πετροστελος

February 23, 2010

When that which is perfect comes: 1 Corinthians 13.8-13

8 Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; 10 but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. 13 So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (RSV)

Cessationists often believe that the meaning of “that which is perfect” is the NT. Thus, prophecies and speaking tongues are no longer valid because we have the New Testament (see e.g., this blog).  The perfect which Paul awaits however cannot be the NT since Paul had no idea that there would be collection of books used in the post-apostolic church called the NT. This is anachronistic exegesis.  Furthermore, it is not correct to say that it is a good theological understanding of the passage, since the NT itself does not have a theology of the NT–i.e., it has obviously a theology or theologies, which we call NT theology, but it does not discuss the NT as a theological category.  The biblical theology purported by cessationists is actually coherent only from a post-reformation point of view.

That which is perfect for Paul is properly understood to be the second coming of Christ who we will know directly and face to face.  The NT is not perfect in the sense of the Greek term, teleion (complete) ; it partially reveals to us the object of our faith, Jesus Christ.  When Jesus Christ is come, then we will see face to face the author and perfecter of our faith.  Until then, we are still in need of the gifts of the Spirit to guide us.

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February 11, 2010

John Stott on Inerrancy

My post, “Why I am not an fundamentalist“, resulted in the consternation of one of the bloggers at Palabre; I happily took it down from there and have started writing here on my personal blog instead, where my views can’t taint Palabre.  Of course this will make it more difficult to have serious discussions there in the future, but I don’t want to set the agenda at Palabre, as it is supposed to be a place to discuss African issues.

I was told that most Evangelicals believe in inerrancy too.  But I’ve pointed out that it is an American over-reaction to liberalism, and it is not particularly strong amongst English Evangelicals.  E.g., Wycliffe College, Toronto, our evangelical college which we support, does not have a position on inerrancy, but rather this statement of principle, “The sufficiency and supremacy of Holy Scripture as the rule of faith.”

Furthermore, I wondered if John Stott, who has been a leading Anglican evangelical, has taken a position.  I found the following answer by Michael Marlowe:

In a book published in 1999, Stott says that “the word inerrancy makes me uncomfortable” for several reasons. He says it “sends out the wrong signals and develops the wrong attitudes,” and it is “unwise and unfair to use inerrancy as a shibboleth by which to identify who is evangelical and who is not.” In Stott’s view, “it is impossible to prove that the Bible contains no errors,” and the important thing is “not whether we subscribe to an impeccable formula about the Bible but whether we live in practical submission to what the Bible teaches.” (Evangelical Truth: A Personal Plea for Unity, Integrity, and Faithfulness [InterVarsity Press, 1999], pp. 61-62.) Regarding this “practical submission” to the teachings of the Bible, Stott has elsewhere explained that “although biblical truth is eternal and normative in its substance, it is often expressed in changeable cultural terms.” He notes that the Lausanne Covenant described Scripture as “without error in all that it affirms,” and says it is our task “to determine what it does affirm” in substance. And after that, “we have the further task of reclothing this unchanging revelation in appropriate modern cultural dress.” What all this may mean for Christian faith and life is not clear, but an idea of the practical consequences of this line of thinking may be seen in Stott’s opinion that, despite the clear prohibitions in 1 Timothy 2:11-15, he and his like-minded colleagues have rightly “expressed the view that a woman could be ordained and so could teach men.” He suggests that an appropriate “contemporary expression” of the biblical teachings would be for an ordained female to teach men while being part of “a local pastoral team, of which a man would be the head.” (Roy McCloughry, “Basic Stott,” an interview with John Stott published in Christianity Today, 8 Jan 1996.) Here we have come a long way from traditional views of biblical truth and authority, and it is not surprising that Stott and other neoevangelicals who agree with him do not like to use the word inerrancy.

Well, I for one don’t have a problem with the views of Stott as presented by Marlowe.  Now I am a “neoevangelical”?  Perhaps the neoevangelicals are the ones who hold to inerrancy.  As for Anglicans, there is no statement of inerrancy in the Thirty-Nine Articles (1563) either, but this:

Of the sufficiency of the Holy Scripture for Salvation

In the name of Holy Scripture, we do understand those Canonical books of the Old and New testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.
Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.

Stott is correct to say: (1) “it is impossible to prove that the Bible contains no errors”; actually, it is also impossible to have a Bible without errors because of the multiple transmission errors in the texts of both the Old and New Testaments; (2) “unwise and unfair to use inerrancy as a shibboleth by which to identify who is evangelical and who is not”; but this is exactly what many “neoevangelicals” and all fundamentalists do with their doctrinal statements.  (3) The essential thing is “not whether we subscribe to an impeccable formula about the Bible but whether we live in practical submission to what the Bible teaches”; I think this is an important point.  I recite a creed every Sunday–either the Apostles Creed or the Nicene Creed. Neither of these creeds affirm “inerrancy” nor belief in the Scriptures.  They affirm belief in the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Belief in the Bible is conspicuously missing in our confessions.  Moreover, faith that saves is not based upon a particular view of the Bible or even believing in the Bible.  It is in obeying what the Bible commands us, to believe in the Word of God,  Jesus Christ (the λόγος of God, John 1.1).  The Bible bears witness to Jesus Christ, who is our object of belief and the author of our Faith.

If there is such a thing as a “neoevangelical”, it should refer to those who hold to the new doctrine of inerrancy, as it has been formulated against 19th and 20th century liberalism.  Those of us resistant to it, such as Stott and myself, are holding to an older more traditional form of evangelicalism Christianity.

February 9, 2010

Why men should be priests and pastors

Filed under: theology — Petros @ 5:39 am
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A few years ago, I read in First Things a very sensible article that suggested only men should be the senior pastor or priest of a church.  Tyler Wittman has argued for biblical complimentarianism in response to my post explaining why I am not a fundamentalist.  I pretty much agree with his point, but I also argue as a pentecostal/charismatic that we should not forbid women to do certain roles if they are capable, if they receive the call of God for that role, and if it will advance the Kingdom of God.

The article in First Things (unfortunately I don’t exactly remember the date and the author) appealed to the observation that Christianity with its values of of gentleness and mercy appeals above all to women, and hence, women have historically populated the church more than men.  Having searched the First Things website, it may have been Richard John Neuhaus’ review of an article by Kenneth Woodward in Commonweal (Nov 22, 1996).  Neuhaus writes (May 1997):

Woodward invokes Walter Ong’s insightful and undeservedly neglected book, Fighting for Life (Cornell University Press, 1981), that contends masculine and feminine are human contraries in a “ritual contest” that shapes maleness from “its biological base to its human heights.” Ong notes that the Church is always and overwhelmingly feminine—Holy Mother Church—and in that feminine environment the all-male clergy is a necessary countervailing force.

Woodward concludes: “I have spent time on the Protestant experience because I want to indicate not only what is happening among our Christian brethren but also to suggest that the loosening of this dynamic tension may be one reason why mainline denominations are in such dire straits. The church as a profession is not like the law, medicine, or finance. Women who enter these professions do not change them; they are changed by the professions, and if they do not perform well they are out. But religion is different. Whatever else it is, religion is a symbol system and to change the symbols is to change the meaning that religion expresses. Surely there is need to incorporate, expand, and deepen what is feminine in religion. But there are limits. And as we can see in the exponents of post-Christian feminism, those limits have already been breached. My concern is not with theory or theology but with the atmosphere of ordinary American churches as I find them. And what I find in them is the gradual disappearance of anything that might adequately be described as masculine, no matter who in the hierarchy is calling the shots.”

Therefore, it is important for the sake of evangelism and church growth that a man lead the church, lest all the ministries of the church be taken over by women, and men who come, unless they are the Alan Alda sensitive-type, will find that there is no role model, and by logical extrapolation, no role for them in the church.  This is a compelling argument for me.  If the local church has a woman senior pastor, the danger is the “chickification” of the church, just like our schools and so many other institutions in our culture.

Woodward invokes Walter Ong’s insightful and undeservedly neglected book, Fighting for Life (Cornell University Press, 1981), that contends masculine and feminine are human contraries in a “ritual contest” that shapes maleness from “its biological base to its human heights.” Ong notes that the Church is always and overwhelmingly feminine—Holy Mother Church—and in that feminine environment the all-male clergy is a necessary countervailing force.

Woodward concludes: “I have spent time on the Protestant experience because I want to indicate not only what is happening among our Christian brethren but also to suggest that the loosening of this dynamic tension may be one reason why mainline denominations are in such dire straits. The church as a profession is not like the law, medicine, or finance. Women who enter these professions do not change them; they are changed by the professions, and if they do not perform well they are out. But religion is different. Whatever else it is, religion is a symbol system and to change the symbols is to change the meaning that religion expresses. Surely there is need to incorporate, expand, and deepen what is feminine in religion. But there are limits. And as we can see in the exponents of post-Christian feminism, those limits have already been breached. My concern is not with theory or theology but with the atmosphere of ordinary American churches as I find them. And what I find in them is the gradual disappearance of anything that might adequately be described as masculine, no matter who in the hierarchy is calling the shots.”

February 7, 2010

Crowded Tenement Building Churches in Early Christianity

A young promising bright Master’s student at my alma mater, Regent College, dubbed “Poser or Prophet” writes in response to the Brooks’ post, “House Churches“:

Also, the early church probably didn’t meet in houses. They probably met in what space they could find in crowded tenement buildings — although if the wealthier first floor resident(s) converted, they could meet there (because, you know, with the risk of buildings falling over or burning down — which tended to happen frequently — it was much better to live on the ground floor than in the penthouse!).

Now I know that Poser and I have had our disagreements in the past, but this time I completely agree with him. In fact, I’ve gathered a number of texts as evidence for his position; the term πολυοχλοικοδομη (poluochloikodome=“crowded tenement building”), occurs frequently in early Christian literature. I can provide an abundant supply of further primary texts. I recommend the article in Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, “Crowded tenement builiding” (s.v.); and Abraham Malhabre’s important essays in Social Aspects of Early Christianity, ch. 3-4, “Crowded tenement building churches and their problems”, “Hospitality and Inhospitality in crowded tenement building churches”; Gerd Thiessen’s, Social Setting of Pauline Christianity; and the article everyone refers back to F. V. Floyd, “The significance of the Early Christian crowded tenement building churches”  JBL 58 (1939): 105-112.

Here are some sample texts from the NT and the NT apocrypha (all translations taken from the NTCB):

Acts 1.13: and when they had entered crowded tenement buildings, they went up to the upper room where they were staying—for there was no room for them on the first floor where the rich people dwelt …

Acts 2.3: And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them, but also endangering the upper room of the crowded tenement buildings where they were met.

Acts 4.31: And when they had prayed, the crowded tenement buildings in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.

Acts 8.3: But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering crowded tenement building after crowded tenement building, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.

Acts 12.12: When he realized this, he went to the crowded tenement building of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying.

Romans 16.3: Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I but also all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks; greet also the church in their crowded tenement building.

1 Cor 16.19: The churches of Asia send greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their crowded tenement building, send you hearty greetings in the Lord.

1 Tim 5.13: Besides that, they learn to be idlers, gadding about from crowded tenement building to crowded tenement building, and not only idlers but gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not.

2 John 10: If any one comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into the crowded tenement building or give him any greeting;

Here are couple texts from the second century Apocrypha which shows that second century Christians also believed that the earliest Christians met in πολυοχλοικοδομη:

Acts of Paul III, 4, 7: And when Paul entered into the crowded tenement building of Onesiphorus, there was great joy, and bowing of knees and breaking of bread, and the word of God concerning abstinence (or continence) and the resurrection [snip] … And as Paul was saying these things in the midst of the assembly (church) in the crowded tenement building of Onesiphorus, a certain virgin, Thecla, whose mother was Theocleia, which was betrothed to an husband, Thamyris, sat at the window of the neighboring crowded tenement building, and hearkened night and day unto the word concerning chastity which was spoken by Paul…

Acts of John 46: John therefore continued with them, receiving them in the crowded tenement building of Andromeus. And one of them that were gathered laid down the dead body of the priest of Artemis before the door [of the temple]**, for he was his kinsman, and came in quickly with the rest, saying nothing of it. John, therefore, after the discourse to the brethren, and the prayer and the thanksgiving (eucharist) and the laying of hands upon every one of the congregation, …

**Junod-Kaestli, as well as earlier interpreters, suggest the elimination of “of the temple” (Greek, του ιερου) —Acta Iohannes (CChrSA) p. 227.

February 4, 2010

Women in ministry: A questionnaire

Filed under: theology — Petros @ 8:29 am
Tags: , ,

The role of women in ministry is not a moral issue.  It is not covered by the Ten Commandments.  There is no commandment for example that says that women can only do certain jobs and men others.  It is however a question of culture.  In certain cultures both men and women are prevented from doing certain tasks.  It is also a question of biology:  men and women have different roles because they are in general biologically better suited for those roles: e.g., women are far better at bearing children, while men are better at opening jars.

As a charismatic/pentecostal, I look at Spirit gifting as a sine qua non of ministry.  So let’s ask some questions about what roles women can perform:

(1) Does the cultural context prevent or strongly discourage women from carrying out a specific task?  If so, if women in the church performed that task would it bring the gospel into disrepute and prevent the advancement of the church?  If women were prevented from performing a task, would it bring the gospel into disrepute and prevent the advancement of the church?

(2) Does biology prevent women from doing a certain task?  I think here of jobs that require physical strength such as construction worker, fireman, or soldier.  Other positions would not be able to withstand maternity leave**–in which case married women in their child bearing years may wish to refrain from taking on certain tasks.

(3) Does a woman have a particular set of giftings that would make the performance of the task possible and beneficial?

(4) Is the woman the best person or the only person available for the job?

(5) Is the woman responding to the call of God in order to do the task?

(6) If a woman does a particular task does it help either the spiritual or numerical growth of the church, and thus, the advancement of the Kingdom of God?

**Maternity leave:  Sarah Palin apparently did not become derelict as governor of Alaska when she bore her child in office.  Thus, in some cases, highly motivated women leaders may overcome the obstacle of child bearing while performing a task.  The lengthening of maternity leave benefits to a full year in Canada, however, plays against this possibility in making it more and more onerous upon employers to keep a job open.  But then again, the little used “paternity” leave also makes that available to men.  Women however tend to use the entire benefit period.  It would be problematic if a woman pastor takes a one-year maternity leave from her job as senior pastor of church, let’s say five times during a ten year period.  The church then has a disjointed ministry going back and forth between woman pastor to interim.  This is obviously untenable.

February 1, 2010

Why I am not a fundamentalist

Filed under: St. Paul — Petros @ 6:37 pm
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Christian fundamentalism is a movement in Christianity which in opposition to Christian liberalism insists upon the inerrancy of the Scriptures.  While I have sometimes worked, worshiped and prayed with fundamentalists, and I do consider them in most cases to be true Christians and brothers in the Lord, I do not identify with them.  I am rather pentecostal, evangelical and charismatic in my tendencies, and this can be seen in the schools I’ve attended Northwest College (now University) of the Assemblies of God (pentecostal); Regent College (evangelical); while at University of Cambridge I was associated with Tyndale House (evangelical) and currently I attend a charismatic church (Emmanual Anglican, Richvale).  Thus, the following critiques stand as one clearly outside fundamentalism.  But I hereby offer some points which can explain why I am not a fundamentalist.

(1) I do not agree with the doctrine of inerrancy.  I do not agree that it should the first line of a creed, since we worship God not the Bible.  I do believe that God inspired the biblical writers, that it constitutes reliable and authoritative Scripture.  I believe that it can be read in Church and it should be the “text” of sermons.  I believe it is worthy of lifelong study and have thus devoted myself to understanding its text.

But my hesitancy with the doctrine of inerrancy is this:  (1) the Bible is in human language which is an imperfect vehicle of communication. Thus, an inerrant text is not even a possibility.  (2) The Bible is read by imperfect interpreters, so even if an inerrant text existed, there are no inerrant readers.  So inerrancy is an irrelevant doctrine because it has no practical application.  (3) Even if there was an inerrant autograph, we do not have that the autographs, but rather a manuscript tradition.  So we are not dealing with a text that we even have, but one which we believe to have been magically preserved (King James only people) or one which is reconstructed by flawed scholars (NA27; UBS3) who are themselves not inerrant.  I am no liberal.  On the other hand, I do not believe the doctrine of inerrancy to be a good way to counter liberalism.

(2) A rigid view of the Bible leads to Pharisaical legalism in practice.  Too often the fundamentalist tendency leads to rigid legalism that confuses the Christian faith with a set of rules about drinking, dancing, wearing make-up, and going to movies.  One contemporary issue is the frequent ban of women pastors , based upon a rigid reading of Paul which I think even Paul himself would not be able to accept.

(3) In fundamentalism, a rigid understanding of the Bible often ursurps the role of the Holy Spirit.  As I heard once, there is often a very solid confession amongst many Christians in the holy trinity:  the Father, the Son and the Holy Bible.

Take the ban on women pastors for example, which is based upon 1 Cor 14.34-35 and 1 Tim 2.11-15.  If in the first century Paul was confronted with problems in his churches and he found contemporary culturally sensitive solutions to those problems by following the direction of the Holy Spirit and then implementing certain directives in the church, I say we have today the same freedom today, using Paul’s advice to the Corinthians or to Timothy as a model.  There is thus no excuse us for using the NT as the new nomos (law) when it comes to contemporary practice.  Paul’s own impetus is advancement of the gospel and thus of the Kingdom of God.  When it comes to the role of woman, for example, I think it is appropriate to take all the biblical passages about women into consideration, to pray, and to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit in the community in making a decision which will help the gospel to thrive the best in any given culture.  Our goal as Christians should not be first and foremost promotion of women’s rights.  Nor should it be to follow rigidly rules in the Bible.  Our highest goal and our priority is to promote the Kingdom of God.  Even when you consider Paul’s recommendations in the context of 1 Tim for example, his priority is not that women should behave, but to correct women’s behaviour because of how it is negatively affecting the image of the gospel.

(4) Fundamentalism too easily confuses culture with Christianity.  In Africa I once saw a painting of a pastor teaching sunday school;  while the children wore African-style clothing, the pastor was wearing a suit and tie.  The imposition of Western culture in the African context by fundamentalist missionaries can still be felt today.  This is something that needs to be overcome.  I agree today with those who wish to contextualize Christianity in the African context, to find appropriate African expressions of what it means to be a Christian, over against those who apply a rigid Western understanding of the Christian faith and practice in an African setting.  Fundamentlists are often unable to distinguish legitimate contextualization from syncretism and therefore condemn too readily people who try to find culturally appropriate expressions of the Christian faith.

(5) Fundamentalism tends to be extremely sectarian and divisive.  Once one is so sure of their own position on a biblical text, they can easily dismiss others as non-Christian or heretical.  As a charismatic Anglican or a pentecostal, I personally would not say that fundamentalists are not Christian brothers or sisters, but they might too easily say that I am of the devil because I speak in tongues; and this is some what contradictory because the Bible which they hold in such high esteem says, “Do not forbid speaking in tongues.”  But this is because sometimes in fundamentalism, we will find the next point.  Yet the point is not that they have a inerrant text:  fundamentalist often act as though they have an inerrant hermeneutic.

(6) In fundamentlism, a priori systematic theology often usurps the Bible as the final authority.  This is especially true of the doctrine of Dispensationalism as first invented by Darby.  The teaching that speaking in tongues is no longer valid comes from Dispensationalism.  The dispensation for the gifts died out with the age of the apostles and thus, all speaking tongues or prophecies, even healings and miracles, are invalid today.  Thus, my experiences with speaking in tongues, miracles and prophecy, as a charismatic/pentecostal Christian, have all been either demonically inspired or psychologically induced.

 

 

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