Thursday, May 31, 2007
Then Peter spoke. "Israelites, I agree with you that salvation is of the Jews and that we are the people of God. But Scripture also shows that God cares through us for the stranger in the land who is in our midst. And God even sent Jonah to the Ninevites, the greatest enemies of Israel in that day, in order to give them the chance to repent.
"We apostles and elders marvelled some years back when God chose to bring the gospel to the Gentiles by my lips. God gave me a dream of a net with unclean food that He told me to kill and eat. Of course even in my dream I refused. Three times God brought this dream to me. He was telling me to go to the house of Cornelius, even though it would normally make me unclean.
While I was there, God sent the Holy Spirit on these God-fearing men. I was amazed. They were uncircumcised men, and yet God purified their hearts. They were not even baptized in the name of Jesus the Messiah yet!
We could have debated this issue for a long time, but God settled the issue before we even began the debate. The Gentiles can indeed escape God's wrath because of the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah. They are like the stranger in our midst."
I did not like Peter's approach to the matter, but I recognized it was more likely to convince than my argument would have.
Then I felt deeply patronized when James gave Barnabas and me a moment to tell of the success we had experienced among the Gentiles of Galatia. I was particularly keen to mention the signs and wonders that the Holy Spirit had done through us. What signs had God ever done through these false brothers?
Barnabas told them how he believed God had actually raised me from the dead at Lystra. Even the Judaizers there gave in to laughter at the thought that some in the city there had believed we were Zeus and Hermes, just because we had healed a lame man.
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
"When God raised Jesus from the dead, He showed that Jesus' death was a pleasing sacrifice to Him for the sins of Israel. If we will renew our commitment to the covenant, Jesus faithful death will bring the wrath of God toward us to an end. Then Christ will return and restore the kingdom to Israel.
"But the message that Saul and others have been preaching to Gentiles is false. Salvation is of the Jews and unless they convert and become circumcised, they cannot escape God's coming wrath on the enemies of Israel. What is worse is that when Jews make themselves unclean by table fellowship with these idolatrous, sexually immoral pagans, they nullify Jesus' faithfulness and bring the wrath of God back on Israel all over again.
"The Gentiles can be saved. But only if they become sons of Abraham."
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Finally, James got order in the room and the meeting began.
"A number of issues are causing great division among us these days, especially as more and more believers carry out the great commission of our Lord to go into all the world and preach the gospel. Some of the brothers here feel strongly about the message that should be given to Gentiles, and we want to give them ear."
At that point a young man named Judas was given voice. He was the son of a prominent Pharisee and had believed in Jesus as Messiah. He was just a boy when I had known him. I wondered what his father would say if he were still alive about his acceptance of Jesus.
But then again, the Pharisees had always been less concerned about the Peters and Johns than about the Stephens and Philips. My persecution primarily targeted the Greek-speaking Christians whose message was so anti-temple. Still, I was not sure if I could call Judas and his group truly brothers. They seemed more like false brothers to me, who had snuck into our midst to spy out the freedom we have in the Lord.
Monday, May 28, 2007
I'll admit that I felt less and less comfortable with the complexion of the churches in Judea. James was a more forceful leader than Peter and had clearly become the central authority in Jerusalem. What was striking to me is how many Jews had come to believe in Jesus for political reasons. They believed that Jesus was the Messiah because they wanted him to come from heaven, destroy the Romans, and liberate Israel. But they scarcely knew of Jesus' love and compassion for the sinner.
One of the most ironic things about these zealots was the fact that they could combine belief in Jesus with a radical renewal of law keeping. I returned to Jerusalem to find the children of prominent Pharisees I had known calling themselves Christians. How ironic, they had created a Jesus who was exactly the opposite of the true Jesus. Their Jesus lived like a Pharisee, not like someone who criticized them!
Their Jesus would not allow his disciples to pluck grain on the Sabbath. Their Jesus would not have dinner with prostitutes or tax collectors. Maybe they thought that now that he was with God, he had learned better of what he taught on earth? It was unbelievable to me how many in the church could call themselves Christians and yet have no real sense of what that meant!
Sunday, May 27, 2007
With the coming of the Spirit, we experience the full commencement of the new covenant made possible through Christ's blood and resurrection. When the Spirit comes, God writes His laws on our hearts.
It starts with prayer. Acts 2 doesn't specifically say that they were praying when the Spirit came, but Acts 1 tells us that's what they were doing those 10 days in the upper room. They will be praying again in Acts 4 when they are filled with the Holy Spirit again.
The Day of Pentecost was associated with harvest and with the giving of the Ten Commandments. We can find meaning in both in Acts 2. God writes His commandments on our hearts by way of the Holy Spirit. No one will have to teach his brother saying, "Know the Lord," for each one from small to great will know me (Jer. 31). Also on the Day of Pentecost we have the first ingathering of the harvest of Christ.
The baptism is associated with the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38). A person's heart is purified on the basis of faith as a person receives the Holy Spirit (Acts 15:9). But the Spirit can fill and fill again (Acts 4:31).
My church, The Wesleyan Church, has traditionally associated the Day of Pentecost with the fullness of the Spirit. While the idea of the fullness of the Spirit is not the language of Acts, we can imagine what that would look like. If the Spirit cleanses us from sin, then the fullness of the Spirit would involve "entire sanctification," so that our whole body, soul, and spirit might be blameless (1 Thess. 5:23).
The primary consequence of the coming of the Spirit in Acts is power (you will receive power when the HS comes on you). This power is, for one thing, power to witness to the resurrection. The apostles acquire a boldness after Pentecost that, if not new, is at least finally headed in the right direction.
This power to witness is particularly seen in Acts 2 by their speaking in tongues, as the confusion of Babel is reversed and all the nations hear the good news in their own tongues. There is also power to perform miracles, such as to heal the lame man of Acts 3 or raise individuals from the dead.
What then flows from these consequences of the Spirit is two-fold. On the one hand, the church grows and grows--first 3000, then 5000, then the number is not even given. Yet there is also increasing persecution--first "no," then "NO," then someone dies.
Acts gives us no reason to believe that these sorts of consequences of the Spirit are only for their day. Paul certainly tells us nothing of this sort. From Jesus to Peter to Paul we have a ray pointing to us. The one with the Spirit can do even greater things than these.
For a nice three point sermon outline by John Drury for next year, see http://drulogion.blogspot.com/2007/05/pentecost.html.
It's also Memorial Day. Those who have fought and fallen in wars are worthy of such a day, even a Sunday.
It's unfortunate that it's this Sunday. Consider: what Christian outside America is celebrating this in church today? Also consider: Pentecost is the birth of the church, the arrival of the new covenant in the Spirit in force. Christians have marked their calendar everywhere by it for 2000 years. Yet how many American churches of my genre will even mention it? (and this one can't be chalked up to prejudice against high church... this one's clearly in the Bible, indeed, it's Bible central for my denomination's history!)
Another example of the widespread American confusion of patriotism with Christianity. True patriotism is noble and to be honored. Christ is greater... at least if you're truly a Christian.
Saturday, May 26, 2007
In 1 Corinthians 11, it is assumed without argument that women pray and prophesy (and thus speak) in the Christian assembly (that is, in church). The issue with the veiling is so that they can do so without shaming their "heads" (that is, their husbands).
This is a case study in how women can engage in ministry to men without contradicting the headship of their husbands. The point is that one cannot use the headship passages to argue against women in ministry. 1 Corinthians 11 speaks of women who both "preach" to men and yet who are under the headship of their husbands!
Of course I personally see husband headship as a cultural thing (cf. my observation that this very language is not biblical but secular in Paul's day). In our culture it makes little sense to institutionalize the husband as the head of the household whether he be an idiot or a genius. Christ has redeemed woman from the Fall and in the kingdom there will be no such distinctions. Why would we institutionalize something in conflict with the kingdom trajectory?
This brings me to another thought I had of late. These matters of concrete living in this world have so much to do with how things play out in human cultures. One startling discovery I realized in the last 6 months is an inconsistency in my biblical theology on the issue of remarriage after divorce.
With regard to divorce, the NT has strong words against a man or a woman who would sin against their spouse and children by divorcing them. There is also the sin against God when such things proceed from selfishness or the desire to sleep with a person other than one's spouse. Intentional sin is never excusable.
However, I and others have at times belabored over the biblical teaching on permissable circumstances for remarriage. Important here is probably the matter of where a divorced person stands in relation to their former spouse. Is reconciliation possible?
But the "aha" moment for me mainly came from reading Richard Hays' discussion in Moral Vision. I had continued even to the present operating with the old legalistic, "biblical legislation is transcultural" paradigm in thinking about remarriage.
But of course, if Christ's death atones for all sin, then this fact has implications for the divorced. Forgiveness (with all the usual stipulations with regard to true repentance and such) implies a return to purity, a clean slate. The limitations on remarriage in the biblical text, which themselves hold a double standard depending on whether you are a woman (can't) or a man (discouraged but not sinful) relate directly to ancient Mediterranean culture.
Biblical limitations on remarriage after forgiveness of divorce by God have to be seen as just as time bound repercussions as the continuance of slavery or the subjection of the wife to the husband. If atonement does not imply a restored virginity, then Christ's death has not truly wiped the slate clean. Limitations on remarriage can only have to do with concrete earthly realities, not with timeless theological principles.
What startles me is that it took me so long to see that this is a consequence of full atonement!
Friday, May 25, 2007
Peter had by this time returned to Jerusalem, but in less than a month word had reached there as well. The "Judaizers" of Jerusalem--those who were insisting Gentiles get circumcised--were now incensed and began to press James and Peter to clamp down on me and the Gentile church.
When the first echo of the letter came back from Galatia, the furor moved to the next level. The Gentile churches had heeded Paul's words and had rejected the false teaching of the missionaries from Antioch. Lois of Lystra, in whose home the believers of that city met, had refused even to allow the teachers to speak in her house.
These pressures led James to call a meeting in Jerusalem to take place in a month's time. Leaders from the churches of Judea and beyond would assemble to hear the apostles' thoughts on the issue of Jew in relation to Gentile, particularly whether it was necessary for them to be circumcised in order to be saved. With boldness I began to prepare for the coming journey.
Thursday, May 24, 2007
I was livid, especially on top of the conflict with Peter and Barnabas I was having. I did not have a regular scribe at that time, so I did something I almost never did. I drafted a letter to them with my own hand. It was not easy, especially with my continuing eye problems. But we would never have come to some of those places in Galatia if I had not sought out help in Iconium from a doctor renowned for his skill. The large letters of my own handwriting would remind them of who I was and about the fellowship we had enjoyed together.
I was angry as I drafted the letter. I left out the customary thanksgiving to God for them. I expressed my desire that if those troubling them were so keen on cutting things off, they should cut their entire organ off. Normally a letter took several days to plan and draft at a minimum, and this letter to the Galatians was no exception. Yet I left the marks of my anger in the letter, just as my body bears the marks of the lashings I have received at the hands of my Jewish brothers.
But I thank God for the crisis, for some very important things coalesced in my mind in the course of planning the argument of the letter. I recounted my experiences thus far with Peter and James. I made it clear that God had chosen me as an apostle just as them. I made it clear that God is no respecter of persons and that my teaching came straight from Him, not from men like these so called pillars.
Peter, like the other Jews by nature, recognizes that we cannot be right with God unless we trust in the faithfulness of Jesus, his obedience to death on the cross. But what they don't understand is that this is the only way to be right with God. Trust in Christ is not just an extra thing that we Jews do to be justified before God. Trust is the only thing we do that truly counts toward righteousness.
My Christian opponents claim that you cannot be a child of Abraham unless you are circumcised. But what does Genesis say? It says that Abraham trusted, had faith in God, and God declared him righteous, justified him. And when did this happen? 430 years before God gave the Law to Moses.
So a true child of Abraham is someone who has faith--not just someone who is circumcised. The promise of Abraham was for everyone, Jew and Gentile alike. It was to his "seed," singular, not "seeds," as if it only applied to his physical descendants. Abraham's singular seed is Christ, and those who have been crucified with him, who have been baptized into him, these are the true sons of Abraham.
To try to secure God's approval by works of the Jewish law is only to condemn yourself, for not even those urging circumcision keep the Law perfectly. And what is worse, it's a slap in the face of Christ, who died for no reason if it is keeping the Law that gets us right with God.
It was through the Spirit that God did all those miracles in the Galatian churches. For Gentiles to worry about earthly things like circumcision and Sabbath observance is for them to remain slaves to the elements of the world, to the things of flesh.
But the Spirit has set us free from the things of the flesh, including the power of sin. It is those who walk by the Spirit that do not fulfill their fleshly desires, not those who try in their own power to keep the Law. It is those who have the Spirit whose lives bring forth love, joy, and all of the Spirit's fruit.
The fact of the matter is that all have sinned--both Jew and Gentile--and all lack the glory God intended humanity to have in the world. So it is only God's grace that can reconcile anyone to Him.
And it is only God's Spirit that makes us sons of Abraham, whether one is a Jew or a Greek, a slave or a freeman, a man or a woman. All of us are one and the same in Christ.
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
I first found out what was happening on a night when Cephas had planned to share the Lord's Supper with the church that met in Manaen's house. Much to my surprise, neither Peter nor Barnabas showed. In fact several other Jews did not come, leaving only Manaen, myself, and a handful of Gentile believers. When I finally found them, they were at a Jew named Simeon's house. They were eating the Lord's Supper, except it wasn't the Lord's Supper, for they had ripped the body of Christ asunder.
"Why did you all not come to Manaen's house," I confronted them, barely managing my anger.
"Brother Paul," Cephas said. "God has set me apart as the apostle to the Jews. Although the Gentiles can escape God's wrath through the faithfulness of Jesus, they are not the children of Abraham. We who are Jews by nature have to follow the law of Moses. To eat with Gentiles will make us unclean."
Barnabas, as usual, tried to smooth things over. "How do we know that the meat Jason brings from the marketplace does not come from one of the temples nearby? And you know that at home some of the Gentiles strangle their animals to death, leaving the blood in the meat. So when we eat with them later, we become unclean too."
"You are a hypocrite, Peter," I said before them all. "Are you a Pharisee now? I was a Pharisee. I never walked more than a 1000 cubits on the Sabbath. I tithed my spices. I didn't eat meat at all just to make sure I didn't eat something contaminated by blood or an idol. I kept the law, Cephas. You--you've never kept the law a day in your life. You, a Jew, have lived like a Gentile. And now you would compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?"
I stormed out of Simeon's house with a final comment: "You all are eating God's judgment on yourselves tonight, because you have not rightly discerned the body of the Christ."
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
And when Peter first came to Antioch, the fellowship was sweet. I learned many things about Jesus' time before the resurrection. The most marvelous times were those weeks when Peter ate the Lord's Supper with the church in Manaen's house. It was a mix of both Jewish and Gentile believers, and we would all recline at even as one body--Barnabas, Jason, Peter, all of us together as the one people of God.
The first time Peter met with us is etched deeply on my memory. During supper, he told us about how Jesus broke bread that night he was betrayed. Jesus knew he was about to die and compared the bread they were eating to his body he was about to give for them and all Israel. Then after supper Jesus passed the cup--as we did. He said it was his blood he was about to shed as a sacrifice.
It was increasingly the custom of believers to share meals together in this way. Jesus had told the disciples that he would not eat and drink with them again until the kingdom of God had come. So each meal was a reminder both of his faithful death as a ransom for our sins and of his soon coming return. For me, it was also a strong sign of the unity of God's people and the reconciliation God was extending to the whole earth, not just to law-observant Jews alone. Rarely did we sense Jesus' presence more than when we were eating his meal together as one body.
Monday, May 21, 2007
I had fled Damascus some fourteen years previous. The leader of the city's Arabs was waiting to arrest me at the city gate, so the believers let me down the outer wall in a basket. Normally, Herod Antipas would not have stood for such an intrusion from the Arabians. King Aretas, who ruled the Arabian kingdom just east of the city, was Herod's bitter enemy. But it was just after the death of Tiberius, and Herod did not have the Roman back-up he normally did.
Aretas took Tiberius' death as an opportunity to get revenge against Herod. Herod had divorced Aretas' daughter so he could marry his own brother's wife, Herodias. You'll remember that Herod beheaded John the Baptist for criticizing him for this marriage. So when Aretas drove Herod into flight that year, the Jews believed God was judging him for his marriage and what he did to John the Baptist.
As for me, I was wanted back in Arabia at that time for the preaching I had done there. Before Christ appeared to me, I had persecuted followers of the Way as a Pharisee because they blurred all the lines between clean and unclean among the Jews. But they were just doing what Jesus himself had done when he ate with toll collectors and prostitutes.
So when God showed me that Jesus was His Son, I had to rethink all these things. The message of reconciliation became clear to me: if God was reconciling the unclean in Israel to Him, He would not stop with just unclean Jews. God would bring the good news to the whole world so that He could be reconciled with all humanity. God revealed to me that he was sending me to the Gentiles.
So I launched into the cities of Arabia: Petra and Hegra. The sons of Ishmael seemed like a logical place to start the spread of the good news, and I was fluent enough at Aramaic to understand Nabatean, which is closely related.
But as things began to heat up between Aretas and Herod, the message that the Messiah of the Jews would return to Zion and judge the world seemed very subversive to Aretas. He sent men to arrest me and throw me in prison. I narrowly escaped to Damascus. Then he charged the ethnic leader of Damascus to arrest me as well. But God granted me escape again.
Saturday, May 19, 2007
I've tried to simplify the debates by placing various positions on a spectrum, but I've had to use two spectra. One spectrum is that of whether the Bible or doctrine is seen as the final authority. The other is whether the Bible is taken literally or appropriated in some other way.
Here's the spectrum:
Medieval Period: Bible often not taken literally, authority subordinated to the theology of the Church.
Problem: the theology of the Church acquired a number of features in strong contrast to the Bible and the players of the Reformation found these objectionable.
Reformation: Bible taken literally, theology of the church subordinated to the Bible
Problem: The Reformers did not really know how to read the Bible literally. For example, Melanchthon thought of Romans as a compendium of Christian theology without recognizing its place in the flow of the first century church. John Calvin interpreted the OT prophets as if they had a Christian theology. Thus to a significant degree they also subordinated the Bible to their theology, although they at least tried to do the opposite.
J. P. Gabler (1787): the "father" of biblical theology. He strongly distinguished biblical theology from dogmatics. Biblical theology is only about what the Bible meant originally. Systematic theology is something completely different because it operates from an ideological structure that the Bible itself does not have. All biblical theology from here out at least aims to interpret the Bible literally in its original contexts.
Problem: This distinction has led to an "ugly ditch" (Lessing) between the Bible and theology so that never the twain will meet. On the one hand, we cannot simply dismiss the issue. The Biblical texts do indeed have distinguishable theologies. An Old or New Testament theology is not off base to divide itself into distinct sections, "Pauline Theology," "Johannine Theology." Sometimes the "unity" found in the "diversity" has not turned out to be extensive in some of these studies. In the end, we cannot wish away the distinctiveness of the biblical texts with a joke.
At its worst, however, the biblical theology approach led even beyond a complete atomism of individual biblical theologies to the programmes of William Wrede (early 1900's) and Heiki Raisanen, which don't even construct a biblical theology but rather try to place the biblical books within Christianity as a religion among other religions in the first century world.
However interesting such a study might be, it is not what Christianity really needs the Bible for. And Christianity does not most need a run down of the individual theologies in the Bible. We most need a theology of God, a theology of Christ, a theology of salvation, etc...
A number of approaches to this dilemma of Bible versus theology have surfaced over the years:
What these three approaches have in common is that they find some core to the Bible that also applies to today. For Gabler, as a child of the 1700's Enlightenment, it was pure, core spiritual truth amidst the Bible's particularity. For liberal theologians like Ritschl, Harnack, etc. it was the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of humanity. For Bultmann, it was the existentialist possibility of authentic existence "rising from the dead" meaninglessness of the world.
Problem: These are not clearly Christian connections. They certainly do not give us anything close to the beliefs and practices of historic Christianity.
Evangelical hermeneutics, in one version, looks for the timeless principles in time-bound biblical texts. As Duvall and Hays put it, we measure the width of the river between "their town" and "our town" and then cross the principalizing bridge.
Problem: The first problem is that the evangelical approach often seems to underestimate the diversity of the biblical texts. Ingenious interpretive moves are sometimes made to make the biblical texts come out in line with Christian orthodoxy. We have witnessed this same tendency across the years in everyone from Theodore Zahn to Martin Kahler to Donald Guthrie perhaps to Ladd and I. Howard Marshall.
The second problem at least begins to be addressed by individuals like Oscar Cullmann.
Heilsgeschichte (Salvation History)
A second problem with the evangelical approach as it is sometimes practiced is a failure to take into account the real development of thinking between the testaments and beyond. Oscar Cullmann's "salvation history" approach (he was not the first) manages diversity among the biblical texts by placing them within an overarching, God-directed developmental scheme.
Problem: This is not really progressive revelation. We do see real changes in understanding between the OT and NT that do not completely fit this model (e.g., on the afterlife).
Brevard Childs is a name that stands at the border of the so called crisis in biblical theology at the end of the 60's. R. Grant suggested that biblical theology as it had been practiced could never reach theology and was thus dead.
Into this mix Brevard Childs pointed in a profitable direction when he began to formulate biblical theology in terms of the canon as a whole. Here is the clear acknowledgement that biblical theology is properly guided by Christian concerns. Christian concerns cannot change the original meaning of the Bible, but they can shape the questions we ask of the Bible.
So when Christians approach biblical theology, they do not aim at reconstructing Christianity as an ancient religion among others, as Wrede and Raisanen sought to. It is looking to the canon. Here we remember Barth's challenge at the beginning of his Dogmatics: "dogmatics does not ask what the apostles and prophets said but what we must say on the basis of the apostles and prophets" (I.1). Biblical theology is interested in what the apostles and prophets said, but in preparation for what we must say.
Fusing the Horizons
Joel Green and others, echoing I believe the notions of Hans Georg Gadamer, have suggested we take an organic approach to the topic. We don't deny the historical particulars of the biblical text but we recognize its theological particulars too and, more importantly, that we are theologians too. I will confess that I find the description of how this works vague in Between Two Horizons. I assume that this in part is because the fusing of the two worlds does not take place in accordance in any predictable way.
I do not find any of these attempts to join biblical theology with doctrine fully satisfying, although I like elements of all of them.
1. We can't change the original meanings of the texts. They meant what they meant. period.
2. Christian orthodoxy is also very stable and certain to varying degrees: dogmas are bedrock, doctrines are solid ground, then denominational distinctives are far more negotiable.
3. There is diversity within the biblical canon. It does not fit entirely into a planned developmental scheme. However, some form of progressive revelation seems necessary to account for it.
4. As Christians, our appropriation of the Bible's theology is not simply a matter of original meaning, but we approach and appropriate the text as Christians, as members of the universal Church of the ages. Thus we are interested in the books of the canon and we engage with them in believers in the dogmas and doctrines of Christendom.
5. We do meet God in these texts, but here we must bring in a strong sense of the Spirit. The fusings that count, the sacramental ones, are the ones guided by the Holy Spirit.
Friday, May 18, 2007
"Then when I believed, my wife departed and went back to her family. She was still living with them during the famine, when she became ill and died."
Paul is not married when we get to 1 Corinthians 7:8: "Now I say to the unmarried and to widows, it is good for them if they remain as also I do." Some commentators think that the conjunction of "unmarried" with widows implies that Paul was a widower. It could of course in theory mean that Paul is divorced. But I assume Paul wouldn't have divorced his wife, and I'm not sure that a woman had the legal power to divorce her husband in Palestine.
At first Barnabas did not want to take Titus to the meeting, but I persuaded him otherwise. Titus represented the truth of the gospel, and I wanted to see whether they really believed the gospel was good news to the Gentiles as well as to the Jews.
A servant girl named Rhoda welcomed us into the house in the morn. She led us to the upper room where the Spirit had fallen on that great Day of Pentecost some twenty years ago. On our way, John Mark came up, kissed Barnabas, and embraced him.
"Peace, brother Saul," he said to me in Aramaic. He eyed Titus with curiosity.
"Grace and peace to you, brother Mark," I replied.
When we came into the room, Peter and John stood up immediately and came over to us, while James remained seated. They kissed Barnabas and embraced. Then they greeted me with a kiss as well. Finally, James stood up.
They bid Barnabas and me to recline with them. Titus of course remained standing. James addressed Barnabas.
"We have rejoiced to hear of the many Jews that have come to believe on Jesus as Lord and Christ from your mission," he said.
"Yes," Barnabas replied. "And many Gentiles have believed on Jesus as Lord as well."
"We rejoice in that as well," Cephas added. "We have known that God was at work among them since He first decided to bring the gospel to them by my mouth."
I spoke up. "Indeed, Titus himself here is a fruit of the gospel. Although he is uncircumcised in his skin, his heart is truly circumcised." Titus could tell we were talking about him, but couldn't understand us, since he didn't know Aramaic.
I saw a slight twinge in James, but Peter nodded. John smiled slightly.
Barnabas continued. "Many have believed on Jesus as Titus has, both in Cyprus and throughout Roman Galatia, places like Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. We have come here privately because there are many who say believers like Titus cannot escape God's coming wrath unless they submit to circumcision, unless they become a part of Israel.
"But we have run as we have, believing that you agree with us. Since the Spirit fell on Cornelius when he was uncircumcised, we have proceeded with the conviction that the Gentiles can escape God's coming wrath even in uncircumcision. If they are baptized in the name of Jesus as Messiah, then they will be saved."
James seemed to ponder for a moment. Peter and John were nodding.
"This seems right to me," James finally said. "God offered up Jesus as an atoning sacrifice for sins, and our baptism in his name saves us from the wrath to come. God will surely honor the faithfulness of Jesus even to forgive the sins of the Gentiles."
Barnabas seemed to sigh. I'll confess that I was greatly relieved as well. I looked at Titus and smiled.
"It seems, brother Paul, that God has appointed you as an apostle to the Gentiles," James said, standing up. "Just as God has appointed Peter to preach to the Jews beyond these walls of Jerusalem, God seems to have called you to the Gentiles."
He finally offered his right hand to shake, a hand of fellowship and sanction. Cephas and John also offered us their hands.
As we were leaving, James had one final word. "It occurs to me that one way that the Gentiles can show God their gratefulness for His mercy and grace is to share their blessings with the poor of Jerusalem. There are many poor here, and the assembly always struggles to meet the needs."
"I had already thought of this very thing," I said in response. "As the prophet Isaiah said, 'I will bring prosperity to Zion like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing spring.'"
"Amen," Cephas said.
"Peace be with you," I said, and Titus and I left. Since Barnabas' family lived here, he stayed behind to visit further.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
They were expecting him now to function as military king and liberate Israel from Roman rule. Perhaps they expected him to judge the sinners of Israel and purify the temple. "Now," they asked, "are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel?"
Jesus did not criticize them for misunderstanding him. Rather he said, "it's not for you to know the times and the seasons which the Father has fixed by His authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be witnesses [to my resurrection] in Jerusalem, and in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
And then he was taken up and a cloud took him from sight. Two men in white robes told them that he would come again just as he left. Then they returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, where he had ascended.
For the next ten days they devoted themselves to prayer and were in one accord in the upper room where they were staying: Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, Judas the son of James, Mary the mother of Jesus and Jesus' brothers, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, etc.
During that time they also cast lots to replace Judas. The requirement was that the person be somewhat who had been with them since the time of John the Baptist. Matthias was chosen.
Cumanus was now procurator of Judea and lived in the palace when he was in town. The brothers in Caesarea had already warned us that he was in Jerusalem. Apparently he made the previous procurator, Tiberius Alexander, look really good. The Judeans had despised Alexander because he was born a Jew and then had apostacized from the faith. But he was at least sympathetic and competent.
By contrast, Cumanus seemed like another Pilate, all too quick to shed Jewish blood. So although we were taken aback, we were not too surprised to find someone hanging on a cross at Golgotha. Barnabas wanted to head back the other way to the Fish Gate. But I wouldn't let a cadre of Roman soldiers make me change course. The cross had become my glory. I would glory in the shame they meant to heap on us Jews.
The crucifixions had abated for a while after Pilate. Alexander had not used them, and even Cuspius Fadus before him had beheaded Theudas when he had claimed to be the Messiah. Maybe he was afraid it would only create another messianic movement like the Way.
But Cumanus clearly preferred the way of force rather than negotiation. I wouldn't be surprised if he instigated some kind of wholesale revolt before he finished his tenure.
Golgotha was just outside the Gennath Gate. It was placed so that Jews leaving the city toward the west would see anyone crucified there in plain view. The victim looked to be already dead, or almost. He was completely naked from head to toe, his legs buckled to the side in the shape of a V. A single nail through his ankles pinned him at the bottom, then one through each wrist at the top.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
We were eager to have the support of the pillars. Of course I was already confident in the Lord that we were pursuing the right course with the Gentiles. Barnabas was more guarded, but also believed we would receive their support. After Peter had seen the Holy Spirit fall on the Gentiles at Cornelius' house, how could he not support us?
The city came into sight in the afternoon of the third day. The question of where to stay was complicated by the fact that Titus was with us, an uncircumcised Gentile. We also did not want our arrival to be too public. Barnabas and I had discussed the matter extensively.
We would not try to stay with any of the Aramaic speaking believers. We had thought of John Mark's home, where Barnabas had also lived for a time after he sold his other property. But I was not pleased at all with the idea, and Barnabas thought they might feel uncomfortable with Titus' presence.
My sister's husband had disowned me when I believed on Christ, as had my wife under the influence of her father. It grieved my sister greatly. We had lived together in my brother-in-law's house before that time. Then when I believed, my wife departed and went back to her family. Barnabas and I would certainly not be welcome with any of them.
We finally decided on Nicanor, who had ironically fled Jerusalem during the time I was persecuting the church. But he had later returned to his house and family. Now an assembly of Greek-speaking Jewish believers met in his house. He was a powerful voice among those who understood that God was now bringing the Gentiles into the people of God.
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
Then a man named Ananias showed up at my house. He was a follower of the Way and God had showed him to me in a vision. I was amazed at how bold he was to come, knowing that I had come to Damascus to arrest people like him.
He laid his hands on me and prayed to the Lord for me to receive the Holy Spirit and get my sight back. Suddenly, it was like scales fell off my eyes. Just as quickly as I had lost my sight I could see again.
What was even more amazing was the sense I suddenly had that I was truly a child of God. I had never questioned that I was before. After all, I was an Israelite, from the tribe of Benjamin. I was one of God's chosen people.
But now I had a sense of God's power inside me like I had never known before. I felt different. I had kept the Law before to be sure. The traditions of my fathers had laid out the rules for how to keep the Law so concretely that a person could keep it perfectly.
But I had not known what it might mean to have the Law written on my heart, to have the Law on the inside as well as the outside.
Ananias then told me that I must be baptized with water. Of course I had undergone many ceremonial baptisms for purity over the years, but this one was different. I would never need to be baptized again after this time.
Ananias sent a servant to gather several from the assembly there and we met at one of the baptismal pools the Jews used in the city. I made a public confession of Jesus as Lord and was buried with Christ in baptism. I now too was a follower of the Way.
Monday, May 14, 2007
I have struggled with eye problems ever since. My eyes are a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan sent to torment me. Although I have often asked the Lord to heal me, I believe He has let the problem remain so that I will remember that God is my strength and that I am weak. My weakness is made perfect in His strength.
In my blindness, I heard the voice of Jesus calling to me, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" I was so confused. All that time I thought I was the perfect servant of the Lord. I kept the Jewish Law blamelessly. I never violated any of the traditions of the elders but kept them all perfectly. I would have to wrestle with this fact deeply. If I was not at peace with God, then surely no one was by their keeping of the Law. Righteousness must come from a completely different path.
Saturday, May 12, 2007
The women of Easter?
Text: Matthew 27:54-56; 28:1-10
1. Women were an important part of Jesus' story!
- Begin with some not so wonderful thoughts on women from ancient authors--Sirach, for example, a bad man is better than a righteous woman. Or the rabbis--glad I wasn't born as a ... or a woman...
- But notice the women in the gospels, especially Luke. Women traveled around Galilee with Jesus--they were the ones that supported his ministry materially (Luke 8:1-3). While others were enjoying their loaves and fishes, they were feeding Jesus!
- The women had followed him to Jerusalem, again, to take care of his needs (Matthew 27:55-56).
- These were the women that first saw Jesus after the resurrection (Matthew 28:8-10; John 20:10-18).
- Some of the male storytellers of the resurrection left them out (1 Cor. 15), BUT GOD DIDN'T!
2. These women followed and obeyed although they did not understand any more than the twelve and were afraid.
- John 19:25-27 Jesus' mother, Mary, is there at the cross--scary place to be. Except for John, where are the other disciples? Mary is there.
- The composite picture we get of Mary throughout is one of someone who wants to steer her son in the right direction. She thinks she knows what's best for him, but she also has an open mind.
- She corrects him for staying behind at the temple when he's 12 (Luke 2:48-51), but she still ponders his explanation in her heart.
- So she tries to pull him from the crowds--she doesn't think he's barking up the right tree (Mark 3:31-35).
- BUT she is there at the cross. Should we not see her in the background of Jesus' brother James' eventual belief?
- Matthew 28:8--the women are afraid BUT filled with joy, ran to tell
- Mark 16:8--Mark as it is leaves us hanging, will they not tell? This accentuates our sense of their terror.
- John 20:13--see how distraught Mary Magdalene is
- BUT where are the disciples?
- They are at the tomb. Peter and John only go because the women tell them about the tomb! They are the first to bear witness to the resurrection; they are in a sense the first apostles (where an apostle is someone sent to bear witness to the resurrection)
3. Women were important witnesses to the new covenant.
- Aside from Mary M. and the others, Junias appears to be an apostle in the fuller sense (Romans 16:7).
- The fact that women prophesy alongside men is a sign of the age of the new covenant (Acts 2:18).
- The coming of the Spirit is the coming of the new covenant (Heb. 8:8-12; Jer. 31:31-34; 2 Cor. 3:7-18; Rom. 2:15). So in Christ there is neither male nor female, for we all partake of the one Spirit (Gal. 3:26-28)--God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts (Gal. 4:6).
- There were of course women prophets in the OT. One of the most important is Huldah (2 Kings 22:14), for she is treated as the highest spiritual authority in Israel at that time. Deborah, the military general, is also said to be a prophetess (Judges 4:4) in addition to being a judge of Israel and a mother (Judges 5:7).
- But these roles in the OT are more the exception. The Day of Pentecost implies that we should expect women to do these things normally in the age of the Spirit.
- So Philip has four prophetess daughters (Acts 21:9).
- The prayer and prophecy of women was the norm at Corinth. 1 Corinthians 11 gives them instructions on how to dress when they are praying and prophesying in worship, but it assumes they do prophecy--it never questions it.
- That means that the silence 1 Corinthians 14 urges of the Corinthian women cannot refer to spiritual speech!
- Priscilla is mentioned before her husband as one who instructed Apollos in the Christian faith (Acts 18:26). Yes, a woman teaching a man!
- Phoebe is a deacon of the church of Cenchrea (Rom. 16:1)--not a deaconness. This is the same masculine word used of the leaders of the Philippian church and of Timothy in 1 Tim. 4:6. If we take Romans 16 to be a part of Romans, then she is likely the one entrusted to take the letter of Romans to Rome.
- The church at Philippi may very well have met in the house of Lydia at first (Acts 16:15). Other women also had churches in their houses: Priscilla (Rom. 16), Nympha (Col. 4:15), possibly Chloe (1 Cor. 1:11).
- We see no restrictions anywhere here. Indeed, against this theological and practical trajectory, 1 Tim. 2:12, the sole verse that might push in the opposite direction, is puzzling. It is like the verse on the baptism for the dead or Jesus preaching to the dead or women wearing veils or Jacob making his cattle give birth to speckled offspring by looking at speckled rods in calfbirth. Its very logic is puzzling, for we know that not all women are more gullible than all men on all topics.
- It has all the marks of a "we'll ask Paul when we get to heaven" verse, a "that must have something to do with their time or with the situation at Ephesus" verse.
4. Women and men, don’t limit God in what He can and wants to do through you!
- Be like Jesus' mother, who did what she thought was right, but kept an open mind.
- Be like the women who supported Jesus, who gave when everyone else was taking.
- Be like the women at the tomb, who obeyed even thought they were puzzled and afraid.
- Be like the women of the Spirit in the New Testament, who spoke for the Lord in a culture that would have resisted their leadership and insight.
- Men and women, don't quench the Spirit!
Friday, May 11, 2007
After fourteen years, I doubted that the Arabs were still looking for my arrest in the area of Damascus, but wisdom still urged caution. Christ had first revealed himself to me when I was on my way there from Jerusalem. After Stephen was dead, a significant number of Greek-speaking believers founded a strong assembly of the Way there. The Sanhedrin wanted to arrest some of them for various reasons. Some of them were stirring up rebellion in Judea, teaching that Christ was going to return to destroy Herod's temple and all the "sons of darkness" associated with it. The Sadducees watched this type of zealot very carefully.
Meanwhile, many Pharisees believed that the Jesus sect was only increasing God's wrath against Israel with this "foolish talk" that God had allowed His Messiah to be crucified. Gamaliel, being the grandson of the great Pharisee Hillel, predictably urged us to let God take care of it. But I found myself more and more drawn to the School of Shammai, who wanted to take action. Their school seemed more and more in the ascendency those days, and I thought it more to my political advantage to join them in their cause.
Thursday, May 10, 2007
Titus was in his mid-teens and was the son of one of the first Gentile converts to the Way in Antioch, a man named Jason, originally from Crete. He had come along with his father to the meeting of elders the night of our arrival. I took note then that the boy of two years ago was now almost a man. Though he didn't speak at our gathering--which would not have been appropriate--his eyes told me his spirit was strong and his faith full of life.
At about the time for mid-day rest I took directions from Manaen to Jason's house and made my way there. I first approached Jason and asked if he would be willing to let his son travel with us for our assistance.
"Jerusalem is not an inviting place for a Gentile," he said, "unless you are a Roman soldier."
"There are both Jews and non-Jews there from all over the world," I insisted. "And no one makes inspections for these sorts of things," I said with a wry smile.
Neither Jason nor Titus were circumcised. His father had seriously considered undergoing the operation when he came to Christ. But I had vigorously protested against it then.
"God settled this debate Himself," I told the assembly. "He filled the household of Cornelius with the Holy Spirit under the ministry of Peter while they were still uncircumcised. God did not wait for us to debate this issue but gave us the answer before we hardly even had thought of the question. Peter himself will attest to it."
So Jason gave his permission and thought that Titus also would be eager, which did indeed prove to be the case.
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
But you can imagine that Jerusalem became a much less friendly place when God chose to reveal His Son in me. It was almost three years after I saw the risen Lord before I returned to the city, and then I did so very cautiously. I wanted to talk to Cephas and hear about the Lord Jesus Christ. I also spent a little time with James, the Lord's brother, and heard about the startling change in his life after Jesus appeared to him.
Then some two years ago I had returned to Jerusalem with Barnabas as an official representative of the churches in Antioch. Those were the days of the famine that gripped the world during the reign of Claudius. The prophet Agabus had come up to Antioch from Jerusalem and foretold the hard times that were coming. As they always did, the Christians of Antioch (that's what they called the believers there) graced the church of Jerusalem with their own material blessings.
So now it was almost fourteen years since I had first gone up to visit Peter, and I was headed to Jerusalem again. I was confident that the three remaining pillars of the assembly there (Herod Agrippa had beheaded James) would agree that the Gentiles could be saved from God's coming wrath without submitting to circumcision.
Tuesday, May 08, 2007
"Brothers and sisters, the Lord Jesus would have Barnabas and I go to Jerusalem to present to the pillars of the church the door God has opened for us to the Gentiles."
Barnabas paused thoughtfully for a moment. Then he responded as I knew he would, "Then to Jerusalem we will go."
The eyes of Manaen's wife Judith peered out at me from beneath her veil. "You had better go secretly," she said. "Some will try to sabotage your purposes if they know what you are doing."
Jerusalem had once been the focus of all my hopes and dreams. I had disdained my Greek education and Tarsus in my early teens and moved to live with my sister in Jerusalem. Her husband was a Pharisee, and a member of the Sanhedrin. He convinced the great Gamaliel to take me on as a disciple.
Monday, May 07, 2007
But not long into Barnabas' sharing, Simeon stood up from where he was reclining. He had a word of prophecy to share. Simeon was a dark-skinned proselyte to Judaism and was a prophet. God had used him and Lucian of Cyrene to separate Barnabas and me for the mission to Cyprus in the first place. Now he stood and said, "Brothers, the Holy Spirit has begun to move mightily among the Gentiles. It will not be long before there are more believers among them than there are among we Jews! God is bringing the nations to himself, as it is written in the prophet, 'Those who were not my people I will call my people.'"
For a moment there was silence, although Lucian, Barnabas, and I said the "Amen."
Then I spoke out. "Brothers and sisters, the Spirit bears witness with my spirit that this is true. As many of you know, I have begun to go by my Roman nomen, Paulus, to symbolize that God has begun to draw the Gentiles to faith."
When I said this, a few more said the "Amen." Others seemed concerned, even if of good spirit.
But a moment later Barnabas continued to tell our story. I chimed in from time to time, particularly when we got to our time in Lystra, when I was nearly stoned to death. Barnabas chuckled, "Yes, we were all there standing around him, thinking he was dead. And then, all of a sudden, he just got up, shook himself off a little, and started walking back into the village to Eunice's house. He didn't say anything to anyone. He just walked right past us and back into town. He was walking like someone had spun him around one too many times. But he didn't want any help."
Saturday, May 05, 2007
Stop reading now if you haven't seen the movie yet!!!
But what seemed to be fundamental contradictions at the end ruined it for me a little bit.
What makes the movie a bit of a cliffhanger is that up until near the end, it seems theoretically possible that all their efforts to alter the past have only created the past. So Denzel's fingerprints are all over the leading lady's house even though he wore gloves the whole time. He has left a message for himself there from the past. His own blood is all over the place.
AND she is dead. She washed up moments before the explosion and died about two hours before the explosion.
In other words, for the movie to be consistent, it seems to me that anything he has done in the past has to have resulted in exactly this train of events, including her death. The movie writer has blurred together the changed and the unchanged past.
The altered past is already in place in the movie before the first alteration of history takes place, namely, when they send a note back that leads to the death of Denzel's partner. His partner's car is already at the dock in result of sending the note back before they send the note.
So when does the movie first contradict? I think the first contradiction is the fact that she died two hours before the explosion but she is on her own answering machine after she would have already been dead.
It majorly contradicts from the moment Denzel saves the girl, two hours before the explosion. Many of the things they do subsequent to that point create items he has already observed (like the bloody clothing that is actually from him). But yet she is alive, contrary to things he has already observed.
Will time travel ever be possible?
Very unlikely. Why? Because if it will, then it very likely already has. And if it has, the anachronisms have gone completely unnoticed. We might attribute angels, miracles, etc. to travelers from the future, sure. But these visitors have apparently done such a good job that no obvious incidences have become known--all those "take over the world" types we read about in comic books and movies.
Here are some of my thoughts:
1. If one could pop into the past (e.g., through a fold in time like in Deju Vu), then I assume any changes made would create a whole new future. If people in the future do this, it seems unlikely that we would be on the first run through. Yet where are the clear anachronisms?
2. I wonder if in fact time even exists. I know change does and motion does. Maybe a person could reverse all the changes. But unless you did this somewhere in a vacuum, in space somewhere, it seems to me you would seriously mess up everything that had been in that space in the past.
P.S. How do they beam notes and him to specific locations? How can he shine back through the screen when they send the note and him through the other dohicky? The science of the movie really seemed hokey to me.
Thursday, May 03, 2007
They rejoiced with us that the Gentiles were believing on Christ. But they also told us that some in Jerusalem had questions about the turn our mission had taken. Mark had returned to Jerusalem and expressed some questions about some of the things I was teaching. He seemed to think that I had not let Barnabas take the lead as much as I should have.
The next morning we set out at dawn for Antioch, and by mid-day we arrived at the home of Manaen. He was delighted to see us and immediately sent word to the elders of the city to meet at his house to break bread that evening, even though it was only the fifth day of the week. Manean's family had been Essene in Jerusalem, and he had grown up with Herod Antipas, who beheaded John the Baptist. His grandfather had predicted Herod's father's rise to power, and his family had been rewarded accordingly.
But he had come to believe that Jesus was the Messiah. After Stephen was killed, he had moved to Antioch. The largest assembly in the city met in his house.
Wednesday, May 02, 2007
1 Return to Antioch
I looked up to see the familar coast of Seleucia ahead. We had been following the coast of Asia Minor toward Antioch for days now, and it was good to have the end of the journey in sight.
I was not particularly fond of the sea, although I wondered if God would use it from time to time to direct our mission. A storm had brought Barnabas and I to Asia Minor in the first place, and I had taken it as a sign from God. Satan may have tried to destroy us by the waves, but God used it for good.
Mark of course had not submitted to God's will at that time. He had no problem with a "vacation" to Cyprus, where he had many relatives. And his cousin Barnabas coddled him there. But as God began to speak to the Gentiles more and more powerfully through me, Mark became very suspicious. The mountains of Pamphyila were the final straw for him. Rather than see the wreck as God's direction--if we should even call it a wreck--he continued on his way alone back to Jerusalem.
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
So then I asked myself what I might have heard growing up about the Spirit that applied to more than just individuals. I came up with two images. One is again the idea of guidance. Perhaps the church was seeking God's guidance on whether to enter a building program. Perhaps the church board was praying to know the "mind of the Spirit" on whether to hire a certain pastor or not.
Or more commonly, a preacher might ask for the Spirit's guidance in relation to a sermon he or she was about to preach. While this prayer clearly had to do with the individual preaching, it was a prayer for the Spirit's guidance in the context of a gathered group of Christians (perhaps including some non-believers). This was a prayer that the Spirit would give the speaker the right words to say to the congregation assembled there.
A special kind of corporate prayer for the Holy Spirit's help was a prayer for God to send a revival. Prayer for a revival would include individual conviction and recommitment on a mass scale. Revival would be contagious and would be expected to spread beyond the walls of those gathered. Sinners would come to repentance. Lives would be rededicated. A new power over sin and urge to witness would accompany.
None of these images from my childhood seem incorrect to me, although I do think that they are not quite the priorities or way the early church processed these things. For one thing, we tend to see the corporate dimensions of the Spirit as the sum of all the individual ones. We tend to see the individual experiences of the Spirit adding up to make the experience of the church as a whole. By contrast, I think the New Testament assumed that almost all individual experiences of the Holy Spirit would take place in the context of a group of believers, with "two or three" as a quorum (Matt. 18:20).
In the recent volume we Wesleyans put out on The Church That Jesus Builds, I mentioned three intersections between the Spirit and the church: 1) the Spirit defines the Church, 2) the Spirit empowers the Church, and 3) the Spirit directs the Church. But rather than simply repeat what I wrote there, I want to reflect a little more deeply, particularly in relation to some of the current trends and issues in our church today.
The book of Acts plays fairly easily into this idea, because of the six times Acts says someone was filled with the Spirit in Acts, three of them also mention tongues. Further, if you take 1 Corinthians 14:18 to mean that Paul spoke in ecstatic tongues as well, then a person might suggest that even though Acts 9 doesn't mention it, he probably spoke in tongues when he was filled with the Holy Spirit as well.
However, the fact that Paul only mentions tongues in relation to a problem in the Corinthian church leads us to suspect that they did not likely play such a significant role in his theology as the very evidence of the Holy Spirit.
So what is the evidence of the Holy Spirit in the individual, and how does this relate to the church?
In Romans 8:16, Paul says, "The Spirit itself witnesses together with our spirit that we are children of God." What does this look like?
It is not the purpose of this study to explore the individual evidence of the Holy Spirit in an individual believer. I will just mention three in passing.
The first is the assurance of sonship, which is surely related to the fact that the justified "have peace with God" (Rom. 5:1). We do not receive a Spirit that allows for the continuance of the fear of coming wrath (8:15). God has poured out His love in our hearts through the Holy Spirit (5:5). What is this love a metonymy for, assuming that Paul is thinking of us feeling God's love? In the light of what follows, surely this includes the atonement provided by Christ's death (5:9). Surely it includes an avoidance of God's wrath (5:9).
Might it also include the fact that the Holy Spirit is an earnest of our inheritance? In other words, we should not think of receiving the Holy Spirit as some legal enactment. There is a real heavenly "infusion" involved here. The mind can certainly play tricks on us, but if there is no change, no recognition of any difference eventually, then something is awry.
Part of this infusion should be a power over sin. If a person does not find it much more possible to overcome temptation and live "righteously," we must again question whether the person has really received the Holy Spirit.
Finally, along with this empowerment over sin should be the visible presence of the fruit of the Spirit in a person's life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
But for this study, the question is how the church might relate to these dynamics of the individual and the Spirit. Let me suggest three:
1. The church's authority to exclude from the body of Christ implies some authority in relation to the witness of the Spirit.
Paul says in 1 Cor. 5:4-5, "In the name of the Lord Jesus, when you are gathered together and my spirit with the power of our Lord Jesus, deliver such a person to the Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit might be saved on the Day of the Lord."
Notice the ecclesial dimension to this explusion. It is not an activity of Paul alone but Paul with the church in Spirit. This action is the removal of this person from the visible, corporate "midst" of the church at Corinth (5:2). The putting of this person out of the physical gathering of this individual is his delivery over to the realm of Satan, which is outside of their physical gathering.
The importance of contiguity should not be overlooked. An unbelieving spouse, as well as the children, are sanctified by a believing parent (1 Cor. 7:14). Notice here that it is in connection with the believing one that the unbelieving spouse is sanctified.
2. Related to the power that the community has to expel sinners of a certain degree from its midst is the authority through the Spirit to retain or forgive sins.
In John 20:22-23, Jesus says, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of certain ones, they are forgiven. If you hold on to the sins of certain ones, they have been retained."
Certainly the disciples/apostles were a special group of believers, but the Gospel of John was not written for the apostles any more than Matthew 18:17-20 was:
"If he does not listen to them, speak to the assembly [church]. If he does not listen even to the assembly, let him be as a Gentile and tax collector to you.
"Truly I say to you: whatever you bind on earth will [already] have been bound in heaven. And whatever you loose on earth will [already] have been loosed in heaven. Again I say to you: if two of you concur on earth concerning any matter whatever he ask, it will happen to them from my Father in the heavens, for where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there in their midst."
These passages were written first, I would argue, with the local church rather than the universal church in mind. John in particular seems closely connected to a specific community in Ephesus. Matthew has a fairly clear Palestinian Jewish provenance. I do not believe they were written just for these communities, but the sense of the assembly is local assembly and not the metaphorical assembly of all the firstborn.
These words were written to apply to the local churches of all the ages and not just for the apostles or the localities of these communities.
If the Spirit gives the individual power over sin, there is a sense in which the community of saints empowers even further over sin. How can this not be the case when the realm outside the community is the realm of Satan? It is the realm of the Spirit that is the place of power over sin.
But we also see the role of intercession in overcoming sin. 1 John 5:16-17 tell of how the prayer of a fellow believer on behalf of a brother sinning a sin not to death can effect that brother's forgiveness.
3. We see from Acts and John that it is in fact the Spirit that empowers all the functioning of the church. It is the Spirit that gives the early church boldness to proclaim and suffer. It is the Spirit that brings unity of spirit and mind. It is the Spirit that directs, that leads into truth, that convicts of sin, righteousness, and judgment. This is the subject of my last post before I crank out a paper version of these ideas.