The Great Commission

Monday, December 8, 2014

Cookies, Cookies, Cookies!

Yesterday we held our annual Cookie Reception in the Fellowship Hall at Warrenton Bible Fellowship.  
This fun and light alternative to the formerly labor intensive Christmas dinners has proven to be an incredible success, among the workers and the eaters!  

The lights were dimmed as the electric candles flickered.  The coffee perked jubilantly as the cold water dispenser displayed its  own colorful Christmas spirit with slices of lime resting on the bottom while whole cranberries danced on top. 

From the front to the rear, 
from one side to the other, simple yet elegantly decorated tables waited patiently for their tops to receive the final and fated destiny - cookies!   

   Then, as if by magic, each family willingly passed off their plates to the workers, who put the crowning touch on all the plans and preparations.

When the doors were finally opened at 10AM, it's no wonder the first word uttered by one child (and heard by a waiting worker) was "Wooooow!!!"  This one worker actually felt a bit like Willy Wonka, opening his chocolate factory for the first time!

Plates of Cookies!   Tiers of Fudge! Tarts! Sausage Cheese Balls!  Racks of Jello!  

Pretzels with chocolates! 
A whole bevy of homemade barks and bon bons!

As adults acted like children 
and children acted like angels, 
the hour long feast and fellowship became yet another great memory among family members.

A very special thanks to all the bakers, cookers, eaters, talkers, visitors, and regulars who gave their all with abandon!

Special kudos to the whole cookie team: 
co-planner Eileen Parker and decorators/servers 
Katie and Sheri Farmer, Dawn  Knoebel and Kelly Kuvakas.  

A huge shout out to our spontaneous after party volunteer helpers, 
Kathy Caron and Alecia Towne, who cleaned and vacuumed with gusto!  

I'm thinking they left the reception 
having already worked off their consumed calories!  :)

Photo credits to Pastor Scott Ferrell and Kelly Kuvakas


Monday, October 20, 2014

Houston, We Have An Opportunity!

"Houston, we have a problem!" That's been the response we've seen and are still seeing regarding the action taken by Houston Mayor Annise Parker in subpoenaing the sermons and correspondence of a group of local pastors who opposed her controversial ordinance to grant equal rights to gay and transgender residents of Houston popularly known as the "Bathroom Bill." The bill had also gained notoriety as HERO, the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. Passed by the City Council in a 11-6 vote on May 28, it was signed into law by Mayor Parker that evening. 

Houston area churches were justifiably concerned. A number of them banded together and began a campaign to repeal HERO. They collected signatures on a petition and provided guidance to their congregations as to how they might go about getting the issue on the ballot for election in November. 

Therein lies the problem. 

The petitions were thrown out for lack of following detailed procedures in collecting signatures. As tensions mounted, those in support of repealing the ordinance filed a lawsuit against Mayor Parker and the City of Houston. This element of the story has largely been ignored. They claimed their petition was unfairly disqualified. They wanted their day in court. 

Well, they're getting it.

The city subpoenaed those pastors involved in the petition effort (not all pastors in the Houston area) to provide manuscripts of all sermons and correspondence involving 
their instructions to their congregations on how to go about the appeal process.  The original subpoena also asked for the details on any communication opposing the Mayor or anything speaking out against the whole LBGT movement. 

The Mayor's office was quick to admit the original subpoena was far too broad in its scope and was in violation of the 1st Amendment rights of the Pastors. The Mayor claimed this was the result of her legal team's (a group of pro bono lawyers) lack of understanding the complexity of the issue and was unintentional. The subpoena has been reworded. But, it should be noted, as the case rises up in the courts, the City Council does have the legal right to examine those manuscripts to see if, during the course of directing their congregations, while sermonizing or otherwise, legally mandated procedures were followed. The Pastors are legally obligated to respond. This is what is known as the discovery phase of a hearing. 

This, IMO, is where the church begins to stumble. 

The whole issue went viral. Accusations based on half-truths and outright misrepresentations began to fly. Nearly all the conservative media failed to mention the suit filed by the pastors, focusing on the rights issue. Likewise, most of the liberal media put the spotlight on the holier-than-thou church. The issue became muddled and over-sensationalized. Here are just a few of the types of things that began to appear in the media:
Most of the stories we long on accusation and short on facts. Nonetheless, those who were paying attention were outraged. There was little grace exhibited, even less willingness to demonstrate anything resembling objectivity.

Where is all this leading?

I think it would be hard to deny that there are storm clouds on
the horizon. The environment  we operate in is becoming increasingly hostile. Events are happening at a lightning speed and seem to be gaining momentum. The question, hanging out there like a beacon in the night is this, "How will the church respond?" How do we respond to this new type of hostility toward the things we believe in and the things the church stands for?  How does the church function in an atmosphere that is no longer tolerant of its message? That's an issue the modern church has been struggling with since the early 80's, when it looked like we were going to be in the driver's seat. Somewhere along the way, we seem to have driven off the road. 

We have to be honest with ourselves. The great experiment of the Moral Majority or the Religious Right failed. The idea that the church could, somehow, influence politics and legislation to lean toward Christianity and Christian values has fallen flat on its face. The concept that our beliefs and a political platform could be smoothly integrated without compromising our faith just didn't pan out. 

Houston's situation is proof of all this. The churches in Houston, for very good and godly reasons, opposed legislation that was contrary to Christian values. While their motives seemed just and their intentions appeared to be relatively pure, here's where I think they went wrong.
  • Instead of preaching they protested. Instead of using their pulpits to spread the gospel, they promoted a political cause.  We can dress this up any way we like, but the bottom line is they took the fight into the politicians' corner, used political tactics and methods hoping to get political results. They hoped to garner the support of the public, who, BTW, elected the very politicians the church was opposing. Isaiah had something to say about adopting worldly tactics (Is 31:1&3).
  • Instead of praying they preyed. They filed a lawsuit. They became the aggressors. They demanded a legal hearing and a judicial determination. The initiated and subjected themselves to the court of man's law. Then the court made a decision, and they now want to oppose it! Do they hand over the sermons? Take a quick look at Matt 5:39-42, "But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you."

How do we, the church of America, respond to all this? Well, we can respond based on our feelings. We can rise up against the injustice, demand our rights, rally the church, sign a petition, form a boycott,
start a lobby, etc, etc, etc. We can do all the things that have been so spectacularly unsuccessful in the past. In other words, we can employ worldly tactics in trying to accomplish our goals. But...that leads to another question...or at least it should. "What are our goals?" Are we here to reform the culture? Are we here to make things right, make sure people act in a holy manner, agree with us? What is the church charged with? 

Perhaps Scripture has a clue for us.

If we look closely at the examples we see in the Bible, we'll see that the issues the church faces are never about our rights but about our righteousness. Christ never approached the Romans, the Emperor or even Pilate, accusing them of being unfair or asking them to endorse/support his position on anything. He had no expectation of their support or understanding; they were lost. What they needed was the gospel. Jesus charged His church, those who believe in Him and followed Him, with sharing the gospel with the world around them, even the politicians (Mt 28:19-20). 

When Paul gets his audience with King Agrippa (Acts 26), He doesn't discuss the issues of the day; the Roman occupation of Palestine, Caesar's rule over the Jews, taxes, his unfair imprisonment...he shares the gospel.

When Jesus stands before Pilate, the Roman gets so frustrated with Christ he says, "Don't you understand I have the authority to release you?" Jesus never engages Pilate. He merely tells him, "You would have no authority over me unless it was given from above." (John 19:10-11)

The only time Jesus engaged/protested/critiqued and/or suggested they support His cause...was when He was talking to the church. And that's because the church of the 1st century was self-righteous, the main point and context of our sermon yesterday, taken from John 8:21-30. The Pharisees refuse to accept that Jesus is the Messiah, in spite of all the evidence, in spite of His words, primarily, because Jesus just didn't measure up to their standards for a Messiah. They were supremely self-righteous. 

The church of our day has to be careful not to fall into the same trap, thinking, "We're right. God is on our side. Our
justice will reign!"...all of which is true. Indeed, we are to seek justice (Is 1:17), But, when wielded in anger and self-righteousness, that quest defeats the primary goal of our calling. Much of the mainstream Christian media that is following the Houston story is designed to raise anger, to produce indignation or, even worse, fear and paranoia.

The church doesn't function well under fear or anger.  It becomes insular, segregated, defensive, all of which display a lack of trust in God, its protector and eternal destination. It stops preaching the gospel, and begins preaching its own protection and preservation. 

None of this is to infer that we become pacifists. None of this is to say we abandon the political system. Some are called to be part of it. We need to support them, prayerfully and with grateful hearts. They are a blessing to the church and a testimony to integrity to the political arena. Meanwhile, if we decide to engage at that level, we have to be as wise as serpents and as gentle as doves (Mt 10:16). We also have to keep in mind that our work within that system is to advance the gospel, not legislate morality, judge others or gain victory over our political enemies.  We're called, commanded, to feed our enemies, give them water, pray for them, treat them gently, treat them with respect. In other words, we're called to live out what we preach - grace, love and holiness - showing them Christ at every turn.

The minute our pursuit of holiness or justice or righteousness becomes influenced by self-righteousness, we lose our witness and we lose the chance to share the gospel. 

Houston, we have an opportunity!

As the world turns its attention to Houston, to see how all this plays out, what will it see in the church? The gospel...or something else. I maintain that, if it sees anything but the gospel, we've blown it.  

I know that most of the people who read this posting are not out there on the fringes, not radical haters. Most of us are committed, dedicated folks trying to do the right thing and doing their best to walk the walk. But let's look objectively at where we're getting our information from and what impact it has on our thoughts and hearts. If the news stories, emails, fb postings, etc have that hint of "It's us against them! Circle the wagons! We have to protect ourselves!" then we may want to question the motivations of that writer as he questions the motivations of those he disagrees with. Is his priority the gospel? Is he edifying the church? Bringing glory and honor to God? Being a peacemaker...or doing just the opposite. 

The church has precious few resources. What will we spend out talents, time and treasure upon? Will we exhaust ourselves trying to prove we're right and holy? Will our passions control the direction and focus of our ministries? Or will we heed the call of the Scriptures, the call to be vessels of mercy and grace, the vessels of living waters?

If the courts decide in favor of the Houston churches, what then? Will those who are defeated flock into the sanctuaries in and around Houston, admitting their error, eager to soak up the love of a merciful God and His humble servants? Will their hearts be changed and turned toward the one true God?

We're called to make disciples, but where will we find those who will become disciples? Will we win them over by opposing
them? Is it even possible to win them over with love without compromising our holiness? The answers to these questions are not easy to come by. We have to strike a balance between reaching out and making practical decisions about holiness, truth, sanctification and what we can accept in our church families. Much prayer is needed. A deep commitment to knowing the word of God is needed. An even deeper commitment to appropriating it into our lives is needed as well.  

Perhaps our generation will never have to face it, but the next one may. How important is the gospel? What are we wiling to sacrifice for it? What is more vitally crucial to the future of those around us than the gospel? Previous generations have been willing to die for it. Have we had it so easy, for so long, that we've lost sight of the precious honor and eternal blessing we have in being messengers of its truth and beauty? Are we willing to sacrifice the gospel for our 1st Amendment rights? 

Sometimes I fear that we forget we live in a fallen world that needs salvation. I know we all know the world is fallen. Do we know it needs salvation...more than anything else?

I was asked a significant question recently, "Is the gospel the only reason for the church?"


Monday, October 13, 2014

The Night God Screamed

What would it be like to hear the creator of the universe scream? My imagination runs wild on this one. I see palm trees bending in a howling wind, mountains trembling, seas churning and rivers changing courses, all under the onslaught of unleashed, raw power moving over the face of the earth. 

Actually, the very first thoughts that come to my mind when I hear "scream" are thoughts of either frustration or fear. I don't think God experiences either of those sensations, though. I think a good case can be made that both are the result of lack of trust in God. We get frustrated because things don't go the way we want them to, not trusting God to provide for us, protect us and use all the circumstances in our life for our good and His glory. Or we do attempt to trust Him, but are wary of what He may do and whether or not we'll like it. If those are human responses, rising up out of self-centered flesh, then God would never scream. 

Unless...God raised His voice because He had something important to say. Of course He would do it in a godly, holy and perfect way, not the way we would do it. 

In John 7, Jesus is at the Feast of Booths (Feast of Tabernacles). The Feast, coming at the time of harvest for the grape and olive crops, lasted 7 days (really 8, the last day being a Sabbath) with activities and ceremonies becoming more and more vibrant every day. The 7th day was the biggest day of the biggest feast of the Jewish year.  

There were two main celebrations that occurred on the 7th day, the Outpouring of the Water and the Illumination of the Temple. The Illumination of the Temple involved gigantic lamp stands being lit after hours of song, celebration and recitation. The light from the lamps lit up the Temple and much of the surrounding city. It was a reminder of the light that led the Jews through the wilderness. It also reminded them of the promise  that God would send light and salvation throughout the world, starting right there in Jerusalem. It was a reminder of the promised Messiah. 

The Outpouring of the Water was similar in nature. It brought back to mind and heart the water that flowed from the rock at
Meribah (Ex 17:1-7). It was also a celebration of God's provision. But, it also looked forward to the day God would pour out living waters, His Spirit, on the entire world (Zc 14:1-9). The priests would carry water from the Pool of Siloam and pour it out over that altar, mixing it with wine as an honor and a sacrifice to God for His provision in the past and His promise for the future. Both rituals were highly anticipated and attended by nearly everyone in Jerusalem for the feast, more than a million people. 

It was during the Outpouring of the Water when it happened. Just as a priest was pouring the water and wine over the altar the crowd pressed into the temple, singing, praying, playing instruments, just as the priests were arrayed on the steps, singing and waving torches, leading more than a million people in joyous celebration to God...Jesus stood up and spoke. The ESV says He "cried out" (7:37), the NIV "loud voice". The Greek word is "ἔκραξεν". It describes an emphatic, emotional, loud the cry of a Raven.

God screamed. 

Not in any worldly way you and I might scream. But, in a heavenly, holy way designed to gain and hold the attention of His children

The voice of Jesus rose above the din of the celebration, dominating the entire Temple, commanding the attention of everyone attending the feast. During one of the most beloved ceremonies, a ceremony designed to point toward the Messiah and the outpouring of God's Spirit on the entire world, Jesus appeared, right in the middle of everything at the precise moment everyone's attention is tightly focused...
and He screamed. 

What He had to say, must have been important.

If there was ever a time for Jesus to tell us what was most important in our lives, most important in His incarnation...this was it. He could have said, "It's all about love, people!" He might have shouted, "Relationship....that's why I came!" This would have been the time to tell us, "I want you healthy, rich and comfortable! I want you to have the best, most successful, happiest life you can possibly have"

He could have said any of those things. But, in truth, all of them would have just fed the already self-centered, self-righteous, self-entitled egos of the leaders and many of the people gathered there.  If He wanted to take the crowd in that direction, He could have simply said, "It's all about you!"

Instead, He screamed the most important, most valuable, most precious message He brought to His children, "If anyone thirsts, let Him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water." (Jn 7:37-38)

Aside from demonstrating that He was the object and focus of the feast, Jesus proclaimed Himself to be the source of living water, salvation. As for those that believe in Him, they will become vessels of that same salvation, witnesses to the Son-ship and Lordship of Christ, messengers of the gospel. 

Something very similar happened, not much later, during the Illumination of the
Temple when Christ says, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life."

The focus is on Christ and the gospel, not on the benefits of a relationship with Him. The benefits are there, but the priority is on who Christ is and His call to carry the gospel to the world, regardless of the cost or even in the absence of any worldly benefit a relationship with Him may present.

The crowd wanted the benefits. 

Because the crowd didn't get the message, not long afterward, they were calling for, demanding, screaming for His crucifixion...and not in any godly way.

In much the same way, God's words, the voice of Jesus Christ, rises up above the din of our lives, calling for our focus and our attention to be squarely on Him, not ourselves, calling us to become vessels of living, pouring water, salvation and grace. Calling us to a celebration that is all about Him and the transformation of His children into holy messengers of His saving grace. 

I want to learn from the feast described in John 7 & 8. I want to learn that the greatest blessing is not in having my expectations and desires fulfilled, but in seeing the grace and love that was poured into me...poured out again.  

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

What About Those Double Brackets

We've all done it before, come to a passage in our Bibles that is notated, footnoted or set apart in some other fashion, and

just kept right on reading. In the past, I've convinced myself, when I actually noticed them, "I will go back and look...sometime. It's probably not that important, anyway. I want the word of God, not somebody's footnote!" Sometimes we ignore those notations altogether, passing over them as if they don't exist. "Huh? Where did that come from?" 

This is the case with John 7:53-8:11, which is enclosed with a set of double brackets in the ESV. The NASB has these verses enclosed in single brackets. The NIV has a simple notation, "The earliest manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53-8:11.". The King James, unfortunately, has nothing at all. Therein lies the reason for this posting. 

Returning to the ESV, the translation our church uses, if we read the notation that comes with the brackets, we see this, "Some manuscripts do not include 7:53–8:11; others add the passage here or after 7:36 or after 21:25 or after Luke 21:38, with variations in the text." There seems to be a lot of confusion over this story, commonly known as the story of "The Adulterous Woman".

What do we do about those double brackets?

The key phrase in understanding how we approach them is what we see in the NIV, "The earliest manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53-8:11 in them."

Let me explain. 

First, we all have to understand that God did not inspire His word in English, neither the Old Testament
(OT) nor the New Testament (NT). The original manuscripts were written in one of three languages; Hebrew (OT), Greek (NT), Aramaic (Some parts of the OT). Since Aramaic is closely related to Hebrew, we can generally say the Bible was originally written in Hebrew and Greek. 

Those testaments are the inspired words of God, the OT written in the language of His chosen people and the NT in the world language of the 1st century. The problem we face is that we have none of the original manuscripts. The materials used and the techniques in storing and preserving them have not withstood the test of time. Most manuscripts have simply disintegrated, some have been lost in catastrophes, some purposefully destroyed by those who are the enemies of God and His people. Given the natural human tendency to venerate artifacts, this may be a blessing in disguise.

Still, God has faithfully preserved His word. 

The Hebrews had an exacting process in copying their
texts. Archaeological and extra-Biblical discoveries have borne this out, time after time. Due, in large part, to a dedicated group of scribe/scholar/priests called the Masoretes, we can, with great confidence, say the OT we have is an accurate portrayal of what the original writings of Moses, Joshua, the scribes and the prophets were inspired to document. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, some dating back to the late 2nd century and 1st century BC in Qumran were sensational. Even more so was the fact that they verified that our modern OT books were accurately and faithfully reproduced. 

Our NT manuscripts present a little more of a challenge and it has to do with how they were handed down and translated. 

The NT church was in its infancy and growing/spreading fast. They had a body of Scripture, the OT, as a firm foundation but it soon became quite clear that, after 400 years of silence, God was speaking again, this time, not through prophets, but through Apostles. 

With Christ's ascension came the promised outpouring of the Holy Spirit, seen in Acts 2. Prior to that, Jesus made a promise to His disciples in John 14:25-26 that the Spirit would help them remember His teachings. With these two events, Scripture was being written again, this
time by Apostles chosen by Christ who were first hand witnesses to His life and ministry and were inspired by the Holy Spirit to give us a written record of the spread of the gospel. All the books of the NT were either written directly by the Apostles, or by those who were under their direct teaching or, as F.F. Bruce says in his excellent "The Canon of Scripture", "by those in the direct circle of influence of the Apostles", meaning those who lived with and traveled with the Apostles. In other words, the Apostles were personally in the presence of Christ and inspired, by God, to record His life, death, resurrection and the formation of the church in the 60 or so years following His ascension.

History shows that the OT took over 1500 years to complete. In comparison, the writing of the NT went with lightning speed, most likely starting with James in about 50 AD, and ending with John's writings sometime around 90 AD, a total of about 40 years or so.  

As the Apostles wrote their gospels and their letters, these writings began to circulate among the churches. It soon became clear that many of them were divinely inspired, imbued with authority and power by the promise of Jesus to those charged with recording the events of His life and ministry. Those Spirit empowered writings would have a tremendous impact on the formation of the church and the lives of its members. The originals were widely circulated and were read regularly in the new churches and respected as having authority equal to that of the OT, even claiming to have the same authority themselves (1 Cor 14:33, 2 Pet 3:15-16 and 1 Tim 5:18 b which quotes Luke 10:7)     

But, given the medium (usually papyrus scrolls and sheets), it was obvious that they would not last forever and copies were made and distributed. As the church grew, this became a bit of a cottage industry with those early copies being rendered hundreds of times. 

By the end of the 1st century, with the original Apostles having passed on and the leadership of the church growing, more students of these Scriptures arose, all of them approaching the writing of the Apostles as authoritative. There arose a body of teaching that adhered, over time, to a clearly specified group of letters and writings as being divinely inspired. 

By the end of the second century, there were a number of lists of authoritative writings compiled by church leaders (the
Early Church Fathers), who were students/disciples of the original Apostles. These lists and their authority as Scripture were later affirmed by the writings of  another group of pre-325 AD church leaders known as the Ante-Nicene Fathers. This eventually led to the ratification of those lists into the canon, first listed in its entirety, just as it is today, by Athanasius in 367 and affirmed by two world church councils; The Synod of Hippo in 393 and the Council of Carthage in 397. 

It's important to understand that these councils did not convene to decide which books went into the canon. They gave official recognition to the writings that were already being used by the church and viewed as authoritative by the church, since the first century. The popular idea that they voted or that certain books were left out is a myth. There are no "lost books" nor are there any truly "hidden books". The councils literally said, "These are the books the church has recognized as Scripture since the end of the Apostolic era. There are no more."

The criteria, all along, for determining authority in the writings was four-fold; Apostolicity (written by or recognized as authoritative by an Apostle), antiquity (written in the time of the Apostles), catholicity (recognized and used by the majority of the early church and the Early Church Fathers as authoritative) and inspiration (the evidence of harmony and consistency with the rest of Scripture).

Taking all this into account, we can see that the canon of Scripture was, for all purposes, closed once the Apostles passed away. Anything written after John died, was automatically ineligible for the canon. The Council in Carthage did nothing to establish the authority of the books of the Bible, they only recognized it.  The canon was determined by the authority of the books. The canon did not establish the authority of the books. 

In the years between the end of the Apostolic period and the convening of the Council at Carthage, the books of the NT were copied over and over again, sometimes with scribes and copiers making notes in the margins. Copies were passed around, recopied and written over again, sometimes making correction for developments in the language, sometimes incorporating notes from previous copies in an effort to clarify.

Over time, variations began to appear, nothing of a serious nature, but variations in notes, punctuation and minor details,
never anything that would impact doctrine or theology but minor variations nonetheless. 

So, there were a lot of Greek manuscripts floating around. Over more time, some of the notes made their way into the body of the copies. Some may be concerned with this, but God had His hand firmly on His word. Foreseeing that imperfect men would copy His word, He actively  and providentially preserved it undiluted and pure, but we'll get to that below. 

This is where things get interesting.

In 400 AD, Jerome, a biblical and language scholar of extraordinary capabilities was charged by Pope Damasus, to write a new translation of the Bible into Latin. Jerome was an gifted scholar, but the manuscripts he had available to him were largely from the Byzantine era and were fairly recent, given the times. Jerome's translation became the Vulgate, the Latin Bible.  

Fast forward to 1516, when Erasmus, another noted scholar, undertook the task of developing a new and improved Greek
translation. Erasmus assembled as much of the original texts used for the Vulgate, combining them with a small group of other Byzantine era manuscripts along with 6 manuscripts from the 12th century, and produced an all new Greek translation of the NT, thought, at the time, to be the most accurate. Unknown to those involved, they were using manuscripts that were not as accurate as earlier manuscripts would have been. Remember our note from the NIV? Erasmus' manuscripts became known as the Textus Receptus, the Received Texts. 

Now, follow the developments. Erasmus' work became the basis for Luther's translation of the Bible into German in 1534. 

In 1611, Luther's work was used, along with that of Erasmus, to write an English language translation. You may have heard of it. It was called the King James Version of the Bible (KJV). 

The KJV had John 7:53-8:11 in it, as well as the revised ending of Mark. This was the direct result of Erasmus using far later manuscripts than earlier ones. 

In the years after 1611, much progress was made in the
study of the ancient languages, particularly Greek. Along with
those developments, major archaeological discoveries were made. Older manuscripts and fragments, some dating back
to the late third and early fourth and fifth centuries, were discovered in St.Catherine's 
monastery at the foot of Mt. Sinai (Codex Sinaiticus), Alexandria (Codex Alexandrinus) and the Vatican (Codex Vaticanus, origin unknown), all of them predating not only the Textus Receptus but much of the basis for the Vulgate as well. These earlier, better texts have become the basis for most of our modern translations like the ESV, NIV, NASB, NKJV, RSV, ASV, RASV and other well respected versions. 

None of the older (earlier), more reliable texts have our passage in John.

As near as can be determined, it was added sometime in the 5th century, perhaps later. Depending on the manuscript viewed, it appears in different places in John or, in a few cases, even in Luke. 

Furthermore, none of the Early Church Fathers mention this passage. Many of them were quite prolific commentators, writing enough commentaries between them that it is possible to assemble an entire NT from their writings. None of them, not one, ever quote from this passage, comment on it or acknowledge its existence. 

The conclusion is obvious; John 7:53-8:11 simply does not belong in our Bibles. It's the same case with the same proofs for the verses that follow Mark 16:8. 

What do we do with this?

We realize that we are dealing with translations. We also accept that some early translations were not as accurate as our later ones, the later ones being based on older, better, more accurate manuscripts and a more complete knowledge of the languages used in writing them. 

We thank God for His promise that His word, "...will not pass away." (Mt 24:35). He promises to preserve it and preserve it He did, at the foot of a dusty mountain like Sinai, in a dry and arid region like Alexandria and in the bowels of a vast and ancient storehouse beneath the Vatican. 

We thank God that He has given us people that have devoted their lives to the accurate transmission of the Scriptures, even when it goes against the grain of accepted tradition. God has preserved the purity of His word through their scholarship, commitment and service to the body of Christ. 

Finally, we treat the words inside those brackets just as we
would the chapter headings and numbers, pericopes, verse references, table of contents, page numbers, cover pages, maps, charts, even the order of the something that was added by man, not inspired and certainly not in the earliest and best manuscripts.

Lastly, we hold tight to what the Bible says about itself. If we look at the first five books, the Books of the Law, as the beginning of the Bible, we see this in Deuteronomy 4:2,  "You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you." We see it again at the end of the Bible, in Rev 22:18, "I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book," Now, there's a set of brackets added by God, one at the beginning and the other at then end.

We can discuss both passages in Dt. and Rev. and whether or not they pertain to their particular books or the entire Bible. Opinions vary. Still, I believe it's a good standard to view all Scripture by. Man cannot add to or subtract from it. The canon was completed, not by man, but by God, long before those words inside the brackets were ever thought of. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

Jesus died so that I....

A few days ago, I was listening to one of the more popular woman teachers on the scene today. She's been around for a while and has a fairly huge following. I listen occasionally, almost always with a fair degree of unease and have found that I have to listen very carefully and analytically, with my Bible open, to figure out why. 

Her message, like the message of so many others that have risen in popularity, is subtle and smoothly intoxicating, drawing you in to a theme that, while attractive and sensible on the surface, puts those who accept it without careful, prayerful consideration, on a dangerous path. 

Her primary proposition on this particular morning was "Your identity in Christ", a safe and sound enough sounding idea. But, therein lies the problem. We'll get to that in a moment. 

She built her case, expounded Scripture (much of it taken out of context) and came to her conclusion, "Christ died so that you could find your true identity." 

An explosion went off in my mind and heart. 

The whole message was based on the idea that the only Son
of God took on flesh, suffered, died an indescribably horrible death, was resurrected and ascended into heaven, all so that...I could embark on a voyage of self discovery??

This is not a message peculiar to one off-the-path teacher in the church today. It is everywhere around us. We are repeatedly told that the reason Christ died is so that we can get, become or realize that we already are something we really want to be, which has enough truth in it that it becomes easy to grasp, but also easy to get wrong. 

When we do get it wrong, the craziness begins. It happens when a very subtle shift is made, when the reason for all this becomes centered on us and not on Christ Himself. 

"Jesus died so that you..."

We need to be extremely careful here. Although our identity in Christ is a vital part of our salvation, nowhere in the Bible does it say Christ died so that we could find it. 

But, the deception doesn't stop at our identities. Just fill in the blank at the end of "Jesus died so that you_______" and you're on your way down the wrong path. 

There are plenty of similar propositions to be cautious of, all of them finding their attraction in a "me-centered" theology, a theology largely focused on "me" and what I get out of God's plan of redemption. 

This is not really theology, which is the study of God, but "meology", the study

We hear   these propositions frequently. There's the familair "Jesus died so that you...." There's also "God wants you to have...", "Jesus came to give you....", "You can have....", "You already have...", "You'll get....", "You command....", etc. If you listen carefully, you'll hear them in a lot of different forms.

Fill in those blanks with anything that does not point directly back to God and His glory, and you're probably listening to questionable teaching.

Here's what the Bible says about why Jesus came...

Isaiah 43:25

25 “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.

Isaiah 48:10–11
10 Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.
11 For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.

Matthew 10:39

39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Mark 10:29–31
29 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel,
30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.
31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

We miss so much of the richness of our salvation and so
many of the blessings of our sanctification when we reduce the work of the cross to what we get out of it. God sent His Son to glorify the Father in the redemption of His precious children. The story of the Bible is not our story, it is the story of Christ and God's self- revelation through the work of the Trinity. When we begin to embrace the truth, 

"Jesus died so that He could bring glory to the Father."

rather than the deception...we'll see that being caught up in God bringing glory to Himself is a far better place to be than being caught up