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Saturday, January 21, 2017

A man after God's own heart!

Among the comments about my last post, Dixon Cartwright made an astute observation about the double standard inherent in the insistence of many Christians that David was "a man after God's own heart." Moreover, if one takes the time to survey the many Christian commentaries and sermons on the subject, the truth of this observation becomes apparent. Dixon's point also suggests some other questions:  Does God use adulterers, murderers, child molesters and incestuous fathers as "His" ministers? Is David an appropriate model of Christian leadership? These questions demand answers, not justifications or apologies!

In beginning to answer these questions, I think that it is important to acknowledge that most of the folks who hold David up as a fine example of Christian leadership view Scripture through the lens of Fundamentalism. For them, there can't be any contradictions or intrusions of political/cultural bias in "God's Word." However, for those of us who do not share that perspective, it is obvious that the folks who wrote the history of the kingdom period were partisans of David. In other words, they were clearly writing in the capacity of apologists for the man and his actions. If we are willing to acknowledge this and look at the material recorded there with this in mind, we can begin to get a better understanding of David, the men who wrote about him and God's perspective on both.

In short, the folks who wrote the "history" which appears in our Bible had a powerful incentive to justify David's acquisition of the throne and embellish his reputation and accomplishments for the sake of his successors and their continuing rivalry with the northern kingdom. After all, one has to explain the displacement of God's original choice as king:  Saul. And, as all serious students of history know, kings have always been interested in justifying their legitimacy as ruler - their right to rule.

With these considerations in mind, we begin to see that God was one of many props that were employed to buttress the claims of the House of David to the throne. Hence, while David may have been God's choice, it does not follow that God approved of everything he did or supported him in every instance. Indeed, if we give any credence whatsoever to these accounts, we are forced to admit that the chronicler(s) acknowledged that God was displeased with David's adultery, murder and continuous warfare. After all, according to the biblical account, God allowed David's child with Bathsheba to die, permitted him to be temporarily displaced (Absalom) and didn't allow him to build the temple (that honor was reserved for his son).

It also occurs to me that most of the folks who like to talk about David being "a man after God's own heart" fail to look at the context of these remarks within Scripture. In the book of Acts, we are told that Paul was speaking to a Jewish synagogue in Antioch (13:14-16). In this account of his remarks there, we are told that he briefly summarized the history of the Israelites to introduce them to Jesus (verses 17-23). It is in the midst of this summary that Paul quotes from the book of I Samuel about David, Christ's ancestor.

Paul told them that God himself had testified:  "I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart." (verse 22). In the remarks that follow this quote, Paul makes clear that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of God's choice - that he (not David) was God's ultimate choice to complete his plans for Israel (verses 23-41). In other words, David is part of a more important story and is really only incidental to the central figure of that story (Jesus). Paul makes David the means to an end.

Now, let's take a closer look at the place in the Old Testament from which Paul extrapolated this quote. In the book of I Samuel, we read that Samuel told Saul:  "Thou has done foolishly:  Thou hast not kept the commandment of the Lord thy God, which he commanded thee:  for now would the Lord have established thy kingdom upon Israel forever. But now thy kingdom shall not continue:  the Lord hath sought him a man after his own heart, and the Lord hath commanded him to be captain over his people, because thou hast not kept that which the Lord commanded thee." (verses 13-14)

Notice first that Paul has attributed to God something that was originally attributed to Samuel. In this passage from the Old Testament, it is Samuel who is describing what God has done. In other words, "Because of your disobedience (Saul), God has decided to find someone who is closer to him - one who thinks more like he does." A little later in the story (chapter 16), we are told that God chooses Jesse's youngest son, David. So Paul gathers all of this together and puts it into the mouth of God (not an illogical conclusion, but the original author does not tell us that these were God's own words).

More importantly, look at the timing of these remarks. Aren't they made at the beginning of David's story - at the time God chose him to be king? In other words, this remark was made prior to the adultery, deception and bloodshed! As a young man - as a shepherd, David was a man after God's own heart. It does not say that the corrupt and lecherous old man who occupied the throne of Israel many years later was a man after God's own heart!

As a matter of fact, the only way that we could possibly hope to make this statement continue to apply to the man he became is by appealing to his willingness to acknowledge his many sins and REPENT of them! Thus we return to the point which Paul was making to the Jews at Antioch: David is not the model/example/end - Christ was/is! According to the New Testament, Jesus Christ was the only man who has ever lived who was truly "a man after God's own heart." Hence, it is inappropriate for Christians to hold this man (David) up as a model for anything other than an example of the way that we should face our sins and repent of them.

In conclusion, my answer to both of the questions which were asked at the beginning of this post (Does God use adulterers, murderers, child molesters and incestuous fathers as "His" ministers? Is David an appropriate model of Christian leadership?) is NO. David was a secular leader - he was not a priest or minister. Moreover, even in the biased accounts of his life which we have received via the Bible, it is clear that YHWH expressed "His" displeasure with this man on a number of occasions - most notably in the fact that "He" did not allow David to build "His" temple. We can say that God used him as an example of what not to do and of the way to acknowledge sin and repent of it, but I believe it is a perversion of Scripture and logic to make David a model for what a Christian leader should look like.



Thursday, January 19, 2017

What should a Christian minister look like?

Over at Banned by HWA, several of the most recent posts on that blog have provoked a great deal of thought about what constitutes a genuine Christian minister. While most of us would readily admit that an adulterer and murderer would not qualify, agreement seems to break down when other issues are considered. In other words, what are the things that qualify a person as a legitimate minister of Jesus Christ? How important are things like gender, training and credentials?

For many Fundamentalists, Paul's statements in some of his epistles about female participation in church services exclude the possibility of that gender serving in the ministry. Of course, that assumption ignores all of the scriptural evidence that contradicts such a conclusion. What about Mary? What about Priscilla? What about Lois and Eunice? Is it correct to exclude half of humanity from participating in the ministry of the church because Jewish society in the First Century had a strong misogynistic and paternalistic bias?

What about the training of the ministry? How did Christ train his apostles? Did he send them to colleges and seminaries? Weren't most of the apostles and ministers of the early church mature individuals who had years of exposure to Christ's teachings and more years of life experiences under their belts? How many young men or recent converts were elevated to the ministry? Is Christianity a spiritual or intellectual exercise? Can love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, patience, kindness, compassion, etc. be learned in a college or seminary? How important is one's understanding of complex theological, philosophical and doctrinal matters to being a successful/effective minister of Jesus Christ?

Does a license from a man-made organization make one a minister of Jesus Christ? Does an appointment by some board or some single individual (like someone claiming to be an apostle or prophet) make one a minister? Does obtaining a degree or completing some course of study qualify one to be a minister of Jesus Christ? Does recognition by the State entitle one to perform the functions of a minister of Jesus Christ? Does the vote of a congregation entitle one to be recognized as such? What kind of official credentials did Peter, John, Barnabas or Paul have?

Didn't Paul say that exceptional character was an essential element in one qualifying to be considered as a legitimate minister of Jesus Christ? Did he have anything to say about the marital status of the individual and the harmony evident within his/her household? Did he say anything about the candidate's reputation in the community at large and within the church? Did he say anything about how the person conducted him/herself in public (e.g. displays of temper and the consumption of alcohol)? Didn't Paul say that the candidate must be able to teach and provide a hospitable/friendly environment? Indeed, even if Paul hadn't (or didn't) write those epistles to Timothy and Titus, wouldn't common sense demand that a minister of Jesus Christ exhibit exceptional character (over and above that of his/her brothers and sisters in the faith)?

And, perhaps the most important consideration of all:  What is a minister? Doesn't the very word evoke the word servant? Didn't Christ say that those of his disciples who wanted to be in leadership positions would have to become the servant of the others? Didn't Christ make clear that he didn't want the leaders within his church lording it over each other? Doesn't he use the symbolism of the care and nurture of a shepherd for his/her flock over and over again? Didn't he tell Peter three separate times to feed/take care of his sheep? Were ministers intended to rule? Were minsters intended to be repositories of authority and discipline? What does servant leadership mean?

Hmmmm, when we begin to ask ourselves a few questions about what a Christian minister should look like, it becomes clear to me that many of the denominations, sects and cults who call themselves Christian don't have a clue! Maybe it's time we all take another look at this topic and rethink some of the traditional attitudes that have developed about it? What do you think? 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Recommended reading for students of the Bible

As with many of his previous posts, Paul Davidson's recent analysis of biblical alternatives to the Exodus story of Israelite origins is fantastic! You can read the post here:  https://isthatinthebible.wordpress.com/2017/01/09/the-story-of-ezer-and-elead-and-what-it-means-for-the-exodus/

I have speculated for some time (see past posts on this blog) that the account of the exodus from Egypt may only be suggestive of the actual history of the Israelites. In particular, the fact that they were dominated by the Egyptians for many years. This would make much more sense than acceptance of the story in the Bible as literal history. Archaeological findings and contemporaneous accounts simply do not support a literal understanding of the Pentateuch account of Israelite origins. There is almost always, however, a few grains of truth present in any myth.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A few more observations about God's Festivals

In my final comments on the previous post, I issued a challenge regarding the impact of the Roman's destruction of the Temple in 70 AD:  "My point is: No one told them to adapt and change the modalities when that happened. Can you cite any scriptural or historical evidence to contradict that?" A friend replied "No" to that question and proceeded to explain why that was impossible.

He pointed out the dearth of writings from the period following the destruction of the Temple, including the fact that most of the documents in our canon were written prior to that event. For the sake of my argument, I will not speculate about when the gospels or epistles were authored. Nevertheless, I would argue that the epistle to the Hebrews attempts to explain many of the Old Testament religious symbols (including the Sabbath, Temple, sacrifices and Day of Atonement) in the light of Christ's life, work and death. For me, this epistle demonstrates the continuing significance of these symbols even if a Christian was not actually observing them anymore.

As for the account of the Jerusalem Council in the fifteenth chapter of Acts, I think that the text makes very clear that Jewish Christians decided to exempt their Gentile brethren from any obligation to keep the Mosaic Law. In fact, we are told there that it was those Jewish Christians who belonged to "the sect of the Pharisees" that insisted on Gentile circumcision and had commanded them "to keep the law of Moses." (verse 5) Later, we are told that Peter pointed out that God had given Gentiles the same Holy Spirit which he had previously given to them. (verse 8), and that He had made no distinction between the two groups (verse 9). He concludes with this statement:  "Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they." (verses 10-11) After confirming that it was God who made the decision to call Gentiles into His Church, James reminds the assembly that there are still plenty of synagogues extant where Moses is preached every Sabbath (verses 13-21). In other words, it is unnecessary to introduce that subject into the new circumstances. Moreover, it is made very clear in the letter which was sent out to the Gentile congregations summarizing the Council's decision that the Jewish Christians did NOT expect Gentile Christians to observe the tenets of the Mosaic Law (verses 22-19).

My friend went on to point out:  "When I read that he <Christ> fulfilled the law, to me the plain meaning is that he kept it." Yes, it means the same thing to me. Christ fulfilled the Law by perfectly keeping and personifying every aspect of it - something that NO MAN before him or since him has EVER done! This is the very thing that enables us to be reconciled to God and saved! Christ's complete innocence before the Law enabled him to pay the penalty that our breaking of it incurred! It was/is HIS WORK which has saved us - the only thing our works have earned us is DEATH! That does not give us a license to go out and intentionally violate the Law, but it does free us from the fear of facing the punishment which would otherwise await us. There are many scriptures which also make clear that Christians are still obligated to adhere to the SPIRIT of the Law - the two great principles behind all of it (love for God and love for each other).

I also agree with my friend that there is nothing wrong with shadows. I wish to reiterate my conviction that all Christians would benefit from a greater familiarity with the festivals and other features of the Mosaic Law. I believe that a greater awareness of these things would invariably lead to a greater appreciation/understanding of Jesus Christ and the role which he plays in God's plans to save mankind. Likewise, I agree with the Apostle Paul:  whether one attempts to observe these festivals or observes some other holidays, he/she should do so to the honor and glory of God; and that we shouldn't be judging each others actions in this regard.

Finally, I think that it should be pointed out that Purim (see the book of Esther in our canon) and the Feast of the Dedication (see the books of I and II Maccabees) are not observed by most of the Christians who attempt to observe the Holy Days. While it is true that these two festivals are not listed among those in the twenty-third chapter of Leviticus, it is clear that Christ observed them. Doesn't it seem a little inconsistent or odd that one would observe seven of the festivals given to the Israelites and dismiss two others as Jewish? In the final analysis, aren't all of them Jewish? If we admit that Jewish Christians of the First Century kept the Jewish festivals, how likely do you think it would be that they ignored Purim and Hanukkah?

Thus, for all of these reasons and more, observance of these festivals cannot and should not be regarded as a tool for evaluating who is/is not a TRUE Christian! I am confident that Almighty God will bless anyone who seeks to worship "Him" with a sincere and adoring heart. What do you think? 

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Another look at the Law of the Central Sanctuary

In previous posts regarding whether or not Christians are obligated to observe the Holy Days of Leviticus 23, I have discussed the importance of the Law of the Central Sanctuary to that issue. However, as some have suggested that this is not a valid theological argument against such observance because of Israelite practice prior to the establishment of Jerusalem as "the place" which God eventually chose to place his name, I thought it would be appropriate to study the issue in more detail.

Some folks have pointed out that the Israelites observed these festivals prior to the establishment of any central sanctuary, and that they (the festivals) are consequently not dependent on this requirement which was added much later. They cite the fact that the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread were observed by them in Egypt (Exodus 12 and 13). Likewise, they point out that the festivals were observed by the people throughout their sojourn in the wilderness and for many years after they actually arrived in the Promised Land (see Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges and I Samuel). So what about this argument? Does this demonstrate that the observance of the Holy Days was/is not linked to the Law of the Central Sanctuary?

In this regard, I think that it is instructive to note what the widely respected theologian Dr Peter Pett had to say about this issue:  "This fact that Yahweh is present where He chooses is important to their understanding of Him. They cannot make Him appear anywhere that they want by erecting images and making altars. They can only meet Him where He chooses. He had chosen to do it at Sinai. Now He does it in the tabernacle in the midst of the camp. In the future it will be in a suitable place chosen by Him as He wills. But there must only be one sanctuary because He is one (6.5).
That such an idea could be established while travelling together in the wilderness, with the focal point of all the tribes being on the Ark of the Covenant of Yahweh and the sacred tent containing it in their midst, makes good sense. There would be less of an incentive once they were spread over a wide area facing problems in their own localities, but the fact that they did maintain their Central Sanctuary at all emphasizes the fact that the idea had been so firmly implanted within them well before they actually reached the land and spread over it, that it never died out." --http://www.angelfire.com/ok/bibleteaching/centralsanctuary.html

In other words, the concept of a central sanctuary was present from the beginning. Even in the observance of that first Passover in Egypt, we can argue that the Israelites were assembled together in one place (Goshen), the place which YHWH had chosen for the observance (For the sake of this argument, we will assume that the events recorded in Exodus are actual history as opposed to representative history). In similar fashion, throughout the period prior to the establishment of Jerusalem as "the place," we can see the principle being employed by YHWH through the Tabernacle, Ark of the Covenant, and at Shiloh. Thus, for the Israelites, the principle was clearly established:  YHWH wasn't like other Gods - it was NOT OK to worship him wherever THEY chose to do so - it had to be at the place of HIS choosing - the place where he was present.

Moreover, it is made very clear by the scriptures already quoted in Deuteronomy, Kings, Chronicles, Lamentations and Zechariah that the place which was eventually designated to fulfill this requirement was JERUSALEM. The "history" of what happened prior to that event cannot negate or nullify the fact that YHWH designated Jerusalem as "the place" which HE had chosen to place his name - the only acceptable site for festival observance. Thus, the link to the Law of the Central Sanctuary is shown to be inviolable.

We must also not forget that the principle was carried forward into the New Testament as well. Please note that there is NO answer from the critics of this argument to the challenge that Jesus Christ and his disciples ALWAYS observed these festivals AT JERUSALEM. Remember too that we see this principle at work even at the founding of the Christian Church! In the book of Acts, we read:  "And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord IN ONE PLACE." (Acts 2:2, emphasis mine)

Finally, the scripture which many regard as the foundation of this principle, Deuteronomy 12, clearly dismisses all activity prior to its implementation. Notice that we read there:  "Ye shall not do after the things that we do here this day, every man whatsoever is right in his own eyes." (verse 8) The implication is clear:  After the establishment of "the place," all other observances would cease to be valid or acceptable to YHWH! There is no wiggle room on this one! Many folks (Herbert Armstrong among them) have attempted to reason around this principle, but human reasoning is still human reasoning in the final analysis. What do you think? Where is the Scripture based challenge to the Law of the Central Sanctuary's claim on the Holy Days?

Is the theological argument against this principle to be grounded in Christ's statement recorded in the eighteenth chapter of Matthew? We read there:  "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (Matthew 18:20) For the sake of argument, let's put aside the fact that many folks have taken this scripture out of context (Christ was purportedly speaking of how to handle a brother who offends you). If we are to accept this verse as sanctioning festival observance at any place where Christians may choose to gather together, what is to stop us from making the same argument for the observance of Sunday as the Christian day of worship? Philosophically, theologically and logically YOU CAN'T HAVE IT BOTH WAYS! As my grandmother used to say, "What's good for the goose is good for the gander!" If this is an acceptable argument for dismissing the importance of the place, it is an acceptable argument for dismissing the importance of the time!

If you have an argument to present that refutes the points I've made here and elsewhere concerning the Law of the Central Sanctuary, please do so in the comments section. I am more than willing to entertain a scripture based argument against linking the Holy Days to this requirement, but I don't expect any takers.