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Thoughts too long for a Facebook status message.

What Church Should Be

Over the past twenty-two years, I’ve been in a wide array of different churches.  And in the last three years especially, I’ve experienced more different churches than I ever have before.

It wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago, though, that I realized my focus over most of that three years had been what church shouldn’t be.  I’ve been very critical.  That isn’t all bad — it’s good to realize what should be done differently — but constantly focusing on the negative doesn’t do much good either.

So the past 14 days has been a time of shifting my focus to the positive — leaving behind what shouldn’t be and thinking about what should.  Here’s what I’ve come up with so far.

What It Does

Last summer, a friend and I worked several days to come up with a mission statement that we felt reflected a healthy, Biblical church:

A community of believers that exists to worship God, make authentic disciples of Jesus, and serve others for the glory of God and the advancement of his kingdom.

In our three decades of study collectively, those were the three things we had come to believe were absolutely essential for a church: worship, making disciples, and serving.  We felt like a church that wasn’t actively doing all three couldn’t be truly healthy.

What It Looks Like

Love

I have heard 1 Corinthians 13 read in virtually every wedding I’ve ever been to.  As long as I’ve been in church, though, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone teach or preach from it.  Because of that, I had always just thought that Paul was writing to instruct couples on love inside marriage.

That’s not what he was doing, though.  Not that the same principles don’t apply, but Paul wasn’t writing to couples at all.  That chapter is 100% about how people in the church should behave toward one another.

Now I do a halfway decent job of living up to those principles in my marriage, but I certainly fail the test when measured against how I have treated people I have gone to church with.  Just read the meat of that passage:

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

My church experiences (even the great ones) had always been much more accurately described by this quote from Tennessee Williams:

We have to distrust each other. It’s our only defense against betrayal.

We carry the same attitude within church as we do outside because we’re largely treated exactly the same both places.  That should never be the case.  First and foremost, above everything else, a church should be characterized by love — the kind of true love that Paul described.  The Bible makes that abundantly clear.

Jesus said:

The most important commandment is this: “Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.” The second is equally important: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” No other commandment is greater than these.”

John, his disciple and friend, wrote:

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

Jesus also said:

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

My sense is that love isn’t the first thing people think of when they think of Christians today.

Community

The church should also be characterized by community — not just a group of people with common interests, but a group of people who truly care about and support one another.  We see that throughout both the Old and New Testaments.  We weren’t meant to go this alone.

Prayer

The other thing we see constantly in the life of the early Christian church was a dedicated commitment to prayer — prayer lasting hours or even days.  It’s the number one way church today is different than it was then.  And the number one reason things look so much different.  I love this quote from Ron Dunn:

In Acts chapter two, they prayed for ten days, Peter preached for ten minutes and 3,000 were saved. Today, churches pray for ten minutes, preach for ten days and three get saved.

Equality

Paul compares the church to a human body, with Jesus as the head:

Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything?

But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.”

In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.

The church should foster and encourage these different roles so that all members have an equal responsibility for the health of the church.

– – –

This obviously isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, and I’m sure I’d change some things if I thought about it for another 7 days, but there’s also the danger of trying to make it too perfect and never actually publishing it.  I’d rather stop here and revisit it in later post as I continue to think about it.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Filed under Spirituality

KJV: The Only Inerrant Word — Revisited

My regular sarcasm and unhealthy pride frequently result in moments like this where I spout off about topics that I know little about with no regard at all for the targets of the criticism.  I’m trying very hard to be aware of it and do a better job of thinking before I speak (or write) because I understand how hurtful it is.

Thankfully not long after that I did that, I was given the opportunity to spend many hours actually researching the KJV-only discussion, and I found that there were very thoughtful, reasoned cases for it.  So with that basis, I wanted to revisit this topic one more time.

The Case for KJV-Only

As I understand it, there are two cornerstones to the argument for using the King James Version of the Bible exclusively:

  1. The KJV was translated from the manuscripts that are closest to what the authors originally wrote.  (Some believe that those manuscripts are a perfect copy of the originals.)
  2. The KJV is the best translation of those texts that has ever been and ever could be.

The Best Manuscripts

There are several different reasons why those who advocate KJV-only believe that the manuscripts from which the KJV was translated are the most accurate.

Pure Line

They believe that a pure line of manuscripts originated in Antioch and culminated in what is known as the Textus Receptus (TR), Latin for “received text” — first compiled by Erasmus in 1516 and published by him four more times over the next 19 years.  The next 106 years saw several more versions of the TR from two different editors.

The Problem

There is no pure line of manuscripts.  Erasmus himself used at least six different Greek versions to compile his New Testament, and was forced to include at least one verse from manuscripts that appeared after his first version was completed.  He also included at least one verse (Acts 9:6) that only existed in the Latin Vulgate, which they believe to be corrupted by the Roman Catholics.  Some answer this problem by saying that Erasmus’ work was God-breathed in the same way as Scripture, and so his work was as inspired as the originals.

More Copies

Today we have thousands more copies of manuscripts in the Majority Text (or Byzantine) family (which largely matches the TR) than we have in the Minority Text (or Alexandrian) family (thus the names).  This is a compelling argument for the accuracy of the Majority Text.

The Problem

It wasn’t until the ninth century that Byzantine texts outnumbered Alexandrian texts.  For the first 1,000 years of Christianity, Alexandrian texts far outnumbered Byzantine.  In fact, there is no evidence that Byzantine texts even existed until the fifth century.

There are other reasons that could just as easily account for why we have far more copies of manuscripts from the Byzantine family today, none of which argue for their accuracy.

Preservation

In the KJV, Psalm 12:6,7 states, “The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.”  This indicates that God will preserve Scripture 100% intact forever.  Therefore, we must today have the exact words of the originals.

The Problem

There is wide disagreement among scholars over whether “words” here actually indicates Scripture or whether “them” in verse 7 even refers to those words rather than those who verse 5 speaks of the LORD protecting.  If those two things are true, it obviously makes a strong argument for preservation.  However, it’s very questionable that they are.

Corrupt Source

In most cases, the Bible mentions Alexandria unfavorably and Antioch favorably.  Antioch definitely appears to have had a more solid Christian foundation, so manuscripts originating from Antioch are to be trusted more than Alexandrian manuscripts.

The Problem

This would be good support for other arguments, but it alone, in the absence of other evidence, is not enough to prove that the Antioch line is more accurate.  All other things being equal, it would be more likely for a better manuscript to arise from Antioch, but it’s not proof in and of itself.

Corrupt Editors

Those who argue for KJV-only believe that the Alexandrian line was intentionally corrupted, for reasons including the advancement of Roman Catholic theology.

The Problem

People have been attempting to corrupt the Bible from the very beginning.  We have plenty of evidence of that.  However, we do not have any firm evidence that any corruption was preserved in the Alexandrian line or that it was or was not also preserved in the Byzantine line.

Corrupt Words

KJV-only proponents state, “We find that these two texts [the Majority and Minority] disagree consistently concerning the major doctrines of the Bible. They are found to disagree on readings concerning the virgin birth of Jesus Christ, the blood atonement, Christ’s second coming, the deity of Christ, and many other fundamental Christian doctrines. It is for this reason that we must examine our witnesses to determine if their testimony is accurate (God’s text) or if they are fraudulently misleading (Satan’s text).

This is one of the major problems that they have with other manuscripts and versions — and rightfully so.  If major doctrines are affected, then this is a very critical issue.

The Problem

The Minority Text doesn’t actually disagree with the Majority on any doctrine like the ones they list.  Where they disagree is on the readings, not on the doctrines.

The real issue is best stated by one of the KJV’s strongest advocates: Any fundamental [doctrine] found in any version is found purer or more frequently in the King James Bible thus making the King James Bible the best of the field (emphasis mine).

Maybe the best way to see this is with an example.  Here is Matthew 1:25 in the KJV and in the NIV:

And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.

But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

KJV-only advocates claim that removing the word “firstborn” gives room to question the virgin birth.  This would be true if the doctrine of the virgin birth wasn’t attested to in a number of other places, or if it indicated that Jesus wasn’t the firstborn.  Neither of these is the case, though.  The doctrine of the virgin birth is well established by Scripture, with or without the word “firstborn” here, and Matthew himself chose not to include the word.

Most of the cases like this involve words or phrases that have been removed.  Those words or phrases do often enhance the meaning, but removing them never changes a doctrine.  Additionally, a strong argument can be made that those were only added in later manuscripts and don’t actually occur in the originals.

The Best Translation

The second cornerstone of the argument is that the KJV is the best translation that has ever been and that ever could be: “Education has degenerated along with the entire world system and could never produce a scholar equal to those of nearly four hundred years ago.

You’ll have to decide for yourself if you believe this to be true.

Common Misconceptions

It would be easy to study this topic and come away believing we have two different sets of manuscripts that a) are exactly the same within each set and b) disagree with the other set on the majority of readings.

The truth, though, is that we can be absolutely sure of what the originals said in 95% of cases because the manuscripts, across both sets, match exactly at those points.  There is, at most, a 5% disagreement, and some claim it is as low as 1.7%.

Additionally, there isn’t 100% agreement among the manuscripts in either set, and frequently the differences actually cut across the two sets.

In terms of textual criticism, what we’re talking about are differences in a very small minority of readings across thousands of different manuscripts that otherwise agree 95% of the time.

Conclusion

If you’ve been taught something all your life, and had it backed up with facts that sounded both true and reasonable, why would you not believe it?  I’ve believed countless things like that (and I’m sure there are some I still do), so if anyone should have been slow to speak on this topic it should have been me.  There is no excuse for saying the things I said or the way I said them.

The series of translations that led to the KJV was one of the most monumental events in all of Christian history.  So much of what we have today was built on the work of those selfless men, some of whom literally died to get a readable Bible into the hands of regular people.  Having spent hours and hours researching this, though, I’m confident that scholarship continues to increase and that we can be more sure now about what the original authors wrote than at virtually any other time in history.

Filed under Spirituality

Swallowing Camels

After the healthcare legislation passed, Christian satirist @Xianity commented:

Then Thursday, CNN.com reported on Sam Harris’ criticism of religion:

Religion has convinced us that there’s something else entirely other than concerns about suffering. There’s concerns about what God wants, there’s concerns about what’s going to happen in the afterlife.

And, therefore, we talk about things like gay marriage as if it’s the greatest problem of the 21st century.

Both reminded me of Jesus’ own words:

What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things. Blind guides! You strain your water so you won’t accidentally swallow a gnat, but you swallow a camel!

And this more extreme version a little later:

Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, “Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.

Then they will reply, “Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?”

And he will answer, “I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.”

And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.

His brother James summed it this way:

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

It’s easy to get so caught up in rules and regulations to help us do the latter that we completely forget to do the former.  We strain out gnats while we’re swallowing camels.

Filed under Spirituality

God is Working Outside the Church

Ed posed a few very thought-provoking questions yesterday.  Jeff responded with an amazing, easy-to-read post to which I have absolutely nothing to add.  I just wanted to link to it and say, “Wow.”

Filed under Spirituality

Jesus is Not the Light of the World

I didn’t get very far in my Bible reading this morning before this verse stopped me.  Jesus says, “But while I am here in the world, I am the light of the world.

The part that stopped me was the “while I am here” — the obvious implication being that he’s no longer the light of the world.

Then who is?

Anyone who believes in him and follows him: You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden (Mt 5:14).

That wasn’t what caused me to come write for the first time in almost a year, though (and have to look up my password, upgrade the blog, go through several plugin updates, etc.).  What caused me to write was the realization of what a poor job of this I do — not so much in everyday life in the obvious opportunities I get to “shine,” but in all those other opportunities that aren’t so obvious.  Those situations where I know I’ll never interact with this person again or where they’ll never know who I am.  I’m not as careful in those situations.

And the truth is, there’s almost always no harm done.  I’m (usually) not acting in a way that has a negative effect.

But what would happen if we all started trying to have a positive effect in every one of those opportunities, though?  I’m not talking about signing our emails with a Bible verse or an empty exhortation to “Have a Blessed Day!” but really being a true light in that person’s day.

That’s what stopped me today and made me write: the realization of just how many opportunities like that I throw away every day and what an amazing difference it would make if we all took advantage of them.  A few every day from a handful of people probably wouldn’t make much difference, but millions of them every day…

It’s almost like he planned it that way.

Filed under Spirituality

The Atheist Who Came to Dinner

This past Sunday, John Avant, pastor of First Baptist Church in West Monroe, LA, shared his preaching time with his good friend Lauren Sandler.  Lauren is the author of Righteous: Dispatches from the Evangelical Youth Movement, so she would seem to be a perfect fit.

What would seem to make her a very imperfect fit for the pulpit of a Southern Baptist church residing solidly in the Bible Belt, though, is that she’s a Jewish Atheist from New York City.  (New York City?)

It was exactly what church should be, though.

The only reason I’m posting this instead of linking to it directly is because First West doesn’t currently have a link to let you listen to the interview online, and I think it’s too great for anyone to miss.  If you can subscribe to podcasts, definitely subscribe to their podcast either directly or with iTunes — not only for this interview but for the great series they have going right now.

Otherwise, you can use this player to listen online:

[podcast]http://www.lifeofshane.com/images/SecondMileRelevance.mp3[/podcast]

Filed under Spirituality

KJV: The Only Inerrant Word

As my wife said, “I know I shouldn’t be surprised, but I am”:

A lot of these points of contention would have been clarified if the author would have used only one version of the Bible, instead of using several (per)versions to make the Bible say what she wanted. Her points are well-taken, even in this modern world, but if DeMoss is going to have us living according to God’s standards for women, she needs to stick with the KJV and not “wrest scriptures” (2 Pet. 3:16).

Wow.  Really?  More interested in what the KJV has to say than what the Bible has to say?

The publishing of the KJV was an awesome landmark in Christianity, and the scholars whose work led to it are sobering, motivating studies in true Christian commitment.  But we’ve had 500 years to develop translations that are not only more accurate reflections of the original Word, but are immeasurably easier to understand.

The longer we try to make the Bible of 1611, with its Queen’s English, apply to our lives, the closer we get to the situation that made the KJV so important in the first place: the vast majority of the people simply weren’t able to read or understand the Latin texts.  How many can read the KJV today and truly get the meaning that God wanted to convey?  If that wasn’t God’s desire 500 years ago, how could it be his desire now?

Filed under Spirituality

Inside Bobby Lowder’s Office

Terry Bowden Returns to the Plains

Gnome Land USA opens in Auburn

Filed under Snark

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Working

I Can't Believe It's Not Working -- Auburn's Spread