One of the most ironic photos of the Selma March in March 1965. Marchers are approaching the city of Montgomery.

Do you know Norman Adamson? Do you know O. B. Porterfield? Do you know Martin Luther King Jr? Do you know Fred Gray? Did you know these four ministers were all in the same city on March 25, 1965? They are a microcosm for the huge division that remains not only in the United States but within the body of those who claim to be disciples of the Jewish Messiah. We should know them and let them help us examine our own deep and hidden values.

I want to stress that the events in this blog are two years after Martin Luther King Jr addressed the ministers of the South in his epic Letter from a Birmingham Jail (full text in link) which was sent out on April 3, 1963.

Did we even hear?
Have we yet?

Jimmie Lee Jackson

Jimmie Lee Jackson and Selma

Last year for Black History Month, I wrote about the murder of Jimmie Lee Jackson, a 26 year old black army veteran home from Vietnam, by Alabama State Troopers on February 18, 1965. Jimmie had been part of a peaceful protest demanding the right to vote. Nothing that radical you would think. Surely no one would object to a veteran registering to vote. But Jimmie was murdered, literally, in front of his mother and grandmother.

Jimmie’s murder galvanized black Americans by the thousands. One week later, a march was organized from Selma to Montgomery demanding the right to vote in honor of Jimmie Lee Jackson.

The marchers, led by John Lewis whom Donald Trump publicly maligned, were met at the Edmund Pettus Bridge on “Bloody Sunday” by police in a brutal display of hate (if you have never seen the film, Selma, you should do that immediately). The horrifying beatings at the bridge, worthy of Joseph Stalin or Adolf Hitler, were broadcast on TV. America had to look itself in the mirror, something it does not relish doing. I want to share about four ministers + one response to this event.

Norman Adamson and Martin Luther King Jr.

Civil Rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. called on people from all over the country to come to Selma and finish the march. On March 21, King led 25,000 out of Selma on Hwy 80 for the third attempted march. They arrived in Montgomery on March 25 where King would give his “Our God is Marching On!” (video clip in link) speech beneath the waving Confederate Battle flag on the Alabama Statehouse. Full text of “Our God is Marching On! (in link).

Norman Adamson, a native of Arkansas was minister for a Church of Christ in Chicago, made the arduous journey in response to King’s call. The bigotry in America was bad but in the church it was “stench to the nostrils of God, and therefore subjects them [i.e. bigots] to eternal damnation.” Bloody Sunday was a day of infamy for Adamson. So, he joined hands with black folks and “my Caucasian brothers and sisters” in the name of simple justice. Adamson believed it was God’s work and a manifestation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So he marched in obedience to the cause of Christ. How can we love God whom we have not seen and hate our fellow humans who are God’s image bearers and have seen.

Martin Luther King Jr. giving his “Our God is Marching On” sermon at the end of the Selma to Montgomery March.

On the night of March 25, after 25,000 marchers arrived in Montgomery at Martin Luther King Jr’s, he addressed the crowd. Quoting James Weldon Johnson, King said,

We have come over a way
That with tears hath been watered.
We have come treading our paths
Through the blood of the slaughtered.
Out of the gloomy past,
Till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam
Of our bright star is cast
.”

Then in a note of victory King proclaimed,

Today I want to tell the city of Selma, today I want to say to the state of Alabama, today I want to say to the people of America and the nations of the world, that we are not about to turn around. We are on the move now.”

King continued,

My people, my people, listen. (Yes, sir) The battle is in our hands. (Yes, sir) The battle is in our hands in Mississippi and Alabama and all over the United States. (Yes, sir) I know there is a cry today in Alabama, (Uh huh) we see it in numerous editorials: “When will Martin Luther King, SCLC, SNCC, and all of these civil rights agitators and all of the white clergymen and labor leaders and students and others get out of our community and let Alabama return to normalcy?”

But I have a message that I would like to leave with Alabama this evening. (Tell it) That is exactly what we don’t want, and we will not allow it to happen, (Yes, sir) for we know that it was normalcy in Marion (Yes, sir) that led to the brutal murder of Jimmy Lee Jackson. (Speak) It was normalcy in Birmingham (Yes) that led to the murder on Sunday morning of four beautiful, unoffending, innocent girls. It was normalcy on Highway 80 (Yes, sir) that led state troopers to use tear gas and horses and billy clubs against unarmed human beings who were simply marching for justice. (Speak, sir) It was normalcy by a cafe in Selma, Alabama, that led to the brutal beating of Reverend James Reeb.

It is normalcy all over our country (Yes, sir) which leaves the Negro perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of vast ocean of material prosperity. It is normalcy all over Alabama (Yeah) that prevents the Negro from becoming a registered voter. (Yes) No, we will not allow Alabama (Go ahead) to return to normalcy.

King ends with the haunting question that he, Fred Gray, and Norman Adamson wrestled with. It is the age old question heard all through Scripture itself, “How Long!?” Do we have ears to hear?

I know you are asking today, “How long will it take?” (Speak, sir) Somebody’s asking, “How long will prejudice blind the visions of men, darken their understanding, and drive bright-eyed wisdom from her sacred throne?” Somebody’s asking, “When will wounded justice, lying prostrate on the streets of Selma and Birmingham and communities all over the South, be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men?” Somebody’s asking, “When will the radiant star of hope be plunged against the nocturnal bosom of this lonely night, (Speak, speak, speak) plucked from weary souls with chains of fear and the manacles of death? How long will justice be crucified, (Speak) and truth bear it?” (Yes, sir)

Then King, and others, went to the home of Fred Gray, the preacher for the Newtown Church of Christ and civil rights attorney for Rosa Parks, King himself and the entire group of marchers. There they planned coming activities in Montgomery and other places in the South. For more on Gray, see Fred D. Gray: Hero Lawyer.

Fred Gray the frequent target of smear attacks by people identifying themselves as Christians

O. B. Porterfield

The day before, March 24, there was yet another minister with a message for the people of the city of Montgomery, the State of Alabama and the United States, on the “the crises” at hand. He did not march, nor preach on the steps of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, nor the Statehouse. Instead, he took to the airways. O. B. Porterfield preached a message on the TV station WKAB, it was a Wednesday night. It was a message he repeated many times.

Jimmie was dead.

Bloody Sunday had occurred.

Norman Adamson and Martin Luther King Jr were literally on the road walking toward Montgomery on Hwy 80 as the sermon aired on TV.

O. B. Porterfield preached for the Cleveland Avenue Church of Christ in Montgomery. What should be our response to the “Crises” he asked? What he said was, according to newspaper advertisements, repeated numerous times around the city.

Porterfield addressed what he believed to be the destruction of the United States generally and Alabama in particular in “the crises” that had begun in Montgomery Alabama by Rosa Parks, Fred D. Gray and Martin Luther King, Jr. with the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

We can only wonder how different history would be if white ministers like Porterfield preached a different message.

Porterfield begins by stating the entire crises was nothing but a communist plot to destroy America (first full paragraph). No preacher could have anything whatsoever to do with this “mob” that was descending upon Montgomery. In fact, “neither I nor any Minister of the Church of Christ” could have anything to do with this mob because our job is “spiritual,” he declared. Those ministers (like King, Adamson, and Gray) are “hypocrites” and need to “go away.

Porterfield proclaimed the march for civil rights had nothing to do with justice, nothing to do with “spiritual things,” and nothing to do with “Christianity.”

Far from Christianity in fact. Porterfield claims that he drove “to Selma personally and looked at these people.” There were older, younger, lots of blacks and some misguided whites. The preacher declared “a large number of these boys and girls are the scum of the earth! They are as low a class of group of people as I ever saw.”

Porterfield, sounding as if he is from 2021, declared, “I am trying to impress you tonight that the question is not a question of segregation versus integration; it is not a question of civil rights; but it is morality versus immorality.

Porterfield then proceeds to quote from Governor George Wallace that the protesters are people of ill-repute. They are actually communists and likely send their support to the “Viet-Cong.” The irony should not be lost because Jimmie Lee Jackson, who was murdered by the police, had been sent to fight the Viet-Cong.

Remember the photo taken on the march. Note the words at the bottom of this newspaper advertisement

Porterfield moves to praise the Alabama State Troopers under Al Lingo (who was part of the KKK), and Dallas County Sheriff Jim Clark “and his good deputies” who enforce the laws against the law-breakers. The minister then extends this invitation,

[T]onight, I extend to Col. Lingo, Sheriff Butler, Sheriff Clark, Governor Wallace, and all law enforcement officers, a special invitation to worship with us at the Cleveland Avenue Church of Christ, and you will be treated with the courtesy you deserve, we will honor you by complimenting you for these trying hours that you have endured.

No such invitation was issued to Martin Luther King, Jr, Norman Adamson, Fred Gray or any person of color.

The sermon ends with a pledge to send the text of the sermon to President Johnson and a plea to avoid the march. The way to keep peace in Montgomery is “don’t encourage the march, but instead LET’S SPEAK OUT AGAINST THE MARCH [sic] and pray to God that our words will be the right ones during these trying times.”

The sermon met with immediate calls to the TV station for copies. It was printed and distributed by the thousands. And then Porterfield preached the sermon repeatedly throughout Montgomery and the State of Alabama.

The next day, as noted, King and the marchers, including Norman Adamson, arrived. King would meet with minister Fred Gray. All enduring the scorn of a sizable portion of the white Christian community in Montgomery led by O. B. Porterfield and other ministers of the Gospel of Reconciliation (I use this phrase on purpose).

Plus One

Viola Liuzzo was one of Porterfield’s “scum of the earth.” A 39 year old mother of five, murdered because she dared to believe God calls us to practice justice and righteousness.

One other person arrived that day on March 25, her name was Viola Liuzzo. She was one of the “scum of the earth” that Porterfield noted. Liuzzo was a 39-year-old white mother of five from Detroit. She, like Norman Adamson, responded to the call of King to protest the blatant murder of Jimmie Lee Jackson and demand that the law be upheld for African Americans.

Liuzzo was seen transporting Leroy Moton, a 19-year-old African American, marcher in her car. She was shot in the head by the KKK on the very road that marchers came down.

Reflections

When I, from my vantage point in 2021, look at the events of February and March of 1965 it is as if I am reading yesterday’s newspaper. Then is still now!

I see preachers like Norman Adamson and Fred Gray, both black, convinced that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is deeply about justice (civil right is justice).

Then I see ministers today like O. B. Porterfield, typically white, who think it is all about Communism and the Gospel has nothing at all to do with this. They talk about law and order while there is no law and no order for their own brothers and sisters of color. Further, his assessment of the people involved sounds just like what I hear from many today. Nearly identical terminology is still used to talk about those who march today whether it is Colin Kaepernick, Black Lives Matter or even President Barack Obama. The slander against John Lewis by President Donald Trump has a long pedigree. While actual consideration of the issues being protested is ignored and waved away with bliss.

The sad reality is that Porterfield’s attitude (and sermon) are hardly isolated incidents. See my article on W. A. Cameron, Racist Theology Begets Racist Preaching: A Sermonic Response to Brown v. Board of Education. Porterfield was regarded as a faithful preacher of the gospel of Christ. He opposed liberals (I first came across him in Mississippi when he mailed out publication to thousands of churches). He was a stalwart against “digressions” from “the pattern” and the one true church. I am convinced that one reason America, and the church, is where we are in 2021 is because we have had plenty of sermons that are more like Porterfield and not nearly enough of King, Gray or Adamson. The difference in perspective between these black brothers in Christ and the white brother could not be starker.

The Gospel is very much about racial reconciliation (justice) beloved. See my article, The Gospel is about the Stuff of the World. But Porterfield helps us see ourselves. This is why we need Black History Month. This is why we need a kingdom vision while reading history. We have much to repent in the white church.

May God have mercy.

See Also Among others

Racial Concerns in Churches of Christ: Trends Since the King Years, 1950-2000

Gospel Racial Reconciliation: Compass Points for Beginners Like Me

Learning & “Thinking” about Race as a Southern White Disciple

I discovered Cameron’s racist sermon while doing research on another project in the early 2000s.

Racist Theology begets Racist Preaching

God is not racist. The Bible is not racist. Christianity is not racist. Jesus is not white (he is Jewish). These are historical and theological truths.

Tragically many Christians have been, and are, racist. But in the first 500 years of Christianity, Asia and Africa are the dominant story lines, not Europe. Of the “Seven Ecumenical Councils” in the history of Christianity, not one took place on European soil. Most of the decisions reached in those councils were hammered out (on the Old Testament canon, NT canon, Trinity, etc) in “synods” in Africa in fact. Christian exegesis was first nurtured in Africa. Christian scholarship was created in Africa. Traditional spiritual disciplines first took root in Africa. Before Paul went to Europe, Christian faith was already in the heart of Africa in Meroe by a Eunuch (remember our post on the Ethiopian). The intellectual ferment of Christianity traveled from Africa to the North (Europe) not the other way around.

In fact historian Thomas C. Oden has gone so far to call Christianity a “traditional African religion.” It has, after all, been there for 2000 years. (See Thomas C. Oden’s excellent book, How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind: Rediscovering the African Seedbed of Western Christianity.” And his scholarly website, The Center for Early African Christianity). We, north American disciples, sometimes forget the facts of history and some how in the back of our minds come to imagine that Christianity is white and everything of value has come from white.

Years ago I discovered a sermon that caused great angst. on Sunday, August 15, 1954 at the Disston Avenue Church of Christ in Gulfport, Florida, W. A. Cameron got into the pulpit and preached a sermon called “The Origin and Development of the Negro Race. The sermon was a smashing hit and he was invited to preach the exact same sermon the next Sunday (August 22) at Pinellas Park. The sermon was published in booklet form and distributed all around.

Did you note the date? The epic Brown v. Board of Education decision by the Supreme Court was May 17, several weeks before this sermon. The sermon is a response to the “busybodies” on the Supreme Court as Cameron calls them.

Cameron is concerned about “race mixing.” He is concerned about the inferior race. He begins by giving a convoluted account of the genealogy of the sons of Noah bringing us to the Curse on Ham and Canaan. Cameron follows a racist interpretation of Genesis 9 that was created by pro-slavery apologists in the 1830s and has had a long afterlife.

Cameron states that Cush, the descendants of Ham, were placed in Africa in sort of a quarantine by God. He says, and the caps are his,

“DO YOU REMEMBER WHERE WE LEFT THEM? IN THE LAND OF ETHIOPIA.THAT’S WHERE JEHOVAH AND HIS BOOK, THE BIBLE LEFT THEM.” (p.5).

In fact, “Today, the black man would be in his own country, where Jehovah put him and left him, and wanted him” if not for the slave trade. But some wanted money.

When blacks somehow managed to leave their location, they always brought ruination upon those they mingled with. Moses caused all kinds of trouble by marrying a Cushite. And look at Solomon, he married a black woman, what did she do? She destroyed Solomon leading him into idolatry (p.7). Race mixing is dangerous! (His one appeal to the Song of Songs is convoluted).

The last two pages of Cameron’s sermon are difficult to read, I confess. It is a good bet Cameron knew nothing of the historical facts we opened with. For Cameron, the “NEGRO’S DEVELOPMENT,” well “IT’S NILL” (his caps).

“They have always been cursed with a sence [sic] of fear, ignorance, superstition and an inferior complex. After 4,298 years they are still right where God left them. We will do well to let them alone, and not try to upset God’s plans.”

But what about the seeming intelligent black folks that are around, Cameron asks. If we did not think a sermon could descend any further, we are wrong. Answering his own question, the preacher who supposedly is concerned with “sound doctrine” states bluntly.

“We have to admit that we have had some very well educated negro’s among us. Some who have made good in business and various trades. How do you account for that?”

“Yes, all those negro’s who have a generous fertilization of white blood have invariably left the evidence of it behind them. But the genuine negro article is just what he has always been.”

I remember when I first discovered this sermon in the 1990s doing research on race in the Churches of Christ. I was stunned by something so blatantly bigoted. But Cameron would tell you he is not a racist! Just like so many today, racism often has a gentle smile.

What is the white relationship to the black race? Cameron noted that Franklin Roosevelt once said that he and his cousins were “47 points removed.” Well we, white people, will find “ourselves 110,269,195 points away from him [i.e. the black man] –Brother, how close kin are you to Ham? ? ?”

The implication here is, the white race and black race are not even remotely related to one another.

Cameron closes with an exhortation to Harry S. Truman (who created the Civil Rights Commission in 1947) and the Supreme Court which issued its ruling on desegregation earlier in the summer before that fateful sermon.

“Now, if those busybodies who are trying to run everybodies [sic] business, and who are not yet able to run their own affairs, will close up their shop and leave the Negro where God left him. And leave Gods [sic] instruction to the white man concerning the Negro exactly where and how God left it, all will be well.”

And so closes a Sunday sermon in 1954. No one thought Cameron was anything but a sound gospel preacher. He opposed the digressives, stuck to the “pattern” and was asked to preach his message around the state and publish it.

It is interesting to me, that Cameron never once mentions the Ethiopian Eunuch. Here is where this story gets personal for me. Sometimes our biases are SO DEEP that we miss the plainest of facts that are literally in front of our faces. I am not sure Cameron would have known the Eunuch was BLACK. I grew up having sermons on baptism and the Eunuch was always included. But I can recall the day, and the conversation, when it was said out loud to me that the Ethiopian was … well … Black. No one ever told me he was white that I recall. But no one ever told me he was black either. And I remember, being a preacher in New Orleans Louisiana when a black preacher (Robert Birt) stated with clarity the Eunuch was BLACK. It was like scales falling from my eyes. It was not part of my consciousness. It is downright embarrassing to admit this (but I have on many occasions because we need to see our blindness).

Cameron helps us understand race relations in the United States. His sermon is not isolated. His theology is not unique. His theology and his homiletic under-gird a huge swath of American Christianity.

The more we read black literature we will find vociferous protests against this kind of theology and preaching, from Olaudah Equiano to Mary Prince to Harriot Jacobs to Frederick Douglass to David Walker to W. E. B. Du Bois to Martin Luther King Jr. You will find it protested in Uncle Tom’s Cabin!

Charles Reagan Wilson in his epic study of the religion of the Lost Cause, Baptized in Blood, states forthrightly that ministers were the keepers of orthodoxy on the racial ideology not only in the South but America.

Why do we expect our brothers and sisters to have the mind of Christ with the preaching of this kind of racist theology? Millions of Americans are still alive who were nurtured on this kind of horrific Bible reading. What did the disciples think that day with Cameron’s supposed gospel sermon? Why was he asked to preach the same sermon again for another congregation? And why was it published in booklet form and distributed among the congregations? These are questions that today’s church must ask and answer honestly and forthrightly. This sermon says as much about those who listened to it as it does the one who delivered it.

Black History Month gives us a kairos moment, a Holy Spirit moment, to look into our own souls and ask:

Why are we “here?”

How did we get “here?”

I repudiate Cameron. I not only repudiate his sermon but the theology that the sermon rests upon. I repudiate it as beyond false doctrine. It is demonic. That is not hyperbole beloved. It is the truth. It is from spawned in hell and and has wrought the fruit of hell across the land of the USA and the church that dwells within the USA. We have much to repent of beloved. We have much work to do to come clean from our participation in the kingdom of darkness rather than the kingdom of light.

We must look at our presuppositions that allowed such a theology to be born inside our hearts and minds in the first place. That my friends is where the real work is. It is more than just saying, “Oh how could Cameron say that.” We have to look at what allowed Cameron to come to those beliefs in the first place.

May God Have Mercy Upon Us.

Reading Paul’s letter to a twenty year veteran of ministry

First Timothy

Today we read Paul’s first letter to Timothy for our through the Bible in a year reading.

It is sort of sad that First Timothy has often been reduced to two texts in many Christian circles. The first is a controversial passage about women (2.12) and the second to a list of “qualifications” for elders and deacons (and deaconesses) in 3.1-13.

But though First Timothy is a letter to Timothy it is read publicly to the entire congregation gathered for worship in Ephesus. In this letter we find a minister who is in a troubled, conflict-ridden, church and it seems that Timothy is nearly ready to throw in the towel. So, Paul has several “agendas” as he writes to Timothy. They are, I suggest:

1) Affirm and bolster Timothy’s courage in the face of wearying conflict.

2) Affirm Timothy’s authority in the face of out of control and divisive leaders, this includes elders, deacons and various people who desire to be viewed as Bible teachers.

3) To affirm the message that Timothy is to teach and proclaim.

4) To deal with the pressures in the congregation via public letter to Timothy.

When we read First Timothy we need to mentally make the shift in our mind that Paul is talking to a man who has at minimum twenty years of ministry experience under his belt. We seriously misread Timothy when we imagine he is a young teenager. Rather Timothy is a veteran of numerous assignments from Paul ranging from coauthoring Thessalonians, Philippians, Colossians, 2 Corinthians, Philemon and also working in Corinth and other locations. Timothy is not a padawan. I think that most of the material in First Timothy, including the material about women and elders, falls into one of the four “agendas” of Paul summarized above. Some examples.

Unqualified Teachers Cause Trouble

First. Paul deals with the reality that some desire to be Bible teachers/leaders without doing the necessary work that it takes to correctly understand Scripture. First Timothy 1.3-11 addresses this forthrightly. Doing a little reading between the lines (but I do not think I am reading this INTO the letter) we see that both women teachers and elders come up after 1.3-11. The material about women has to do with teaching and elders are supposed to be “apt to teach” and not “recent converts” (3.1-7). Timothy was himself nourished on the Hebrew Scriptures learning them from his Jewish mother (Eunice) and grandmother (Lois) from the time of his youth (2 Timothy 1.5-6; 3.14-17). No doubt that training was enhanced by Rabbi Paul as well.

Paul says that there are quite a few who “desire to be teachers of the law [=Bible in the first century], but do not know what they are talking about” (1.7). Notice the language that shows up in vv 8-9 seems to be the antithesis of what “bishops” are supposed to be models and, btw, of the harsh behavior of some women.

Paul follows this up (1.12-20) by reminding Timothy of the model of Jesus himself who has “display[ed] the utmost patience” by making an example out of Paul by appointing him to ministry. That mercy has been extended to Timothy through Paul. Everyone will not that not be a fan (so to speak) but his ministry is not a matter of them liking him per se but that God has “appointed” appointed him. Some may disrespect Timothy (and Timothy needs to be ‘worthy’ of respect) just as some may look down on Paul because he was not one of the Twelve or because he was once a blasphemer (1.13). As Paul was “appointed” so Timothy also had received specific prophecies for his kingdom task. It is as if Paul is saying to Timothy, in front of the whole conflicted congregation: Do Not Cave to those who want to be leaders but have not been trained in Scripture.

That Paul affirms Timothy in the face of conflict seems plainly evident when we read the entire book. Even in the present context, Paul confesses that he writes as he does because “certain persons” have “shipwrecked their faith,” then Paul brazenly names at least two of them (1.18-20).

Can you imagine being in the Ephesian gathering on that Lord’s Day? I cannot prove this, but I suspect that Hymenaeus and Alexander (1.20) are in fact elders, or at least deacons, and are an example of what Paul said in 1.3-11 and said would happen in Acts 20.27-30, where Paul warned the Ephesian elders that those who would disturb the faith were from within their own group.

Unqualified Teachers Addressed

Second. In chapters 2 and 3, Paul addresses the very faction (it seems to me) that Timothy is afraid (and I do think Timothy is afraid of them). I have met some pretty abusive teachers in my life. “Teachers” who believe they are nearly infallible. Their harshness and arrogance was in direct proportion to their failure to “know what they are talking about” (1.7, NIV). Sometimes they were preachers, sometimes they were elders and believe it or not sometimes even women. I do not think Paul is being sexist in the slightest, being a jerk is not limited to one gender.

Notice how in chapter 2, Paul continues to address the notion of “conflict.” That is conflict is what is floating in the background of the words on the page being read to the Ephesian church. Paul directly addresses men (males) he says they should pray and “lift their hands without anger or argument” (2.8). Prayer is to be engaged in so that shalom reigns. The Greek word for “quiet and peaceable” (2.2) is the exact same word that most translations render as silence in 2.11. In reality the term has nothing to do with vocal cords. It has to do with attitude, deportment and demeanor. We import the silence of women into this text. Paul is addressing the same tense issue in both male and female troublemakers in the Ephesian congregation.

Basic Misunderstanding

Third. In chapter 4, Paul deals with the apparent fruit of teachers who do not know/understand the Bible (remember 1.7ff). In chapter 4.1-5, it seems to me clear evidence that Paul is addressing former pagans and not former Jews. While the Law of Moses does indeed forbid certain foods as unclean, nevertheless abstaining from food, sex or wine is not now, and was not then, a typical Jewish point of view but a pagan one. This is known as asceticism. There were many pagan ascetics and the lifestyle was popular among various Greek philosophers (especially Stoics).

But the Jewish view, that is Hebrew Bible, celebrates the material world as a gift from God. This includes sexuality (Song of Songs, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes as well as Genesis are starkly clear on this). This includes food. Lots of food, feasting in fact, is associated with Israel’s worship whether the Feast of First Fruits (Deut 14.22-29), Passover (Deut 16.1-8) or Weeks (Deut 16.9-12) or Tabernacles (16.13-17). Purim, at the authoritative command of Esther is a time of “feasting and gladness” (Esther 9.22). Feasting is the very image of goodness and blessing in the Prophets (cf. Isaiah 25.6-8; 55.1-8; etc). And while the Hebrew Bible does indicate that a few foods are unclean no such idea is ever associated with wine. Wine but also “strong drink” (or “beer” in some translations) flows (cf. Deut 14.26). Wine is one of the most “potent” symbols of divine blessings in the Hebrew Bible. In the Wisdom literature these three come together as the triad of blessedness from Yahweh.

Go eat your bread/food with enjoyment
and drink your wine with a merry heart;
for God has long ago approved what you do …
Enjoy life with the wife whom you love

(Ecclesiastes 9.7-9; cf. 3.13 and all of Song of Songs which is awash in sexuality, food and wine, cf. 5.1. See my article The Song of Songs and God’s Good Gifts: Wisdom’s Way with Food, Sexuality and Wine).

Deuteronomy sums up the Hebrew Bible’s view, “When you have eaten your fill, give thanks to the LORD your God for the good land which He has given you.” (Deut 8.10). Paul sounds very much like Moses.

There are times of temporary abstinence of food, sex and wine in Jewish thought. But not because those things are evil or even bad but precisely because they are gifts. We abstain from the gift for a moment to focus upon the Giver. Such times are fasting or a Nazarite vow (something Paul himself repeatedly did, Acts 18.18; 21.23-24). So, Paul sets aside all this false teaching by declaring the Hebrew Bible’s doctrine of Creation, “everything is created by God” therefore it is “good” when received in thanksgiving (cf. Psalm 104 where even wine and food is declared to be the gift of God for humanity, Ps 104.14-15). Paul goes so far to call such serious misunderstanding of God’s good gifts as “renounce[ing] the faith” and the “teachings of demons” (4.1). The Hebraic doctrine of creation shall not be compromised in Paul’s teachings. It was a Jew from Nazareth that turned water into wine, he did not turn wine into water.

How Timothy Responds

Paul finally arrives in 4.6-16 with direct words to Timothy about how he is to conduct himself. He is to conduct himself honorably. He is to be the living embodiment of healthy teaching (i.e. sound). What is meant by healthy/sound teaching is not, in First Timothy, a matter a list of qualities for elders and deacons or church organization. That is healthy or sound teaching is not merely or even primarily church structure. Never has been and never will be.

Healthy teaching is the kind of teaching that does not result in the horrific behavior that is on display in the Ephesian church. Healthy teaching does not result in 4.1-5. Healthy teaching does not result in condescension, arrogance, abuse of others, or lack of love. As Paul noted from the beginning “the goal of any teaching is love that comes from a pure heart” (1.5).

How do we overcome the lack of proper understanding of the Bible? How do we learn about men and women being equal in God’s design with no domination of either? How do we over come arrogance and selfishness and such poor understandings of God’s good gifts? Paul’s answer is Timothy should “devote himself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhorting, to teaching” (4.13). Regardless of what others think, teach. It is important to note that in the historical context of Timothy and the Ephesian church, “scripture” here is what people call the “Old Testament” today. Timothy is to baptize the Ephesian congregation in the Hebrew Scriptures (through the Greek translation called the Septuagint). This matches with those who want to be “teachers of the LAW,” but do not know what they are talking about or “confidently affirm” (1.7). Today many preachers rarely preach or teach from the Hebrew Bible but Paul told Timothy to do it.

Paul goes on to tell Timothy how to handle those who are wealthy in the church. He is to “command those who are rich in the present age not to be arrogant …” (6.17f) rather they are to be generous. Money and generosity are ubiquitous themes in the law, the prophets, and the wisdom literature that Timothy is commanded to devote himself to reading, and preaching that reading, to the church. But the theme that Paul keeps coming back to is Timothy’s courage in the face of congregational conflict. Some description of conflict shows up over and over again. And it is taking its toll on Timothy. So, Paul even gives Timothy medical advice. In the absence of Tums … dude drink wine (5.23)!

Concluding Thoughts

First Timothy is not just about being a minister. First Timothy is about becoming a healthy (sound) local church. The local church, like a family, has very different individual members. But the members of the family must live in respectful, caring, loving and even sacrificial relationships with one another. We do not inflict wounds upon our own family. That includes dad, mom, brothers and sisters. Or in the church setting that includes, ministers, elders, deacons (male and female), teachers, everyone.

This is why Paul comes back to the heart of the Gospel over and over in 1 Timothy. Christ Jesus has been revealed “in the flesh” to bring reconciliation between God and humanity and between humanity and humanity. The local church is simply not what God dreams for his colonies of new creation when conflict is the norm for congregational life.

Well I am glad that I took the 25 minutes to read through First Timothy today. I hope my reflections are true to the text as a whole. Keep on reading. The Journey is nearly complete.

Shalom.

On the eve of Halloween, in the spirit of Martin Luther’s Ninety-five Theses, I am going to share “Three Totally Freaky False Theses Some (including preachers) Teach Regarding the Old Testament.”

They are indeed freaky … scary in fact!

God of Anger, God of Wrath

I begin with the granddaddy of all the other freaky false thesis promoted about the so called “Old Testament.” The God of the “Old Testament” is angry and unloving, he is just a God of wrath. I had one elder years ago tell me (actual quote), “its like God became a Christian in the NT!” After listening to my preaching for several years this elder confessed “I have learned more about the Old Testament from you in four years than all my whole 70 years.”

This commonly held freaky false thesis is so incredibly pervasive and is tied directly to a fundamental misunderstanding and lack of knowledge of the contents of 76% of the canon of Scripture. How a people can be described as a “people of the book” when they systematically downplay over three quarters of it is beyond me. But the Hebrew Bible explicitly states just the opposite about Yahweh:

Yahweh, Yahweh,
a God merciful and gracious,
SLOW TO ANGER,
abounding in HESED [steadfast love] and faithfulness
keeping steadfast love for the thousandeth generation
forgiving wickedness rebellion and sin

This is the Golden Text of the Bible. It is repeated in the Hebrew Bible in whole or in part over a dozen times and echoed another dozen. But I confess that this statement that thunders throughout the Hebrew Scriptures I was completely unaware even existed. Over the years I have come to call this statement the “God Creed.” For more on it see my article Exodus 34: The Pulse of the Bible.

Jonah was not afraid of Yahweh’s wrath. Just the opposite, God was way to slow to get angry. He was afraid of God’s love [Hesed] and throws it back in Yahweh’s face in Jonah 4.1-2 when he quotes the very text above in order to convict God of the crime of a love too deep!

When John says that “God is love” he is actually paraphrasing Exodus 34.6-7. John 3.16 speaks of Yahweh’s love not Jesus’s love. Some are shocked beyond belief when they find out that Moses talks more about love than the Apostle Paul (some factoids on “love” for comparison: Deuteronomy 21x vs Romans 14x; Deuteronomy 21x vs Acts 0x). The entire Hebrew Bible, according to the great rabbi Abraham J. Heschel is but a long commentary on the infinite, long suffering, patience of God with Israel testified to by Yahweh himself in this amazing text. Read Psalm 103, Psalm 136, Psalm 107, etc etc. We could go all day on this freaky false thesis. May it die a quick painful death.

Salvation by Law/Works Righteousness

Another freaky false thesis commonly taught and believed regarding the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament is that relationship with God was based upon “law” or “works.” This is a fairly typical Protestant thesis rooted in Martin Luther himself. This thesis, like the one above, is rooted in a deep misreading of the Hebrew Bible (sometimes no or very little reading) fueled by an equally misguided reading of Paul.

But Paul never (much less Jesus!) once said, nor implied, that Israel’s relationship with God or salvation was based on works righteousness. Paul does not even say the law was a means of salvation. The Book of Romans itself destroys this thesis, as does virtually any place you put your finger in the Hebrew Bible itself. Paul in Romans, to begin with, insists that his teaching of salvation by grace thru faith is in accordance with the “Old Testament” itself. Abraham – Old Testament – is the pattern of grace. Paul then quotes David too (Romans 4) as proof that salvation was based upon God’s grace through faith. Paul bases his argument upon the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms (Abraham, David and Habakkuk, 2.4). It is the OLD TESTAMENT that teaches the “righteous will live by faith!” It is a serious freaky false doctrine that is explicitly contradicted in the Law itself. Consider the following paradigmatic texts.

The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments … If you pay attention to these laws and are careful to follow them, then the Lord your God will keep his covenant of love with you, as he swore to your ancestors.” (Deuteronomy 7.7-9, 12)

After Yahweh your God has driven them out before you {this is grace/God did it!} never say to yourself, ‘Yahweh has brought ME {note the singular} here to take possession of this land because of MY righteousness.’ No! it is because of the wickedness of these nations that Yahweh is driving them out {God did it/grace!}. It is not because of your righteousness or even your integrity … understand then it is not because of your righteousness that Yahweh your God is giving you {gift!! Grace!!} this land for you are a stiff-necked people” (Deuteronomy. 9.4-6)

Lord, hear my prayer,
listen to my cry for mercy;
in your faithfulness and righteousness
come to my relief.
Do not bring your servant into judgment,
for no one living is righteous before you
.”
(Psalm 143.1-2)

Israel is saved by an act of God called the Exodus. The grace of the Exodus is the backdrop of all of “Old Testament” faith. Every part of worship, the Sabbath, the Passover, the pilgrimages, etc constantly brought the Israelite back to the basis of their salvation — GRACE! See more in Psalms 105, 106, 107 together (and dozens more texts).

Exodus comes before Sinai.
Calvary comes before Pentecost.
Grace comes before Faith.
It always has.
It always will.

No Faith Relationship with God/Devoid of Spirituality

Another of the most bizarre (the most bizarre is #1 because it lies about who God is) freaky false thesis about the “Old Testament” is that Israelites and Jews never had a “personal relationship” with God. It was ritualistic. It was “carnal” to use the old word I heard growing up (“carnal” was understood as bad, negative, anti-spiritual). Again all of these freaky, scary, false theses have their beginning in cherry picking New Testament texts out of context and misunderstanding of the Old Testament itself. There is no better place to go to witness the Spirituality of the Israelite than the Book of Psalms. In fact the Psalms are a rebuke to the shallowness of most modern (so called) personal relationships with God.

Take Psalm 51, for example, was written for/by David and expresses his anguish. It was preserved and used by ordinary Israelites for a thousand years before the coming of Jesus! It expressed not just David’s longing but every Israelite …

Create in my a clean heart,
O God and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
…”
(Psalm 51.10-11)

This portion of the Psalm is utter nonsense if the Israelite had no clue what it was like to be in God’s presence, to have awareness of the Spirit, to have previously experienced the joy of salvation. That is the Psalm is testifies to the reality that Israelites had a deeply personal Spiritual connection with God. Over and over in the Psalms we see incredible honesty and intimacy with God as the norm for Israelites. As the Israelites would sing,

I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory,
Because your HESED/steadfast/never ending love is better than life,
my lips will glorify you

(Psalm 63.3, see the whole Psalm).

One thing I asked of Yahweh,
That will I seek after:
to live in the house of Yahweh
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of Yahweh,
and to inquire in his temple …
Come, my heart says,
‘Seek his face!’
Your face, Yahweh do I seek,
Do not hide your face from me

(Psalm 27. 4, 8)

I love Yahweh,
because he has heard my voice
and supplications.
Because he inclined his ear to me,
therefore I will call on him as long as I live

(Psalm 116.1-2)

Yahweh is my portion
(Psalm 119.57)

Examples from the Book of Psalms can be multiplied until we quote all one and fifty of them.

Though not part of the Protestant Old Testament, The Prayer of Manasseh clearly reveals what a typical Jew thought along these lines in the centuries leading up to Jesus and in the Messiah’s day. The Hebrew Bible is chock full of stories of people deeply aware of their relationship with God. (See Psalm 139 as just another example). May we let this freaky false thesis die and indeed restore the same depth to our relationship with God we see in the Psalms.

Three Theses Nailed to the Church Door

The three freaky false theses commonly held in Protestant, Evangelical and Restorationist circles listed above are often stated in a myriad of ways that boil down to these three here. For instance, the freaky false doctrine that the Old Testament is basically “legalism” is destroyed by all three actual truths presented above.

If you are a minister or teacher I urge you to consider including the Hebrew Bible in your teaching on a regular basis. As 2022 is approaching it is a good time to plan, and study for, lessons coming up. We cannot get more “first century church” than when we are preaching and teaching the wonders of the Hebrew Bible to the disciples of the Lord … begin with the Holy Spirit inspired prayer,

Open my eyes, so that I may behold WONDROUS things in your instruction” (Ps 119.18).

Dear merciful Lord, deliver us from freaky false understandings of your living word that is sharper than any two edged sword that encourage us to ignore and misunderstand the vast majority of your word, that your servant Paul said equips us doctrinally, makes us wise, and is holy, good, just and Spiritual (2 Tim 3.15-16 & Rom 7.12,14,16).

We thank you for your mercy and Hesed and forgiveness when we have promoted these and similar scary theses. Open our eyes so we may see the wonders of your love, your grace, your glory.

Be exalted O Lord over our lives and in our hearts because you teach us.

Amen

Psalm 96 Made New in 1 Chronicles 16

O SING to the LORD a new song” (Psalm 96.1)

Chronicles and God’s Fresh Word of Grace

First and Second Chronicles is the last book of the Hebrew Bible. Some scholars have referred to this book as the first commentary on the Bible. It is Holy Spirit interpretation of the whole history of Israel. As Chronicles is the last book of the Hebrew Bible it says to us: this is the point, please don’t miss it.

Sadly, however, Chronicles is among the least known books of the Bible. And we often miss the point. Central to the Spirit guided message of Chronicles is the Temple and the worship of Israel. The Temple and Israel’s worship provide the key to the burning question of the Chronicler’s day: Will Yahweh take us back after our horrific sin? Will Yahweh still dwell among us, a people proven to be unfaithful? The “Last Word” of the Hebrew Bible (Chronicles) is that Yahweh not only will but does keep God’s people, does dwell among them in grace, and calls them to mission yet.” Grace is the Last Word of the Hebrew Bible. See my article Grace the Last Word: Two Stories, One People or Why the Bible tells the Story of Israel not only Twice but Differently.

Chronicles is a fascinating work but many never make it past the geologies to find out. However the Chronicler was an interpreter of earlier Scripture. The author uses, and quotes, large portions of what we would call the “Bible” today. Among the texts used by Chronicler is the Book of Psalms. The Chronicler sometimes combines several older Psalms to make a new one. Artists to this day are often inspired by and mine the work of previous masters in order to produce fresh and powerful contemporary works of art in music, literature, movies and paintings.

A classic case is found in 1 Chronicles 16 after David has brought the Ark to Jerusalem. David assumes the priestly role of leading Israel in worship through offering sacrifice (16.2) and song. He arranges the instruments for “sacred song” (16.4-6, 42) as well. What follows in 16.8-36 is three psalms made into one.

1 Chronicles 16.8-22 is Psalm 105.1-15 nearly verbatim

1 Chronicles 16.23-30 is Psalm 96.1-10 nearly verbatim

1 Chronicles 16.31-35 is Psalm 106.1, 47-48

New Song: Verse One

All of these Psalms come near the end of Book IV of the Psalter. Psalm 105 and 106 are long theological reflections on the story of Israel. Psalm 105 tells of Yahweh’s gracious HESED and never ending faithfulness to Israel. Psalm 106 is a stark contrast from Ps 105 telling the equally sad tale of Israel’s never ending faithlessness to Yahweh’s Covenant of Love. (The use of these psalms also shows that the at least a large portion of the book of Psalms was in use in the fifth century BC.).

The Chronicler skillfully, and subtly, edits one or two lines of text to create a new Psalm that speaks appropriately for David’s day but even more so for his own day. Most commentators on Chronicles do not even attempt to deal with the new psalm. They say just read the Psalm commentaries. But the Chronicler has made a new psalm (interestingly enough Ps 96, begins with “Sing to the LORD a new song” which is omitted by the Chronicler and he begins his quote with “Sing to the LORD all the earth” the second line of v.1) with a fresh message in its own narrative context. The new song has a meaning in Chronicles and explicates the unique Spirit message for that day and ours.

The new psalm can be outlined as follows …

I. Israel is called to praise and remember Yahweh’s works (16.8-22)

II. The Nations are called to worship Yahweh (16.23-30)

III. The Cosmos is called to worship Yahweh (16.31-36)

Israel. The Nations. The Cosmos. This is all creation is called to fall before Yahweh’s throne (in the temple) and gather in worship before the Creator, the God of Israel.

David calls Israel to “seek” Yahweh, to “seek his face regularly” (vv. 10-11). They are called to “remember his marvelous deeds” and that his “judgements are in all the earth.” To God’s people, who had been exiled, these are powerful words. Even in Babylon it is Yahweh who calls the shots and remembering his salvific rescue out of Egypt is the paradigm for hope. For the Chonicler’s day the message is, even in the “grave” of Exile, Yahweh’s Hesed is greater than Babylonian gods and … and … greater than our sin.

In verse 18-19 the Chronicler subtly changes one word, but the NRSV/NIV ignore this. It is after all a subtle change. The text reads,

To give you [Abraham] I give the land …
When YOU were few in number …”

The Chronicler’s text, Psalm 96, reads “they” (which is what the NIV/NRSV also read for 1 Chronicles 16.19). But the Chronicler changes it to a third person plural. That is from “they” to “you.” This rather subtle move places the Chronicler’s little band of believers in David’s audience. David is thus addressing “us” now and not just the ancestors centuries ago. What happened seven hundred years ago is a message for “us” is the point. David’s is not just an ancient word but a contemporary word to God’s people in a new and desperate situation. They (the Chronicler’s audience) surely are “few in number” and they clearly have been sojourners in the land (Babylon and perhaps even in their new Persian province). Israel is then called, by David, the anointed ones, the prophets (16.22). The small post-exilic community is a band of prophets!

New Song: Verse Two

In part 2 the nations are called to worship. Israel can never escape her identity, even through exile. Yahweh created them as a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19.6) or as David calls them here, “my prophets.” Priests and prophets bring the message of Israel’s God. Israel has that function, even as an insignificant entity.

So in 16.23-30 “all peoples,” “the nations,” “O families of the earth” are exhorted to acknowledge Yahweh. In the ancient world this would have been heard as outrageous and pompous. It was assumed that a nations status was tied to the power of its god. Since Israel was absurdly tiny this would imply Yahweh was less than relevant both in David’s day and the Chronicler’s. Yet the nations gods are simply “idols.” Yahweh is ironically fulfilling the mission of Israel through exile because she must still call the nations to worship the Lord.

Also, no less scandalously, the nations, the nations who have tortured Israel, the nations who have been the enemies of God’s people, the nations who have been the enemies of Yahweh (!), Israel is called to

declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous works among all the peoples.
For great is Yahweh,
and greatly to be praised.

Assyrians. Babylonians. Persians. All nations are to hear the good news of Yahweh and to come and worship the God of Israel. Even after Exile, Israel is still to be a light to the nations. Israel is to bless those who persecute her! Israel was created for such a purpose and her sin has not unhitched her from God’s commission in the Exodus.

New Song: Verse Three

The final section of the psalm which draws on Psalm 106 calls the cosmos to join Israel and the nations in worship of the Creator God, the God of Israel.

Let the heavens rejoice,
let the earth be glad,
let them say among the nations,
YAHWEH IS KING!
Let the sea roar and its fullness …
For he comes to judge the world
.”

The heavens and the earth is called to worship in praise (cf. Psalms 104, 148, 149, 150, etc) of Yahweh. The salvation of Israel and the nations is good news for creation itself. Yahweh’s faithfulness to Israel is not thwarted by her perfidious track record of covenant keeping. The idolatry of the nations has not kept Yahweh from loving them and calling them to join Israel before the throne and live joyfully in God’s life-giving Presence.

What is the reason for Creation’s praise. Yahweh is coming to judge! To those schooled in typical modern Protestant theology judging is a fearful notion. Coming to judge is a very misunderstood concept in modern times. It does not signify primarily coming to destroy or punish. It sometimes may include that but that is not the basic idea when the Bible speaks of it. The sea is not exhorted to roar because Armageddon is about to be unleashed. Destruction of the nations is not why the “seas roar.”

When Yahweh comes to judge means that justice will finally cover the earth like the waters of the sea. To come and judge means that the wrongs of this world will be made right. To judge means to make the world right, to put it back together again. To come and judge means to heal the world. This is something to burst out in praise for. This is why creation bursts out in praise because Yahweh has shocked Israel and the nations with Grace and healed the world. And this is a message that is desperately needed by God’s people existing constantly on the precipice of disaster.

In verse 35 the Chronicler adds the words to Psalm 106.47, “And say” or “say also.”

Who?
Who is to “say?”
What is to be said?

The “who” are the people in the Chronicler’s own day. The people gathered in worship in the Chronicler’s day are invited to join the prayer “And say.” Say what?

SAVE US, O GOD of our salvation,
Gather us and deliver us from the nations
to thank your holy name,
and glory in your praise
.”

The Chronicler conflates the centuries between David and post-exilic Judah and suddenly makes them one. They are together standing before the King. But not just them … us.

Then all the people had a fantastic dinner. Worship culminates in eating, communion, with the gracious God of Israel, Yahweh. All Israel, even over space and time, one by the grace of God and is blessed in God’s presence.

The Chronicler’s message is a powerful one.

What a great new song.

A Quotable Quote

“So far as I know, the Bible nowhere teaches, either expressly or by necessary implication, that the Holy Spirit dwells in the word. If it does not, no man is under any obligation to say it or believe it, but he is expressly represented as dwelling in Christians … This we must believe and affirm.” (James A. Harding, “The Holy Spirit – A Bible Reading,” The Way 1.8 [1 August 1899], 116).

Experiencing God

Is experiencing God merely a reading exercise? I have a few questions that seem like common sense to me but apparently are controversial.

1) Did Noah experience God only in and thru the Bible?

2) Did Abraham experience God only in and thru the Bible?

3) Did Moses experience God only in and thru the Bible?

4) Did David experience God only in and thru the Bible?

5) Did the various Psalmists (Heman, Korah, Asaph, etc) experience God only in and thru the Bible?

6) Did Mary experience God only in and thru the Bible?

7) Did Peter, Paul or John experience God only in and thru the Bible?

8 ) Did the church/Israel of the Bible experience the God of the Bible only in and thru the Bible?

9) Did Jesus experience the God of the Bible only in and thru the Bible?

The answer to all of these questions is exactly the same … No.

So why would anyone, that believes in the Bible, make the claim that the only way one can experience the God of the Bible is in and thru only the Bible? This is exactly what is affirmed in the old saw “the Spirit indwells only through the word and does not work separate and apart from the Word.”

Does this not come dangerously close to saying that God and the Bible are the same “thing?”

None of the names listed questions above could experience the God of the Bible only in and thru the Bible because there was no such thing as the BIBLE … historical context can settle this notion.

Psalms

The Psalmist praises God for the Torah, for the Word, for the Promises and Precepts. But the Psalmist did not confuse the Word with the active and ever present God whom fellowship with was a precious gift of grace. Note carefully these texts from Psalm 119 that are a prayer to Yahweh:

open my eyes, so that I may behold wondrous things in your torah” (Ps 119.18)

I treasure your word in my heart … teach me your statutes” (Ps 119.11, 12)

teach me your statutes, make me understand the way of your precepts” (119.26)

Put false ways far from me; and graciously teach me your law” (Ps 119.29)

Give me understanding, and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart” (Ps 119.34)

Direct me in the paths of your commands, for there I find delight” (Ps 119.35)

Turn my heart towards your statutes and not towards selfish gain” (Ps 119.36)

The earth, O LORD, is full of your hesed (steadfast love/grace), teach me your statutes” (Ps 119.64, see v.65, 73, etc)

Your statutes are forever right: give me understanding that I may live” (Ps 119. 144)

I have not departed from your laws, for you yourself have taught me” (Ps 119.102)

Read them again. Even in the Hebrew Bible the Psalmist prays for God to come personally alongside the Israelite to teach, guide, instruct, to be with the person. Prayer is not directed to the Torah but Yahweh. Yahweh can and will act upon the one praying. But it is God’s personal Presence that the psalm bears witness to.

YOU are all I want, O LORD” (119.57)

Bless me with your PRESENCE” (119.135)

but YOU are near to me, O LORD” (119.151)

The Psalmist has a connection to God outside the Torah. God is not the Bible and the Bible is not God.

Psalm 119 is hardly alone. Psalm 51 voices the craving of all God seeking Israelites,

Cast me not away from your presence
and take not your holy Spirit from me.


Give me the joy of your saving help again
and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit

(Ps 51.11-12, The First Testament: A New Translation).

I am thankful for God’s holy and inspired word but I know I do not experience the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit only thru that word. The Bible itself declares such to be a false conception, indeed a false doctrine.

I have a relationship with God thru the Spirit that transcends the sacred page. I experience God in prayer, in worship, in fellowship, and even in daily life. Indeed, we have access to the Father and the Son through the Holy Spirit In fact, if the Scriptures themselves are to be believed, I need God to help me see what God wants me to see in the Word. “Open my eyes that I may behold wondrous things …” That prayer is for God to unleash the Spirit upon us … this by the way is exactly what Paul prayed in Ephesians 1. The “Ephesians,” like the Psalmist of 119 already had the Torah, Paul’s teaching and even the Epistle itself. But the apostle prayed,

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that you may know him better” (Ephesians 1.17f).

The Real Biblical Question

The question in the Bible itself is not

“Does the Holy Spirit work separate and apart from the Word.”

Rather the question in the Bible itself is,

“Does the Word work separate and apart from the Holy Spirit?”

The word is the sword of the Spirit, it is not the other way around. A soldier wields his/her sword. If a soldier does not grasp, raise, swing that sword then it does nothing though sharp as a razor and made out of the best steel on the planet. On the other hand that soldier can walk, talk, raise hands, use other weapons, in fact do anything he or she wants to do. The soldier and the sword are not equivalent.

This is, in fact, what the Bible itself teaches. Just a thought.

Thank you Father for the gift of your Spirit living in us, among us, that bears witness with our spirit that we belong to you and your Dear Son Jesus. This, I thank you, is not simply comprehending the words on a printed page. But actually communing with you, basking in your glory and love and presence. Amen.

Of Related Interest

The Messianic Age is the Age of the Holy Spirit: Fourteen Themes

The Holy Spirit and the Disciple in Ephesians, Pt 1

Worship Unites People at the Table

Many of you read through the Bible in a year and I do the same. I comment on the daily Psalm reading (the Psalms are read every month) more frequently. But today’s reading has occupied my mind for a while since reading during lunch.

My Bible has the “Middle Testament” (the Apocrypha as Protestants call it). But I learned several years ago that if I read three and a third pages every day I can read the Hebrew Bible, Middle Testament and the New Testament easily in a year. That did not seem too burdensome so I have hung with it over the years. I reflect on this today because I finished reading First Esdras today.

First Esdras (Esdras = Ezra) covers the same basic ground as the ending of 2 Chronicles, Ezra 1-5 and Nehemiah 7-8. It is nine chapters long and I read chapters 8-9 today. The book was used by Josephus instead of the version of Ezra-Nehemiah of the Hebrew Bible in his Jewish Antiquities. Alexander Campbell quoted from 4.35 on the masthead of the Millennial Harbinger for many years, “Great is the truth and stronger than all things.”

The whole book gives us a unique window on the worship, especially corporate worship, of God’s people during the centuries leading up to Jesus. In chapter 8-9 there is a great assembly in which Ezra leads the people in confession, prayer, the reading of the Bible (the Law) that culminates in a great feast at the table. The prayer mingles amazing faith in God’s grace and mercy as well as a call to repentance. It ends with a covenant meal and the sharing of that meal with those who have none. Worship binds all God’s people together as equals at God’s table. So Ezra prays,

And now in some measure of mercy has come to us from you, O Lord, to leave us a root and a name in your holy place, and to uncover a light for us in the house of the Lord our God, and to give us food in the time of our servitude. Even in our bondage we were not forsaken by our Lord but he brought us into favor with the kings of the Persians, so that they have given us food, and glorified the temple of our Lord, and raised Zion from desolation, to give us a stronghold in Judea and Jerusalem.” (8.78-81).

The Lord has “lifted the burden of our sins” (v.86).

What Good News!

The people gather with Ezra for the Festival of Trumpets, as the book closes. A pulpit was made of wood and Ezra climbed it to read the “law of Moses” from early in the morning till mid-day. He was joined by others who either interpreted or translated the law for the people. The crowd lifted their hands in the air and then fell down and worshiped the Lord shouting “Amen” as the Bible was read to them.

Because the day was “holy to the Lord” (9.50) the crowd is forbidden to be sorrowful. The reading of Moses was not to produce condemnation. Rather the goal is to be filled with “great rejoicing.” Joy flows from communion with God in worship.

The Word of God was heard. Then the people sat and ate in the joy of the Lord. Such a day can only be shared with those who are less fortunate – the poor.

This day is holy; do not be sorrowful.

Then they all went their way to eat and drink and enjoy themselves, and to give portions to those who had none, and to make great rejoicing; because they had been inspired by the words which had been taught.” (9.54-55).

The Word of God leads to the Table of God, and that my beloved friends, leads to the unity of God’s people. First Esdras literally ends with this note,

And they came together.” (9.55).

That is pretty good theology. God’s word certainly makes us aware of our sin. But the word makes clear that God has been merciful even as we have been faithless. We have seriously misrepresented God’s word if we do not come away awed that Grace is greater than sin.

God’s word “inspires” us by bringing us to God’s grace.

God’s table is spread for those who know they have been graced.

When we know we have been graced, we share the riches of God’s table.

God’s word and God’s table bring us to unity in the joy of the Lord.

Yes, that is pretty good theology.

The Messiah has come.
The Messiah lived.
The Messiah taught.
The Messiah suffered.
The Messiah died.
The Messiah has been raised bodily in the flesh in harmony with the Scriptures.

The life of a disciple of the Messiah is a life of ALREADY but NOT YET. Have you noticed that?

There is a Past Tense. God has saved us (Eph 2.8, etc)
There is a Present Tense. God is saving us (2 Cor 4.16, etc)
There is a Future Tense. God will save us (1 Pt 1.5, etc)

We have eternal life and yet die.
We are saved but live in hope of the redemption of our mortal bodies.
We have the first fruits of the Spirit as a down payment.
We share in the kingdom and yet wait for God’s will to be done on earth as in heaven.

Christians live in anticipation of the future where, as the saying goes, faith shall be sight.

This dynamic of the Christian life and faith, I think also applies to the so called “new” covenant as well. We have noted before that Jeremiah means a REnewal of the covenant between God and his People. (See Jeremiah 31.31-34: Explorations in “New” an “Renewed” in the Bible.) But have you ever noticed what Jeremiah says (and his contemporary Ezekiel who speaks of a covenant renewed as well). Central to Jeremiah’s promise are these words (and they are echoed in Ezekiel),

I will put my laws in their minds
and write them on their hearts …
No longer will they teach their neighbors,
or say to one another,
‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
from the least to the greatest

Central to the notion of this renewal is that God’s people are so intimately connected to Yahweh (we “know” him) that his will is ALREADY inscribed on our hearts, we will not have teaching or teachers. The whole idea in Jeremiah is that it was possible to rebel against the Lord because God’s law was external to the people, but now will be part of the DNA make up of the person. It is pretty hard to counteract DNA.

When the Hebrews Preacher quotes Jeremiah 31, he does not seem to indicate that this part of the promise has been realized yet. Why would he/she be teaching if they already knew what it was that God desired? Clearly they did not understand.

But many do not seem to realize that the Hebrews Preacher is not the only person to quote Jeremiah 31 in a sermon/letter. But it is important to see that Jeremiah 31.31 is in fact quoted and NOT applied to Christianity at all or at least to its present state. Who and where?

It is the apostle Paul who quotes Jeremiah 31.31, he does so in Romans 11.27. In the context, Paul is discussing the fate of Israel (the very folks the covenant is renewed with in Jeremiah 31.31-32). Gentile believers were bragging/boasting over Israelites (Romans 11.13, 18, 20) and Paul tells those Gentiles not to be “wiser than you are” (11.25). Paul combines a quotation from Isaiah 59.20-21 and Jeremiah 31.31 to put a stop to such Gentile arrogance. But Paul applies Jeremiah 31.31. Look at what he says,

Out of Zion will come a Deliverer;
he will banish ungodliness from Jacob

(Isa 59.20)”

Interestingly enough, verse 21 mentions (like Ezekiel and Jeremiah) a covenant where the Spirit is placed in them so they know the will of God.

And this is my covenant with them,
when I take away their sins”
(Jer 31.31)

Here Paul quotes Isaiah 59 and Jeremiah 31 and applies them to the future. He does not even apply those texts to Gentiles in Romans 11 but Israel. So we read in Romans 11.27,

As it is written:

The deliverer will come from Zion;
    he will turn godlessness away from Jacob
[=Isaiah 59.20].
And this is my covenant with them
    when I take away their sins”
[=Jeremiah 31.31].

Paul says Jeremiah’s new/renewed covenant is still a future hope for Israel even as it has already come in part. The full realization of God’s promise thru Jeremiah, Isaiah and Ezekiel is still yet to come. It is Already, Not Yet.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I have to struggle to know God’s will and sometimes I never know just what God wants.

I don’t know about anyone else but I have needed teachers many times to help me understand God’s word.

I don’t know about anyone else but in my experience I’ve met (and am one) hundreds of Christians that God’s law is not tattooed on their heart. So the renewed/new covenant came with the Messiah, just as salvation did but we wait for it yet.

So the renewed/new covenant is here and we participate in it. Yet, just as we have eternal life yet wait for it. So the renewed/new covenant is a yet to come in its fullness just as we have experienced resurrection in baptism but wait for it in the future. So like all aspects of Christian faith we share in the renewed covenant by God’s amazing grace but wait for its realization in the Eschaton. That is the time when our bodies will be redeemed from the stain of sin, our minds will be renewed and our hearts pump with the beat of the Holy Spirit that like Jesus himself our will is naturally that of God’s.

Blessings.

There are many things for which Alexander Campbell can be criticized, just like all of us. And like all of us, sometimes it is our weaker positions that live on. One area Campbell has come in for criticism is what scholars call “Dispensationalism.” We recognize this from the Jule Miller filmstrips: Patriarchal, Mosaic, Christian dispensations. There has been a long tendency among us to mean more radical things by this than Campbell did. It is not uncommon to find the spiritual offspring of Campbell believing that the NT is essentially the antithesis to the “Old Testament.” As we shall see that is not what Campbell meant.

So for today, I think there are three truths that Campbell left us that are often overlooked. These truths are also sound beginning points to faithfully reading the New Testament.

First: A Moral Requirement. Campbell believed a certain moral quality is required to reading Scripture. It is this moral dimension that makes Bible study an act of worship. It is in fact the beginning and the ending of the matter. “God himself is the center of that circle, and humility is its circumference.” One enters Scripture not as a master, to debate, or the like, but humbly where we seek and find genuine communion with God through the power of the Spirit. “the voice of God is distinctly heard.” Our eyes are fixed upon God to be in joyous communion with God. So we do not read to prove another wrong but to commune in God’s holy presence.

Second: The Bible Requires Effort. There are few people who championed the right of ordinary people to read the Bible for themselves as Alexander Campbell. But Campbell did not believe that “the Bible alone” is equivalent to “ALONE with the Bible.” The Bible can be daunting and requires effort on the part of disciples. He put it like this,

“[N]o volume in the world can surpass the Bible, in all its varieties and peculiarities of style; and that no book demands so much discrimination on the part of the student, who would accurately understand and intelligently interpret, its ancient and venerable compositions” (Christianity Restored, p. 18).

The Bible is the greatest book. But the Bible makes “demands” upon a student for understanding. The Bible is “ancient.” One of the demands for reading the New Testament is a deep and proper comprehension of the Hebrew Scriptures. Campbell states this in numerous places. I will refer to both Christianity Restored and Christian System.

“Remember that the authors of the New Testament were Jews, and well versed in the Jewish Scriptures; and that an intimate acquaintance with the Jewish Scriptures is indispensable to your knowledge not only of the ancient communications, but to an acquaintance with the style and phraseology of the New Testament authors” (Christianity Restored, p. 65).

“Every one, then, who would accurately understand the Christian institution must approach it through the Mosaic; and that he would be a proficient the Jewish must make Paul his commentator … The language of the new institution is therefore explained by that of the old. No one can understand the dialect of the kingdom of heaven who has not studied the dialect of the antecedent administrations of heaven … All the leading words and phrases of the New Testament are to be explained and understood by the history of the Jewish nation and God’s government of them” (Christian System, pp. 117, 118-119).

“Paul was a Hebrew, and spoke in the Hebrew style. We must learn that style before we fully understand the apostle’s style. In other words, we must studiously read the Old Testament before we can accurately understand the New” (Christian System, p.231).

Campbell simply declared, “though the New Testament is written in Greek, it has the soul of Hebrew.” (Preface to the Living Oracles).

These words of Campbell, which can be multiplied, are almost stunning. For Campbell dispensationalism meant you could not base church PRACTICES like infant baptism (as the analogy to circumcision) on the OT. Campbell did not think and mean that you could even understand the Christian faith as written in the New Testament apart from living and breathing the “Hebrew style.” The thought of the New Testament is from the Hebrew Bible. In short NT doctrine means what it means based on the “Old Testament.”

Campbell’s emphasis here was correct. To use a Pauline image, it is “sound.”

Third, Epistles are Surprisingly “Hard.” For Campbell the Epistles of the New Testament embody the previous three ideas. We still seek God. And they are challenging for a myriad of reasons. They must be entered through an Old Testament framework. But there is one more obstacle that makes them “difficult.” They are “occasional.” In his “Preface to the Epistles” in the Living Oracles, Campbell wrote,

“EPISTOLARY communications are not so easily understood, as historic writings. The historian writes upon the hypothesis, that his reader is ignorant of the facts and information, which he communicates; and therefore explains himself as he proceeds. The letter-writer proceeds upon the hypothesis, that the person or community addressed, is already in possession of such information, as will explain the things, to which he only alludes, or which he simply mentions. This is more especially the fact, when the writer of a letter addresses a people, with whom he is personally acquainted, amongst whom he has been, and with whom he has already conversed, upon most of the subjects on which he writes. A letter to persons who have heard the writer before, who know his peculiarity; and, above all, who are perfectly acquainted with their own circumstances, questions, debates, difficulties, conduct, &c. may be every way plain, and of easy apprehension to them, when it may be very difficult, and, in some places, unintelligible, to persons altogether strangers to these things. It is a saying, to which little exception can be made, that every man best understands the letters addressed to himself. It is true, if another person were made minutely acquainted with all the business, from first to last, with all the peculiarities of the writer, and circumstances of the persons addressed, and with all the items of correspondence, he might as fully and as clearly understand the letter, as those for whom it was addressed.”

A letter writer makes a large number of ASSUMPTIONS on the part of the reader. These assumptions are typically not shared by those who were not the original recipient. After all, as Campbell states,

“we are to remember, that these letters were written nearly eighteen centuries ago. This fact has much meaning in it: for it follows from it, that, excepting the prophetic part of these writings, not a word or sentence in them, can be explained or understood, by all that has happened in the world, for eighteen hundred years. We might as well expect to find the meaning of Cicero’s orations, or Horace’s epistles, from reading the debates of the British Parliament, or the American Congress of the last year …”

What Campbell says is that New Testament Epistles have a historical context. They have an “occasion.” They were written “eighteen hundred years ago.” We need to learn the “style” of the authors (they were Jewish) and we need to try to enter the world of the readers. So we come to the Bible as a whole as humble students seeking the greatest gift, communion with God. We read the pages of the New Testament with reference to the Hebrew Bible. That is the New Testament is explained by the “Old Testament.” And admit that some of the text is challenging and requires effort and paying attention to the context both the wider biblical context and the historical context.

I think these pointers from Campbell would deeply enrich and bless our churches today.

Seems like a small thing to do for the sake of love

Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6.2)

Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others” (Phil 2.4)

Love is patient, love is kind, love is not envious … it does not insist on its own way … love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor 13.4-7)

At Eastside we desire to be a family that is rooted and grounded supremely in the love of God shown in our Lord Jesus and fills us through the Holy Spirit. We want to be that place where we bear one another’s burdens, where we look out for the well being of others (because we love them), we want to be a place where patience, kindness and going the extra mile happens because we fulfill the law of Christ.  In short, we all want nothing more than to be the people of the Jesus Creed.

For months during our lock-down, we practiced these things.  We shifted to online services and then outdoor ones precisely because we believe the texts just quoted. As vaccines were developed in answer to our prayers we have been able to gather together once again.  We confess with Israel of old, “I was glad when they said, ‘Let’s go to the house of the LORD” (Ps 122.1).

We are still to practice love, especially now. The apostle Paul reprimanded the Corinthians for not looking out for those in their congregation that were the most vulnerable. His entire instruction regarding the Lord’s Supper is grounded in the Corinthian callus attitude toward the vulnerable. In that setting the vulnerable were the poor.  In our setting, in our time, in reference to Covid-19 those people are the at-risk people among us.  As we watched out for one another during “lock-down,” so we must remain diligent in the practice of love as we come together.

It is because of love for one another that we

encourage everyone to get vaccinated

if you are not vaccinated to wear a mask

The Contra Costa County Health Department and the State of California requires that unvaccinated person wear a mask. In fact on Friday, they recommended masks for indoor gatherings. We have had several cases of Covid among us and we know that it is dangerous. With the rise of variants of Covid (like the Delta) we want to be cautious but more than that we simply want to show people that loving is second nature to us.

Love, Love, Love, Love
the Gospel in a word is Love,
Love they neighbor as they brother,
Love, Love, Love, Love …