Updates from June, 2017 Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • Kevin D. Johnson 9:44 am on June 27, 2017 Permalink | Reply  

    On the Guidance of History in Interpreting Scripture 

    Jerry Bowyer sat down with N.T. Wright recently and the conversation is available online at Forbes. Here Bowyer is busy explaining that we need to take into account the actual historical context of the Gospels in order to properly interpret them. On the whole, I agree with such a statement as any capable interpreter of the Scriptures would. However, there is more to the story.

    We can all agree that Second Temple Judaism is a historical context that is relatively important to interpreting the Gospels. However, we also can’t forget that much of the scholarly work done in this area is by folks that have little commitment to Christian orthodoxy and often postulate wild ideas about both the Scriptures and the historical context around them. There has, of course, been some orthodox pushback in recent years by scholars like Bauckham and Hurtado — I would generally include Wright in this category though his postmodernism and British social considerations often blur his witness as to what really is important to consider from this historical era.

    We also have to be careful to remember that scholarly appropriations of an era do not make for the actual context in which Jesus and his disciples lived and this becomes especially true the more scholars depart from an actual orthodox consideration of the subject.

    So, while I agree with the basic premise of what’s being said by Bowyer here I have to register at least a little caution and say it’s just not that simple.

    Additionally, it’s not at all clear that the Scriptures were meant to be understood only in light of their original cultural environment.  As Christians, we don’t understand the Old Testament this way, the Apostles felt free to interpret the Old Testament in light of the revelation of Christ quite apart from the original context, and it’s clear that the Gospels among other passages of Scriptures were written with more than just the current issues and problems of Second Temple Judaism in mind.  More properly speaking, the Gospels were written within an ever-expanding context of Christian mission and Gentile outreach that quickly became a universal force for cultural, civilizational, sociopolitical, and even technological change.  In fact, by the time the Gospels were written and well-received in the churches the first century Jewish context was already radically different than Second Temple Judaism.

    Furthermore, the Scriptures are a product of divine inspiration (2 Timothy 3:16-17) and also have to be seen in a canonical and theological light that often transcends any immediate cultural observation about them.  History and culture are proper tools to understand Scripture, but they’re also not meant to guide or control meaning without cause.  For example, simply because Jesus references seventy times seven (Matthew 18:22) we can’t immediately assume that Jesus is referring to the 490 weeks of Daniel (490=70 * 7) or that his hearers would be immediately cognizant of the same.  Perhaps they were, but the real meaning and application of the passage has little to do with the eschatological concerns of Daniel or particular segments of Second Temple Judaic thought.

    This fact brings up another point about the cultural era in question.  Second Temple Judaism was actually a period of great religious diversity both among the Jews and the wider Roman culture.  Practically speaking, this means it’s very difficult to pin down exactly who Jesus was talking to and why unless the Gospels make that explicitly clear.  Part of the reason why it’s popular among some to think like N.T. Wright in examining the Gospels in light of Second Temple Judaism is because postmodernism sees great value in how different communities might receive and deal with the biblical texts.  This methodology in interpretation gives further room to different interpretations and takes on what Jesus was doing and what the Gospels mean.  This postmodern take at its worst point is a form of interpretive maximalism that allows for a less than traditional read on any given passage.  For example, in less than orthodox circles, this interpretive gambit is what allows more liberal scholars to posit the ridiculous idea that the Gospels never taught the divinity of Jesus–an astoundingly inaccurate claim all things considered.

    One last consideration is found in the fact that these studies by scholars can lead to a situation where the average person or even pastors become dependent on them in order to understand the Gospels because to sift out all of the potentially relevant historical and cultural contextual material is no small feat.  This mindset strikes hard against the fact that the Scriptures are available and clear for all to interpret in light of the work of the Holy Spirit and for our salvation (cf. Westminster Confession of Faith 1.7).  If we really need all this scholarly historical and cultural work to grasp the truth of the Gospels as far as our salvation and life in the Lord is concerned, how is it that we avoid placing the scholar as mediator in our spiritual walk with God?  Pastors need to be very careful in remembering the true clarity that is available to the people through the work of the Holy Spirit.  Scholarly study is not bad and often necessary, but it also isn’t meant to take the place of receiving what the Scriptures are actually saying to people in the life of the church as far as their salvation and sanctification are concerned.

    So, in short, yes historical and cultural contexts are important to consider when looking at the Scriptures but their existence doesn’t necessarily drive the meaning or import of the text itself without any sort of qualifications like I’ve made clear above.  We would do well to remember “my sheep hear my voice” (John 10:27) when attending to issues like this or we risk compromising the clear character of God’s word in our lives in favor of an endless round of scholarly postmodern takes on what the Bible has to say.

  • Kevin D. Johnson 6:00 pm on June 10, 2017 Permalink | Reply  

    Hammer to the Nail: The Requirement of Local Church Membership – Part VIII 

    Bojidar Marinov continues to make wild claims, and the photo to the left is no exception.  One is abandoning duty and honor to assume that they are free of obligation in the church while they could just as easily help brothers and sisters in Christ by being a mature committed believer. This isn’t a matter of consumer choice or entrepreneurial activity. The Scriptures command us to encourage, exhort, serve, and love our brothers and sisters in Christ within the context of the local church community. There are just too many Scriptures to quote to make this plain, but Galatians 5:13 tells us “through love to serve one another.”

    Matthew 23:8-12 has been invoked as a way to avoid ecclesiastical oversight and especially in light of Bojidar Marinov’s claims. However, “call no man father” doesn’t mean to never call a man father or even necessarily to avoid calling ministers fathers (though the Roman abuse here is strikingly similar to the charges Jesus laid down to the Pharisees). It also has nothing to do with getting rid of vocational ministry or going “Lone Ranger.” The phrase isn’t a new paradigm in terms of how mature believers should behave in relation to the church. The real context of Matthew 23 finds Jesus busy condemning the wickedness of the scribes and Pharisees. Notice even in the midst of their evil he doesn’t suggest a completely new form of spiritual/ministerial government.

    These men were busy usurping the legitimate authority represented by the chair of Moses (Matthew 23:1) and denying it by virtue of their behavior. They arrogantly assumed the position of spiritual fathers but manifestly betrayed it by their own actions as the chapter details. Jesus here is doing the typical rabbinical thing and exaggerating–much like he didn’t encourage people to chop off their hands or poke out their eyes (Matt. 5:29-30) but rather very much wanted to see real heart-felt obedience to the law.

    How do we know this? Jesus had no issue calling someone a father or teacher. Jesus regularly referred people to honor their fathers. He called Nicodemus a teacher of Israel (John 3:10). He called Abraham his father and the father of Israel and had no issue being called a rabbi under the right circumstances (John 3:2; 6:25; Mark 9:5). He spoke of the father of the prodigal son and spoke of Abraham also as father in another parable (cf. Luke 16). In fact, the word “father” is used so much in the New Testament it’s simply impossible to take this passage so woodenly except to ignore a whole host of passages. Stephen calls the high priest and the Sanhedrin brothers and fathers (Acts 7:2), men who assuredly didn’t deserve either title. He names Abraham as his father. He quotes Exodus 3:6 where God says he is the God of Moses’ father Abraham in his challenge in Acts 7. After insulting the high priest, Paul backs up and still calls him a ruler of the people–by quoting the Mosaic Law (Acts 23:5). Paul heals a father (Acts 28:8), calls Abraham “the father of us all” (Romans 4:11, 16), and refers to those under his spiritual care as children while he compares himself to or refers to himself as their father (1 Cor. 4:15; Phil. 2:22; 1 Thess. 2:11). Perhaps Paul’s use is the most relevant to the question here–it would be very strange for Paul to say these things if we take Jesus to mean there never should be any such a thing as ministers and ministerial father figures in the church.

    But, there is more because relevant to the words of Jesus is his command for the people in Matthew 23 to continue to obey their leaders as far as they commanded faithfulness to the law of God and there is no sense that such an obligation was going to go disappear even though a transition was in process from the church being in Israel and going worldwide to the Gentiles. Jesus tells the people “all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds” (Matt. 23:3). So, whatever “tone” here Jesus is setting has very little to do with a supposed abandonment of normal local church ministry. Note that the words of Jesus are not merely to mature believers here but serves as a warning to those who might be tempted to be like the scribes and Pharisees.

    And, what does the form of the nascent New Testament church display in its formation once it moves outside of Israel and into the Gentile world (ignoring for a moment the fact that the church has always had leaders and has existed since the beginning, Heidelberg Catechism, Q/A 54)? Isolated passage like Matthew 23:8-12 ought to guide mature believers in abandoning the church is surely special pleading of no small design when lots of passages can be pointed out that say things directly opposed to Bojidar’s contentions.

    Passages like Titus 2 are impossibly conceived without a local church community involved and the commands for mature believers are clearly to be selfless models and examples for others in addition to whatever formal office they might hold. Paul commanded elders in Crete for the entire population and in every town (Titus 1:5) even while requesting that elders be pulled from the population itself. Hebrews 13:7, 17 tells the Christian community to obey their leaders and imitate their conduct in the faith and directly says that elders are responsible to God for their spiritual care. How is it possible to obey that command without a connection to leaders at all?

    An additional problem attends Bojidar’s position. If the mature have no obligation to be a part of the local church and serve since the design is to let them be free and unburdened by the local church, then why have qualifications for elders or pastors in the Scriptures? Where would elders come from in a church if there is no local church leadership to aspire to and be had? I simply don’t see the model Bojidar proposes in the Scriptures themselves.

    It is quite clear as any good history will provide (cf. Burtchaell, James. From Synagogue to Church: Public Services and Offices in the Earliest Christian Communities. Cambridge University Press, 2004) that the New Testament churches originally designed their polity after the first century synagogue and only departed from its model as the church moved away from a unique Jewish identity and into a Gentile world. But, the amazing thing is that the authority of the church from Jewish to Gentile eras in the church actually resulted in church offices becoming more authoritative rather than less. That speaks against any notion that the more mature option ought to be no obligation to the local church and complete freedom from any elder supervision.

    The real truth is that from the time of the New Testament, as early as the Didache, in the early church and even in the canons of the ecumenical councils, and on through to the Middle Ages and later–itinerant ministers that had no real connection to local churches were in large part condemned and people were warned about them. The biblical evidence continues to demonstrate that Bojidar’s perspective is simply in error and that is no less true with Matthew 23:8-12.

  • Kevin D. Johnson 8:21 am on June 5, 2017 Permalink | Reply  

    Bojidar Marinov Contra Spurgeon on Local Church Membership 

    Bojidar Marinov refers to Spurgeon at length when it comes to the notion of private judgement. But, does he do the same for Spurgeon in terms of how he viewed membership in a local church? Sadly, the answer is no. Spurgeon had some very strong words for those who avoided membership and full participation in the local church. The following comes from a sermon he gave entitled Joining the Church delivered at the Metropolitan Tabernacle on June 18, 1914 in the evening:

    “Now, I know there are some who say, “Well, I hope I have given myself to the Lord, but I do not intend to give myself to any church, because—”Now, why not?” Because I can be a Christian without it.”

    Now, are you quite clear upon that? You can be as good a Christian by disobedience to your Lord’s commands as by being obedient?

    Well, suppose everybody else did the same, suppose all Christians in the world said,
    “I shall not join the Church.”

    Why there would be no visible Church, there would be no ordinances. That would be a very bad thing, and yet, one doing it—what is right for one is right for all— why should not all of us do it? Then you believe that if you were to do an act which has a tendency to destroy the visible Church of God, you would be as good a Christian as if you did your best to build up that church? I do not believe it, sir! nor do you either. You have not any such a belief; it is only a trumpery excuse for something else. There is a brick–a very good one. What is the brick made for? To help to build a house with. It is of no use for that brick to tell you that it is just as good a brick while it is kicking about on the ground as it would be in the house. It is a good-for-nothing brick; until it is built into the wall, it is no good. So you rolling-stone Christians, I do not believe that you are answering your purpose; you are living contrary to the life which Christ would have you live, and you are much to blame for the injury you do.

    Additionally, Spurgeon also spoke very clearly about Lone Ranger “professors of religion”:

    If you cannot live without being a rogue, do not be a professor of religion; it will be quite as well for you to go to hell at once, as you are, as to go there with a mill-stone about your neck through having made a profession, a base and wicked profession of godliness, which you did not cry out. No, sirs, if you will not, in the strength and spirit of God’s grace, strive after consistency of moral conduct, you have no right to talk about giving yourselves to the Church, which you will disgrace. You will only sin yourselves into a deeper condemnation; therefore keep away from it.

  • Kevin D. Johnson 7:16 am on June 5, 2017 Permalink | Reply  

    Hammer to the Nail: The Requirement of Local Church Membership – Part VII 

    The Consistory in Geneva was the pastors and elders in the city and provided punitive discipline as needed. The Consistory functioned in conjunction with the “state” (the city councils) to enforce discipline but was not really a state agent. In fact, the Consistory spent its early years in conflict with the state in attempting to raise moral standards in the city. However, its reach was not just in the city but in the surrounding rural areas as well. Additionally, Calvin’s influence provided this paradigm for many more areas under Reformed control in Europe during that time. Later, many communions (including the Puritans early on in England and later in the New World) adopted a similar model though without the complexity and tensions of Geneva’s government. Among them were the Presbyterians and the Dutch Reformed–the two main branches of Reformed practice today remaining somewhat dominant in America as the inheritors of the original magisterial Reformation.

    Even still, as Manetsch makes clear every major communion in play during the sixteenth century used punitive discipline to enforce moral codes in one way or the other.  He writes:

    All of the major Christian confessions during the early modern period— Roman Catholic, Lutheran, the Church of England, Anabaptist, Reformed— were committed to defending orthodox doctrine and enforcing standards of public morality among their adherents. Nevertheless, reformed churches following Geneva’s example gave special prominence to moral discipline and created institutions to oversee societal righteousness and encourage personal sanctification.

    So, for Marinov to claim otherwise is certainly not in line with the history of the matter. It is true that there were figures like Hooker and Andrewes that believed that lay elders shouldn’t have any participation in disciplinary action on the part of the church, but they also didn’t completely jettison the notion of excommunication or disciplinary procedures in the church. Instead, they reserved its use for the ordained clergy when absolutely needed.

    The point here, however, is not to say that Geneva was universally normative during the Reformation. Rather, the essential biblical model of church discipline that was elder or minister-led, rightly punitive on occasion in terms of suspensions/excommunications from the Table, and that later informed more modern Reformed practice was part and parcel of what it meant to be Reformed. Geneva is just one particularly historic and influential implementation of these biblical truths where we have really good records to display and fill out what it is a magisterial Reformer like Calvin in the main believed that later largely influenced whole communions. Other Reformed communions held to the same general principles in varying degree.

    Mr. Marinov has claimed that Reformed theology has virtually no place for elder or even ministerial rule, that there really is no such thing as punitive discipline in the churches led by duly appointed or ordained officers, and that sections of the Westminster Confession of Faith (to say nothing of others like the Belgic Confession) must be edited where it’s been made clear that the normal ministerial offices of the church remain authoritative on the basis of God’s Word to guard and discipline the flock. That is what at odds with the Reformed tradition on the whole, and not the specifics of any historic implementation of it like Geneva. Geneva merely provides us with a convenient and obvious example.

  • Kevin D. Johnson 10:06 pm on June 3, 2017 Permalink | Reply  

    Hammer to the Nail: The Requirement of Local Church Membership – Part VI 

    What an odd chart if the elders of the Consistory in Geneva in Calvin’s day and beyond never practiced punitive church discipline or had no biblical basis for it.  We need to be careful that our representations of Reformed theology and practice actually accord with the history of the matter (as reported in Manetsch’s Calvin’s Company of Pastors):

    The book goes on to describe sixteenth century Geneva and the nature of punitive discipline as practiced by the city’s elders and here are some choice quotes from Manetsch in that regard:

    “The Ecclesiastical Ordinances recognized two kinds of excommunication, minor excommunication (usually called suspension) and major excommunication. The penalty of minor excommunication or suspension was the least severe and far and away the most common form of interdiction: around 96–97 percent of all known excommunications in Geneva between 1542 and 1609 were of this sort. Described in the sources variously as a ban ( une interdiction ), a suspension ( une suspension ), or a prohibition ( une défense ), minor excommunication barred the sinner from the sacrament of the Lord’s Table but not from social contact with other church members or from public worship services. The ministers and elders expected that suspensions would be of short duration, for one or two of Geneva’s quarterly communion services, after which sinners were to be reconciled to the church…The penalty of major excommunication ( l’excommunication ) was a more severe judgment but was employed much less frequently. Between 1542 and 1609, only around 3–4 percent of all interdictions were of this more extreme variety. “Very rarely must one resort to excommunication,” Beza once commented in a letter to Heinrich Bullinger. The Consistory reserved this type of discipline for hardened sinners who stubbornly refused to repent, or who were guilty of egregious public sins such as habitual usury, flagrant sexual misconduct or religious heresy.”

    “Before 1541, townsfolk had freedom to move between temples and attend the preaching service of their choice. This practice, Calvin feared, fostered the perception that the ministers were preachers, not pastors. The Ecclesiastical Ordinances (1541) addressed this concern by requiring that children hear the weekly catechism sermon and adults take the Lord’s Supper in their local parish temples.

    Although men and women were still permitted to attend sermons of their choice in other parishes, this stipulation assured at least a degree of pastoral oversight.”

    “Calvinist discipline in Geneva depended upon an elaborate system of surveillance and pastoral supervision within the city and countryside parishes. The Ecclesiastical Ordinances (1541) required that twelve lay elders be assigned to each of the city’s neighborhoods so that they might “keep an eye on everything.” In a similar fashion, Geneva’s ministers lived in different neighborhoods of the city so that they might know the members of their local congregation and be in a better position to exercise pastoral care and corrective discipline. In addition to pastors and elders, city officers known as dizeniers —minor magistrates whose primary duties were military and administrative—were given broad powers of supervision over each of the city’s twenty-five civil districts to warn sinners and if necessary, send offenders to Consistory.”

    “At the same time, the Ecclesiastical Ordinances created an institution called the Consistory, a church court consisting of the city pastors and lay elders that was to meet each Thursday at noon for the purpose of overseeing public morality and doctrine, and admonishing and disciplining people guilty of flagrant sin.”

    “Every Thursday at noon, dozens of people were summoned to the Consistory’s chambers for interrogation or to provide testimony. Most defendants came voluntarily; those who did not were brought forcibly by the lieutenant of the Consistory (called the sautier ) or by the rural garde.”

    “In 1556, the magistrates allowed for the first time that formal oaths be administered to witnesses who testified in disciplinary cases; henceforth lying to Consistory constituted the civil crime of perjury. The following year, the council issued an edict that required people who had been suspended from the Lord’s Supper to be reconciled to the church within six months, on pain of banishment from the city. The Edict of 1560 extended the ministers’ role even further in that it gave them new advisory powers in the annual elections of elders to Consistory, allowed men of bourgeois status (and not just full citizens) to be appointed to the office of elder, required that major excommunications be announced publicly from the church’s pulpits, and mandated public reparations for sinners guilty of notorious scandals.”

    “The Consistory was required to follow the guidelines for church discipline outlined in Matthew 18:15-17. In cases of private vice, the pastors and elders were first to admonish the sinner in private. If the offender ignored these warnings, he or she should be summoned to Consistory for examination and formal rebuke. Those sinners who remained obstinate, who refused to repent or reform their behavior, were to be suspended from the Lord’s Supper for a brief period of time so that they might “humble themselves before God and better recognize their error.” In cases of public misbehavior, the Ordinances stated that the ministers and elders might forgo private admonitions and summon the offender directly to Consistory for examination and censure. Defendants suspected of criminal conduct were to be delivered to Geneva’s magistrates for additional civil punishments. In all of its deliberations, the Consistory was expected to treat offenders with moderation and gentleness, recognizing that these “corrections are nothing but medicine to bring sinners back to our Lord.”

    Obviously, this is far different from Bojidar Marinov’s claim that:

    “[C]hurch discipline is teaching and training, not punishments. Where there is no teaching or training, or where the people have been fed only the fundamental milk of the faith, there is no discipline. Excommunication is a very minuscule part of discipline, and it is not given as a prerogative to elders. It is a responsibility and a privilege of the whole church, of all the individuals in it; and subject to it must be first and foremost the very teachers and leaders in the church…Thus, when John MacArthur complains about people moving from church to church, “never submitting to the care of elders,” he accuses these people of “misunderstanding of the believer’s responsibility to the body of Christ.” The truth is, MacArthur only shows his ignorance of the Biblical teaching and of Reformed theology. Under the principle of the right and duty of private judgment, this is exactly what people should be doing: listening to sermons in the churches and judging the preachers according to the Word of God.” [emphasis in the original]

    Of course, Reformed theology since the time of Calvin has most certainly demonstrated a preference for elders to govern the church in conjunction with the Christian magistrate using punitive discipline where necessary and this is exemplified not only by the actual history noted above but also through the way they interpreted the Scriptures in doing so.

  • Kevin D. Johnson 2:55 pm on March 20, 2017 Permalink | Reply  

    Hammer to the Nail: The Requirement of Local Church Membership – Part V 

    This is the fifth part of a series against Bojidar Marinov’s articles against local church membership. The links to the previous series are below. In this section, we’re going to be looking at the synagogue and its relevance to the New Testament church.

    The origin of the synagogue in Old Testament Israel is somewhat clouded in the fog of history as far as modern scholarship is concerned. Many scholars today treat the synagogue as appearing after the return of the Israelites from the Babylonian Exile. The reason for this has more to do with the way modern scholarship works in treating only explicit or extant evidence from the Second Temple Period (530 BC to 70 AD) either available from history/archaelogy or in the biblical text. Modern scholarship wouldn’t typically treat the relationship of Leviticus 23:3 with passages like Acts 15:21 except in the isolated twin towers of Old and New Testament studies.

    For our purposes, we assume with Burtchaell that the synagogue in one form or another existed very early on in Israel’s settlement of the land, was put in place again after the Babylonian Exile, and was highly developed by Jesus’ day sufficient to offer itself as a paradigm for local church membership. Much of this post is going to borrow from Burtchaell’s book titled, From Synagogue to Church: Public Services and Offices in the Earliest Christian Communities (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004). Other good general sources to consult on synagogues remain Lee Levine’s The Ancient Synagogue: The First Thousand Years (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005) and The Oxford Dictionary of the Jewish Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997).

    Whatever your opinion as to the origin of the synagogue, the local New Testament church is clearly and originally based off the more developed first century synagogue that existed during the time of Apostles and later grew into its own. The word “synagogue” simply means an assembly and the Jews both nationally and locally called themselves an assembly in the Scriptures as we discussed to some degree in the last post.

    Synagogue comes from the Greek term synagoge and is represented by Hebrew terms in the Old Testament where the assembly or congregation is specified as the Jewish people (Deuteronomy 23:3-4; Proverbs 5:13-14; Nehemiah 7:66; Micah 2:5). Philo himself calls the origin of the synagogue the assembly of God’s people at Sinai (as quoted in Burtchaell, p. 209). As we discussed in the last post, the assembly of the congregation–in Greek synagoge or ekklesia–was seen in the Old Testament as the gathering of the called-out ones for a variety of national and local events or convocations. The list provided by Burtchaell is instructive (p. 209-210):

    1) Corporate military decisions (Judges 20:2; Judges 21:5, 8)
    2) Ratifying the covenant (Deuteronomy 4:10; Ezra 10:1)
    3) Acclaiming rulers (1 Chronicles 28:2; 2 Chronicles 10:3; 2 Chronicles 23:3)
    4) For hallowing/making holy (1 Chronicles 13:2-4; 1 Kings 18:24; 2 Chronicles 30:2-4)
    5) For receiving communications (Deuteronomy 31:9-13; Jeremiah 25)
    6) For bestowing official honors (1 Chronicles 29:20)
    7) For judgment, including capital crimes (Ezekiel 23:46; Numbers 15:32-36; Proverbs 5:14)

    The synagogue, however, was not just the national gathering of the Jewish people but also constituted the weekly local gathering for worship in cities/towns and villages. And, in fact, the presence of Jewish towns and villages had a hierarchical design often spoken of as “cities with their villages” (Joshua 15:32; Joshua 15:36; Numbers 21:25; 1 Chronicles 7:28-29). The Mishnah helps clarify that people in villages that were too small for synagogues would regularly go to the town associated with them in order to attend synagogue services and other important events (Burtchaell, p. 216).

    To be clear, the local synagogue during the first century was not merely an incidental part of Jewish life but served as the center of public life. The synagogue was the public seat of leadership, community, and regular worship for the Jewish people. The synagogue was where the elders resided and judged aberrant members of the community (including punishment of offenses), where the Scriptures were read and exposited on the Sabbath, where the Scriptures were presented to the people in their own languages, where children were instructed, where charity to the poor was dispensed, it remained the house of prayer for the local people, and where business and commerce even took place (cf. Levine, pp. 135-173). This is so much the case that the Romans themselves recognized the judicial character of the synagogue and had little problem allowing the Jews to manage their own affairs (Levine, p. 136).

    The primary difference between membership in a synagogue and membership in a church was that for most early Christians, membership was a matter of voluntary conversion to Christianity whereas membership in the synagogue was by birth and through circumcision. The grace of God was chiefly offered in a particular way to the Jewish people by birth and the advent of the New Covenant extended that grace to all people everywhere provided they repent and join the church in her worship of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

    Typically, very few Gentiles ever converted to Judaism because of the physical barrier of circumcision. The New Testament clearly identifies God-fearing Gentiles as friends of the synagogue that were believers in the God of Israel but not natively Jewish (Acts 13:16; Acts 13:26). These God-fearers too were called to a higher standard of local church membership in Christ’s church than they enjoyed in befriending the synagogues and that fact alone should register huge doubt as to the claim Bojidar makes that membership was unnecessary for local Christian churches.  For them, unlike Bojidar, becoming a Christian and joining the local church was a matter of rejoicing because it meant going from a mere friend of the faithful to a real member of the faithful (Acts 13:48).

    If you were part of a community and Jewish or Christian, you’d be part of the local synagogue or church respectively. This is so much the case that early Christian churches very much resembled Jewish synagogues and only very gradually moved to distinct entities as history progressed. All of the essential qualities of local synagogues were transferred in one way or another to Christian churches including local punitive discipline, the reading/study of the word, prayer, weekly worship, the exposition of the word, and the like. To say that local church membership was not required of Christians in this sort of social setting is simply to deny the reality of what it meant to be Jewish or Christian. In fact, this is so much the case that eventually the Christians were formally barred from membership in synagogues and suffered persecution due to their acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah (John 9:34; John 16:2; Acts 13:44-52). If there was no such thing as local synagogual membership, how could one be put out of the synagogue or driven from the community? The same ability to be put out of the Christian church through excommunication was also a feature of first century local churches as 1 Corinthians 5 makes quite clear.

    Regardless, nowhere do we find the sort of independence from local churches and elders that Bojidar Marinov has maintained when we look at the every day synagogue life of Jewish towns, villages, and homes as they practiced it as outlined in the Scriptures and in the pages of history. Regular weekly Sabbath worship was a vital part of being Jewish and that transferred directly to the Christian world upon the advent of the New Covenant. The local institutional presence of the Lord’s people, her elders, the word, sacraments, prayer, and praise have been around for several millenia and to say that it doesn’t mark the fundamental identity of God’s people is to ignore vast sections of church history and what the Bible puts forward in both the Old and New Testaments.

    Before we examine the New Testament in more detail, the next installment of this series will review the early history of the church in terms of discipleship and baptism–what it meant to become a Christian in a local church even before the Middle Ages and the Reformation.

    [[ Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV ]]

  • Kevin D. Johnson 2:51 pm on March 19, 2017 Permalink | Reply  

    Hammer to the Nail: The Requirement of Local Church Membership – Part IV 

    This is the fourth part of a series on local church membership written against Bojidar Marinov’s articles against the same. In Part I, we looked at how Bojidar Marinov’s perspective isn’t reflective of historical Reformed practice, Part II demonstrated that the life of Abraham is not an example for Lone Ranger Christians, and Part III demonstrated the same for Moses.

    In this series, however, Moses deserves at least two posts if only because his life and example isn’t the only relevant consideration when we look at the subject of church membership. The Bible itself is extremely honest about the lives of the saints and Moses is no exception. The Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) does not seem to lift up the life of Moses as an unqualified and absolute example for Christians to imitate. Moses displays several faults from the murder of an Egyptian (Exodus 2:11-14) to his lack of confidence that he could be God’s spokesman alone (Exodus 4). While the New Testament is clear to mark Moses as a man of faith, there is no evidence that his singular calling is a paradigmatic example for just anyone to follow as Marinov claims.

    However, Moses is important for other reasons. In addition to the life of Moses, this important biblical figure also provided the community of the faithful with what we know as the Mosaic Law, the first five books of the Old Testament. This is important for local church membership because it gives us a glimpse of how Moses would design a nation to function when it comes to things local membership in the community of God’s people. A person’s autobiographical account of a potentially troubled and lone example is one thing, but the pattern Moses sets up for the people in the establishment of the Old Covenant is quite another and certainly more important. The rabbis called this sort of argument moving from the lesser to the greater and it’s an important biblical paradigm Bojidar Marinov seems to miss. As if that wasn’t enough, the nature of the Mosaic Law is especially important here to reference because it constitutes not just the words of Moses, but the very word of God (Psalm 19:7; 2 Timothy 3:15-16).

    The caution registered in the first part of this series remains, however. We can’t simply interpret the Mosaic law one-to-one as if an ancient Israeli economy and nation could be transplanted here in the 21st century. Again, we’re not looking for ancient examples of modern Presbyterian churches in the Pentateuch. The nature of God’s revelation in the Bible is progressive and the moral principles of the Law are honored throughout the text of Scripture but often applied in very different ways. That means that we may see differences in implementation as far as how God’s people live in a local community due to the particular covenantal administration, but we will always see God’s people as members living in local community with one another and regularly calling upon the name of the Lord (Genesis 4:26). In short, the Mosaic Law provides us with a moral paradigm for a nation and community of people that is later reflected in more detail in the New Testament.

    So, what does Moses tell us about local church membership? Leviticus 23:3 provides one of the clearest examples that God wanted his people resting and worshiping on the Sabbath in their local communities. The verse reads (NASB):

    ‘For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a sabbath of complete rest, a holy convocation. You shall not do any work; it is a sabbath to the Lord in all your dwellings.

    At first glance, this might seem to just say that the Lord appointed a Sabbath of worship in every family’s house in the community. However, the word for “dwellings” here more properly refers to the seat of leadership in a community (1 Samuel 20:18; Psalm 1:1; Psalm 107:32; Job 29:7) as much as it does the actual houses or dwellings of the people. In short, when a congregation or community is in view this refers to the place where the elders sat as leaders of the people and ones in authority (Psalm 107:32).

    More importantly, however, is the meaning of “holy convocation.” The holy convocation was a formal calling out or summons of the people of Israel and is used several times in Leviticus 23. The weekly Sabbath gathering of the solemn worship of the people of God is put on the same plain as the Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, First Fruits, and Pentecost — all holy convocations and all holy and corporate gatherings of God’s people.  More than that, in Leviticus 23 the local weekly gathering of Old Testament saints for worship is put first and even before the Passover.  In Numbers 10, the word for convocation is used to summon the people of Israel together and constitutes a solemn remembrance of the deliverance God would provide in war and always provided to Israel (Numbers 10:2; Numbers 10:8-10). Matthew Henry summarizes Leviticus 23:3 this way:

    “If it lie within your reach, you shall sanctify it in a religious assembly: let as many as can come to the door of the tabernacle, and let others meet elsewhere for prayer, and praise, and the reading of the law…Whether you have opportunity of sanctifying it in a holy convocation or not, yet let it be the sabbath of the Lord in all your dwellings. Put a difference between that day and other days in your families. It is the sabbath of the Lord, the day on which he rested from the work of creation, and on which he has appointed us to rest; let it be observed in all your dwellings, even now that you dwell in tents.” Note, God’s sabbaths are to be religiously observed in every private house, by every family apart, as well as by many families together in holy convocations. (Matthew Henry, Commentary on Leviticus 23)

    Since the first example of public worship before God is a matter of calling out (Genesis 4:26), Abraham and Moses were called out as leaders of God’s covenant people, the Sabbath remains a holy calling out of weekly worship to God by his people, and the church exists as an assembly of called-out ones (the very meaning of ekklesia), the consistency of the biblical language is too strong to ignore. In fact, this very consistency is noted by James in Acts 15:21 where he says, “For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”

    Add to this the weekly practice of our Lord and his interpretation of what it meant to practice Leviticus 23:3 while he was here on earth (Luke 4:16) and it gets very difficult to go all Bojidar with the biblical text.  Local church membership and participation remains a requirement for Christians today and the Mosaic law reflected that reality from the earliest of times.  The next post will examine synagogue worship and its relevance to the New Testament church in light of both the Old and New Testaments.

    [[ Part I, Part II, Part III ]]

  • Kevin D. Johnson 1:36 pm on March 17, 2017 Permalink | Reply  

    Hammer to the Nail: The Requirement of Local Church Membership – Part III 

    In this section, we continue to take a look at how Bojidar Marinov wrongly interprets the Scriptures in order to support his false idea that local church membership simply isn’t required and that Christians can function as Lone Rangers in doing gospel ministry quite without the need of local church membership. The next example to examine is that of Moses. Bojidar writes:

    We have Moses, who was similarly called out of his people, and spent 40 years of his life alone among unbelievers, and then another 40 years alone in the wilderness. It was there, alone, in the wilderness, that God called him for his mission.

    As before, there are not a lot of details to work with in terms of the life of Moses since the text is concerned to tell another story. We know some things, but not everything. Moses did spend his first years among the Egyptians in the royal court but even here he was not alone. As soon as Moses was found by the Egyptian princess, the mother of Moses becomes his nurse and was responsible for weaning him (Exodus 2:5-10). Given the dictates of Exodus 12 on teaching children (Exodus 12:24-27) and the direct role she played in putting him in the river in the first place, it’s highly unlikely that the mother of Moses never taught her son about what it meant to be a Hebrew.  After all, this is the story that begins with Hebrew midwives valiantly taking action against Pharaoh in saving the lives of young boys (Exodus 1:15-22).

    But further, if Moses was all alone in Egypt, how did he bother to develop any empathy for his kinsmen in killing the Egyptian? How did he even know about them? Moses grew up at the Egyptian court and the very next verses show that Moses is aware of his Hebrew kinsmen, calls them brethren, and then took action on their behalf (Exodus 2:11).  The New Testament adds more to the context and as a result it’s clear that Moses even here is already looking toward Christ and the reward of faith–choosing to be identified with his people rather than remain in Egypt (Hebrews 11:24-27).   It seems as if Mr. Marinov has been watching something like The Prince of Egypt rather than actually reading from the text of Scripture.

    Regardless, the story moves quickly.  The killing of an Egyptian forces Moses to flee and immediately the story introduces the careful reader to the priest of Midian. Interestingly enough, wherever Moses goes in the story of the Exodus he is already with and a part of his people. In truth, he is never really alone. Even Pharaoh’s daughter recognized him, not merely as a Hebrew boy but as one of the Hebrews’ children (Exodus 2:6). It’s missing these sorts of details that makes Bojidar’s gloss a huge misread of the text.

    Moses did not, as Bojidar says, spend 40 years in the wilderness alone. In fact, he worked with his priestly father-in-law Jethro tending his sheep, married one of his daughters, raised a family, and eventually met God at the Burning Bush. This period of time was the training ground for what would come next and the text is busy telling us that Moses was being a faithful father, a good shepherd, and member of the community God had put him in.

    As with other mysterious early figures in the Bible, we don’t know a lot about Jethro but we do know that Moses presents him in a very positive light as a priest of Midian.  Earlier, the Bible had already indicated that Moses dwelt with the Midian priest (Exodus 2:21) and it’s this very priest that guides Moses to set apart judges to lighten his duties as a leader of God’s people in Exodus 18. The passage makes quite clear that the Midian priest is a believer in God (Exodus 18:11), rejoices over the success of the withdrawal out of Egypt (Exodus 18:9), sacrifices to God for and with Moses, Aaron, and all the elders of Israel (Exodus 18:12), and then advises Moses on how to properly organize judges for the nation (Exodus 18:13-24).  Are we really to believe that Jethro’s household was something other than a place where worship to the one God regularly took place or that Moses was somehow all alone in the wilderness?

    Even as the story of the Burning Bush begins, the text again emphasizes that Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, the priest of Midian (Exodus 3:1). For anyone with eyes to see or ears to hear (Revelation 2:29), this puts the story of Moses’ calling within the local ecclesiastical context he had at the time however imperfect it may have been. In other words, Moses wasn’t just called alone but was called as a part of the body of the faithful present there with him in the wilderness. This is solidified when we see Moses going to his priestly father-in-law later and confirming his ability to leave and lead for God (Exodus 4:18-20). As with any ministerial calling, the Scriptures dictate both an internal and external call. Moses was certainly singularly called by God for a particular mission but that calling was externally confirmed by the witness and presence of the Midian priest Jethro and the community he led.

    The more closely Exodus and the story of Moses is read, the less it looks like Moses was a Lone Ranger like Bojidar would have us believe. It’s important to realize that this is the story Moses wrote of himself (John 7:19) and in the Spirit he chose to emphasize a calling that was not, on the whole, singular but had local communities that worshiped the one God at every turn with him, supporting him, and confirming his action and work. Moses didn’t write Exodus with the sort of firebrand Lone Ranger activity Bojidar Marinov is famous for and we can’t view the citation of him as an example for Marinov’s case as anything other than special pleading.

    Again, the goal here is not to establish that we see New Covenant membership standards present in the life of Moses, but simply to show that Marinov’s conception of these things on the whole are inaccurate and do not really speak as strongly to the matter as some might suppose.

    But, like the famous Ginsu steak knives, there is more.  Even if we grant Bojidar’s wild claims about Moses as a Lone Ranger Prophet and say the example he provides is accurate, that doesn’t make his case.  The examples we are given in Scripture do not automatically apply simply because they exist.  The Apostle Paul quite clearly tells us that the examples of the Old Covenant were both good and bad and that sometimes they ought to serve as a warning for us (1 Corinthians 10:6-12).  This means that examples of Old Covenant behavior do not establish on their own what Bojidar makes of them.

    After all, there are other examples where Old Testament saints went rogue and acted on their own without institutional ecclesiastical support.  Yet, the Bible condemns them.  Korah rose up against Moses and was able to persuade some 250 other men to join with him and yet this was a rebellion that ended in a horrible death for them all (Numbers 16).  The chief claim of Korah was that the they didn’t need an institutional presence of God’s people because the Lord’s presence was with all of them (Numbers 16:3)!  That sounds awfully familiar to what Mr. Marinov is claiming and future posts will demonstrate just how fallacious his claim really is.

    In the next post, we’ll address even more concerning Moses that Bojidar hasn’t taken into account and then we’ll eventually turn to the New Testament.
    [[ Part I, Part II, Part IV ]]

  • Kevin D. Johnson 10:13 am on April 21, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    Tendencies In Christian Exegetical Scholarship 

    I’m saddened, really, that an otherwise exceptional scholar will make statements like this:

    Conversely, while the New Testament emphatically declares that God is angry at human sin and that Jesus’ death saves us from God’s wrath, in passages such as John 3:36; Romans 1:18; 2:5–6; 5:9; and Revelation 6:16–17, it does not link this with the idea of Jesus’ death as a sacrifice.

    The chief cause of this is the tendency in Christian exegetical scholarship to unlink contexts as if something like Romans 5:9 could be said without reference to Galatians 3:13, Numbers 16, or a score of other passages. Parceling out the Scriptures in separate distinct units without reference to the entirety of Scripture’s commentary on the matter is a great postmodern way to deny the gospel–and that’s exactly what’s happening here.

    But, the main point of this article is equally wrong. Of course, sacrifice in the OT (e.g. 2 Sam 24:25) and on the cross is linked to appeasing God’s wrath. But, look at Goldingay’s statement above–it remains self-refuting. If Jesus’ death was a sacrifice and Jesus’ death saves us from God’s wrath, then the nature of the sacrifice was such that it saves us from God’s wrath just by the plain logic of the matter.

Compose new post
Next post/Next comment
Previous post/Previous comment
Show/Hide comments
Go to top
Go to login
Show/Hide help
shift + esc