Sunday, February 17, 2019

Leadership: Evangelists 11

See bottom for posts in this series thus far.

6. Evangelists and Teachers
1. Three times in the New Testament we hear of a role called an "evangelist." Philip, one of the seven appointed in Acts 6, is called an evangelist in 21:8. 2 Timothy 4:5 tells Timothy to do the work of an evangelist. Finally, Ephesians 4:11 mentions evangelist as a role of ministry leadership in the early church. We would argue that an evangelist was something like an apostle who had not seen the risen Christ.

The fact that Timothy can be both a minister (diakonos) and an evangelist (euangelistēs) once again suggests that the leadership roles within the early church were not all mutually exclusive. Philip is never called a diakonos, so "evangelist" is the only role Acts ever assigns him. His daughters, as we have seen, were prophetesses.

What was an evangelist? Although it is dangerous to construct the meaning of a word from its root, we do note that the word gospel is at the root of this word. Given the form of the word, it would be natural to see an evangelist as someone who proclaims the gospel.

2. What was the gospel? It was good news. It was particularly the good news that Jesus is king. Paul speaks of the "good news concerning God's Son, who descended from the seed of David according to the flesh and was appointed Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by the resurrection from the dead" (Rom. 1:3-4). The core of the New Testament gospel is thus the good news that Jesus reigns as the enthroned Son of God, with all that it entails.

We may see these overtones in 2 Timothy 4:5, for the context is the return of King Jesus to judge the living and the dead (2 Tim. 4:1). The surrounding verses suggest a good deal of warning, for judgment is the corollary of the good news of salvation. At that point the role of evangelist blurs into that of the prophet.

3. With Philip especially, we see that an evangelist could be mobile. That is to say, we think of evangelists moving around to proclaim the good news in various locations more than being situated in a single place. Timothy certainly ministered in more locations than simply Ephesus, although we do not know about the latter part of his life's ministry.

What then was the difference between an evangelist and an apostle? The most obvious difference, it seems to me, is that the apostles were all direct witnesses of the resurrection, while evangelists were not. Paul was an apostle because the risen Lord appeared directly to him. Timothy never received such a visit. Peter was an apostle because the risen Lord appeared directly to him. Philip never saw the risen Lord.

Although the New Testament does not use the word frequently, Ephesians 4:11 includes evangelists among those who ministered in the earliest church. Clearly many individuals fill this role today as well. I grew up in a church world where evangelists would go around preaching in revivals across America. Billy Graham was known as a great evangelist. Evangelists are individuals who go from place to place preaching the good news that Jesus is king, in hope that as many as possible will be saved.

1. Leadership Before Christ
2. An Apostle in Town
3. House Church Leadership
4. Prophecy in the Church
5. Ministers and Pastors

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Books I've Published

I wanted to have a post up of the books I've written and published the normal way (here are books I've self-published).

Academic Books 
Books for the Church
Devotional Books on the New Testament

Books I've Self-Published

I've published around 30 books the normal way with a publisher. I've also self-published a number of pieces, especially pieces that I've blogged into existence. Here is a list of them (not in chronological order):

My Three Novellas
Two more to come and then I'll self-publish the whole series in a single volume. These cover these key events in salvation history from Gabriel's point of view.
Biblical Studies
Theology and Philosophy
Various forays into theology:
Reflections on Founding of Wesley Seminary

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Leadership: Pastors 10

See bottom for the whole series
3. On one occasion, the New Testament uses the word "pastor" or "shepherd" in relation to a leadership role in the early church: Ephesians 4:11. It is unlikely that such a "pastor" was a minister like we have today. Rather, this is probably another way of referring to an elder or overseer in a church.

1 Peter 2:25 pushes us in this direction. "You were straying like sheep but you have returned now to the shepherd and overseer of your lives." Jesus is of course the good shepherd (John 10:14). He is the great shepherd (Heb. 13:20), the one that God brought up from the dead.

Although we might think today of a pastor being soothing or being a minister in the role of a counselor, the image is clearly one of keeping the sheep safe and in the right place. A shepherd brings errant sheep back to the fold. A shepherd guards the sheep from enemies and hostile forces. So a shepherd is not a passive or soothing role but the role of one who is ready to fight for the sheep and discipline them if necessary to keep them on track.

Accordingly, Ephesians 4:11 is probably thinking of the role of an elder or overseer when it uses the word pastor. We have argued that this was not likely a role for a single individual in a given church but a group of individuals. They collectively guided the church in the right direction.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Leadership: Ministers/Deacons 9

See bottom for posts in this series thus far.

5. Ministers 
1. We now come to one of the most important roles in the New Testament church, one that I believe has been under-estimated. The word diakonos means "minister." It is often correlated to the modern deacon, but I believe this connection is more misleading than helpful.

When you mention deacons, Acts 6 often comes to mind. In this chapter there is an argument over the distribution of food to Christian widows in Jerusalem, and seven men are appointed. A deacon in a church today is thus a person who helps with the more mundane--rather than spiritual--ministries of the church. The problem is that Acts 6 never calls these individuals "deacons" and everything we know about these particular men shows them as "preachers."

Stephen of course immediately starts proclaiming the gospel in the synagogue. His "evangelizing" is so prophetic that he gets stoned for it. Philip similarly is called Philip "the evangelist" in Acts 21:8, and he spends the better part of Acts 8 proclaiming the good news throughout Judea and Samaria. The bottom line is that Acts 6 is neither a sure indication of what a deacon was in the early church nor are these servants of the church depicted as limited to doing the kinds of things deacons do today.

2. In Philippians 1:2, Paul greets the overseers and deacons of the church at Philippi. This suggests two categories of leadership in that church. The first category are the "overseers," which we have already indicated are elders, a council of individuals providing wisdom and overall guidance to the community of faith. Paul never of course mentions such a group in his other churches--including Corinth--so we have to infer that the other churches had such elders at this stage from Acts 14:23.

What was a diakonos? When we look at Jesus' use of the word, we get a picture of what is sometimes called "servant leadership." "The one who is greatest among you must be your diakonos" (Matt. 23:11). The king in the Parable of the Wedding Banquet calls his servants or attendants, his diakonoi, to bring him the inappropriate guest to throw him out (Matt 22:13). Similarly, at the wedding at Cana, Mary tells the diakonoi to do whatever Jesus tells them to do (John 2:5).

From these instances of servants in the Gospels, you might think that the traditional role of a deacon is looking right. But consider how this word "minister" is used in Paul's letters. Paul calls the emperor a "servant" or "minister" (diakonos) of God for the good of the Romans. In Romans 15:8 he speaks of Christ becoming a "servant" or "minister" of the Jews to confirm the promises to the patriarchs. In several passages he calls himself a "minister" or "deacon" of his churches. [1]

It would thus seem that the role of minister was more significant than merely waiting tables. The diakonoi of the early church were apparently servant leaders who did a good deal of the actual "work of the ministry." As we have seen with words like elder, more than one leadership title might fit the same person. So Peter could be both an apostle and an elder. Paul could be both an apostle and a "minister."

Paul uses the word diakonos of several co-workers in the mission. He calls himself and Apollos diakonoi in 1 Corinthians 3:5. 1 Timothy 4:6 calls Timothy a "minister" of Christ. Tychicus is called a faithful diakonos in Ephesians 6:21. Colossians 1:7 and 4:7 call Epaphras a minister. Although Philippians 2 does not call Epaphroditus a diakonos, he seems to fit into this same general category.

From these examples, it would seem that the deacons of the early church were far from the trustees of many modern churches. They seem much more like the pastors of today. The deacons of the early church seem to be very active. They are traveling on behalf of churches. They are doing the work of the ministry. We might think of elders as a stationary group to whom you go for wisdom. Then the deacons are the ever-moving servants of the church who give feet to the ministry.

We should not leave the topic of such ministers without mentioning Phoebe in Romans 16:1. The same word diakonos is used of her that is used of Epaphras, Tychicus, and Paul. Indeed, it is the same word used of Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:6. The word deaconess is completely inappropriate. The early church had female ministers, and she is even called a "benefactor" or patron of Paul. She was a minister of the church at Cenchraea, one of the port villages of Corinth.

[1] E.g., 1 Cor. 3:5; 2 Cor. 3:6, 6:4, 11:23; Eph. 3:7; Col. 1:23, 25;

1. Leadership Before Christ
2. An Apostle in Town
3. House Church Leadership
4. Prophecy in the Church

Monday, February 11, 2019

Leadership: Tongues and Prophecy 8

Previous posts in this series:
2. Paul has nothing but positive things to say about prophecy at Corinth. When he sets downs rules to bring order to the congregation, his controls on prophecy are that prophets speak one at a time, with there being only two or at the most three (1 Cor. 14:29-32). Further, he makes it clear that prophesies are to be evaluated by other prophets.

On the other hand, he is much more regulative when it comes to tongues. The whole thrust of 1 Corinthians 14 seems to elevate prophecy over tongues (14:1-2). Prophecy is presumably one of the greater gifts (12:31), second on his list in 1 Corinthians 12:28 (tongues is eighth).

The tone of 1 Corinthians 14 is generally dissuasive from the use of tongues in worship. It is true that he twice adds the exception, "unless someone interprets" (14:5 and 13). However, notice that these are quite the minority of the chapter. The rest of 1 Corinthians 14:1-25 argues repeatedly against the use of tongues in worship. Even when he says he speaks in more languages/tongues than all of them (14:18), this is the lead up to a "but" [2]

In the end he says not to forbid speaking in tongues in the worship service as long as there is an interpretation (14:39-40). If there is an interpretation, like prophecy, they should speak one at a time, two or at the most three (14:27-28). Of course these instructions were written to the Corinthian congregation with a view to their specific issues.

Today, there are churches where everyone there seems spiritually uplifted even when there is no interpretation. And there are churches today where the church would split if tongues were spoken. The recontextualization of Scripture calls for spiritual discernment in different times and places. Paul's bottom line is that everything be done decently and in order (14:40).

3. The main point is that the early church--at least some of Paul's churches--were rather charismatic. Prophecy was far more an element of the early church than many of us realize today. When Ephesians 2:20 says that the church was built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, it is not likely thinking about the Old Testament prophets but the New Testament ones.

In every age, there is a tension between the church as structured and the church as prophetic. In the first century, the apostles provided the ultimate structure, followed by elders as they became established. Apostles had a clear lineage in the sense that the Twelve could trace their leadership identity to Jesus. Even those apostles who were not from the Twelve could trace their apostleship to a resurrection appearance from Christ. [3] They were the closest thing to an establishment at that time.

By contrast, prophets could come from anywhere. The Spirit could speak through either gender. The Spirit was the great equalizer, regardless of nation or tongue or social background.

Accordingly, false prophets soon became a concern. The latest books of the New Testament deal extensively with false prophets and false teachers (e.g., 2 Peter 2 and Jude). It is no surprise that books like 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus are concerned about church structure and the qualifications for a church leader.

Nevertheless, there is nothing in the New Testament that suggests the prophetic role came to an end at some point. 1 Corinthians 13:8 is not saying that prophecy as a function will cease one day but that any individual prophecy has a date stamp on it. 1 John 4:1 exhorts John's community to test the spirits, and it warns that false prophets will abound. But the ongoing validity of prophecy is assumed within the church.

That is not necessarily to say that we should have a "prophecy time" in our worship services. The form leadership and the use of spiritual gifts take will inevitably change from context to context. What persists are the functions of leadership and the gifts, not necessarily the form in which they are expressed or exercised.

[2] This verse reminds me of the girl that told a guy, "I like you, but I don't want to go out with you," and the guy only heard, "I like you."

[3] Although in the case of Paul, many no doubt disputed that he was truly an apostle.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Leadership: Chaotic Worship 7

1. Leadership Before Christ
2. An Apostle in Town
3. House Church Leadership
4. Prophecy in the Church
1. It was apparently a mess when the varied house cells came together for worship on the Lord's Day and to eat the Lord's Supper. Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 11-14 to address the chaotic nature of worship. 1 Corinthians 14 seems to point to the use of tongues in worship as the focus of the issue, but 1 Corinthians 11 also shows that the participation of women in prophecy caused some awkwardness.

As Acts 2:27 indicates, a clear consequence of the coming of the Spirit was the exercise of prophetic gifts among women: "your sons and daughters will prophesy." Women of course prophesied in the Old Testament as well. When the male high priest in the days of Josiah wanted to verify that the Book of the Law was authentic, he took it to the prophetess Huldah, who apparently was his spiritual superior (2 Kings 22:14). Philip the "evangelist" also had four daughters who were prophetesses (Acts 21:9).

1 Corinthians 11 clearly indicates that the wives of the Corinthian church were full participants in the spiritual worship of the community. [1] The problem that Paul is addressing in this chapter resulted from the strange situation where 1) husbands and wives were in close association with other husbands and wives in close quarters, 2) indeed in a house, where women would not normally wear a veil, 3) and where women were speaking and prophesying to men who weren't their husbands.

Paul's solution is for the wife to make sure she is wearing her veil (1 Cor. 11:5). The passage likely refers to a hair veil, leaving the face uncovered. This veil indicated modesty/honor and, like a wedding ring today, made it clear that the wife was in proper relation to her own husband while prophesying to men who were not her husband. This chapter thus assumes that women will prophesy in corporate worship. Paul's goal is to create an environment where women can prophesy without shame or unnecessary turmoil.

Interestingly, Paul mentions prophecy in this passage as the second most important role in the church after apostle (1 Cor. 12:28). Accordingly, when he and Silas were with the Corinthians, he and Silas held the most important role. Then those women and men who had the gift of prophecy played the second most authoritative role in the church, even above teaching. As we have already said, he never mentions any elders at Corinth.

[1] Making it clear that, if 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 are original, they had to do with disruptive speech, not with spiritual or prophetic speech.

Saturday, February 09, 2019

Leadership: Elders and Overseers 6

Previous posts:

1. Leadership Before Christ
2. An Apostle in Town
3. House Church Leadership
3. So a city like Corinth might have had four or five house cells, all of whom could come together in assembly for the Lord's Supper each week in the large house of Gaius (Rom. 16:23). The house cells would be like Bible study groups today that meet in homes. They would each have their own personality.

Some would likely be loyal to Paul. There might be one that was more "conservative" and in line with Jerusalem. There might be some that were made up primarily of Jews and others of Gentiles. There might be some that were higher social class and others of much more lowly means. Some might consist of converts under Paul's ministry.

As church leadership structure developed, perhaps smaller house cells in a city eventually contributed one or two elders to a growing council of elders that served as a repository of wisdom for the "assembly at x." The greeting of 1 Corinthians still addresses a "church" in the singular (1:2), so Paul conceptualized the believers in this city as one assembly and one church. These may have come together each Sunday for a meal in the evening (1 Cor. 11:25). [3]

If they went by Jewish reckoning, perhaps this took place on what we would think of as Saturday night after sundown, since the Jewish day began at sundown. That would then allow smaller groupings to gather early in the morning on Sunday at dawn, the time when Jesus rose from the dead. They would not have Sunday off work, so we would expect them to meet early before then going about their day's activities.

4. We probably should not think that the elders of the early churches necessarily did much ministry. There were "ministers" (diakonoi) who actually did more of the foot work of ministry in the congregation. I am of the opinion that the group we sometimes have called "deacons" were actually the ones more like the "pastors" we know today. More on them to come.

Paul never uses the word elder (presbyteros) in any of his early letters. Only 1 Timothy and Titus refer to elders. Paul never speaks of elders in the church at Corinth or any of his early churches. He does refer to the "overseers" (episkopoi) of the church at Philippi, and these are probably equivalent to elders (Phil. 1:1).

Once there were councils of elders or overseers in Christian communities, they would have served to make important judgments. Given the patriarchal pull of the culture, we can expect that these councils would have eventually become overwhelmingly male, but we have no evidence that individuals like Lydia or Priscilla were not elders in their communities.

5. From 1 Timothy, Titus, and 1 Peter, we can see that the titles of elder and overseers both seem to refer to the same role. Titus 1:5-7 flows seamlessly from one term to the next in the same conversation. These are not solo pastors. These are a group of individuals providing wisdom and guidance to a community.

Peter refers to himself as an elder in 1 Peter 5:1, showing that the role of apostle and elder were not mutually exclusive. Then in 5:2 he speaks of the elders (presbyteroi) providing oversight (episkopeo). 1 Peter 2:25 also flows seamlessly from Jesus as the great "pastor" or "shepherd" (poimen) of our souls to Jesus as the "overseer" (episkopon).

The church structure in these letters distinguishes them from Paul's earlier letters, where the church seems far more charismatic and prophetic in flavor. Many will know that there is a lively debate among scholars about whether the Pastoral Letters belong to a period after Paul's death when false teaching was abundant and the need for a more developed church structure came into play. Although most evangelicals do not side that way, the debate reflects the uniqueness of 1 Timothy and Titus within the Pauline corpus. At the very least, they seem to reflect the church more at the end of Paul's ministry than at its beginning.

[3] Or did they meet for the meal on Thursday nights to mirror the Last Supper?

Friday, February 08, 2019

Leadership: House Church Leadership 5

Previous posts:
1. The arrival of the gospel in a city like Corinth was socially disruptive. The beliefs and practices of the synagogue were relatively uniform and stable prior to Paul's arrival in town. When he arrived, the synagogue is suddenly divided. Many Jews believe, including the synagogue leader. Others no doubt do not. Paul becomes a divisive figure in the Judaism in the city.

God-fearers are elevated. Where before they were peripheral figures not fully included in the synagogue, now they are equal participants. A wealthy Gentile Roman citizen like Titius Justus is now a person with power. [1] Is this individual possibly the Gaius of Romans 16:23 and 1 Corinthians 1:14?

The church as a whole can apparently meet in Gaius' house, suggesting a group of 40-50 (Rom. 16:23). Perhaps once a week they meet together to eat the Lord's supper, which seems to be a meal in 1 Corinthians 11. During the week, perhaps they meet in smaller groups in the houses or apartments of other believers. It is in these smaller groupings that factions in the congregation likely congealed.

You had Jews and Gentiles loyal to Paul. You had Jews and Gentiles who used Apollos as an excuse to undermine the first group. Perhaps you had Jews who preferred Peter and the Jerusalem approach over and against Paul. All the disagreements within the church addressed in 1 Corinthians reflect differing social groupings in the assembly.

2. The synagogue would have had a council of elders that provided leadership for it. We can imagine that such a collection of elders eventually formed for the house churches of the early church. A smaller house church probably would not have enough people for a full council. We can image that these cells often did not have ten people in them.

So it seems more likely that collections of elders first developed on a more city-wide basis, or that the churches of many cities did not have elders at all. Women in these churches quite likely played prominent roles not least because many of the first believers were women. A Priscilla or a Lydia likely were every bit as influential and played just as much a leadership role as anyone in their churches, whether they were called elders or not.

We should probably take Acts 14:23 in this developing way. Paul and Barnabas recognized leaders in individual house churches. They likely charged them with the ongoing continuation of worship and teaching in those locations. But these would mostly have been more like the size of our modern Bible studies than full blown churches like we have today. There were no church buildings.

So we can picture Paul designating Lydia as the leader of the church that met in her house or Priscilla and Aquila as the "elders" of the church that met in their house. [2] Then, perhaps, when you took all these individual elders in the individual house churches and looked at a city as a whole, this group might be called a council of elders for the city (e.g., 1 Tim. 4:14; 5:17). At this early stage, these things were likely very informal rather than formal structures. If a house church disagreed with the other groups in the city, there was nothing to stop them from going their own way.

[1] The name Titius Justus looks like a Roman name, perhaps Gaius Titius Justus or some such.

[2] There is the question of age. Were these women and men old enough to be considered "elders"? One way or another, formally or informally, we can imagine that they had the equivalent authority and power in their churches.

Thursday, February 07, 2019

Journey through 1 Corinthians!

Tonight my spring journey through 1 Corinthians begins. I'm teaming up with Sam Maddox at Light and Life Wesleyan Church again to do a small group Bible study on Thursday nights from 6:30-7:30. This is a live meeting at a URL I give.

If a small group in your church or you as an individual would like to join, just contact me through the comments, Facebook, etc...

1 Corinthians
1. February 7 - 1 Corinthians 1
2. February 14 - 1 Corinthians 2-4
3. February 21 - 1 Corinthians 5-6
4. February 28 - 1 Corinthians 7
5. March 7 - 1 Corinthians 8-10
6. March 14 - 1 Corinthians 11-12
7. March 21 - 1 Corinthians 13-14
8. March 28 - 1 Corinthians 15-16

There's no need to buy any books, but I have written a couple books on 1 Corinthians:

Paul: Messenger of Grace (on Paul's early writings)

Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians

Church Leadership: Paul the Apostle 4

Previous posts:
3. Still, Paul was an apostle. He was what I might call a "second tier" apostle. He was not one of the Twelve and he had not been a disciple of Jesus. Yet the risen Jesus had appeared to him and commissioned him to go as a witness to the risen Lord.

1 Corinthians 15:7-9 is a good place to start to understand what Paul means when he calls himself an apostle. As he talks about resurrection appearances, he first mentions the Twelve. He also mentions some five hundred people to whom Jesus appeared, but he does not call them apostles.

Then in verse 7 he gets to the second layer, the apostles, beginning with James, the brother of Jesus. The way Paul words this group suggests that he saw himself as the last of this layer of apostles. Indeed, he sees himself as unusually late to this group, one "abnormally born" (15:8).

What are the characteristics of this group? Clearly they are sent, since the core notion of an apostle is that of someone sent. In 1 Corinthians 9:1, Paul says, "Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?" Then he indicates that while other communities of Christians may not consider him sent to them, the Corinthians should know that he is an apostle to them. He has been sent to them.

Acts 4:33 makes it clear what apostles were sent to do. They were sent to testify to the resurrection. Jesus appeared to them risen from the dead. Jesus sent apostles to testify to his risen Lordship.

So the New Testament considers Paul an apostle, but not one of the Twelve apostles. And he is the last of a second group of apostles to whom the risen Christ had appeared. Perhaps there have been individuals since who have claimed to have received a visit from the risen Christ. Perhaps they would have a claim to be called an apostle today. But from Paul's perspective in 1 Corinthians 15:8-9, he would seem to be the last of this group.

We should add here that Paul himself probably did not see himself in a second tier of apostleship. He considered himself among the apostles that included Peter (e.g., 1 Cor. 9:5; Gal. 1:17; perhaps 2 Cor. 11:5). It is rather the book of Acts that does not place him on this highest level. I personally am quite happy to consider his perspective more precise on this issue than the perspective of Acts.

4. Acts 14:14 does call Paul and Barnabas apostles. This is the only instance in Acts where he is called such. All the other instances refer to the Twelve and distinguish Paul from the role. However, it does perhaps suggest that certain individuals in the early church could be called apostles who did not fit in either of the two previous groups. These would be something like a cross between a missionary and a church planter, individuals who were sent on mission to plant churches.

Paul can speak of "messengers" of the churches while using the same word apostolos (2 Cor. 8:23). He refers to Epaphroditus as a "messenger" of the church of Philippi. English translations rightly question whether the word apostle is the best English word to use to translate apostolos in these instances.

5. When it comes to the church today, a key question is the sense of the word apostle in key passages like 1 Corinthians 12:28-29 and Ephesians 4:11. Both speak of various roles that God has appointed within the church. What is important to recognize here is that, especially in 1 Corinthians, Paul probably believed that he was living in the last generation. "The time has been shortened... the form of this world is passing away (1 Cor. 7:29, 31).

Therefore, it is overwhelmingly likely that Paul was not thinking of the prolonged future when he spoke of apostles in 1 Corinthians 12. He was far more likely speaking of his own day, where the word apostle was used in the ways we mentioned above. There would not be any more apostles of that sort still today.

I personally believe this is also the best way to take the role of apostle in Ephesians 4:11 as well. Ephesians is thinking of the foundations of the church (Eph. 2:20), which by that time were already established. It is only because we find ourselves still here two thousand years later and now want to apply Ephesians to a different time and place that we feel the impulse to assign that role within the church today. This is our impulse to forget that while Ephesians is for us as Scripture, it was not originally written to us.

It would therefore seem that, from a New Testament perspective, there are technically no more apostles of Paul's sort today. Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles (e.g., Gal. 2:8). Peter was the apostle to the Jews. There were a number of other apostles to whom Jesus had appeared and whom Jesus had sent to witness to his resurrection and Lordship. The husband-wife couple Andronicus and Junia appear to be two such apostles (Rom. 16:7).

6. Is that the end of the story? I do not think so. The New Testament authors did not realize that Christ would tarry this long. The need for those who are sent to testify to the risen Lord has not disappeared. So we have a need today for those who feel called to go on mission. The Spirit of Christ still sends people out. There are still entrepreneurial church planters today.

We can call them apostles. We can celebrate these missionary church planters today. They do not have the authority of Peter or Paul. They do not write Scripture. Yet the need for apostolic ministers is real and God is sending them in the church today.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Church Leadership: An Apostle in Town 3

Leadership in the Early Church
1. Leadership Before Christ
Chapter 2: An Apostle in Town
1. In around the year AD50, a believer named Paul arrived in Corinth. Up to this point, the only Christians we know in the city are Priscilla and Aquila. However, it is certainly possible that they had won some others in the synagogue to the understanding that Jesus was the Christ.

In come Paul and Silas. Very shortly, Timothy would also arrive back from Thessalonica. Paul did not evangelize in stealth mode. No doubt he soon took the opportunity during Sabbath worship to speak about Jesus.

Our knowledge of synagogue worship at this time is limited--the destruction of the temple in AD70 probably moved synagogue practice toward some standardization. Nevertheless, from the New Testament we can infer that many Jews did gather on the Sabbath to hear Scripture and a word of exhortation. When Paul came to Antioch in Pisidia, they offered an opportunity to speak to him (Acts 13:15). The fact that Paul is able to find a worship gathering at Philippi suggests that there was a normal time for this reading. Since women are present outside the city by a river (Acts 16:13), it seems more likely to be early on Saturday morning than after dark Friday night. [1]

We do not know how many Sabbaths it took before Paul felt unwelcome in the synagogue at Corinth. It seems clear that many of the Jews in the city believed because both of the synagogue leaders when Paul was there believed. In the first year Paul was there (AD50-51), Crispus was synagogue leader and a believer. In the second year Paul was there, Sosthenes was synagogue leader and a believer (cf. 1 Cor. 1:1).

However, it seems that Paul eventually removes himself from the synagogue--or at least shifts the focus of his mission outside its walls. It seems likely that other believing Jews, perhaps most, continued to participate in synagogue worship. But now that Gentiles were believing, we see the rise of the house assembly, the house church. The house church, rather than the synagogue, becomes the center of worship.

2. Paul was an apostle (1 Cor. 9:1). He was not one of the twelve. Acts 1:13 gives Luke's list of twelve apostles: Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas (not Iscariot). Matthias is chosen to replace Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:26). The names are slightly different in Matthew and Mark. Mark has Thaddeus instead of the second Judas. John mentions a Nathanael.

It is common for people to think that Paul should have been Judas' replacement, but we should note that he did not fit the criterion of Acts 1:21-22. According to Peter's criteria, you had to have been with Jesus from the time of his baptism through the resurrection to be what we might call a "first order" apostle, one of the Twelve (e.g., Matt. 10:2). This criterion sparks all sorts of thoughts and questions.

Our first observation is that Jesus had more than twelve followers. While it is common to align Judas with Thaddeus and Bartholomew with Nathanael, none of the biblical texts actually say anything along these lines. We also know that many women followed Jesus (Luke 8:2-3; 23:27, 55; 24:10). They are almost the only ones who have the courage to stand at the cross (John 19:25-26).

The number twelve is significant because it implies the restoration of Israel. It seemed less important who the exact twelve were, at least on the edges. Apparently there were both men and women who were disciples, followers of Jesus, who traveled with Jesus during his earthly ministry. Matthias was one of them. Mary Magdalene was one of them.

Paul was not one of these. He not know Jesus during his earthly ministry. He was not one of those to whom Jesus appeared immediately after his resurrection. It was probably three years after the resurrection before Paul believed. Paul was not a "first tier" apostle. In most of the instances where the book of Acts refers to the apostles, Paul is clearly not one of them (e.g., Acts 15:4).

[1] The Sabbath began at sundown on Friday and went till sundown on Saturday.

Monday, February 04, 2019

Sermon Starters: Don't Be Troubled

Chapel, Indiana Wesleyan University, February 4, 2019 (Bible Monday)

Text: John 14

  • For the next four weeks--Farewell Discourse. Quite unique in the Gospels, very theological/philosophical. Go to place for the Holy Spirit's job description. Culminates in Jesus' high priestly prayer in John 17.
  • Starts by telling them not to be troubled: "Do not let your heart be troubled."
  • We could probably all use the secret sauce for that--it is an anxious time.
  • Gen Z, the freshman, is said to be an anxious generation. Why? Let's see. There was 9-11 in 2001. There was the Great Recession in 2008-9. These last three years have been a political roller coaster in America.
  • For the disciples? Jesus is about to be arrested, tortured, crucified, buried. The disciples have to sense it is coming. There will be plenty to be troubled about in the next couple days.
Jesus' Answer #1
1. I'm going to make the way to the safe house.
  • I'm going to prepare a place for you. I'll come back to take you there so that you can be where I am. There is plenty of living space in my Father's house (p.s. there usually aren't mansions in a house, so the KJV probably doesn't give the best translation here).
  • Queue the hero movie. We're in danger. The house is on fire. The place is filling with water. There's gun fire all around us. The hero says, "Wait here. I'll find a way out and come back for you." Indiana Jones in first movie, "If you insist, señor."
  • But why can't Jesus just take us with him. He can deflect the bullets, right?
  • Turns out the way is dying. That's the path. OK, Jesus, you go on ahead. We'll wait for you to come back and take us in a rapture or something like that!
And now, Silly Songs with the Disciples, the part of the Gospel where the disciples ask Jesus a silly question.

Batter #1: Thomas
  • How are we going to know the way?
  • Come on, man, Jesus just said he was coming back for you! Swing and a miss.
  • But since you asked, John 14:6--"Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life."
  • The Father is the safe house.
  • His death and resurrection are the way. The only way. Even if God judges people by the light they have, Jesus is still the one and only way.
  • He is the truth. Not as in, "1 + 1 = Jesus." He is the key to everything. He is the logos, which means he is the will and purpose of the universe.
  • He is the life. He is the way to eternal life.
Batter #2: Philip
  • Show us the Father, and we'll be fine.
  • A swing and a miss.
  • Reminds me of Monty Python 
  • Illustration: the magic food bowl needs the human to put food in it for the dog. So we cannot simply go around Jesus to get to the Father. It's when we see Jesus that we see the Father.
  • We can't be good or victorious in our own power. We can't cast out demons in our own power. Only Jesus can empower us for these things.
Jesus' Answer #2
2. I'm going to send you a guide to help you through the minefield of life: The Holy Spirit.
  • But I'm only sending the Spirit to those who believe in me. Only those who keep my commandments will know the truth of the Spirit. The world won't.
Batter #3 Judas (not Iscariot)
  • Why aren't you telling everyone these truths? Why only those who keep your commandments?
  • This is a good question. I'll give it a bunt.
  • 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 - the world thinks Christ-thinking is foolishness, stupid. But there is a spiritual wisdom for the mature in Christ (2:6).
  • Reminds me of Pascal - if the truth were completely obvious, we wouldn't know people's hearts. Because the evidence is susceptible to multiple interpretations, God can see our heart.
  • I thought of a scene in the first Poseidon Adventure. There are some who realize they need to go up, which is toward what used to be the bottom of the boat. Many others think they need to stay down, near the top of the boat where you can get out. The second group all die.
What is this way of spiritual insight that is different from worldly wisdom?
  • It is away from self. Jesus' commandment is to love one another. Jesus' commandment is for us to give to others of our abundance, to forgive, to sacrifice. (1 John 3:17)
  • It is away from idols (last verse of 1 John). It's easy for us to rely on what we can see rather than God whom we often cannot see.
  • It is away from security. John 6:54. We are not to be troubled while we undergo the deeply troubling. The way is not a way of safety. It is a miraculous way of peace in suffering.
  • It is away from worldly victory. Nietzsche hated this "slave morality." We may be called to choose to lose.
"My peace I leave you, not a peace that the world gives." This is a peace that passes understanding. It is a peace that does not escape the trouble, but can be at peace in it.
  • Jesus is the way through the trouble to the safe house, the Father's house.
  • The Spirit is the one to bring us through the minefield of this world.
  • This peace is a miracle. There's no magic food bowl. Only Jesus through the Spirit gives us this calm, this peace in the midst of the storm.

Sunday, February 03, 2019

Before Christ 2: The Synagogue

continued from yesterday
3. When Priscilla and Aquila arrived at Corinth, they found a synagogue there. This synagogue was apparently a building, located next to the house of a man named Titius Justus (Acts 18:7). Titius Justus was a "worshiper of God," which suggests he was a non-Jew who had believed in the God of Israel but had not fully converted by circumcision and such.

This synagogue seems to be in a building. It was not always the case. The core idea of a synagogue is a gathering, a coming together. The use of dedicated buildings for synagogues was only becoming common at about this point in history. We cannot really assume that the New Testament is speaking of a building when it mentions a synagogue.

According to the later Talmud, a synagogue required ten men for the Scriptures to be read. [2] However, it is not clear how standardized or consistent such practice was at the time of Paul. The Mishnah dates to around AD200 and the Talmud to the 400s. In all likelihood, Jewish practice at the time of Christ was much less consistent. Given the culture of the day, we would not be surprised if most of the "elders" of your typical synagogue were men, but we have no basis to say definitively that no women ever played this role.

Nevertheless, it seems likely that synagogues functioned with a group of elders as their ultimate leaders, with a role of synagogue leader that was rotated. These elders probably were older men. We have to remember that while our culture tends to prize youth and associate truth with the newest and latest discovery, the ancient world viewed the elderly as a repository of wisdom. The Mishnah defines a city as a place where there are "ten idle men," the sense being that these men have lived long enough for their children to take over the work of living. [3]

Scholars have long speculated why there was no synagogue meeting within the city of Philippi in Acts 16:13. One suggestion is that there were not ten married Jewish men in the city, but we cannot know definitively. If that is the case, then the leadership of the church at Philippi must have initially consisted mostly of women, including Lydia (Acts 16:15).

The Sanhedrin in Jerusalem perhaps gives us a little sense of what a group of synagogue elders was like. The elders gather to consider what to do with Jesus (e.g., Matt. 26:57; Mark 15:1), with the high priest presiding. Stephen and Paul also appear before them (Acts 6:12; 22:30). In Mark 13:9, Jesus pictures the leadership of synagogues in the Diaspora as similar councils.

So it is likely that the synagogue at Corinth was led by such a council of elders when Priscilla and Aquila arrived. We cannot be sure but this council probably consisted of men, and Crispus was the synagogue leader at that time (Acts 18:8). A year later, the synagogue leader would be a different man named Sosthenes (18:17). Both are mentioned in Paul's writings and both apparently were believers.

[2] Talmud, Megillah 23b:4-5, drawing on Mishnah, Megillah 4.

[3] Mishnah, Megillah 1.

Saturday, February 02, 2019

New Testament Church Leadership 1

1. Leadership before Christ
1. At some point around AD49, a Christian couple arrived at the city of Corinth named Priscilla and Aquila. I put the wife's name first because the New Testament typically puts her name first when it is referring to their ministry together. This fact suggests that she generally took the lead in ministry between the two.

Acts 18:2 mentions him first when the couple is first introduced. At that point they have just arrived at Corinth from Rome because the emperor Claudius had expelled Christian Jews from the city. However, she is mentioned first the other two times that the couple is mentioned in Acts. She is mentioned first in Acts 18:18 when they leave Corinth with Paul to go minister at Ephesus. Then she is mentioned first in 18:26, when the couple disciple a man named Apollos in the faith.

Once we realize how male-oriented the Roman and Jewish world was, we immediately find this word order striking. It suggests that Priscilla was more prominent in this couple's ministry than Aquila was. It suggests that she took the lead in relation to the church. Acts 18:26 makes this fact especially clear: when it came to discipling Apollos, Priscilla is mentioned first. This is of course the Apollos who would be the second great "minister" to the church at Corinth, following Paul.

When Paul greets Priscilla and Aquila in Romans 16:3, he mentions her first in the same breath that he speaks of both of them as co-workers with him. He goes on to greet the church that meets in their house. 2 Timothy 4:19 similarly mentions her first in its final greetings. He does mention Aquila first when sending greetings from them to the Corinthian church (1 Cor. 16:19).

The bottom line is that she must have been a spiritual force to reckon with, and none of these texts give any indication that she played some secondary role in their ministry. On the contrary, by far the most natural way to read these texts sees her taking the lead in spiritual things. Perhaps in worldly things like tentmaking he took the lead; we do not know. She seems more prominent in ministry matters.

2. Priscilla and Aquila arrive at Rome before Paul does. They had apparently become believers in Christ at Rome. We do not know exactly how the good news reached Rome. Perhaps some individuals heard the gospel of Jesus on the Day of Pentecost and took it back to Rome. "All roads lead to Rome," the saying went, so it was only a matter of time before some Jews would bring the good news there that the Messiah had come.

It is important to keep in mind that Christianity was not distinct from Judaism at this time and would not be for a long time. The first believers were Jews, and they did not see themselves as part of some new religion. For them, Jesus was the promised Messiah and so believing in him was in fact the culmination of all the promises to Israel. They were the true Israel. They were not abandoning Israel.

Of course belief in Jesus as Messiah was very controversial. As Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 1:23, the claim that God had let the Romans crucify the anointed king of Israel was a "stumbling block" to Jews. It was more than an insult. It was outrageous from an earthly perspective. The Messiah was supposed to be a conqueror, not a "loser." Those were more than fighting words. That was the kind of suggestion that could get you killed!

So it is no surprise that controversy over Christ became so heated in the synagogues at Rome that it not only came to the Roman emperor's attention. He expelled at least the Christian Jews out of Rome, perhaps also some non-believing Jews as well. The Roman historian Suetonius (ca. AD69-126) famously wrote that Claudius "expelled those Jews from Rome who were constantly making disturbances at the instigation of Christ." [1]

Priscilla and Aquila were apparently two of those expelled. We can see them telling other Jews in their synagogue at Rome that Jesus was in fact the Messiah, and we can see incredible controversy taking place. Finally, Claudius expelled those he thought were causing the trouble. The Romans did not like civil disturbances of any kind.

[1] Claudius 25.4. There is some debate of course whether this is a reference to Christ or some Jewish instigator named "Chrestus," but most think it is a reference to Christ, especially given Acts 18:2. The Jewish presence in Rome was so great at this time, that it seems far more likely that Claudius expelled a certain group of Jews rather than all Jews.