I’m continuing with the dream of Daniel 2 and hopefully connecting it to the golden image of Daniel 3. I’m grotesquely short of time, so will spend it both reading and doing what has to be done!
I’m continuing with the dream of Daniel 2 and hopefully connecting it to the golden image of Daniel 3. I’m grotesquely short of time, so will spend it both reading and doing what has to be done!
It has been some time since I posted my last installment of my discussion of the book Seven Marks of a New Testament Church by David Alan Black, along with some commentary from the books Transforming Acts: Acts of the Apostles as a 21st Century Gospel, by Bruce Epperly and Thrive: Spiritual Habits of Transforming Congregations by Ruth Fletcher. My most recent installment was actually an excursus, Is There Such a Thing as a New Testament Church?. (You can find most entries in the series by searching for the words “seven marks.”)
I find this topic as a whole, and this chapter in particular, are examples of a topic where we should read material from people outside our own tradition. We need to strip away some of the “stuff” that has gathered in our denominations and churches that keeps us from being Christ-centered. It’s easier to be building-centered, tradition-centered, or us-centered. All three of my authors suggest things that would take us away from those three centers and ask us to seek what is Christ-centered.
Dave Black cites “They devoted themselves to … the breaking of bread.” in the heading to this chapter and indicates he sees this as a reference to celebration of the Lord’s Supper (also called Communion or the Eucharist). I was interested in how many references I had to choose from in all three books. One of the key points Dave makes is this:
Of course, the frequency is not the most important point. I would suggest that the most important point is that this is something instituted by Jesus which calls us to remember his incarnation and sacrifice for us. It centers the act of worship around the person of Jesus who is, or should be, the center of our faith and worship. Thus, “Christ-centered gatherings.” Now there is more than performing a certain ritual to a Christ-centered gathering. In fact, if your communion service is just an act of ritual, you may well have a problem in your church. Let me bring in Ruth Fletcher on this point:
I would note that Dr. Fletcher is part of a denomination that practices communion on a weekly basis at every worship service. The question here is the next step. Why is it that we want to have Christ-centered gatherings? I think it is because of the last line, which I have highlighted above. We come together to center ourselves on Christ, and thus to prepare to be the body of Christ in the world when we leave in whatever way the opportunity presents itself.
This is critical: If your worship service is not leading you to service, to acting as the hands and feet of Jesus, to being a witness, and to proclaiming the good news, it can hardly be Christ-centered. Certainly we focus on Jesus, but if we do so simply to get a dose of “specialness” for ourselves, to satisfy our own emotional, spiritual, and social needs we will fall short. By this I don’t mean that our spiritual needs are unimportant. They are, in fact, critically important. But they will never be satisfied unless we carry what we experience in worship out to wherever it is we go during the week.
Now think of your last worship service. How much of the “worship service” led to actual service out in the world? I suspect that it cannot be real worship in the sanctuary of a church unless it leads to the presence of Christ, through you, outside. We tread the room in which we meet as a sanctuary. It even has some architectural similarities to a temple. But it is each one of us as a group, no, better, as a community, who is filled with the Holy Spirit and called the temple of the Holy Spirit.
I would say that communion then is:
And we are the body of Christ, commissioned to be his body in the world. What better way can we have to remind us of this than to participate in communion?
I would like to suggest further that communion, and likely church fellowship in New Testament times was not a large amount of liturgy with a moment when a small piece of bread is provided and dipped into wine or juice, for that one moment of “communion.” Rather, when the saints gathered, they shared a meal. Many of our churches are too large to share a meal on this basis, and that in itself may be a problem. Large churches, of course, can have small groups that gather and have this type of communion. If we are to spur one another on to good works (see Hebrews 10:24), we need to see one another, hear one another, and know one another. In such a circle we can draw our community together and prepare to extend our circle.
I think that there should be nothing that does not lead us forward into a new sense of mission. But what happens in our churches? Do we feel a welcome such that we are nearly compelled to share this with others? Some may object that the call is not to the church, but if the church (building) is where the church (the body of Christ) meets, then should it not be inviting people to it as Jesus did? When Jesus Christ was here in the body, people flocked to him. He didn’t have to hunt for them because there was something there that they wanted.
We need that attractiveness and welcome in the church. Not the excitement of new glitzy programs, entertainment, and excitement, but the welcome that says that here is a place where the longing of my soul can be satisfied. Here there is not just a building but a community of people whose unity and love for one another is so special that I want to be a part of it, and that they welcome me to be a part of them.
I’ve met people who want to be prophets. Some have asked me to pray that God would call them as such. I always ask them if they are aware of the kind of life led by prophets in scripture. Is this what you really want? Similarly we need to ask ourselves about being the body of Christ. If our gatherings are Christ-centered, they will not be “me-centered.” If we are to be the body of Christ we must remember what happened to the body of Jesus, the Christ. Then, as we look to close our doors to those in need, even to our enemies, to those who hate and would kill us, we need to remember who it was that He gave his life for.
Christ-centered? We need it. We claim to want it. Do we want it enough?
I’m going to be teaching my home Sunday School class for the next four weeks, and it happens that the topics are all from the Israelite feasts. Tomorrow I’ll be talking about Passover, the next week about the Feast of Weeks, then the Day of Atonement, and finally the Feast of Booths. I’m using the titles from our Sunday School curriculum. I will doubtless ignore the curriculum other than for setting the topics. I always do.
Though each feast has certain special elements of meaning, there are a number of things that I’d like to emphasize from these feasts in general.
Exodus 12 is a very important chapter to read when thinking about celebrations, feasts, and commemorations in general. How do we remember these events and participate in them as a people, as the body of Christ in the world?
Ellen G. White was an important figure in the history of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in which I grew up. While I’m no longer SDA, I can still appreciate many of the things she said. Here’s an applicable quote:
Evolution is one of those issues we often don’t discuss in church. There are actually quite a number of Christians who accept evolutionary theory in general or just a part of it, but quite often they just don’t want to get into the kind of acrimonious debate. Every so often (really quite rarely, all things considered) I’ll get an e-mail from someone who found my e-mail address on the list of board members for Florida Citizens for Science, and they wonder how I can be a Christian and be on that list. That is, unless they simply assert that I must not actually be a Christian. (This is a rambling post. [Which of mine aren’t?] Toward the end I do get around to referring to the SDA church in which I grew up and the UMC, where I currently hold membership.)
Now this post is more about “openly discussing” than about evolution as such. I grew up in a conservative Christian culture (the Seventh-day Adventist Church), in which it was one of the articles of our faith that we accepted the literal creation week. As a result of that, and of the resistance I met when I started to see things differently, I grew up with the impression that conservatives want to close off conversation while liberals were open. Each group was, after all, treating me in that way.
But the more I have experienced the world, the more I have observed two things:
The fact is that no matter how energetically we may work to be totally open, no discussion can take place on a completely unlimited field. Not all boundaries are limiting boxes.
A few years back I was teaching a Sunday School class and one of the members asked me to meet with him to discuss the future of the class. He wanted us to study eastern religions. I told him that I had no problem with the class studying eastern religions if that was what they wanted to do, but they’d have to get a different teacher. “Why?” he asked. Well, I explained, there are two reasons. First, I know very little about eastern religions. Second, I’m a Bible teacher. That’s what I do. He was quite surprised and told me that I didn’t really need to know much about eastern religions in order to teach it for the class.
That attitude is more common that you might think. On the one hand we have the idea that issues can only be discussed by a very highly qualified group of experts, and outlying opinions, those contrary to the majority position, should shut up and go away. That attitude can lead to stagnation. But on the other hand we have the view that all opinions need to have an equal place at the table, no matter how poorly supported they might be. This is another attitude that will prevent progress, this time by creating chaos and wasting time.
We live in a kind of tension between these two ideas. For example, I believe that creation vs evolution is a perfectly valid subject for discussion in the church. The debate on the interpretation of Genesis is alive and well, and carried out by highly qualified scholars in the appropriate fields. I think that there is really very little actual scientific debate on this same controversy, because I don’t see creationists doing original science that can actually challenge the various facets of evolutionary theory. I see some picking at this or that, but nothing one can get one’s teeth into. But I’m not a scientist, and I’m not qualified in any of the fields in question, so my opinion on that point isn’t particularly important.
What I think we should work toward is a creative tension between consensus and new ideas, between open discussion of all views and perhaps more productive discussion between people who are more selective. I think this sort of discussion is well served by a variety of confessional, non-confessional, and secular schools, whether the topic is religious or not. I regularly hear complaints that certain sectarian institutions should be shut down because they are too closed in their confession. I disagree. As long as those who attend know what the principles of the school are, and graduates are functional in the subjects they learn, I think that’s an appropriate way to add variety.
The problem is that “functional” is defined by too many people as “accepting what I already believe.” As an example, I hear from advocates of the historical-critical method in Bible study (and with some caveats I count myself among their number), that one isn’t “qualified” in biblical studies if one doesn’t “know” something so obvious as that there are three Isaiahs. But what if one knows that this claim is made, and knows why, but doesn’t accept it? One can be so absolutely certain of one’s scholarly conclusions that one cannot imagine an intelligent person disagreeing.
Conservatives will doubtless nod and agree, but from them I hear that if someone can’t make a good argument for the 6th century dating of Daniel, or for the Mosaic authorship of all or part of the Pentateuch, that person doesn’t really know what she or he is talking about. Or perhaps the secularly educated scholar doesn’t truly understand Calvinist theology. Or Arminianism. Whatever.
My suggestion would be that if all your knowledge comes from one source or type of source, such as all your academic ideas are those favored by the school from which you got your degree, you may be a bit narrow. And that means that the simple fact that your college is confessional on the one hand, or very secular on the other, doesn’t mean you’re ignorant or closed. Ignorance and closed-mindedness are cultivated attitudes. Especially in modern America, you have no excuse not to know how the other side thinks.
You also have a variety of avenues to challenge the other side, so you don’t really have an excuse when one school or organization doesn’t like your ideas and tells you to hit the road. I may not like it. I too have an ideal academic environment, one in which serious scholars who disagree are welcomed irrespective of confessional statements. But that’s my imaginary ideal. I think I got a rather decent education from confessional schools that were closed in many ways I wish they were not. But they were nonetheless good schools.
All this blather has been leading to two links with quick opinions on my part. The first comes from a Seventh-day Adventist source, in which an SDA writer responds to some claims of supposed challenges to evolutionary theory. It’s in Spectrum Magazine, titled Dangling or Not? A Response to Chadwick and Brand. This article critiques another in which creationists see some new scientific discovery challenging the foundations of evolutionary theory. Just as I’ve been hearing all my life that the end of the world is upon us because of some recent story in the news, so I have been hearing that evolutionary science was on life support due to some new discovery. I’ve become just as jaded to both. But this story takes place in an organization that really doesn’t want to open the door to full discussion of this issue. Being an advocate of evolutionary theory in the SDA educational system is unlikely to be good for your career prospects.
On the other hand we have the UMC general conference. Now in religious terms, as I’ve said, I see creation vs evolution (though I don’t see the two in conflict), as a valid debate. Amongst the advocates against evolutionary theory is the Discovery Institute. Before you read the rest of this, you should know that I truly dislike the Discovery Institute. I think they largely make what should be scientific and theological questions into political ones. But just because I don’t like them doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be heard in the church. Yet according to this article from UM-Insight, they were denied a booth at the UMC General Conference. Why? Because they are not in accord with our social principles. Hypocrisy anyone?
I recall when I first joined a United Methodist congregation, I asked the pastor if I had to affirm the social principles. He said, “Those? We don’t pay much attention to them.” I know a number of Methodists who would object to his saying that, but what he says is very accurate. The social principles are a box that few would like to be confined in, yet that provide an excuse for many things. Advocating to change them is a recreational sport. If the GC venue was running out of space, you have to exclude someone, but this is a particularly thin excuse. There are plenty of United Methodists, though presumably a minority, who would be sympathetic to the institute’s work. Many of them live in this area. I disagree, but in the church they should have a voice.
My instinctive reaction when I disagree with people on major issues is to come out swinging. Despite this instinct, I believe I am called to be a facilitator, to try to help people talk intelligently and communicate effectively about controversial topics.
So if you’re looking for a statement about what I believe regarding same-sex marriage, you’re going to be disappointed. If that’s what you’re here for, go for the “Back” button, mutter about click-bait, and go on to more productive activities. In fact, I’ve been criticized this very day, and on a few others, for not taking a stand on the topic. By “not taking a stand” people mean that I will publish material on either side of the same-sex marriage debate along with a number of other issues.
Do I have an opinion? Yes I do. Will I make it public? No I won’t. [sarcasm]I will restrain myself from benefitting the world with my great wisdom.[/sarcasm] I will, instead, follow what I believe is my calling. Face it, folks! While there is a great deal that has not been heard on this topic, it’s not because it hasn’t been said. In case you missed it in the previous couple of paragraphs, I believe I am called to be a facilitator. As a friend of mine recently pointed out, it’s difficult to be a facilitator and a prophet at the same time.
Just after I finished reading my dose of blogs and social media this morning, I joined in a conversation and Bible study, and I was asked an important question. We were looking at some interpretational issues in Revelation 2 & 3, the letters to the churches. There are a number of places where judgment is threatened. I was asked about Revelation 2:5, where the NRSV translates “remove your lampstand from its place.” It sounds a bit harsh. The question was, just what did this mean?
My answer is that I believe it is symbolic, but only at one remove.
I think we likely have many “removed” churches. They’re still sitting there occupying space, but the light has gone out. God is not there. The glory has departed. It’s harsh, but I think it’s true.
You see, I believe in the judgment of God. In fact, because of the way in which I believe God’s judgment works, I believe God’s judgment can be quite implacable. Mercy holds the door open while there is an opportunity for repentance, for change, but eventually the door shuts. I believe the door shuts, or the voice ceases, when we cease to listen. I would commend Hebrews 6:4-6 (or really, it would be better to read 6:1-12; or hey, just read the whole book!) on this. There comes a time when we no longer hear the call to repentance.
So my answer was that a church can fail. It can essentially lose its place because it does not listen to God. I think this is important. I’m not a universalist. I believe that God’s freedom gives us responsibility, and with responsibility comes the consequences of our actions. This means that we have a choice. The choice has a result. That result fits the choice.
I further believe that God has sent the Holy Spirit to guide us and the church. Yes, we start in scripture, but we read and interpret that with the help of the Holy Spirit. This may not result in agreement, but the most important part is the listening. As long as we are listening for the voice of the Holy Spirit, and willing to hear and to do, we have that opportunity to repent, to change direction. Once we are no longer listening, when we no longer have ears to hear, we will no longer hear what the Spirit says to the churches. America is filled with churches that affirm doctrinal statements and action plans, yet do not do what they know.
As I facilitate discussion, I let many things pass. People seem to get tense mostly about abortion, homosexuality, and evolution. I find myself restraining myself on many other topics, including immigration, care for the poor, spreading the good news of God’s grace, carrying out the mission of the church, and training and empowering our young people (to do all of the above, of course!), all of which I consider of critical importance for the church today.
Not all of you are to be facilitators however. I can leave definitions undone in a publishing company, but if your church is to do ministry you have to make decisions, and to make good decisions you need to listen for the voice of the one who walks among the lampstands (Rev. 1:9-20).
Please do listen. “I will remove” is a very harsh phrase.
But I think it’s very real.
I was talking recently with a friend who commented that there are certain events that serve as anchor points for our faith. For me, despite all the drifting I’ve done since it happened, one of those points was the time when my father was healed. I alluded to this briefly in a comment on the Energion Discussion Network, and was challenged (or so it felt) to retell the story more often. You can get another perspective on this story from my mother’s book Directed Paths, which includes many other stories of God in action. I was 14 years old at the time and will tell this as I remember it.
It was 1971 and my parents were called as missionaries to Guyana, South America, where my father was to become medical director of the 54 bed Davis Memorial Hospital in Georgetown. Shortly after we arrived my father required emergency surgery. This took place during the night. The surgeon persuaded my mother not to wake me up, so anything about the surgery is not from my memory, but rather from what I was told. The surgery was on the large intestine and during the surgery there was considerable contamination. In addition, at one point my mother, who is an RN, was left alone as the entire team had to go to an emergency with a delivery in another room. Overall the surgery lasted for four hours, if I recall correctly.
Nobody wanted to tell me in the morning, so I was successively directed from room to room until I arrived in my father’s room in the hospital where he was connected to various tubes and devices. It was quite a shock.
He continued to be weak for some time, and his digestive processes and intestines would not restart their function. The surgeon said that he would never work again and would not live more than another 10 years. The mission board began to plan to bring my parents back to the states.
My parents, on the other hand, did not agree. They said that they had gone to Guyana to perform a mission and that they had not yet performed one. Their choice was to follow James 5, and call for the elders of the church. The elders anointed my father with oil and prayed for his healing and that he would be able to carry out his mission. I was actually quite disappointed with the results that day. It seemed that nothing happened.
But from that moment, my father’s recovery began. Within two weeks he took over as sole physician for that 54 bed hospital and was on call 24 hours/7 days per week for the next year before any relief came. He served there for seven years and still worked after he returned to the states. He has now gone on to be with the Lord, though since he was a Seventh-day Adventist he would say “to sleep in Jesus.” I have come to not see a lot of difference there. One breath here—the next breath there. Time won’t matter! But he lived into his late 80s, much more than 10 years and he continued to work through to a normal retirement. He was active as a Christian witness up to the time of his death.
I find that story challenging and encouraging. It’s challenging because my parents refused to leave and give up when everyone else was saying the situation was hopeless. It’s encouraging because when they stepped out in faith on their mission, God was there with them.
For those who hold to the historicity of the story of Daniel and generally to an early dating, Daniel 1:1 is a critical text that presents some problems. As I proceed with my eschatology series, and starting going through the book of Daniel verse by verse, I’m trying to keep all the options in mind and explore interpretation based on the different views.
As I talked about this last night (February 4, 2016; video embedded at end of post), I thought I was being confusing, and at one point said “Nebuchadnezaar” when I should have said “Pharaoh Neco.” I want to clarify the people and dates and how they apply to the text in question.
First, here is a chart of the most critical dates. Note that you will find reference sources that differ on these dates by a year. It is beyond this post to discuss the different calendars and accession year vs non-accession year dating. The sequences involved are adequately handled by the dates I’m using.
Biblical sources for this time period may be found in 2 Kings 23:29 – 25:30 and 2 Chronicles 35:20 – 36:23.
Now for Daniel 1:1, my translation:
Here is a list of the problems:
The question here is how you evaluate the evidence. One critical element would be one’s determination on other grounds that the Book of Daniel is or is not historical. As an historian one would look for the most probable reconstruction of the evidence. Most scholars tend to support the later dating, even evangelicals, but you can find other arguments regarding dating via my Dating of Daniel Resources page.
I’ll discuss dating and historicity further in my series, but for now I think this will clarify the issues discussed in the video.
Tonight will be my first session on the book of Daniel. I’ll be starting with chapter 1 and going as far as I can. I expect the whole book to take some time, though the first several chapters should go more quickly than the later ones.
I’m going to skip over a good deal of introductory material (though not all of it!) in order to move forward. There are a couple of reasons for this. Most importantly, introductions are often wasted when introducing the topic. That may sound strange, but the reason is that if those reading the introduction aren’t fairly well acquainted with the text, they won’t follow the arguments. How can you know whether you think Daniel is a literary unity, rather than a collection of materials if you haven’t read it? Secondly, I want to use multiple perspectives in interpretation and let us work this out as we move forward.
To make up for this seeming lack, I recorded an introductory video on the dating of the book, and also created a resource page. The video is embedded on the resource page.
I ran across this while looking for something else. Dr. Alden Thompson was the author of the first book sold by Energion Publications, though it was published before I bought and renamed the company. We’ve now published a 5th edition, and this is overall our best selling book.
In this presentation Alden using a number of Adventist specific references, but I think the message comes through. There are a variety of responses to the violence in the Old Testament. One of the keys to Alden’s approach is his insistence that it is all inspired, even the parts we don’t like very much, and he makes that claim in the video. Alden’s teaching at Walla Walla University was quite formative of my theology and I still enjoy working with him. We’ll be releasing a second edition of his book Inspiration: Hard Questions, Honest Answers later this year, as the publisher of the first edition allowed it to go out of print.
I enjoyed interviewing three different Energion authors last night. The first was Rev. Steve Kindle who talked about stewardship and the importance of starting from an understanding that everything belongs to God. Steve provided some practical steps that a church can use in caring for all of God’s creation. Steve’s book goes into this somewhat more: Stewardship: God’s Way of Recreating the World.
At about 7:30 pm, a half hour into the program, Dr. Jon Dybdahl joined us. Jon is the author of a newly released book Hunger: Satisfying the Longing of Your Soul. When he experienced this longing as a young missionary he started to pursue the presence of God and co-taught a class in college in spirituality. Jon’s PhD is in Old Testament, but he has a passion for serious worship.
For the last 15 minutes, he was joined by Dr. David Moffett-Moore. Dave is author of Pathways to Prayer, and has two doctorates, both a PhD and a DMin. It was interesting and challenging to hear two men with so much education of the mind nonetheless tell us that the intellectual paradigm of religion was not enough. Prayer is an essentially. Coming to know the reality of God’s presence and power is essential.
When I asked Dr. Jon Dybdahl how one would start this in a church as a pastor or other church leader he said the best way was to see your own need and start practicing it yourself. People will sense when your activities in leadership are powered by prayer and time with God whether you’re telling them all about what you’re doing or not. He also suggested a change in terminology that struck me, suggesting we might use “lead worshipper” rather than “worship leader” to take away the separation of the one on the platform from the ones in the pew.
The video is embedded below:
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