from being slaves to sin.  We are free from sin; so that, we may become slaves to righteousness through the Lordship of Jesus Christ. What Paul is saying is that through our encounter with Jesus Christ we are empowered to be free of sin to become slaves to righteousness. This is why Paul can say with assurance that God is able to do “even more than we could ever ask or imagine!” Who imagined the cross would bring resurrection for us all!?

“But you, you’ve gone too far this time
You have neither reason nor rhyme
With which to take this soul that is so rightfully mine.”

This lyric line is a proclamation. Now, we have the ability, through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to say “No” to sin and “Yes” to living in the law of the Spirit. It’s not that the Law is against Jesus Christ, the law is perfect. The problem was that we did not have the power to keep the Law. God fulfilled His part of the covenantal relationship with His people. The Law was an extension of God’s grace to His people so that He would be able to commune with His people by their becoming holy. The Law did not empower us to be able to keep it, but it did identify sin in our lives so that we may know how to remain pure and maintain a communion with our Holy God. The Holy Spirit empowers us to be able to do the sorts of things God always wanted us to do in fulfilling the Law. The end result being eternal communion with God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. This is our reality/identity in Jesus Christ! (Rd: Romans 6:20-23)

***Once again, listen to “Roll Away Your Stone” by Mumford & Sons before concluding***

Blessings and Peace,

eric

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