Sunday, January 29, 2017

About refugees and the church

A president or a nation can do what they want, I suppose, until God’s judgment falls. But remember God’s judgment, the Scriptures state, begins with the church. I have been listening to Sandra McCracken’s All Ye Refugees and I am reminded that we are all refugees, exiled from God and without hope in the world without Jesus Christ. That in itself is a biblical reason to care for the refugees of this world.

One doesn’t have to quote God’s word to Israel to care for the refugee because we were once as lost and needy as they. In fact, we still are so very needy. Having been brought home to God by the death and life of Jesus is sufficient reason to care for the refugee. While we were still ungodly Christ died for us.

I have a beautiful granddaughter (beautiful in face and spirit) who put aside, for a while, a huge scholarship, to work with refugees in Europe. I wonder how she and the team she is working with, which includes my son and his wife as well as two grandchildren, are feeling now about our situation as they experience those who so desperately need help and sanctuary.

I pray the church in the United States will turn her eyes toward Jesus and away from fear.

I am the One, the earth is my handmade work
The skies I laid them wide, beauty unfurled
Horizon to horizon
Creation to creation, sings you home

Welcome home, gather round
all ye refugees, come in.

Oh refugee, I did not cast you out
In death and broken ground, Salvation springs
My body and my blood, the healing that you need
Come and receive (Chorus)

Watch and wait and see, what is yet to be
Watch and wait and see, for the morning

Go out in joy and join the great procession
The mountains and the heav’ns all will rejoice
horizon to horizon, creation to creation
horizon to horizon, creation to creation
With one voice (Chorus)

© 2015 Petit Bateaux Music (ASCAP) / Flo Paris Music / Kellie Haddock
from Psalms, released April 14, 2015
Written by Chelsey Scott, Kellie Haddock, and Flo Paris

Thanks to Beanscot.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Our Identity in Christ set against radical feminist theories of identity

I thought of who we are in Christ as I read an article lauded by a Presbyterian pastor I follow on Twitter. A pastor, who, also follows me.  The article, Pussy Don’t Fail Me Now: The Place of Vaginas in Black Feminist Theory & Organizing, was written by Dr. Brittney Cooper who writes under the name crunktastic on Crunk Feminist Collection. What was the Presbyterian pastor thinking? How did it “blow her mind” and send her “reeling?” Couldn’t she see the awfulness of floundering in a darkness that will forever hide the beauty of Jesus?

I couldn’t help thinking of a song that became popular during the Jesus Movement, Turn your eyes upon Jesus lo0k full in his wonderful face. There was another about looking into each other’s eyes and seeing Jesus, (I don’t remember the title.) It is about the identity of the Christian. We belong to Jesus and there our identity is lodged.

The article was Cooper’s dialogue with herself about whether black feminists should still identify with an emphasis on their vaginas or put that aside for the sake of transgender people who do not have vaginas. It was her reaction to some transgender people’s views about the recent women’ march in Washington D.C. Please forgive the quote, it summarizes Cooper’s posting:

“After this weekend’s historic and inspiring Women’s Marches all over the country, I happened to see a few trans folks naming and calling out the pussy-centered culture of the marches, and reminding those of us who are cis, that vaginas aren’t a prerequisite for womanhood. The march was filled with white (cisgender) women reveling in the opportunity to wear their very pink pussy hats and shirts, and talk freely about their vaginas in public. I was not able to attend a march, but the nostalgia for both the movements of the 1970s and the Riot Grrl Days was palpable, even in the pictures. Many transwomen, however, pointed out the ways in which a focus on vaginas can marginalize womenfolk that don’t have those parts.”

I am sorry for the vulgar images and painful jarring thoughts these words produce. But all I could think, as I read, was how we, the Church, must feel sorrow for those who are so hurting that they demean themselves in this way. Cooper in another place states that she is religious and reads the Bible from her perspective—but, for those who belong to Jesus, there is a union with Jesus that negates our bitter selves and moves our identity into his.  It is his goodness, his righteousness, his holiness that marks us and gives us identity. 

Those who have their identity in Jesus Christ have beauty; the beauty of Christ. They do not quibble, with vulgar emphasis, over which body parts should identify them and help them face a broken and too often ugly world. They have Christ.

The church walks in the goodness of her Lord and bears his beauty. May the women who marched and the women of the Crunk Feminist Collection find their identity and beauty in Jesus.

“And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet he has now reconciled you in his fleshly body through death, in order to present you before him holy and blameless and beyond reproach—if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard …” (Col. 1:21-23b)


Friday, January 13, 2017

Is Jesus in the Hebrew Bible?

As a writer who loves metaphor, symbol and analogy, I love the Hebrew Bible, (the Old Testament.) It provides beautiful images of Jesus. But more than that it offers the reality of God’s promises concerning the Messiah. And here and there one sees glimpses of the eternal Son in person. Read the story of the “angel of the Lord” who appears to Samson’s parents in Judges 13. He calls himself Wonderful.

 And I must quickly say it is also the truthful narrative of God’s promises to and covenant with the Jewish people. The Hebrew Bible is, in reality, two stories that intertwine.  It is the history of Israel and God’s dealings and care for them. It is also, from beginning to end, the story of God’s redemptive purposes and promises. And the Messiah of God, Jesus, the begotten God in the bosom of the Father, looms large in the text.

Why am I writing this? Because a Presbyterian on a Presbyterian site I belong to, posted an advertisement for a Bible entitled The Jesus Bible. The ad states, “There is No B.C.: Sixty Six Books, One Story, All about One Name, Jesus.”  That is placed within the midst of the names of all of the books of the Bible. I don’t think the commenters, who mostly didn’t like the ad, realized that this particular Bible, published by Zondervan, is meant for young people. It is meant as a study Bible. But many felt that because the ad was saying that Jesus was also in the Old Testament that it sounded anti-Semitic.

I want to emphasize that the Hebrew Bible cannot be read out of context. A great deal of it is definitely the history of the Jewish people. The rest is their wonderful Writings and Prophets. But within the text is the glorious promises of the coming King and Messiah, a suffering King and a Suffering Messiah. Remember the very first Christians had only the Hebrew Scriptures as their Bible.  

In the book of Acts, the history of the early church, we read the story of the Ethiopian official who on his journey home is reading Isaiah 53. He asks the disciple Philip who the author is speaking of, himself or of someone else.

He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he does not open his mouth. In humiliation his judgement was taken away; who will relate his generation? For his life is removed from the earth.”

Philip explains that the Old Testament text is about Jesus. “Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to Him.” (Acts 8: 35)

If we fail to open the texts of the Hebrew Bible and teach others of our Lord Jesus Christ we fail to be his disciples.

One of the commenters in the thread I was reading reminded us all that Jesus in fact turned to the Hebrew Bible to explain who he was and how it was that he should be, and suffer crucifixion, and rise again. The apostle Luke writes of Jesus’ words and actions:

Oh foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and enter into his glory?

Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, he explained to them the things concerning himself in the Scriptures.”

Beginning in Genesis with the promise to Eve (and one might say to Satan also because it is God’s foretelling and curse to him) “… I shall put enmity between you and the woman. And between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise you on the head and you shall bruise him on the heel,” there are promises of the Messiah throughout the Old Testament.

I think one of my favorites was given by a man who wanted to curse Israel but was only allowed to bless her:

“I see him but not now;

I behold him but not near;

A star shall come forth from Jacob,

A scepter shall rise from Israel … (Numbers 24:17a)

Friday, January 6, 2017

The 2016-17 Horizons Bible Study "Who is Jesus? - a continuing review- according to the non-Canonical Gospels

We have come to those last three lessons in the Presbyterian Women’ Bible study, “Who is Jesus?: What a Difference a Lens Makes,” where the author bypasses the biblical text. Using non-canonical texts, the perspectives of Islam and Judaism and lastly contemporary culture, Judy Yates Siker looks at non-scriptural answers to the question “who is Jesus?” With this review I will focus on the questions that Siker fails to address. Why were the fanciful, too often gnostic and docetic, texts used by Siker rejected by the early church? And why must we, as Christians, also reject the non-canonical texts?

Yes, Siker does explain some of the differences between the non-canonical texts and the biblical texts but she fails to warn her readers that the non-canonical ones are damaging to the faith of the church. Most of them were written after the biblical texts were written and were rejected by the early church and the church universal through all ages.  They were rejected because they redefine the person of Jesus, the redemption of the saints and the God of the Hebrew Bible.

Siker’s reasons for turning to texts outside of the Bible are twofold. In her view concerning the three final lessons, she insists that the question, who is Jesus, for this study, is not “Who is Jesus according to our New Testament.” Siker writes:

 “I believe the question is broader than this, and I think we owe it to ourselves, as world citizens, to have a broader understanding of how this significant figure, Jesus, is seen and understood beyond the bounds of the New Testament.”

Concerning the ancient non-canonical texts featured in lesson seven, Siker writes:

“These writings are significant because they show us something of the diversity of early Christianity. As Christians today, we have a variety of views of Jesus and we certainly do not all agree on how we would answer the question “Who is Jesus?” It is important to realize that the earliest generations of Christians were dealing with similar questions, and were trying to determine just who Jesus had been and what was the most appropriate way to talk and teach about him. As we continue our efforts to understand and answer the question for ourselves, it can be interesting, enlightening, and valuable to know that even those among his earliest followers found the work of God in Christ to be expressed in various ways. It remains our task today to explore these ways and to engage the Gospel message of and about Jesus anew.”

So first, in answer to Siker’s statements, we are not only citizens of this world, we are citizens of heaven and we owe nothing to ourselves and everything to our Lord. If we study the texts she covers it must be to better answer those who have fallen into deceptive teaching.

Secondly, this is the PW’s Bible Study. To teach a biblical study exploring the person of Jesus and asking who he is one must understand that the New Testament is the Christian’s authoritative source in answering the question.  Also as a Christian one should connect the Word of the New Testament with the Word of the Old Testament. (And yes, I am speaking here of the eternal Son or as the NASB puts it in John 1:18, “The only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father.”)

Thirdly, studying the non-canonical texts can be beneficial, not because they are diverse forms of Christianity, but because they are heretical forms of Christianity that continually reappear and are a threat to the holiness and goodness of Christ’s church.

Looking at the Infancy Gospels Siker references, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas and the Infancy Gospel of James. Within both the reader finds a fanciful child and a fanciful Mary. And the Infancy Gospel of Thomas entails more mythology then Siker tells. Biblical scholar Richard J. Bauckham writes:

“… Jesus makes sparrows out of clay and brings them to life … He heals the injured, raises the dead, curses his enemies so that they die, proves superior in knowledge to all his schoolteachers. …” (Italics mine)[1]

The distraction is away from the fact that the eternal Son took on human flesh and became like humanity but without sin. Jesus’ miracles in his adulthood were laced with the humility of the compassionate Savior who did not and does not curse the repentant sinner. “A bruised reed he will not break and a dimly burning wick he will not extinguish …” (Isaiah 42: 3a)

Siker also features the Gospel of Peter and the Gospel of Thomas.

The Gospel of Peter which now only consists of small fragments is considered docetic by Siker and by other scholars. It carries within the text the possible idea that bodies are evil and that Jesus was not really human.  One scholar, Richard Bauckham, suggest that it may not have been docetic but rather had some misleading texts that were used by some heretical teachers. Using the early church historian Eusebius Bauckham writes:

“At the end of the second century Bishop Serapion of Antioch heard of a dispute over its use in the church of Rhossus. When he discovered it was being used to support docetic heresy and that a few passages in it were suspect from this point of view, he disallowed its use.”[2]

The Gospel of Thomas, which simply consists of supposed sayings of Jesus, has some sayings which align with biblical phrases and some which are clearly gnostic. While Elaine Pagels in her book, The Gnostic Gospels, seems to regard it as totally gnostic and uses those sayings which are gnostic, biblical scholar F.F. Bruce in his book, The Books and the Parchments, in an appendix writes:

“Some of these [sayings] could conceivably be genuine; at least they are sufficiently in keeping with the Lord’s character and teaching to deserve serious consideration. But the company they keep makes them suspect, for some of the sayings ascribed to him in this work are self-evidently spurious, and reflect the Gnostic outlook of the community to whose library this particular copy [the Coptic translation] of the work belonged.”

The important point here is that either “gospel” carries within it the seeds of heresy that can destroy the witness of true biblical faith. There is a failure to acknowledge the goodness of creation as well as the fall. Salvation in the Gospel of Thomas, turns out to be self-knowledge. And both gospels are aligned with other false gospels that totally obliterate the good news of God’s gift of salvation through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Siker, in the beginning of this lesson, attempts, in laying ground for the use of the non-canonical texts, to relativize the canonicity of the New Testament. She gives a slight history of that canonization using the Muratorian Canon, Athanasius’ list in an Easter letter in 367 AD, and the Council of Trent’s affirmation of the 27 books of the New Testament in 1546.  Contradicting Siker’s historical view of the canonization of the New Testament and her understanding of what canonization of the New Testament meant, F.F. Bruce writes:

“What is particularly important to notice is that the New Testament canon was not demarcated by the arbitrary degree of any Church Council. When at last a church council—the Synod of Hippo in A.D. 393—listed the twenty-seven books of the New Testament, it did not confer upon them any authority which they did not already possess, but simply recorded their previously established canonicity.  As Dr. Foakes-Jackson puts it: ‘The Church assuredly did not make the New Testament; the two grew up together.”[3]

It is in the holy Scriptures that we find the answer to the question “Who is Jesus.”

[1] Richard J. Bauckham, “Gospels (Apocryphal),” Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels: A compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship, Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, I Howard Marshall, Editors, (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press 1992).
[2] Ibid.
[3][3] F.F. Bruce, The Books and the Parchments: How We Got Our English Bible, revise and updated, (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell 1984) 103-104.