The Unity of the Spirit
"In the Bond of Peace"
"There is one body and one Spirit - just as you were called to one hope when you were called - one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all" (Eph 4:4-6 NIV).
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Dear Fellow-Believers,

Greetings to all and welcome to our web-site for The Unity of the Spirit.

 

June 17, 2014

Summer Reading

Another excellent school year has come to a close and summer has actually begun. As much as I will miss my students it's time for all of us to have some time to rest, refresh and re-energize over the summer. Among other things summer is a time to spend more time with people whom you haven't been able to see for a while or for as much time as you'd like. For teachers, in particular, summer means that we can now read primarily what we want to read and what we've been waiting for months to read--rather than our textbooks, essays we grade, school forms we fill out, etc. In a word, how nice! Of course, a teacher's work is never done, but at least our focus can shift for a couple of months. For me, personally, this means shifting my focus to biblical studies and to historical studies that are of particular interest to me. Since I tend to do a lot of traveling over the summers, my reading also usually includes some travel guides or other travel-related materials about the places that I, or preferably, Dorota and I, will be visiting. The more historically and culturally oriented these materials are the better as far as I'm concerned because it deepens the travel experience. Being a history teacher, I'm usually reading about ten to fifteen different history books and/or biographies at any given time. Some of those I'll finish this summer and others I'll start.

As for biblical studies, this summer for me will be spent primarily reading and studying Paul's Letter to the Romans in all of its dimensions since next school year our Adult Bible Study will be studying it in depth. In addition, I will be studying a great deal about the entire new covenant era that began with the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. With the giving of God's gift of holy Spirit in Acts 2 the new covenant era of salvation began and it is in this era that all Christian believers live. The Book of Acts and the NT Letters should, therefore, be our primary focus of study since they set forth the early history of the Christian Church and also expound its fundamental beliefs and practices. In fact, the Book of Romans is a foundational document in understanding the truths of the new covenant era and there is no better NT book to build one's understanding of the Christian life around. Christians often focus on the Gospels; however, the Gospels are preparatory to the new covenant era of salvation and set forth the fulfillment of all that was required for the new covenant to begin. The words and deeds of Jesus Christ as recorded in the Gospels are, of course, of great importance; however, even he spoke of his own mission of fulfillment and looked forward to the new covenant era that would come into force through his sacrificial death, resurrection and then the giving of the Spirit on Pentecost. Focusing on the Book of Acts and the NT Letters shows how the NT Church of the body of Christ understood and applied the teachings of Christ in the light of his entire life, death, resurrection and the giving of the Spirit - which Christ himself promised and looked forward to. Thus, we no longer live in the era of the Gospels but rather in the new covenant era as set forth in the Book of Acts and the NT Letters. This is why they should be our primary focus in understanding new covenant truths and in practical living within this new covenant era of salvation. That is why the "But now's" of Romans are so important. They set forth the present realities of new covenant truths in relationship to the old covenant era and frame the entire Book of Romans in this context. I will end with a couple of examples:

"But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it - the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified by his grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." (Rom. 3:21-24).

"But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of Spirit and not in the old way of the written code." (Rom. 7:6).

These are new covenant truths contrasting the new with the old. The Book of Romans is framed by these truths and as new covenant Christian believers our whole lives are framed by these truths as well.

May God be with you all this summer as you live in the light of all that God has done for us his children through the gift of salvation in Christ and through our new covenant life in the Spirit.

Richie Temple

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

 

 

March 28, 2014

Living in Newness of Life

Spring is finally breaking out in the South and the newness of life that it brings reminds me of the life-giving power of the gospel message that is set forth so vividly in Paul's Letter to the Romans. As Paul states in Romans 1:16-17 and then in Romans 6:1-4:

"For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes - the Jew first and also the Gentile. This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, "It is through faith that a righteous person has life." (Rom. 1:16-17 NLT).

"What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life." (Rom. 6:1-4 ESV).

Our Adult Bible Study Fellowship which meets weekly in our home has been studying the New Testament Book of Romans during the course of this year; this will continue over the course of the next year as well. Romans is a book of the Bible that changed the lives of many of the giants of the Christian faith and sparked great liberating movements for God thereafter. Augustine, Luther, Wesley, Barth, et al., are a few examples; however, the lives affected for good and known only to God certainly number in the many millions. We, of course, are amongst those less famous names whose lives have been liberated by the power of God and who seek to grow in our knowledge and understanding of Paul's Letter to the Romans. As with almost all topics that we study in our own local Bible-study fellowship we use a variety of good Bible versions and translations for comparative purposes and also consult some of the best commentaries and research works (usually for "homework" in between our regular fellowships) to help us in our study. Currently, we're focusing on some of the major topics that Paul deals with in Romans and then, after a summer break, we will go though the entire Book of Romans from start to finish.

This particular study is a great joy for me personally because Romans has always been one of the favorite books of the Bible for me going all the way back to my teenage years when I first began to study it seriously. Though I began reading and memorizing it in the King James Version in my earlier childhood, I found this pretty rough going - certainly, the KJV was beautiful with memorable phrases, but the often archaic English was often difficult to understand. When my church switched to the Revised Standard Version as its main text I did too. This helped a good deal but the newly published and vivid translations of the New English Bible and the Good News Bible both really opened it up for me even more so and helped make reading and studying Romans an exciting adventure for me as a teenager in high school. Today I generally use the English Standard Version (ESV), which is a revision of the Revised Standard Version, as my main text and also rely heavily on both the NIV and NLT - both of which are excellent and are often more vivid than the ESV, especially in certain passages. As with our fellowship, I generally recommend using one main text and using many others for comparative purposes. Of course, the Greek text is ultimately authoritative and here it is necessary to consult both a good interlinear and the best commentaries that explain the text. Most importantly, however, the most important key to understanding Romans well is to read it over and over as a whole so as to understand its entire scope and message. The details will always fit within this overall scope. In addition, some of the most helpful verses for the day-to-day life of the Christian believer are found in Romans and it is recommended that they be committed to memory so as to be called upon at any time in every-day life.

Today, I own probably 15 - 20 excellent commentaries on Romans. I treasure them all because they were written by highly educated men who were gravely concerned about truth and also equally concerned about practical godly living on behalf of Christ. Interestingly, they span the spectrum of denominational affiliation. My personal favorite of these is "Romans" in the Tyndale NT Commentary Series by F.F. Bruce. It is loaded with truth, written by one of the 20th centuries greatest NT scholars, and is easily accessible to the educated reader. However, there are so many excellent commentaries on Romans that one could spend almost a lifetime studying these in depth. The integrity, character and erudition of these great scholars far surpasses what generally passes for "scholarship" in much of the academic world today. When I hear the names of these scholars - Barrett, Bruce, Dunn, Fitz myer, Moo, et al - my heart jumps and my ears perk up because here are serious scholars with much that is important still to share with present generations.

As I think back to my past, the first significant book that I ever read about Romans - instead of just reading the text of Romans itself - was a book that my mother gave me called "How to Be a Christian Without Being Religious". It was a very popular book amongst young Christians in the 1960s and 70s and eventually sold millions of copies. I would still recommend it today for most anyone, especially its main points. This book was, more or less, a popular-level commentary that both explained the text of Paul's Letter to the Romans emphasizing its liberating and life-giving message and was also loaded with practical real-life applications for people of my age at that time. For someone looking for an alternative to both the stodginess of mainstream protestantism and the superficiality of the then current counter-culture movement, this book and its life-giving message from Paul's Letter to the Romans, was like a natural spring of cool water to anyone thirsty for the truth. This, after all, was a period of great turmoil in the midst of the Cold War, Watergate, and a growing counter-culture movement promoting the "freedom" of drugs, free sex, and anti-most-everything. On the other hand, many, including myself, were hungry for much more solid truth that surpassed that of both staid organized religion and counter-culture "truth". Having read the Bible a great deal growing up, and also having heard a great deal of it in my church in my earlier years, it was evident to me that the truth of the Bible as set forth in this case in Romans gave solid answers that were true for every generation and that the counter-culture ideas of the times were little more than the latest irresponsible, superficial, and romantic expressions of a desire to live a "if-it-feels-good-do-it" existence - usually, with others paying the way.

Fortunately, there were many others hungering and thirsting for the solid truth of God's word during that time period and, as so often in the past, the liberating truths of the gospel that Paul sets out in his Letter to the Romans became a springboard and a foundation for helping thousands and thousands of those who desired to live for God to live meaningful lives in the light of his Word, not only then, but also up until this day. And thankfully, that same message of Romans continues to offer not only "the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes" but also the solid spiritual foundation for living and walking "in newness of life" day by day in this equally confusing day and time as well (Rom. 6:1-4).

Let us, therefore, as Christian believers who are united "in Christ" above and beyond worldly and denominational distinctions hold fast to the liberating and foundational truths of Romans and build upon them for a life-time of service to our God.

Richie Temple

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

 

January 28, 2014

The New Year for The Unity of the Spirit

The new year has begun and we are having one of our more harsh winters here in the American South, though not of course to be compared with the very low temperatures and difficult conditions of the American North. In the South, however, life comes to a standstill over even small amounts of snow and ice since it is not cost effective to have the machinery necessary for the infrequent harsh winter weather that we only occasionally have. At any rate, I'm sure Americans in both the North and South are looking forward to the coming of spring. I also, of course, hope that our fellow-believers in Europe and other parts of the world are having a good and safe winter - even those in the southern hemisphere whose winter is like our summer!

This new year also begins the twentieth year of The Unity of the Spirit newsletter and/or web-site. Our first publication was in the spring of 1995 and from that point we have published consecutively either in hardcopy newsletter form or via our web-site up until today. Hopefully, we can continue to do so well into the future as long as this forum is helpful to God's people or for those searching for an understanding of biblical truth. It has always been the purpose of our publications to present the truth of the God's word as found in the Bible to the best of our understanding - unfettered by post-biblical traditions, interpretations and divisions within Christianity since New Testament times. Our desire is for Christians to be united on the simple truths of God's word as set forth in the New Testament in fulfillment of Old Testament themes. Though the Bible is loaded with truths about every practical subject of life, it is primarily a "book of books" that are tied together by the overarching theme of God's plan of salvation. This plan actually begins in the mind and purposes of God long before the creation account of Genesis 1 and it works its way through the creation of the heavens and earth all the way up to its initial fulfillment in Christ. Indeed, this plan is still at work in the world today and will continue until its ultimate fulfillment at Christ's second coming. At that time evil will be destroyed, God's faithful people will be vindicated and glorified, and the whole creation will be renewed as God's glorious kingdom finally comes. This is what the whole Bible points to, is moving towards, and is built around.

All of our articles, blog-posts, and publications associated with The Unity of the Spirit also revolve around these themes. My own book in e-form in the upper right hand column "God's Plan of Salvation" was first written about twenty years ago and has only been slightly edited since that time. I still recommend it as one of the best means of grasping the big picture of the Bible while focusing on the spiritual and practical aspects of the fulfillment of new covenant themes for Christian believers today. In short, it deals primarily with the "already, but not yet" life of Christians who have "already" been saved, but are still awaiting the fullness of that salvation "yet" to be received at Christ's second coming. In my blog-posts I have summarized the simplicity of this Christian perspective in what I often tell my students is Christianity 101:

1. Believe in Christ,

2. Live a Christ-like Life,

3. Until Christ's return.

This simple perspective offers a framework that is easy for Christians to understand, easy to remember, and easy to build an even fuller picture of the Christian life upon (I Cor. 3:11). Most of the articles from our newsletter The Unity of the Spirit which are now listed by categories in our "Articles" section in the heading above deal with aspects of this perspective and with similar subjects as well. I think many of these articles are gems and are amongst the best that I know of anywhere on these subjects. Of course, the uniqueness of our own web-site - in contrast to many other excellent Christian web-sites which we also recommend - comes from our own articles, publications and recommendations as mentioned above. I highly recommend them and hope that interested Christian believers will take advantage of the work we have done through the years - most of it, by the way, being based upon both the simplicity of the scriptures themselves as well as the work of some of the foremost biblical scholars in the world.

Finally, I've updated some of our recommendations for web-sites, blogs, books, etc. done by other Christian believers that we list on our web-site and, though not always agreeing with all that is said in these, generally find much that is helpful and a blessing. We hope that they can be be a blessing to our readers as well as we continue together as fellow-Christians in "the unity of the Spirit, in the bond of peace."

Richie Temple

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

 

December 23, 2013

The Christmas Season

The Gospels: the Good News of Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God

My greetings to all in this Christmas season of the year when we celebrate the birth of God's Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Not long ago almost everyone growing up in a Western country knew the story of Christ's birth almost by heart. It was presented as a joyous event and was proclaimed and presented from church pulpits, in Christmas plays, and throughout popular culture in various ways. Though this is still true to some degree depending upon where one lives, the true significance of the birth of Christ has been greatly diminished since the true "Christ of the Bible" is, in fact, a very politically incorrect figure according to many of the popular political and cultural standards of today. Fortunately, however, the true meaning of Christ's birth still shines through the Christmas presentations of many churches and, most significantly, it is crystal clear in the pages of the New Testament itself for anyone who truly wants to understand it. One of the most beautiful summary statements of this in the New Testament is found in Paul's Letter to the Galatians:

"But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father'! So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, an heir through God." (Gal. 4:4-7 ESV).

Of course, at this time of year we normally turn to the pages of the New Testament Gospels to read about the events of Christ's birth. And, that for good reason, for the story is told with beauty and clarity of meaning when the Gospels are allowed to speak, in their own way, for themselves. Generation upon generation of faithful believers and searching individuals have felt liberated, comforted and touched to the depths of their hearts by the simplicity and penetrating meaning of the "good news" of the birth of Christ as presented in these Gospels. In fact, despite the efforts of many so-called scholars to deconstruct and obscure the clear testimony of the New Testament Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the events of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Messiah of God, remain amongst the best documented and historically reliable recorded events of antiquity. This is, and always has been, the judgment of the best historians - both Christian and non-Christian - and remains so today. Of course, that is not what CNN, for example, or the popular press would have us believe and it is the easiest thing in the world to find willing "scholars" from leading university Religion Departments to appear and say whatever might be acceptable to the current thoughts and fashions of any given generation. But this is not new; it began in the time of the apostle Paul himself and his words to Timothy are just as true today as at any time in history:

"I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths." (II Tim. 4:3-4).

Most of the attempts to debunk the testimony of the Gospels goes back to the Enlightenment of the 18th century and then culminated in 19th century Europe. Those attempts were themselves debunked by the leading biblical scholars of their times and that has remained true up until today in the midst of another wave of headline making attempts to devalue the Gospels in particular and the Bible in general. Bart Ehrman, a former evangelical Christian, is the most famous of the modern day Bible critics and his many books and interviews on television and in the popular press have given him a large following. He proclaims himself to be a "happy agnostic," though only the latter term really seems to be true. Since he is a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill my tax dollars, unfortunately, have helped pay for his activities - much to my chagrin. Many of my own students have gone on to take classes under him at UNC and I have personally read many of his books which tend to repeat and repackage what he has said in earlier works in new ways - and, for new dollars! Though he presents his research as "new findings" or else information that the church has deviously sought to hide over the centuries, they are instead topics and issues in biblical studies that have been well-known, addressed - and all of the important ones solved - ever since they were first brought up centuries ago. Ehrman, as with most charlatans, specializes in half-truths as well as the arrangement of his popular works in a sensationalist style that appeals to those with "itching ears" rather than a sincere search for the truth. Although when he sticks to purely professional academic work he can actually produce some solid research, even then it is almost always devalued by the unlikely interpretative spin that he places on it. Many modern day believing scholars have addressed almost everything that Ehrman has produced and have shown just how flawed his research and/or his presentation of it normally is. Unfortunately, his "myths" are currently fashionable for those who are looking to debunk the Bible "to suit their own passions" and so there are many other similar "scholars" who are following in his wake. It is simply the hip thing to do in universities and biblical studies today.

This debate does, however, highlight the necessity of studying and teaching the Bible accurately in the light of its own original modes of composition, writing and purposes. To not do so opens the Christian church to rightful criticism from without and this has all too often been the case. However, errors in biblical studies by the church does not justify even worse errors by those who criticize it. What is needed is simply correct methods of study and interpretation that are followed consistently by all. Fortunately, these correct methods are now recognized and agreed upon by all of the best biblical scholars across denominational lines. A very good place to start in understanding them is a book such as How to Read the Bible for All its Worth by Fee and Stuart. These scholars, for example, hold that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are indeed "inspired by God" but they also recognize them to be literary compositions that also stand on their own as reliable historical documents when properly read and understood. However, they are not history books or biographies compiled and composed according to our modern ways of thinking. Instead, each of these Gospels was originally compiled, composed and written with a specific audience in mind to communicate the "gospel" or "good news" of Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God. It was then written in that light and sent to that original audience for its own specific purposes. Only much later were these Gospels collected and put together in the New Testament as we have them today. Two famous examples of the Gospels expressly saying this of themselves are in the Gospels of Luke and John:

"Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught." (Luke 1:1-4).

"Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." (John 20:30-31).

Nothing could be clearer than the simplicity of these purposes of the Gospels. As with all of the books of the Bible the Gospels must be read and understood as much as possible according to their own original intent and meaning and in the light of their original purposes to the audiences to whom they were originally sent. When they are read in this way the beauty and meaning of their composition and message comes through as intended even today - even if we don't understand all of the details of their original history, culture or literary composition. We never will; however, the beauty and simple meaning of their message remains. That is why when simply read and heard the beauty and significance of their meaning has taken hold of every generation. That is how they were intended to be heard and understood - not as modern day text books of history, science or even theology. It is only the modern and overly extreme "rationalism" of the Enlightenment that a priori disallowed even the possibility of miracles, and, therefore - surprise! - found the Gospels unreliable, that has caused them to be doubted whenever and wherever they are. Otherwise, they stand on their own as being not only profoundly important as to their spiritual significance, but also profoundly important as to their literary beauty and historical witness as well.

Of course, most people will read and accept what they want to in this as in other fields - not, out of a genuine search for the truth, but instead, to "accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions." This should be apparent to anyone who is aware of the culture of our times or who has studied in the universities, colleges, and academies of our times. Nevertheless, let us as the people of God - and as true seekers after truth - read the Gospels, and indeed the Bible as whole, as God would have us, in the light of their original purposes for his people. When done so, they will be the best presentations ever of the beauty of the gospel message and, therefore, "the power of God, at work, for the salvation of everyone who believes." (Rom. 1:16).

Richie Temple

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

 

 

November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving Day in America

As a Christian believer there is certainly much to be thankful to God for on this Thanksgiving day in America. For me personally, Thanksgiving day will always be most memorable because my dear wife, Dorota, and I were married on Thanksgiving day of 1984 in Krakow, Poland, where of course, the day was not a holiday. Thanksgiving day for me will also forever be the background of many childhood memories of family gatherings as I was growing up in North Carolina. Those were times of good food, good football, and warm fellowship in several small and large towns of central and eastern North Carolina. Most importantly, my entire greater family were born and raised as Christians - mostly Presbyterian and Baptist - and the general atmosphere of our conversations assumed this common outlook together with the moral character associated with it. This is not to say that there was agreement on every issue either theologically or politically, but, there was agreement on what constituted correct personal Christian moral and ethical character and that outlook framed everything else. Most importantly, my parents and all of my aunts and uncles were members of what has become known as "the Greatest Generation" - made famous by the well known television anchor Tom Brokaw's book by the same title. This was the American generation that had been raised during the hardships of the Great Depression, had fought or otherwise served in World War II, and then formed the moral, civic and political backbone of America during the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement and the general growth, prosperity and development of American society through the rest of the 20th century. The basis of their own lives was a common bond formed by their religious faith expressed both in their own lives and in their churches, their strong family and civic values, and their sense of devotion to the ideals which America had been founded upon and which they themselves had fought to preserve - ideals and rights of freedom, equality and justice - given by, and exercised under, God.

Indeed, this "Greatest Generation" of Americans represented in a modern context what has always been best in the history of America. Their own devotion and accomplishments are rivaled only by America's founding generation with names such as Washington, Franklin, Adams, Jefferson, Maddison, Jay, Hamilton, Marshall and others with whom they share - in ideals, principles and actual practice - so very much. That "Founding Generation" consisted of perhaps the greatest collection of political thinkers and leaders in history. But it was their own personal moral character built on their belief in God and their ultimate accountability to him - irrespective of their differences in specific religious beliefs and affiliations - that was the foundation for all else that they did. It is this common foundation of religious belief and moral conduct that ties them together with what has come to be known as "the Greatest Generation". I will personally always be thankful for all that I learned from each of my relatives from that generation - especially, their example of simple religious belief and devotion, their dignity of life in their moral conduct both personally and towards others, and, finally, their strong sense of moral, civic and political responsibility at all levels of American life. In fact, despite many imperfections along the way, these principles and ideals have always been the norms and hallmarks of American life since the very beginnings of American history. They are the very principles and ideals that the great visiting Frenchman Alexis de Toqueville noted as being unique to the America of the 1830s and then inspired him to write what is perhaps the greatest book ever about this country, Democracy in America. From the beginning of American history those same ideals and principles inspired and undergirded much of America's colonization and settlement all up and down the Atlantic coast in the 1600s and 1700s. They were strengthened by the godly biblical influence of the Great Awakening of the mid-1700s that swept the entire nation and touched the moral and spiritual life of almost every American both inside and outside of the organized churches of the times. And, they were the driving force of both the founding of the American republic in 1776 and of the day to day life of its people ever since.

As the great British historian Paul Johnson has noted in his wonderful book A History of the American People almost all nations are born out of war and often with at least a certain amount of injustice along the way as well. It is the subsequent history of the countries that are formed out of those wars, etc. that, to a great degree, determine how just and "worth it" those wars were. For America, two great injustices - the conquering of indigenous peoples and the enslavement of another - have always cried out to be atoned for and justified by the forming of a society that is far more free, equal, and just than those which it has replaced. To a great degree this has actually been done - through the real-life blood, sweat and tears of political, economic, social, religious, and even, military interactions - over the entire course of American history. And, of course, the quest for an ever more just society continues. Unfortunately, most foreign observers, visitors and commentators do not understand just how complex this process has been, and indeed, continues to be in America. As a nation deliberately born "under God" on principles of freedom, equality and justice it has grown as a nation of millions and millions of immigrants - each with their own background - to be the most diverse country in the history of the world and yet, at the same time, to govern itself at every level on the republican principles of representative democracy. In fact, self-government goes back to the very beginnings of American history when each colony, on the whole, governed itself. Since that time self-government has extended itself to every imaginable American institution beginning at the local grassroots level in autonomous families, churches, civic groups, schools, clubs, businesses and associations of every kind, and then, on to the representative autonomous governments of towns, cities, counties, states and finally, of course, to the national government itself. No country in history has ever experienced anything close to the breadth and scale of the variety of self-governing interactions of this nation as it continues what has always been called, the great "American experiment in republican government."

As a Christian believer my allegiance, of course, is first and foremost to God my Father and to Jesus Christ, my Lord. Together with my fellow brothers and sister in Christ I am a child in God's family and a citizen of his kingdom. As with all devout Christian believers my greatest desire is for God's kingdom to come and for his will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Nevertheless, as also with all of my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, I now live in a particular time in history and am a citizen of a particular nation of this time. Though I have visited some 50 countries in my lifetime and have lived extensively in two, I, by birth, happen to be an American and it is within this nation that I must principally live my life according to the political, economic and social structures of my time. As a Christian the principles by which I live - to believe in Christ, and live a Christ-like life, until Christ's return - are the same no matter what country I live in. However, the application of those principles varies enormously depending on the country, state, region or locality of where I live. Not only I, but every Christian must learn to live within the reality and opportunities of those varied situations - and, it is the better part of wisdom to understand that other Christians in other countries, regions, states, cities, etc. have their own unique situations and it is better to be very, very slow to judge their particular actions in the light of those unique situations. Individual Christians from every historical period located in every country, region, etc. will ultimately give account of themselves to God - not, to other Christians in other times or countries, or regions. That includes "the Pilgrims" who founded Plymouth colony in 1620. They were searching for the freedom to practice their own understanding of the Christian faith and to find a place where they could establish their own unique community free from the worldly pursuits and enticements of the Old World. They found this freedom in the New World and, though about half of them died during the first winter, those who survived endured to celebrate the first American Thanksgiving in the following fall of 1621. Almost all countries have certain events, historical figures, and ideals to look back on and to celebrate as citizens of those countries. These represent what is best in that country's history and provide an example and foundation for life in that nation's present time. When I visit those countries I always try to learn more about that history and to appreciate it just as I would my own. However, on this Thanksgiving day as a Christian believer in America I give special thanks for my own heritage as an American and I ask God to continue - in his overarching divine providence - to guide this nation "under God" in the light of his own sovereign wisdom and purposes.

Richie Temple

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

 

 

October 28, 2013

Speaking in Tongues - as the Spirit Gives the Words to Speak (Acts 2:1-4)

The first time I spoke in tongues was forty years ago this month - in the Fall of 1973 - at a picnic table by a lake at St. Andrews College in Laurinburg, North Carolina. The experience was just like that spoken of in the New Testament Book of Acts and in Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians: I as a Christian believer born of God's Spirit spoke forth - totally in control of my own faculties - but as I spoke the Spirit within me gave me the words to speak. It was a beautiful language that flowed naturally from within that I myself did not know. This experience - which millions of other Christians have also received - changed my life forever and I've spoken in tongues as part of my own private prayer life almost every day since. It has never failed to build me up spiritually and to remind me that I am a child of God - saved by his grace and born of his Spirit. I was eighteen years old at the time I first spoke in tongues and, though I had been a devout Christian all of my life, I longed for a manifestation of the real presence of God's Spirit in my life in a way that corresponded with the living power and presence of God's gift of holy Spirit that was so obviously alive and real in the first century church. As a teenager I had read the New Testament over and over in many different versions and I had seen the importance of the gift of God's Spirit - in action - as recorded in the New Testament from the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 and then throughout the pages of the rest of the New Testament. But though I read about it everywhere in the New Testament, I saw little evidence of the Spirit in manifestation in the church in which I grew up in or in the churches of my Christian friends - at least, not in a way that corresponded to the manifestations of the Spirit spoken of in the Book of Acts and in the New Testament Letters.

When I read the New Testament as a teenager, searching for understanding, scriptural sections such as Acts 2, 8, 10, 19 and I Corinthians 12-14 in particular indicated that the presence of the Spirit of God in the early church via manifestations such as speaking in tongues, interpretation of tongues, prophecy, discerning of spirits, and even, healings and miracles was the norm of the first century new covenant church. In short, the Spirit of God was not simply a doctrine or theory or romantic notion - expressed as part of some mysterious creed or ritual or emotional outburst - but rather, it was a living reality of the power and presence of God himself in the lives of the new covenant Christian believers. That is what I saw so obviously in the Book of Acts and in the New Testament Letters and that is what I longed for in my own life as a young Christian believer who wanted to know and live for God. When I first spoke in tongues that longing was fulfilled in a way that changed my life forever and that has also sparked what has been a lifetime of Christian growth, fellowship and service as a child in God's family.

Of course, speaking in tongues is only one manifestation of the Spirit of God as spoken of in I Corinthians 12-14 and as evidenced in other places in the New Testament. There have been millions of dedicated Christians over the years who have never spoken in tongues and yet have manifested God's Spirit in other ways and, most importantly, cultivated the fruit of the Spirit in a Christ-like manner in their lives. The New Testament clearly teaches that all those who believe in Christ are born of God's Spirit and baptized in, or by, that Spirit into the one body of Christ. It is axiomatic then that Christian believers are filled with God's Spirit and thus become heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ as children in God's family. Though no particular manifestation of the Spirit as listed in I Corinthians 12 is a necessary evidence of the presence of God's Spirit, it is equally true that a dormant Spirit would have made little sense to the first century church. Instead, God was thought to be at work in his people through his Spirit in a variety of ways - all for the common good of the church. Speaking in tongues is the manifestation that is most often mentioned in Acts when the Spirit is initially received by believers upon acceptance of Christ. All of the twelve apostles - the leaders of the first century church - spoke in tongues. So, of course, did the apostle Paul and he speaks very highly of it as a blessing for his own life as well as desiring for other Christians to have this blessing as well. Even a mighty Roman centurion, Cornelius, together with his whole household, are portrayed in Acts 10 as speaking in tongues and Acts 15 then describes this manifestation of God's Spirit as the undeniable evidence that they as Gentiles were accepted by God as children into his own family by faith in Christ.

Though today speaking in tongues and other manifestations of the Spirit are often looked at with suspicion by traditional mainline denominations and churches, the truth is this "charismatic movement" now spans almost all denominations and groups with at least some believers in almost all denominations, for example, now experiencing the blessing of speaking in tongues in their personal prayer lives. As the Book of Acts shows God cannot be put in a box (though he will never act contrary to his revealed Word in the scriptures) and just as he gives his Spirit in direct response to faith in Christ - irrespective of denominational or group labels - so also the manifestation of that Spirit in supernatural ways for the common good of his people is given by God and inspired by his Spirit as well. In the first century church this was the norm - so it should be the norm in the church today as God continues to work in us, his people, to will and to accomplish his good pleasure.

May we as God's people continue to grow in our knowledge and understanding of the gift of his Spirit - as a living reality - as we seek to live for him, both within the fellowship of the church of the body of Christ and in our witness to the wider world at large.

Richie Temple

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

 

 

September 21, 2013

"A Living Sacrifice, Holy and Acceptable to God"

The New Testament scholar Scott McKnight - who also writes the very popular Jesus Creed blog - has often remarked that the younger generation - including Christians - in their teens, 20s and 30s are a wonderfully sincere generation who are often vitally and properly concerned with justice and the well-being of the world at large. McKnight adds, however, that they have lost, or have never been familiar with, the biblical concept of holiness. Thus, their zeal is often great on behalf of social justice and environmental causes - indeed, a desire for justice and fairness is often paramount. However, it is rarely recognized that from a biblical and Christian perspective the root cause of these very injustices and problems of the world is, simply, personal sin - that is, the disobedience of each individual person to God either willfully or else from ignorance of his will. This is the proper biblical and Christian perspective as set out in the entire biblical story from Genesis to Revelation. In short, the problem of sin is the paramount problem of the world and it is a problem that every individual needs to recognize since all people are, personally as individual people, sinful. In the relativistic modern age in which we live "sin" may, of course, be an unpopular word or concept; however, ignoring sin or pretending that sin is not sin will never alleviate its life wrenching, pernicious and all-pervasive evil effects. God designed life and when man does not live in accordance with his will the effects can only be bad. Fortunately, the solution to this problem of sin has been accomplished through God's redemptive work in Christ. As Paul states, "God made him who knew no sin, to be sin for us, so that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." (II Cor. 5:21). Thus, from a true biblically Christian perspective there can be no solution to the deeper problems of society without there being a spiritual reconciliation of man to God through Christ. That solves the principle problem of sin and man's alienation from God and provides the foundation for living a life that is 'holy and acceptable to God." It is, therefore, first and foremost the reconciliation of man to God through Christ that is the Christian mission and everything else - both in the church and in the world at large - must be built on that.

Several years ago I was privileged to teach an outstanding young Christian student, Andrew Phillips. Not only was he one of the very best history students I've ever taught he was also a leader in our school by his day by day principled Christian life. Interestingly, whenever he corresponded by e-mail he always closed with the saying,

"Holiness, not happiness, is the chief end of man".

This well known quotation is from the wonderful book My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers and there is a great deal of truth to it. Doing God's will - and thus living a holy life - should always be the first priority of every Christian. Of course, this also brings a certain godly "happiness" or "blessedness" with it; however, it is not the worldly happiness with which the world is so consumed and which it never truly achieves. But the point of the saying is that doing God's will comes first; not conforming to the world. I think over a span of four years every e-mail message I received from Andrew ended with this quotation. It was always a blessing to me. I don't know if Andrew still holds to this saying but I assume that he does - especially, since he is currently a Divinity student at Duke University Divinity School in Durham, NC. Of course, Christian holiness has little to do with where one studies or with the formalities of various forms of outward religious observance but rather with the holiness that comes from God himself through his gift of holy Spirit and then the corresponding holiness in thought, word and deed of the Christian believer as he or she lives by the mind of Christ and cultivates the fruit of the Spirit. If religious ritual or observance helps in some way to achieve this end then good; otherwise, it has little or no meaning in itself and certainly does not make anyone holy and acceptable to God.

The biblical concept of holiness is first presented in the pages of Genesis in the Old Testament and then continues through the pages of the New Testament. Man's intimate and holy relationship with God was broken by sin as recorded in Genesis 1-3 and chapters 4-11 show a huge intensification of the problem. With the call of Abraham in Genesis 12 God begins his plan to restore his people and creation to the holy relationship with him that he originally intended. Indeed, it is the new covenant itself which which makes possible the holiness for God's people that the old covenant of the Mosaic Law was never able to accomplish. Thus, through Christ's life, death, and resurrection and then the giving of holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) God opens up a new era of salvation for his people in which the spiritual holiness which they receive as a gift in Christ through the Spirit can then be manifested to the world through practical holy living. One of my favorite NT sections of scripture that deals with this is the section on practical Christian living in Romans 12-16. This section is built on the doctrinal section of Romans 1-11 where the apostle Paul expounds the liberating truth of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ - that is, the fulfillment of the promised new covenant message. Based on this all-encompassing mercy that is available to all (11:32) Paul then begins chapter 12 with what are also two of my favorite verses in all of the Bible because they set out the basic goal and "how to" of Christian living. In short, in one of the greatest sections in all of the New Testament on practical Christian living Paul begins with a call to holy living by living a transformed life - through the renewing of one's mind - that is holy and acceptable to God:

"I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, that you may discern what is the will of God - what is good and acceptable and perfect." (Rom. 12:1-2 NRSV).

There are two aspects to holiness for the Christian believer. First, the spiritual holiness that the believer in Christ receives in Christ through the reception of God's gift of holy Spirit. This aspect of holiness is totally by grace and is therefore the gift of God to every Christian believer. It is the result of God's work in Christ and enables the now justified, forgiven, and spiritually cleansed believer to stand "holy and without blame before God." (Eph. 1:4). Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians summarizes this redemptive work of God in Christ beautifully:

"It is because of him [God] that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God - that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written 'Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.'" (I Cor. 1:30-31 NIV).

"Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolators nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified [made holy], you were justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God" (I Cor. 6:9-11 NIV).

In the New Testament Letters all Christian believers are called "saints" or "God's holy people" because through God's redemptive work in Christ they have been "sanctified" or "made holy" by the cleansing power of God's holy Spirit. Thus, they are spiritually "set apart" from the world and for God as children in God's family (Eph. 1:1-14). This righteous and holy status as children in God's family then becomes the springboard for righteous and holy practical living. Paul's entire Letter to the Romans sets out and expounds these truths with the first 11 chapters laying the spiritual foundation of the Christian believer's status as a spiritually justified, righteous and holy child in God's family - all by God's own mercy and grace in Christ. This then leads to the second aspect of Christian holiness. The first two verses of Romans chapter 12, therefore, build first and foremost on the acknowledgement of God's grace and mercy to Christian believers as the foundation of their Christian lives. On that foundation Christians - the saints or God's holy people - are then to live dedicated lives "as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God." The way to do this is then set out in the next verse:

"Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds."

Notice that this holiness in practical living has little or nothing to do with religious rituals, observances, or ascetic practices. Instead, holiness in practical Christian living is achieved by consciously changing the way we think day by day and learning to live each and every day with the mind of Christ. These ideas are life-changing principles that Paul repeats and expounds over and over in all of his letters in one way or another. The primary goal for the individual Christian believer in this life is to live a life that is "holy" and thus "acceptable to God." This is achieved by consciously choosing day by day to "not be conformed to this world" but instead to "be transformed by the renewing of our minds." It is only then - when we consciously put off our old worldly way of thinking and living and, instead, consciously put on the mind of Christ - that we live in harmony and in fellowship with God and his will. What greater goal in life could there be in life than this? That is, to live in accord with the "good, and acceptable and perfect will of God." What could possibly be more meaningful, interesting and fulfilling than that? To live in fellowship and harmony with God almighty, the creator of the heavens and earth, and who is now our own personal father by way of his Spirit that lives in us. This should, very simply, be the goal of each and every Christian believer. This is the essence of Christian holy living that is described in all of the NT Letters as the proper response of "God's holy people" to God's love, grace and mercy that he has given to us as believers in his Son, Christ Jesus our Lord. May we, therefore, in all aspects of our lives "not be conformed to this world" but instead, "be transformed by the renewing of our minds" so as to be "living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God."

Richie Temple

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

 

July 15, 2013

The Biblical View of Sex and Marriage

Christians are, above all, called to be lights in the midst of the darkness of this world. This involves every aspect of life but is especially important in our relations first and foremost with God himself and then with each other. When God created mankind he made them - male and female - in his image and likeness so that they could rule over the earth in fellowship with him. That relationship between any man and any woman with God is the primary relationship upon which all other relationships are to be built. Apart from living in fellowship with God by loving God and loving others all other human endeavors - as the Book of Ecclesiastes so vividly shows - are meaningless. But in fellowship with God every life is important and can enjoy a close relationship with their creator in every endeavor of life. To love God and then to love one's neighbor in accordance with God's will are justifiably the first and second great commandments and everything else flows from there. Biblically, the next most important relationship is marriage and for those who experience it in a godly way it is the most intimate of human relationships. Though it requires a godly, loving and giving attitude on the part of both husband and wife over a lifetime to be successful, it has for good reason traditionally been considered one of the greatest God-given blessings available in this earthly life. Only in recent decades - primarily since the so-called sexual revolution of the 1960s - has there been much debate about what the Bible teaches about sex and marriage. There is a good reason for this: the Bible speaks with one voice from Genesis to Revelation that marriage is a godly and a holy relationship that is to be between a man and a woman and that the only proper place for intimate sexual relations is within that relationship.

All other intimate sexual relations in the Bible are included in the Greek word "porne" in the NT which is usually translated in the NIV and other modern translation as "sexual immorality." The exact scope of the word is determined by its context but in its widest usage it refers to all intimate sexual relations outside of the marriage of a man and a woman as forbidden by the OT Law. When Jesus spoke in Mark 7 of "that which defiles" being "evil thoughts that proceed from the heart" thus leading to evil actions he included "porne" or sexual morality in its widest sense. He never confronted specific sexual practices like homosexuality or pre-marital sex head-on simply because they were not issues at the time and he was never asked about them. Instead, such sexual practices would have been included in the thoughts and actions that were "porne" or sexually immoral. All faithful Jews at that time would have been of one accord on this matter and thus it was never a matter which Jesus had to specifically address. To see how clear the Bible is on this subject of sex and marriage let us start in Genesis and give a few representative examples:

Genesis 2:22-24

"Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, 'This is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called 'woman,' for she was taken out of man.' "

"That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh."

Matt. 19:4-5

"'Haven't you read' he [Jesus] replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,' and said, "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.'"

Ephesians 5:21

"For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh."

The only biblical exception to this was the allowance of polygamy in OT times which, though not in accord with God's original intent, was allowed for particular reasons and in which the marriage relationship was still between opposite sexes. All other sexual relations between a human being with another living being (sex with the opposite sex outside of marriage, homosexual sex, or sex with an animal) were prohibited and condemned in both the OT (e.g. Ex. 22:19; Lev. 18) and in the NT (e.g. Rom. 1:25-27; I Cor. 5-6; Eph. 5:1-7; I Thess. 4:1-8; I Tim. 1:8-11). It was a given that the nations that Israel displaced in the promised land, then those that later surrounded them while they lived in the promised land, and then those that later captivated, exiled or subjected them (Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, Greece and Rome) would live immorally in their sexual practices. Sometimes these immoral extra-marital sexual practices - both between opposite sexes and homosexual - were actually a part of the religious ceremonies of these pagan nations. However, Israel and then the Christian church were explicitly commanded to not live like the pagans but rather to live holy lives according to God's will including in the realm of sex and marriage. Because of their belief in one holy God and the holy lifestyle that he commanded the ancient Jews and early Christians were often considered a threat to the established polytheistic pagan order of any particular empire in which they lived. They thus were persecuted and became an easy scapegoat for the political and religious leaders of those empires when times were bad. It is perhaps true that this may be where we are headed today in various countries of the world as the forces of atheism, syncretism and/or secularism continue to advance. It is not, however, "inevitable" - which one so often hears. As history has shown ungodly trends can be stopped, changed and reversed. After all, even the ungodly Roman Empire was to a great degree Christianized in the early centuries after Christ - to the great relief of the world for the next millennium and a half. At any rate, the biblical Christian is supposed to live this life in the light of a better life, age, and world to come. The Book of Hebrews sums up this biblical view:

Hebrews 13:4

"Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and the sexually immoral."

As with all things biblical there is a right and wrong way to live. The biblical view is that the just will be eventually vindicated and that the unjust will eventually be punished. This is true of marriage and sex as well. As with all biblical rights and wrongs God's love, grace and mercy "cover a multitude of sins" when we acknowledge our wrongdoing and seek his forgiveness. The same love, grace and mercy should be true of us in our relationships with each other as we live in imitation of God and Christ in our marriage relationships. However, love, grace and mercy are necessary precisely because there are clear biblical rights and wrongs on this topic of which we all at times may fall short. The rights and wrongs, however, do not change and Christians should not compromise on them since they are God-given and the source for blessings and fufillment, not - as the world would have us think - pain and bondage.

Of course, the Bible has much to say both in the OT and NT about the great and many blessings of a godly marriage and I recommend that faithful Christians take the time to study this topic in great depth over the course of their lifetimes. With the true sanctity of marriage being undermined more and more in our societies in recent times it is vital that its true biblical meaning and blessings be understood and properly practiced - at least, by those who want to live in harmony with God's will. Fortunately, for Christian believers who desire to do God's will this is not really a complicated issue. Ever since its establishment in Genesis 2 marriage has been the bedrock of society, especially when practiced in the light of its original biblical foundations as a God-ordained institution. It has on the whole been the main source for human society of social stability, moral certitude, and, of course, the pro-creation and care of children. On a personal level, it has often been the source of some of the greatest joy and fulfillment that this present life can offer. The decrease in the stability of marriage and in how it is viewed has occurred correspondingly with the decrease in religious belief and practice over the last few decades Western society. Unsurprisingly, this has also led to a corresponding increase in many other moral, social and economic ills. Unfortunately, the connection between all of these is not something that a morally relativistic society wishes to see.

In today's Western society one is free to take any view of marriage that one desires to take and laws are changing in many directions. A person can already find some nation, state or local region that will support his or her view. Indeed, it is ever increasingly likely that one can even find a professedly Christian denomination, local church and/or synagogue to support that view irrespective of how out of step it may be with traditional Christian values. And, for that shrinking segment of Christian denominations that believes that biblical support would be helpful, there are plenty of scholars to provide an interpretation - however unlikely and textually unjustified - to fit one's every view. Of course this flies in face of thousands of years of near unanimity on the subject since the biblical evidence is, in fact, crystal clear. However, if one decides to depart from seeking the original intent and meaning of the biblical authors and instead substitute a post-modernist viewpoint in interpreting the biblical texts then it is certain that the texts will yield an interpretation that will fit whatever view you want. That is, after all, the basis and goal of post-modernism: to "deconstruct" texts so that they have no certain meaning at all, thus, allowing a person to choose any interpretation one desires and, correspondingly, to choose any lifestyle one so desires to live. However, for those of us who believe the Bible to be the expression of God's will for mankind the true issue is simply to know and live in the light of God's word and then to receive the blessings thereof. Fortunately, the true biblical view on marriage and sex is clear and is consistent from Genesis to Revelation for those who truly want to know it and live in the light of it. Thus, whatever the laws of any society are - or become - in regards to marriage and sex faithful Christians can enjoy the certainty of knowing God's will and living in a deep, rich and meaningful marriage relationship as God originally intended and still intends.

Richie Temple

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

 

 

June 15, 2013

The Local "Church of the Living God" - The Pillar and Foundation of Truth

Summer is upon us and its first highlight for us was our large Sunday fellowship on June 2 of our local church Cary Christian Fellowship. Our church is a fellowship of fellowships that meets in various homes during the week and then in a larger gathering on the first Sunday of every month. This month we met, as ususal, at the homestead of David and Pam Hahn in the country on their large open deck surrounded by the beauty of nature and next to their pond. There were about 50 of us including men, women and children of all generations and backgrounds. It was a wonderful time of fellowship that included group singing, a duet, prayer and a wonderful teaching of God's word from the Bible by Scot Hahn. All of this was against the southern background of birds singing, frogs croaking, fish splashing, dogs wandering, and deer drinking at the pond. Afterwards, we shared the Lord's Supper together and ate a pot-luck meal together. I can't imagine a better church to have been a part of on that particular Sunday morning in the South.

When I was growing in central North Carolina I had a great desire to learn the truth of God's word in the Bible and then to be able to share it with others. Fortunately, I've been able and privileged to that throughout my life, though often not in the traditional formats or forums of the major denominations of the world. That opportunity existed and I was orginally attracted to it; however, as I read and studied the Bible and then became involved in Bible study groups with other committed believers I came to see that for me the house-church movement was the place where I could most effectively reach others for God. Forty years after making that decision at the age of 18 I not only have no regrets regarding it but can only be tremendously thankful to God for the unique opportunities I've had to fellowship and grow with so many wonderful believers through this movement. Of course, I remain thankful for all Christians everywhere - from whatever group, denomination, or tradition - who are truly endeavoring to live for God and help others to do the same. I have many friends, colleagues, students, etc. who are members of traditional churches or fellowships of many varied kinds whom I genuinely, and often, financially support. Nevertheless, being a part of a non-conformist and independent house-church movement has given me the flexibility and freedom to grow with God and serve others in a way that I personally could never have found otherwise.

Each of us must find the place where we can best grow with God and serve others within the body of Christ and within the world. Spiritually, we are all baptized by one Spirit into one body so as to make up the universal church of the body of Christ that spans the world, and indeed, two thousand years of Christian history. However, the vast majority of references to "church" in the New Testament refer to the local assemblies, congregations, or fellowships of Christians who met regularly - usually in homes originally - for the purpose of building each other up, worshipping God, and providing a welcoming home for those desiring to live for God. Much has changed over the centuries in terms of the growth and development of the church as a whole and of how most churches are organized. Each and every Christian should seek find that local church or fellowship that he or she can best grow with God and serve others. No Christian, leader or otherwise, has any right to prevent any individual Christian from doing that and, instead, Christian leaders should actually enable that process. God is far bigger than any individual Christian, Christian leader, or Christian church or denomination. And, every Christians should seek to know that God first and foremost and then fellowship with others wherever that Christian can best grow with God and serve him. Since life is usually pretty long the local church that a believer is a part of may change many times over the course of a life-time; however, the goal of the individual Christian of the local church in growing with and serving God should always be the same.

This website "The Unity of the Spirit" exists to help Christian believers - and those searching - anywhere in the world to grow with God and then to serve him in the many contexts of life, fellowships, and societies in which they live. May God bless all of you, our dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in this summer ahead in all of your endeavors! And, may we all endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace as we strive to serve - wherever we may be in all the contexts of life - the God and Father of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!

Richie Temple

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

 

May 19, 2013

Pentecost Sunday: the Birthday of the Church of the Body of Christ

Pentecost Sunday is a day that is full of meaning for the Christian church for it is on the day commemorated on this Sunday that the church of the body of Christ began. The day of Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2 marks a particular high point along the way in the biblical story of fulfillment. It is on this day that the one people of God, as marked out by their faith in the crucified and risen Christ and their subsequent reception of God's gift of his Spirit, begin to be re-constituted - equally from among Jews and Gentiles - into what we now call the church of the body of Christ. Indeed, since that day it is "by one Spirit that we are all baptized into one body" (I Cor. 12:12-13) thus making up the church of the body of Christ that spans the centuries since Pentecost. This event marks the fulfillment of many Old Testament themes such as the beginning of the new covenant era of salvation. However, it also is an event that is not fully understood by even the people who participate in it until God later reveals his secret "plan of the ages" many years later to the apostle Paul as well as to the other New Testament apostles and prophets. It is this "mystery" or "secret" plan that was long hidden in God since before the creation of the world that has now been fully revealed and has become the basis for understanding the universal church of the body of Christ - consisting of all who truly believe in Christ - that transcends all man-made churches, denominations and local fellowships.

The significance of these events must be understood in continuity with the the entire biblical story as a whole. Most importantly, in the Bible - from Genesis to Revelation - there has always been one and only one God, one people of God, and one hope of salvation for all of God's people. Each of these themes is introduced in the Old Testament Book of Genesis. It is then further explained and developed throughout the course of the entire Bible both in the Old Testament and the New Testament. Then, it finds its ultimate fulfillment in the last chapters of the New Testament Book of Revelation. There God finally destroys all evil, makes all things new, and reigns together with his redeemed people in the paradise of a new heavens and earth forever.

Throughout the Bible the one people of God is always identified as the people of faith - that is, the people of faith in the one true God who is a righteous, holy and loving God. This "faith" is always assumed as being a "living faith" rather than simply mental assent, or, as the Book of James would later put it, a "dead faith". As such, the people of God from Genesis onward are a people animated by their belief in, abiding trust in, and reverence for, the one true God who created them in his image to rule in a godly way - that is, in a righteous, holy and loving way - over the earth. Though far from perfect and marred by sin (after the fall), they were still expected to bring forth the fruits of their faith relationship with God and to be guided in all their dealings by their trust and reverence for him. However, as history moved on and people began to depart more and more from the one true God, God eventually called one specific individual - Abraham - to be "the father of all who believe". God then promised that not only would he bless Abraham and the nation that he would beget, but also that "through him [Abraham] all peoples of the earth will be blessed". Much of the rest of the Old Testament deals with the working out of this promise to Abraham via his descendents, God's chosen people, Israel. In fact, Israel is called specifically to bring the knowledge of the one true God and his righteous, holy and loving laws to the rest of world. This theme of God calling Israel to be his chosen people finds its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus, the Messiah, or Christ, of God. As the both the son of David and son of God, Jesus is himself the ultimate representative of God to both Israel and to the entire world. It is in and through this Jesus, the Christ, that all of God's purposes are subsequently achieved. It is the coming of Christ and, eventually, his sacrificial death and resurrection, that opens the way for a new reconstitution of the one true people of God in a way that had never been envisioned before - except, of course, in the secret counsels of God himself. This secret plan of God, hidden in himself, had never before been revealed until it is revealed to the apostle Paul and the other NT apostles and prophets. This plan is fully revealed and expounded most clearly in Paul's Letter to the Ephesians. Chapter 3 gives a summation of its main points:

"This mystery is that through the gospel [i.e., through believing the gospel message of salvation, Eph. 1:13-14] the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus." (Eph. 3:6).

This verse is simply loaded with truths that sum up many biblical themes and extend Old Testament promises to all who believe in Christ on an equal basis in a way never before envisioned by the Old Testament people of God. In short, this "good news" is that all who believe in Christ - whether Jews or Gentiles - are now equal members in God's family and also equally share in all that God has promised for his people, both now in the present and forever into the future. By receiving God's gift of the Spirit now in this present life God's people have the firstfruits or down payment of a glorious inheritance to come despite still having to deal with the sufferings of this present time. Then, after Christ's second coming they will receive the full life of the age to come - after all evil and suffering is destroyed - in God's coming kingdom of the new heavens and new earth where righteousness will dwell forever. But, it is "now" that we are the children of God (I John 3:1-3) and the church of the body of Christ needs to realize its significance as the one people of God is this present world and as witness to this present world of the true purposes of God now realized in Christ. Below I present three past articles from "The Unity of the Spirit" that deal in depth with the church of the body of Christ. I hope you will take the time to study them thoroughly and may they be a blessing to you and to your local church as part of the greater universal and transcendent church of the body of Christ.

1. "One Spirit-One Body" by Chuck LaMattina

2. "The Church: A Theological Foundation" by Mark Mattison

3. "The People of God" by Richie Temple

 

Richie Temple

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

 

 

March 31, 2013

Resurrection Sunday

On this Easter, or Resurrection Sunday, of 2013 I send my greetings to all my fellow-believers in God our Father and in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. This is the weekend when all over the world Christians celebrate two of the central historical and salvific events upon which the Christian faith is built: the sacrificial death and, then, resurrection of Jesus Christ. In my own personal life, growing up in a protestant Christian home and society of the 1950s, 60s and 70s, I cannot remember a time when I did not believe in these two events. In my nation, state and local community these events were celebrated as givens that were assumed as being historically true and as forming a central part of our unashamedly religious and, indeed, civic culture. In my home we always read all, or some parts, of the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. Sometimes we would also watch a movie or television portrayal of those Gospel events as well. Then, we almost always attended a traditional Easter service which culminated in the partaking of communion, or the Lord's Supper, together. Thinking of these events bring back warm memories for me and, of course, they also describe events that in one way or another were true for most of the world that had formerly been called Christendom - whether Protestant, Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox. Though these events are no longer as prominently a part of our secularized culture today as they once were, they are still widely celebrated in greater or lesser ways depending on the particular country, region, state and culture. To the degree that the true biblical meaning and significance of these events is magnified and promoted this is to be greatly welcomed and encouraged. Indeed, these central events of the sacrificial death and then resurrection of Christ have from the very beginning of Christianity formed the unifying core of true Christian belief and of an authentic historical Christian world-view. They are among the non-negotiable truths that set apart true Christianity from other religions of the world and are also the simple and yet profound foundational truths upon which true Christianity is built, nourished and announced as "the gospel" or "good news".

The apostle Paul emphasizes this in his First Letter to the Corinthians:

"Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance[a]: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas,[b] and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed." (NIV).

These simple and beautiful truths of Christ's sacrificial death and then resurrection are also life-changing because they are "the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes" (Rom. 1:16). These truths were also very early in Christian history symbolized in the Lord's Supper as begun and commanded by our Lord Jesus Christ himself. Apparently, this Lord's Supper became a central focus of early Christian gatherings even in New Testament times since it so vividly portrayed the central truths of the Christian faith. These truths are alluded to in association with the Lord's Supper from time to time in the New Testament itself and were later expounded by the apostle Paul to a church in Corinth that was anything but a model church and had even gone astray in its understanding and practice of the foundational truths of the Lord's Supper:

"In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. 18 In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 19 No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. 20 So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, 21 for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. 22 Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter!

23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

27 So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. 29 For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. 30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. 31 But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. 32 Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.

33 So then, my brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together. 34 Anyone who is hungry should eat something at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment." (1 Cor.11:17-34 NIV).

It is obvious from the verses above the simplicity, and yet, profound meaning and seriousness with which the apostle Paul viewed the Lord's Supper. Verses 23 through 26 set forth the heart of this new covenant symbolic portrayal of the good news of what Christ accomplished by way of his sacrificial death and then resurrection. And, Paul is absolutely intent on emphasizing that this good news is for all who believe in Christ and is to be celebrated in unity together by all who believe in Christ - irrespective of racial, ethnic or social distinctions. To the degree the Lord's Supper is now celebrated in this light - as emphasizing what Christ accomplished by his sacrificial death and then resurrection - it continues to capture the essential essence of first century Christianity and also continues to be a unifying factor in Christianity today. However, almost from the time the Lord's Supper was first begun its simple, liberating and unifying truths have tended to be obscured, or even corrupted, by an ever increasing non-biblical over-ritualization of its original New Testament symbolic portrayal in much of the institutional Christian church. The New Testament makes clear that no ceremony, rite or ritual has power intrinsically in and of itself. It is the "gospel" message - portrayed symbolically in the Lord's Supper - that is "the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes" - not, the Lord's Supper itself as a rite or ritual. It would certainly be difficult to imagine Christ or Paul as each are depicted in the pages of the New Testament as supporting many, if any, of the vestments, elements, rituals and theologies that have come to be associated with the celebration of the Lord's Supper in so much of institutional Christianity today. That these practices can create a feeling or a sense of mystery, awe, wonder and reverence in the participant is not doubted; however, in New Testament terms it is only the new covenant gospel message that is, or should be, symbolically portrayed in the Lord's Supper that is important. And, there is nothing mysterious about the meaning of that gospel message - in fact, its portrayal in the Lord's Supper is meant above all to make clear to all the simplicity and liberating truths of its meaning for all.

Let us as the redeemed and set-apart people of God both now and until the time our Lord comes again, see through and put off the non-biblical over-ritualization that obscures and focus instead on the simple and liberating truths of the gospel that the Lord's Supper portrays. As we do so we can more clearly and simply live as the new covenant people of God - the one body of Christ - that God has called us all to be - together, in the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Notes:

Much has been written about the Lord's Supper over the centuries and the section quoted above from 1 Corinthians 11 can be unclear or ambiguous in the various versions of the Bible, especially the older ones such as the KJV. I would recommend using the NIV as above and compare it with others such as ESV or NRSV, etc. Since we have so many centuries of ritual, theology, etc. built into our understanding of the Lord's Supper it is difficult, yet all the more necessary, to penetrate to Paul's original intent and meaning in the words, phrases and concepts he himself uses. I recommend the following as excellent scholarly helps in this process of understanding the original NT text:

1. The NIV Study Bible study notes.

2. I Corinthians, by Richard Hays in the Interpretation Bible commentary series

3. I Corinthians, by Gordon Fee in The New International Commentary of the NT commentary series.

 

Richie Temple

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

 

January 28, 2013

New Year's Resolutions for the Christian Life: 1. Love God and 2. Love One's Neighbor as Oneself

January is always a good month which many people use to review what is going on in their lives and to set or re-set resolutions and priorities for the year to come. Of course, from a Christian perspective our spiritual priorities are always the same and we should resolve that each day should revolve around them. As a Christian believer who is a child in God's family, when I wake up in the morning the first thing I try to do is to turn my thoughts to God and then to prepare myself as best I can to live for him that day. I know that there are also millions of other Christians around the world who do the same. This provides for a basic unity of purpose for God's people around the world and it stems from the first and second great commandments which Jesus, quoting from the Old Testament, set forth as the priorities of life for his followers. Each of the Gospels records accounts of Jesus setting forth or confirming these commandments. Let's look at Matthew and Mark:

"But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
(Matthew 22:34-40 ESV)

"And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.
(Mark 12:28-34 ESV)

When Jesus, in the Gospels, sets out loving God and loving one's neighbor as oneself as the first and second great commandments he does so in answer to questions put to him. He also uses these questions as an opportunity to clearly and explicitly prioritize and summarize God's will for his people in a way that clearly carries over these most important commandments of the old covenant era into that of the new covenant era. Indeed, after the establishment of the new covenant via Christ's sacrificial death, resurrection and the giving of the Spirit on Pentecost, these two commandments continue to be the basis for Christ-like ethical living and are quoted over and over in different forms throughout the New Testament Letters of the new covenant era. Thus, though the obligations of God's people under the old covenant and the new covenant differ in many ways, the obligation and, indeed privilege, of loving God and loving one's neighbor as oneself transcend the covenants. Loving God and loving one's neighbor as oneself define the essence of a true and living relationship with God and his people throughout the Bible - irrespective of the time or place. They are not determined by religious ritual but rather by a faith-based relationship with God proceeding from the heart and involving the entire person's being. In fact, rather than originating in the Old Testament Mosaic Law these two great commandments are rooted in God's original creation of humanity when God created mankind in his own image and then gave them the responsibility of ruling over the earth on God's behalf. Man's relationship to God first and then, secondly, to his fellow-man grew out of that original purpose of God in creation and carries over throughout the entire Bible eventually culminating in the perfect fellowship of God with his people in the new heavens and earth of the glorious and everlasting age to come.

In today's world one hears much about all kinds of "love" and indeed of "loving one's neighbor as oneself". In fact, much of the world would agree that this phrase is a good basis for practical ethical living in a modern age where the underlying ruling ethical principle is more and more promoted to be "tolerance". However, this is where the Bible and the world at large have a fundamental disagreement for the Bible's underlying ruling ethical principle is not "tolerance" but, instead, "loving God"! Whereas the world's definition of "love your neighbor as yourself" can quickly become synonymous with the idea that any action or any lifestyle is equally okay so long as it doesn't hurt someone else, the Bible's definition of "love your neighbor as yourself" is rooted in loving God first and foremost. What follows from this love for God is the biblical injunction of "be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy" (e.g. Lev. 19:2), - a principle set forth in the Old Testament as part and parcel of what it means to love God - and then quoted and carried over into the New Testament (e.g. I Pet. 1:15). When a person endeavors to truly love God with all one's being that person will then also love one's neighbor as oneself in the light of the clear standards of the rights and wrongs of the holiness of godly living. In short, this biblical way of loving God and loving others is both explicit and implicit throughout the whole Bible and simply cannot be watered down into a utilitarian humanistic philosophy of "I'm okay, you're okay" and "anything is okay as long as no one else is hurt".

A legal system may at times allow for this perspective but legal tolerance does not in any way mean that certain actions are in accordance with the standards of God. And, of course, regardless of how the present world judges actions, God himself will be the final judge in accordance with his own standards as set forth in the Bible. The difference in these two perspectives of "loving one's neighbor as oneself" is therefore dramatic and though there may be practical overlap at times between the outcomes of these perspectives on particular issues, the differences in points of view is fundamental. It is the difference between loving and living for God first and foremost or loving and living for self first and foremost - as contrasted throughout the New Testament. A modern conception of "tolerance" may allow for, and even insist that, "I'm okay, you're okay" or "its your thing, do what you want to do" or "if it feels good do it, so long as it doesn't hurt someone else" or "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours" or even, "if you can't be with the one you love, then love the one you're with"; however, none of these qualify as truly "loving one's neighbor as oneself" in the light of the first and greatest biblical command to love God first with all one's heart, soul, mind and strength. Thus, it is only when one truly loves God first that one can truly and properly also love one's neighbor as oneself.

Let us, therefore, resolve in this and every year to live and love in the light of the words of the Apostle Paul:

"Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true)."
(Ephesians 5:1-9 ESV)

Richie Temple

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

 

 

December 22, 2012

Christmas Holidays

God's Divine Purpose and Plan

As much of the Christian world turns their thoughts to the meaning of Christmas at this time of year I have personally been focusing on one of my own favorite sections of scripture in Paul's Letter to the Ephesians that sets forth God's entire plan of salvation from its conception in Christ before the creation of the world until its final completion through God's actual redemptive work in Christ:

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship[c] through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, 9 he[d] made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under [in] Christ.

11 In him we were also chosen,[e] having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory" (Eph. 1:3-11).

It is important to remember that "the good tidings of great joy" regarding the coming of Christ into the world was preeminently the fulfillment of God's own plan of salvation which he purposed "for our glory, before the beginning of time" (I Cor. 2:7; Titus 1:2). Indeed, God predestined this plan to be fulfilled "in Christ" long "before the creation of the world" (Eph. 1:4; II Tim. 1:9-10). Through God's actual acts of creation and the events of the Old Testament God then guided his plan to the fulfillment of it's purpose in historical "real-time" through the sending of his Son into the world and then through the actual redemptive work of Christ. As Paul's Letter to the Galatians so beautifully states:

"But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, 'Abba, Father.' So you are no longer a slave, but God's child; and since you are his child, God has made you an heir." (Gal. 4:4-7)

Though the fullness of God's plan will not be brought to completion until after the second coming of Christ - which not even Christ, but only God knows the time of - it's realization has already begun in the present time "for those who love him" (Rom. 8:28; I Cor. 2:7-10). In fact, for those who through faith in Christ are "in Christ" the firstfruits of the Spirit mark the beginning of the life of the age to come - a life that proceeds, despite the sufferings of this world, from glory to glory culminating in the return of Christ. Thus,

"If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old is gone and the new is here!" (II Cor. 5:17). It's full culmination when all of creation will set free from its "bondage to decay" and enjoy "the freedom and glory of the children of God" (Rom. 8:18-25) awaits only the second coming of Christ which, "God will bring about in his own time" according to his own set purpose and plan (I Tim. 6:13-16; Eph. 1:11-14).

All of this indicates the over-arching sovereignty, loving purpose, and wise plan of God that began before the creation of the world, has been working behind the scenes through historical times, and will ultimately reach its ultimate culmination in, and through, the redemptive work of God's Son. As the scriptures overwhelmingly show the world did not come into existence accidentally nor were its problems unforseen by God. Instead, God's plan of redemption and salvation is itself the basis for the creation of the world and God has, is, and will continue to guide it to its final fulfillment in such a way that God's children will indeed ultimately see that "the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed in us" (Rom. 8:18). This is the promise and hope of Christianity and it is ultimately the message of Christmas itself. Despite what the world at large might have us believe, there is in fact a God directed divine purpose at work from before the beginning of time, at present in historical time, and indefinitely into the future. In this divine purpose and plan the people of God "in Christ" can rest assured that no matter what happens in this world, that

"neither death nor life, neither angels or demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:38-39).

This is indeed good news! May we rejoice in it during this holiday season - and, throughout the year!

Richie Temple

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

 

 

November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving Day in America

Today is the American holiday of Thanksgiving and I wanted to send out a message of thanks to all of you for the joy of sharing in your life as we endeavor to live and serve together as children in God's family and members of the body of Christ. A couple of weeks ago I put up a new post on our website which I began to write on Reformation Sunday. Today, I am reminded that the "Pilgrims" who celebrated the first American Thanksgiving were very much children of the Reformation who were so dedicated to their faith that they were willing to endure the hardships of coming to America and establishing a colony in Plymouth on the northeastern seaboard of America. We can certainly debate some of the finer points of their particular interpretation of both their Calvinist faith and practice; however, their dedication and commitment to their God and to the care of each other is beyond question and continues to stand as a great example to dedicated Christians everywhere. As my good friend Chuck LaMattina reminds me, the Pilgrims considered themselves to be but stepping stones in the work of promoting Christ's kingdom in the new world. Others would build on the work they had begun. Let us, in fact, quote the words of their leader William Bradford himself from his famous journal "Of Plymouth Plantation". Looking back on their times as he writes Bradford states,

"Last and not least, they [the Pilgrims] cherished a great hope and inward zeal of laying good foundations, or at least making some ways toward it, for the propagation and advance of the gospel of the kingdom of Christ in the remote parts of the world, even though they should be but stepping stones to others in the performance of so great a work."

But not only were they committed to their God and his work, they also set the foundation and pattern via the Mayflower Compact for the future development of American - and other nations' - self-government all the way down to this day. All of us who meet in our own self-governing churches as well as live under the civic freedoms of our self-governing institutions of government today are heirs of the heritage they promoted.

May we all thank God for the many blessings he has given us both spiritually as his children and in so many areas of life on this special day. And here, with the Apostle Paul, is my prayer of thanksgiving for you all, my faithful brothers and sisters in Christ:

"I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God." (Phil. 1:3-11).

With much love and thankfulness in Christ,

Richie Temple

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

 

October 28, 2012

Reformation Sunday

It's been a few months since I last wrote on this blog. The reason for this is that this past summer I underwent (successful) heart surgery to correct a congenital heart problem and I've been recovering from that surgery ever since. Though no fun in itself, it did offer the opportunity of spending a lot more time than usual with my dear wife, Dorota, who took such incredibly good care of me the whole time. I also appreciate very much the prayers and many words of encouragement that I received from so many of you. Of course, I was also able to spend a good amount of time reading the Bible and some other books, etc. that I'd been wanting to get to for some time. And now, I'm also glad to to be able pick up again with writing this blog on Reformation Sunday, the last Sunday of October. Though I won't finish my post today, nevertheless, this day has always been of great importance to me and it's nice to pause and think of its significance.

As with millions of other Christian believers I have benefited greatly from the courageous stand of those who led the Reformation starting with Martin Luther in 1517. In fact, I'm certainly qualified to be called a "child of the Reformation" since I grew up in the Presbyterian Church of the U.S.A. - a church which indirectly descended from John Calvin's unique contribution to the Reformation. It was in the Presbyterian church that I first learned, in some depth, the biblical principles that sparked and undergirded the Reformation. Indeed, it was in that church that I learned - and accepted as the basis for my Christian life - the most fundamental biblical principle of all that Martin Luther, John Calvin, and their Reformation colleagues boldly taught from the New Testament: that is, the simple and liberating truth of justification, and therefore, salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. This truth which stands as a beacon of light at the heart of the Christian gospel is the central truth of the Reformation just as it is the central truth of Christianity. That is why the Reformation is so important and that is why its effects were revolutionary to the people and institutions of its times. Paul's Letter to the Romans sets out the simple truths of this "good news" which, though at the center of New Testament truth, had been obscured for centuries during the Middle Ages until finally being recovered and brought back to the forefront of the Christian message by the leaders of the Reformation:

"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, 'The righteous shall live by faith.' "(Rom. 1:16-17 ESV).

"But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." (Romans 3:21-26 ESV).

"Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God." (Romans 5:1-2 ESV).

It was these verses in particular from Romans that changed the life of Martin Luther and set the stage for the dramatic events that would start the Reformation. We can let Luther tell his own story in his own famous words:

"I had greatly longed to understand Paul's Letter to the Romans, and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, "the righteousness of God", because I took it to mean that righteousness whereby God is righteous and acts righteously in punishing the unrighteous ..... Night and day I pondered until ... I grasped the truth that the righteousness of God is that righteousness whereby, through grace and sheer mercy, he justifies us by faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before "the righteousness of God" had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage became to me a gateway into heaven."

This dramatic experience of Luther's has been repeated many times since in the lives of those Christian believers who have come to understand the biblical truth of justification by faith. In fact, I remember the profound effect it had on my life in my teenage years as I began to understand it's truth and it has been the bedrock of my Christian faith ever since. Though I've grown and refined my beliefs and practice of the truths of Christianity over the last forty years, it is the biblical principle of justification by faith that has provided the sure compass for navigating through so much else in the quest for understanding biblical truth.

Of course, many Reformation leaders and followers were persecuted and even lost their lives in standing for and sharing this truth. This includes one of my personal favorites and certainly one of the most important of all - William Tyndale, who fathered the translation of the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into English and was persecuted and executed for it. Nevertheless, we have excellent versions of the Bible today in English thanks largely to his pioneering efforts. The major Reformation leaders should always be revered for the courage they had in recovering so many of the truths of the new covenant message. Nevertheless, the work they began was never completed and it continues to go on today. Indeed, many of the original Reformation churches hardened their own positions to the point that they actually persecuted those who disagreed with them, just as they themselves had been persecuted by the Roman Catholic church. Since that time many new churches and Christian movements have been formed in the spirit of the Reformation with the intent of continuing to teach and live the truths of original Christianity. These dedicated Christians have often been called "step-children" of the Reformation and, in their various groups have brought continual revitalization to the Christian Church through the years. Eventually, through many centuries and many often painful events, a general tolerance has taken hold in the world of Christianity and there is even a growing movement for cooperation amongst various Christians and Christian groups. Nevertheless, many today continue to feel the need to leave the increasingly secularizing, syncretizing and liberalizing mainline denominations for more biblically oriented churches, fellowships, and various non-denominational groups, etc.

I certainly understand this since I'm not only a "child" of the Reformation but also a "step-child" myself. I personally left the Presbyterian church that I grew up in just after finishing high school for a whole variety reasons - primarily, due to the fact that I believed that it was becoming less and less biblical in doctrine and practice as evidenced by the sermons, Sunday School lessons, and activities that I was hearing and experiencing. It was a painful departure and I still love and greatly respect many people from that church. However, I have no doubts that it was the right thing for me personally to do at that time. Since then, while I've primarily been involved in being a leader in the house-church movement over the last forty years, I've remained thankful for all that I learned in my original church as well as from other faithful Christians from across the Christian spectrum of groups no matter what denomination, church or fellowship that they may be involved in. As I emphasize in my own book "God's Plan of Salvation" it is the universal church of the body of Christ and the family of God that transcend earthly groups and institutions that are truly what count. Beyond that, each individual Christian has to work out the best church, fellowship, etc. for him or her to be a part of at any given time in their lives. And, of course, it is the primary goal of this web-site to help any Christian anywhere and in any church or group to grow in their own spiritual understanding and walk with God while also endeavoring "to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."

As to the subject of the Reformation I highly recommend:

1. The entire issue of Vol. 1 Issue 3 of The Unity of the Spirit from the Fall of 1995 from our Newsletter Archives

2. Two outstanding books by the great Reformation scholar Roland Bainton:

a. A wonderful biography of Martin Luther, Here I Stand, A Life of Martin Luther

b. An outstanding history of the Reformation, The Reformation of the 16th Century

Richie Temple

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

 

June 9, 2012

Graduation Day

The Meaning and Purpose of Life

I would like to congratulate all those whom we know who have graduated from high school and college over the recent days. In particular, I would especially like to congratulate the Woods Charter School Class of 2012 who graduated on Saturday June 9 near Chapel Hill, NC. It has been a special joy for me to have taught these students US and European history over these last few years as well to serve as one of their senior class advisors. In the 13 years that I've taught at Woods Charter School there is no group of whom I am more proud and I pray that God will guide them and bless them in the years ahead. It was a great blessing for me to talk so personally with so many of them over the last couple of weeks and then to hear their comments at our senior dinner and, finally, their beautiful comments at the graduation ceremony. Almost all of these young men and women - without any prompting whatsoever - acknowledged first and foremost with great boldness and sincerity their thankfulness to God and/or to their families and to their teachers and school community for bringing them to this day - and this at a public school! May this sense of humility, thankfulness and these priorities remain in their lives and may their lives reflect a growing joy, peace and strength in living for God - in common with others who are striving for the same - in the midst of both the joyful opportunities and often difficult challenges of this life.

For the 13th year in a row I also had the honor and privilege of addressing the graduates, their families and the entire school community at this graduation ceremony. I bean by referring to one of my favorite books - the Book of Ecclesiastes. In it the author - most likely King Solomon of ancient Israel - describes his earnest quest or search for the meaning and purpose of life. Backed by his kingly wealth, he searches high and low for wisdom and tries to experience anything that might offer some meaning to what often seems an unjust, contradictory, and even meaningless existence for mankind. At times he, like so many modern intellectuals, tends towards cynicism due to what can seem to be the futility of it all. Nowhere, however, does he say what is often heard at graduation ceremonies by the so-called best minds of our age: "have fun" or "follow your dreams"! Which, though good enough in their proper place, are hardly a basis for providing meaning and purpose to life. Instead, throughout Solomon's quest we are given glimpses of true godly wisdom as to the underlying and over-riding meaning of life until finally - at the very end - that meaning is set forth with clarity, dignity, and simplicity. It is a meaning that is not couched in high sounding intellectual and philosophical terms but rather in the common language understandable to all people who are genuinely seeking the true meaning and purpose of life.

In the following verses I will set forth one of my favorite passages from Ecclesiastes that I alluded to at the graduation ceremony and then we will proceed to Solomon's final conclusion - which I could not speak specifically about at the ceremony due to its religious nature - as to the true meaning and purpose of life:

"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace."

"What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God's gift to man.
I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear [have loving reverence] before him
."

(Ecclesiastes 3:1-14)

Though these verses above set against the background of ancient Israelitic life in the midst of an agricultural society, much of what is said still pertains directly to our lives today. For example, "a time to be born and a time to die" were both experienced very vividly by the Woods Charter School community during the course of this past school year and no one can deny their reality or the seriousness with which they frame life. In fact, in the midst of all his searching Solomon himself finds and states some of the most profound truths of the Bible. Their simplicity, humility, and clarity span the whole and varied course of human life and place man in his proper role in his all important relationship to God - around which everything else in life revolves.

This sets the stage for further searching in his quest and, ultimately, foreshadows and prepares us for the simplicity and clarity of his final conclusion:

"Besides being wise, the Preacher [King Solomon] also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care. The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth.
The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.
The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear [lovingly reverence] God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil."

(Ecclesiastes 12:9-14 ESV)

Though these words may grate against modern ideas of the centrality of the rights and prominence of man in today's world, they express the steadfast beliefs and world-view of the faithful people of God in the Old Testament kingdom of Israel. Their entire lives derived meaning from, and revolved around, their relationship with their one holy, righteous, and loving God who was himself sovereign over all and whose holy, just and righteous commandments were intended for the benefit and blessing of his people. However, neither Solomon nor the entire Bible ever pretend that life is easy. Instead, contrary to popular belief, the Bible is the most realistic of all books. It shows life for what it really is in its blessings and difficulties and indicates that no person is exempt from experiencing its realities. However, what the Bible offers in a way that no other book, philosophy, or religion does is a way of living in accordance with the true meaning and purpose of life as set forth by God the creator. And, importantly, it promises a reward for godly living not only in this life but in a much greater life to come. Only a recognition of this can set a person on the proper course of life and give true meaning and purpose to that life within mankind's proper relationship with God.

Today, living in the new covenant era of salvation, our relationship with God as his people has been greatly transformed by the redemptive work of Christ. However, the same basic truth of the meaning of life remains the same. Mankind was created in the image of God and it is only by living in proper relationship to God - now through faith in Christ with a corresponding Christ-like lifestyle - that mankind can find the true meaning and purpose of life. And, with an understanding of that meaning and purpose every great or mundane task takes on a greater meaning in relationship to God. May God guide and lead us in living for him in all of the many varied contexts of life in which we live in proper relationship with him.

Richie Temple

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

 

April 8, 2012

Resurrection Sunday or Easter 2012

On this Easter Sunday of 2012 we finish up our series on the writings of NT Wright with a superb article written on the meaning of Easter by Wright entitled "Christ is Risen from the Dead, the Firstfruits of those Who have Died". We hope you will take the time to read and study this outstanding article by Wright and may it be a blessing to your growth and walk with God:

http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Italian_Bishops_Christ_Risen_First_Fruits.htm

May God bless you all as we remember the significance of Christ's resurrection each and every day that we live!

Richie Temple and Scot Hahn

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

scot@unity-of-spirit.org

 

 

March 23, 2012

NT Wright: In His Own Words

As mentioned in the first post from this series (see below), NT Wright has written a commentary series on the entire New Testament especially designed to be accessible to everyone. The New Testament for Everyone series is an 18 volume set, but all of the titles are available individualy as well. The idea behind these works is well stated in the Introduction:

"[The New Testament writings] were never meant for either a religious or intellectual elite. From the very beginning they were meant for everyone.

That is as true today as it was then. Of course, it matters that some people give time and care to the historical evidence, the meaning of the original words (the early Christians wrote in Greek), and the exact and particular force of what different writers were saying about God, Jesus, the world and themselves. This series is based quite closely on that sort of work. But the point of it all is that the message can get out to everyone, especially to people who wouldn't normally read a book with footnotes and Greek words in it. That's the sort of person for whom these books are written." [N.T. Wright, Mark for Everyone (Louisville, 2004), ix-x]

So here you have the work of one of the world's foremost Bible scholars (who is also a wonderfully skilled communicator), writing to make the gospel clear for all to understand. What a great idea!

What follows are quotations from the glossary, which can be found in all of the works and is specifically designed to explain certain key words that form the foundation upon which a proper understanding of the New Testament is built. Much of the body of the commentary is enlightening and enjoyable reading, but without the basic understanding of what the authors of the NT meant by the words they used, much can be missed. A lifetime of scholarly work devoted to understanding the original intent and meaning of the New Testament writings has, in the glossary of these books, been boiled down to its simplest form. Here we have some of our favorite entries:

covenant
At the heart of Jewish belief is the conviction that the one God, YHWH, who had made the whole world, had called Abraham and his family to belong to him in a special way. The promises God made to Abraham and his family, and the requirements that were laid on them as a result, came to be seen in terms either of the agreement that a king would make with a subject people, or of the marriage bond between husband and wife. One regular way of describing this relationship was ‘covenant’, which can thus include both promise and law. The covenant was renewed at Mount Sinai with the giving of the Torah; in Deuteronomy before the entry to the Promised Land; and, in a more focused way, with David (e.g. Psalm 89). Jeremiah 31 promised that after the punishment of exile God would make a ‘new covenant’ with his people, forgiving them and binding them to him more intimately. Jesus believed that this was coming true through his kingdom-proclamation and his death and resurrection. The early Christians developed these ideas in various ways, believing that in Jesus the promises had at last been fulfilled.
[N.T. Wright, Mark for Everyone (Louisville, 2004), 228]

good news, gospel, message, word
The idea of ‘good news’, for which an older English word is ‘gospel’, had two principal meanings for first-century Jews. First, with roots in Isaiah, it meant the news of YHWH’s long-awaited victory over evil and rescue of his people…Since for Jesus and Paul the announcement of God’s inbreaking kingdom was both the fulfillment of prophecy and a challenge to the world’s present rulers, ‘gospel’ became an important shorthand for both the message of Jesus himself and the apostolic message about him. Paul saw this message as itself the vehicle of God’s saving power (Romans 1.16; 1 Thessalonians 2.13).
The four canonical ‘gospels’ tell the story of Jesus in such a way as to bring out both these aspects (unlike some other so-called ‘gospels’ circulated in the second and subsequent centuries, which tended both to cut off the scriptural and Jewish roots of Jesus’ achievement and to inculcate a private spirituality rather than confrontation with the world’s rulers). Since in Isaiah this creative, life-giving good news was seen as God’s own powerful word (40.8; 55.11), the early Christians could use ‘word’ or ‘message’ as another shorthand for the basic Christian proclamation. [N.T. Wright, Mark for Everyone (Louisville, 2004), 231-232]

heaven
Heaven is God’s dimension of the created order (Genesis 1.1; Psalm 115.16; Matthew 6.9), whereas ‘earth’ is the world of space, time and matter that we know. ‘Heaven’ thus sometimes stands, reverentially, for ‘God’ (as in Matthew’s regular ‘kingdom of heaven’). Normally hidden from human sight, heaven is occasionally revealed or unveiled so that people can see God’s dimension of ordinary life (e.g. 2 Kings 6.17; Revelation 1, 4-5). Heaven in the New Testament is thus not usually seen as the place where God’s people go after death; at the end, the New Jerusalem descends from heaven to earth, joining the two dimensions for ever. ‘Entering the kingdom of heaven’ does not mean ‘going to heaven after death’, but belonging in the present to the people who steer their earthly course by the standards and purposes of heaven (cf. the Lord’s Prayer: ‘on earth as in heaven’, Matthew 6.10), and who are assured of membership in the age to come. [N.T. Wright, Mark for Everyone (Louisville, 2004), 232]


holy spirit
In Genesis 1.2, the Spirit is God’s presence and power within creation, without God being identified with creation. The same Spirit entered people, notably the prophets, enabling them to speak and act for God. At his baptism by John, Jesus was specially equipped with the Spirit, resulting in his remarkable public career (Acts 10:38). After his resurrection, his followers ere themselves filled (Acts 2) by the same Spirit, now identified as Jesus’ own Spirit: the creator God was acting afresh, remaking the world and them too. The Spirit enabled them to live out a holiness which the Torah could not, producing ‘fruit’ in their lives, giving them ‘gifts’ with which to serve God, the world and the church, and assuring them of future resurrection (Romans 8; Galatians 4-5; 1 Corinthians 12-14). [N.T. Wright, Mark for Everyone (Louisville, 2004), 232-233]


kingdom of God, kingdom of heaven
Best understood as the kingship, or sovereign and saving rule, of Israel’s God YHWH, as celebrated in several Psalms (e.g. 99.1) and prophecies (e.g. Daniel 6.26f.). Because YHWH was the creator God, when he finally became king in the way he intended this would involve setting the world to rights, and particularly rescuing Israel from its enemies. ‘Kingdom of God’ and various equivalents (e.g. ‘No king but God!’) became revolutionary slogans around the time of Jesus. Jesus’ own announcement of God’s kingdom redefined these expectations around his own very different plan and vocation. his invitation to people to ‘enter’ the kingdom was a way of summoning them to allegiance to himself and his programme, seen as the start of God’s long-awaited saving reign. For Jesus, the kingdom was coming not in a single move, but in stages, of which his own public career was one, his death and resurrection another, and a still future consummation another. Note that ‘kingdom of heaven’ is Matthew’s preferred form for the same phrase, following a regular Jewish practice of saying ‘heaven’ rather than ‘God’. It does not refer to a place (‘heaven’), but to the fact of God’s becoming king in a through Jesus and his achievement. Paul speaks of Jesus, as Messiah, already in possession of his kingdom, waiting to hand it over finally to the Father (1 Corinthians 15.23-8; cf. Ephesians 5.5). [N.T. Wright, Mark for Everyone (Louisville, 2004), 233-234]


life, soul, spirit
Ancient people held many different views about what made human beings the special creatures they are. Some, including many Jews, believed that to be complete, humans needed bodies as well as inner selves. Others, including many influenced by the philosophy of Plato (fourth century BC), believed that the important part of a human was the ‘soul’ (Gk: psyche), which at death would be happily freed from its bodily prison. Confusingly for us, the same word psyche is often used in the New Testament within a Jewish framework where it clearly means ‘life’ or ‘true self’, without implying a body/soul dualism that devalues the body. Human inwardness of experience and understanding can also be referred to as ‘spirit’. [N.T. Wright, Mark for Everyone (Louisville, 2004), 234-234]


present age, age to come, eternal life
By the time of Jesus many Jewish thinkers divided history into two periods: ‘the present age’ and ‘the age to come’ – the latter being the time when YHWH would at last act decisively to judge evil, to rescue Israel, and to create a new world of justice and peace. The early Christians believed that, though the full blessings of the coming age lay still in the future, it had already begun with Jesus, particularly with is death and resurrection, and that by faith and baptism they were able to enter it already. ‘Eternal life’ does not mean simply ‘existence continuing without end’, but ‘the life of the age to come’. [N.T. Wright, Mark for Everyone (Louisville, 2004), 237]


resurrection
In most biblical thought, human bodies matter and are not merely disposable prisons for the soul. When ancient Israelites wrestled with the goodness and justice of YHWH, the creator, they ultimately came to insist that he must raise the dead (Isaiah 26.19; Daniel 12.2-3) – a suggestion firmly resisted by classical pagan thought…
…Only the bodily resurrection of Jesus explains the rise of the early church, particularly its belief in Jesus’ messiahship (which his crucifixion would have called into question). The early Christians believed that they themselves would be raised to a new, transformed bodily life at the time of the Lord’s return or parousia (e.g. Philippians 3:20f.). [N.T. Wright, Mark for Everyone (Louisville, 2004), 238-239]


YHWH
The ancient Israelite name for God, from at least the time of the Exodus (Exodus 6.2f.). It may originally have been pronounced ‘Yahweh’, but by the time of Jesus it was considered too holy to speak out loud, except for the high priest once a year in the Holy of Holies in the Temple. Instead, when reading scripture, pious Jews would say Adonai, ‘Lord’, marking this usage by adding the vowels of Adonai to the consonants of YHWH, eventually producing the hybrid ‘Jehovah’. The word YHWH is formed from the verb ‘to be’, combining ‘I am who I am’, ‘I will be who I will be’, and perhaps ‘I am because I am’, emphasizing YHWH’s sovereign creative power. [N.T. Wright, Mark for Everyone (Louisville, 2004), 242-243]

We hope you considering augmenting your Bible study with the use of these insightful books by NT Wright.

Richie Temple and Scot Hahn

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

scot@unity-of-spirit.org

 

March 15, 2012

NT Wright: In His Own Words

This week we offer a few highlights from the latest volume from the Christian Origins and the Question of God series, The Resurrection of the Son of God (2003). It should be noted that this book is the largest and most detailed of the three in the series and offers much in the way of explaining the Jewish, Greco-Roman and other ancient civilizations' viewpoint on the question of 'What happens when we die?'. You will also find here a well reasoned argument in the second half of the book for the claim that the bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth stands as the central, undeniable truth undergirding the veracity of the entire New Testament message.

And now we present NT Wright from The Resurrection of the Son of God:

“…granted the wide range of views about life after death in general and resurrection in particular, what did the early Christians believe on these topics, and how can we account for their beliefs? We shall discover that, although the early Christians remained, in one sense, within the Jewish spectrum of opinion, their views on the subject had clarified and indeed crystallized to a degree unparalleled elsewhere in Judaism. The explanation they gave, for this and much besides, was the equally unparalleled claim that Jesus of Nazareth had himself been bodily raised from the dead…Despite what is sometimes suggested, we shall discover substantial unanimity on the basic point: virtually all the early Christians for whom we have solid evidence affirmed that Jesus of Nazareth had been bodily raised from the dead. When they said ‘he was raised on the third day’, they meant this literally. [N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis, 2003), 9-10]

“The word ‘immortality’ is often take to imply, not just that the humans in question happen to be in some sense still alive after their deaths, but that there always was within them, as for Plato, an immortal element, perhaps the soul, which is incapable of dying. But this, as we saw earlier, is not the view of those biblical writers who, it seems, came to believe that their relationship with YHWH would continue after their death. Such continuation was based solely on YHWH’s character (as the loving, powerful creator), not on anything innate within human beings.” [N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis, 2003), 130]

“Granted that the early Christians drew freely on Jewish traditions, and engaged energetically with the pagan world of ideas, how does it happen that we find virtually no spectrum of belief about life after death, but instead an almost universal affirmation of that which pagans said could not happen, and that which one stream (albeit the dominant one) of Judaism insisted would happen, namely resurrection? Let us be quite clear at this point: we shall see that when the early Christians said ‘resurrection’ they meant it in the sense it bore both in paganism (which denied it) and in Judaism (an influential part of which affirmed it). ‘Resurrection’ did not mean that someone possessed ‘a heavenly and exalted status’; when predicated of Jesus, it did not mean his ‘perceived presence’ in the ongoing church. Nor, if we are thinking historically, could it have meant ‘the passage of the human Jesus into the power of God’. It meant bodily resurrection; and that is what the early Christians affirmed. There is nothing in the early Christian view of the promised future which corresponds to the pagan views we have studied; nothing at all which corresponds to the denials of the Sadducees; virtually no hint of the ‘disembodied bliss’ view of some Jewish sources; no Sheol, no ‘isles of the blessed’, no ‘shining like stars’, but a constant affirmation of newly embodied life.” [N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis, 2003), 209-210]

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those in the Messiah, Jesus’: Romans 8.1 has become one of Paul’s most famous sentences… The ‘condemnation’ in question is the Adamic condemnation spoken of in 5.12-21, which in turn looks back to the condemnation of sin in 1.18-3.20. The reason this condemnation is taken away for those ‘in the Messiah’ is given in verses 2-11, with constant reference to the resurrection: God has done what the Torah could no do, condemning sin in the flesh of the Messiah, as the representative of all his people, and by his Spirit giving life, in the present in terms of a new orientation and mindset (8.5-8), in the ultimate future in terms of bodily resurrection…the one who accomplishes the resurrection, both of Jesus and of believer, is the living God himself, as Paul regularly insists; but the means by which he will accomplish it is the Spirit. The Spirit, here as throughout Paul’s thought, is the present guarantee of the future inheritance, and of the body which will be appropriate for that new world…
...those who live ‘in the Messiah’, in the interval between his resurrection and their own, stand on resurrection ground. They ‘set their mind on the Spirit’, rather than on the flesh…As a result, they enjoy ‘life and peace’ in the present as well as the future…
Here, as in Philippians and elsewhere, the final resurrected state of the justified is described as ‘glory’. By this Paul seems to mean, not luminosity, but the dignity, worth, honour and status that the Messiah’s people will enjoy, sharing that of the Messiah himself, whose ‘glory’ is now that he is the world’s true lord. As Paul said in 5.17, those who are his will share his kingly reign. This corresponds to the meaning of the request put by James and John to Jesus in Mark 10.37: they ask to sit at Jesus’ right and left in his ‘glory’. They do not imagine that they, or he, will be shining like torches; and indeed Matthew’s version of the saying (20.21) has ‘in your kingdom’. That is the point here: those who patiently walk through the present wilderness, being led by the Christian equivalent of the pillar of cloud and fire, in other words, by the Spirit, will eventually receive the ‘inheritance’…
…It is true that, as in Philippians 3.20-21, ‘glory’ here is a characteristic of the risen body; but, again as in that passage, it is here also a function of it. The risen body will be ‘glorious’ in that it will no longer be subject to decay and death. But those who are raised will also enjoy ‘glory’ in the sense of new responsibilities within the new creation. This leads the eye towards the ‘inheritance’, the theme we met in Galatians 3 and 4 and Ephesians 1 and which now forms the main theme of verses 18-25. this part of Paul’s larger picture of the world to come, the promised new age, focuses not so much on what sort of bodies those ‘in Christ’ will have in the resurrection, but on the sphere over which they will exercise their rule.
Verses 18-24 insist that the sphere in question is the whole renewed cosmos – and, indeed, that the cosmos will be renewed precisely through the agency of those who are thus raised from the dead to share the ‘glory’, that is, the kingly rule, of the Messiah. Paul is more precise in verse 21 than some of his translators: the creation itself, he says, will be set free from its bondage to decay ‘unto the freedom of the glory of the children of God’…The marginalization of this part of Romans 8 in much exegesis down the years has robbed Christian imagination of this extraordinary picture of the future; only by restoring it to its rightful place – which is, after all, in Paul’s build-up to the climax of the central section of his most important letter! – can we understand the larger picture within which his vision of resurrection makes sense. It is a picture in which the corruption and futility of creation itself, created good but doomed to decay, is seen as a kind of slavery, so that creation itself, too, needs to experience its exodus, its liberation. And God’s people, indwelt by the Spirit, find that they themselves, being in their own mortal bodies part of this same creation, groan in labour-pains as they await the birth of God’s new world. The Spirit is, once again, the gift that indicates what the future holds, here seen in terms of the ‘first-fruits’ metaphor, the first sheaf of harvest offered as a sign of the larger crop still to come. The Spirit thus again provides an inauguration of the eschatological fulfillment, even in the present time… [N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis, 2003), 255-258]

“The contrast between that which is seen and that which is not (2 Cor. 4.18a) could by itself, of course, come straight from Plato, and might imply a dualism in which physicality, present and future, was downgraded in favour of a non-physical world and human existence. But this ontological dualism is questioned in the second half of verse 18, and disproved entirely in 5.1-5. Verse 18b indicates that the contrast is actually an eschatological one: ‘eternal’, again, could be read platonically, but the following passage indicates that it has to do, as usual in Paul, with ‘the age to come’, over against the present evil age in which the apostle lives, whose evidences are visible all around. These things are only for a time, he says; the age to come will last.” [N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis, 2003), 366]

“Why then does Paul speak of the new body as being ‘in the heavens’? Does this not mean that he thinks of Christians simply ‘going to heaven’ after their death? No. This is one of the passages [2 Cor. 5.1-4] which have supplied later tradition with the materials for an unwarranted Platonizing of Christian hope. As with Philippians 3.2-21, and indeed 1 Corinthians 15.47-9, the temptation of the tradition has been to drive a steamroller through what Paul actually says, clearing his careful words out of the way to make room for a different worldview in which the aim of Christian faith is ‘to go to heaven when you die’. The tradition has always found it difficult to incorporate ‘resurrection’, in any Jewish or early Christian sense, into that scenario, which is perhaps why orthodox Christianity has found it hard to respond to secular modernity at this point. ‘Heaven’ for Paul, here as elsewhere, is not so much where people go after they die – he remains remarkably silent on that, with the possible exception of Colossians 3.3-4 – but the place where the divinely intended future for the world is kept safely in store, against the day when, like new props being brought out from the wings and onto stage, it will come to birth in the renewed world, ‘on earth as in heaven’. If I assure my guests that there is champagne for them in the fridge I am not suggesting that we all need to get into the fridge if we are to have the party. The future body, the non-corruptible (and hence ‘eternal’) ‘house’, is at present ‘in the heavens’ as opposed to ‘on earth’ (epigeios) (5.1); but it will no stay there. For us to put it on on top of our present ‘house’, (clothes, bodies, houses, temples and tents; why mix two metaphors if four or five will do?) will require that it be brought from heaven (5.2). This is a key passage not only for understanding Paul but for grasping similar language elsewhere in the New Testament.” [N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis, 2003), 367-368]

Richie Temple and Scot Hahn

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

scot@unity-of-spirit.org

 

March 7, 2012

NT Wright: In His Own Words

As a continuation of our presentation of some of the best that NT Wright has to offer, we now present extensive quotes from the second book in the Christian Origins and the Question of God series, Jesus and the Victory of God. This is, once again, a detailed study that may not be suitable for all, but the insights contained herein are worthwhile of further reflection.

We hope you find useful these excerpts from NT Wright's views on:

The Gospels

“The fact that Jesus was an itinerant prophet meant, clearly, that he went from village to village, saying substantially the same things wherever he went. Local variations would no doubt abound. Novelty would spring up in response to a new situation, or a sharp question or challenge. But the historical likelihood – and it is very likely indeed -- is that if he told a parable once he told it dozens of times, probably with minor variations; that if he gave a list of (what we call) ‘beatitudes’ once, he gave such a list, probably with minor variations, dozens of times; that he had regular phrases with which he urged repentance, commended faith, encouraged the desperate, rebuked those he considered hard-hearted, spoke words of healing…
…Within the peasant oral culture of his day, Jesus must have left behind him, not one or two isolated traditions, but a veritable mare’s nest of anecdotes, and also of sentences, aphorisms, rhythmic sayings, memorable stories with local variations, and words that were remembered because of their pithy and apposite phrasing, and because of their instantly being repeated by those who had heard them. Again and again he will have said cryptic words about having ears to hear, about the first being last and the last first, about salt and light, and particularly about Israel’s god and his coming kingdom. My guess would be that we have two versions of the great supper parable, two versions of the talents/pounds parable, and two versions of the beatitudes, not because one is adapted from the other, or both from a single common written source, but because these are two out of a dozen or more possible variations that, had one been in Galilee with a tape-recorder, one might have ‘collected’.” [N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis, 1996), 170]

Kingdom of God (Jewish Perspective)

“The most important thing to recognize about the first-century Jewish use of kingdom-language is that it was bound up with the hopes and expectations of Israel. ‘Kingdom of god’ was not a vague phrase, or a cipher with a general religious aura. It had nothing much, at least in the first instance, to do with what happened to human beings after they died. The reverent periphrasis ‘kingdom of heaven’, so long misunderstood by some Christians to mean ‘a place, namely heaven, where saved souls go to live after death’, meant nothing of the sort in Jesus’ world: it was simply a Jewish way of talking about Israel’s god becoming king. And, when this god became king, the whole world, the world of space and time, would at last be put to rights….
The phrase ‘kingdom of god’, therefore, carried unambiguously the hope that YHWH would act thus, within history, to vindicate Israel…
…Monotheism and election, the Jews’ twin beliefs, focused themselves into a story which issued in a great hope: there was one god, he was Israel’s god, and he would soon act to reveal himself as such. Israel would at last return from exile; evil (more specifically, paganism, and aberrant forms of Judaism) would finally be defeated; YHWH would at last return to Zion…
Thus, week after week, and year after year, Israel kept alive the memory of what YHWH had done in the past to show that he was king, both of Israel and of the whole world, and so kept alive the hope that his kingdom would soon come, and his will be done, on earth as it was (they believed) in heaven. God’s kingdom, to the Jew-in-the-village in the first half of the first century, meant the coming vindication of Israel, victory over the pagans, the eventual gift of peace, justice and prosperity. [N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis, 1996), 202-204]

“His announcement of the kingdom was a warning of imminent catastrophe, a summons to an immediate change of heart and direction of life, an invitation to a new way of being Israel. Jesus announced that the reign of Israel’s god, so long awaited, was now beginning; but, in the announcement and inauguration itself, he drastically but consistently redefined the concept of the reign of god itself. In the light of the Jewish background sketched in The New Testament and the People of God Part III, this cannot but have been heard as the announcement that the exile was at last drawing to a close, that Israel was about to be vindicated against her enemies, that her god was returning at last to deal with evil, to right wrongs, to bring justice to those who were thirsting for it like dying people in a desert. We are bound to say, I think, that Jesus could not have used the phrase ‘the reign of god’ if he were not in some sense or other claiming to fulfill, or at least to announce the fulfillment of, those deeply rooted Jewish aspirations. The phrase was not a novum, an invention of his own. It spoke of covenant renewed, of creation restored, of Israel liberated, of YHWH returning.” [N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis, 1996), 172]

The Kingdom of God (Christian Perspective)

“The Christian Reappropriation
…The god in question, in the phrase ‘kingdom of god’ and its cognates, is still, without a doubt, the god of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the one true god of Jewish monotheism, who claims an allegiance that excludes the worship of idols and the absolute claims of pagan rulers. The people of the kingdom are called to holiness…The god who was thus becoming king had a true people, who would be vindicated when the kingdom finally appeared…They would then be established, as Israel had hoped to be, as the vicegerents of the creator god, ruling over his world. This familiar combination of monotheism and election gave rise, as naturally as did the Jewish expressions of the same beliefs, to eschatology: the creator would act again within history, to bring the kingdom fully to birth…What we find across the board in early Christianity is a firm belief in the presentness of the kingdom, alongside an equally firm belief in its futurity, these two positions being held together within a redefined apocalyptic schema.
Jewish apocalyptic, then, has been rethought, not abandoned, within early Christianity…The early Christian rethinking has taken place because the crucified and risen Jesus has turned out to be the central character in the apocalyptic drama. The point of the present kingdom is that it is the first-fruits of the future kingdom; and the future kingdom involves the abolition, not of space, time, or the cosmos itself, but rather of that which threatens space, time and creation, namely, sin and death…
We have seen that early Christian kingdom-language shared the theological lineaments of the Jewish usage. Yet, even at a surface reading, this early Christian kingdom-language has little or nothing to do with the vindication of ethnic Israel, the overthrow of Roman rule in Palestine, the building of a new Temple on Mount Zion, the establishment of Torah-observance, or the nations flocking to Mount Zion to be judged and/or to be educated in the knowledge of YHWH. A major redefinition has taken place.
The clue to this redefinition lies in the controlling story itself. We are not faced with a new story altogether, but with a new moment in the same story…Specifically, the [Christian movement] sees itself as the time when the covenant purpose of the creator, which always envisaged the redemption of the whole world, moves beyond the narrow confines of a single race, and calls into being a trans-national and trans-cultural community. Further, it sees itself as the time when the creator, the covenant god himself, has returned to dwell with his people, but not in a Temple made with hands…We cannot, in other words, take the easy way out and suggest that the early Christians used kingdom-language in a completely non-Jewish sense. Their reworking…was generated, not by the abandonment of the classic Jewish story, but by the belief that they were living in its long-awaited new phase.” [N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis, 1996), 214-219]

“Jesus’ redefinition of YHWH’s kingdom, as we have studied it so far, indicates that in his view the kingdom was indeed present, but that it was not like Israel had thought it would be. Israel’s god was becoming king in and through the work of Jesus…Even before the great events that would inaugurate the kingdom on the public stage and in world history, that kingdom was already present where Jesus was…His public ministry was itself the true inauguration of the kingdom which would shortly be established.” [N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis, 1996), 472]

The Sermon on the Mount

“The Sermon on the Mount
The sermon – to take it for the moment as a whole – is not a mere miscellany of ethical instruction. It cannot be generalized into a set of suggestions, or even commands, on how to be ‘good’. Nor can it be turned into a guide-map for how to go to ‘heaven’ after death. It is rather, as it stands, a challenge to Israel to be Israel.
…Whatever they have meant to subsequent hearers or readers, I suggest that the beatitudes can be read, in some such way, as an appeal to Jesus’ hearers to discover their true vocation as the eschatological people of YHWH…
It is easy to generalize the beatitudes, and thus harder to think one’s way out of anachronism. But the specific historical context I have suggested cannot be so easily avoided in the case of the words about salt and light (Matthew 5.13-16). They sound a challenge to Israel: she is to be the salt of the earth, the light of the world. That always was her vocation: to be a nation of priests, to be YHWH’s servant, so that his glory might reach to the ends of the earth. But the salt has now forgotten its purpose. The light has turned in on itself. The city set on a hill was meant to be the place to which the nations would flock like moths to a lamp, but she has done her best to make herself, and the god to whom her very existence bears witness, as unattractive as possible. There is rebuke within the challenge. Israel, called to be a lighthouse for the world, has surrounded herself with mirrors to keep the light in, heightening her own sense of purity and exclusiveness while insisting that the nations must remain in darkness. But with Jesus’ wok the way is open, for any Jews who will dare, to find out what being the true Israel is all about. By following him, by putting his agenda into practice, they can at last be true Israel.
…Instead of defining ever more closely the outward action necessary for the keeping of Torah, thereby proving one’s loyalty to YHWH’s covenant, Israel was challenged to discover the meaning of the commands in terms of totally integrated loyalty of heart and act.
The antitheses [in the sermon (Matthew 5.21-48)] do not, then, focus on the contrast between ‘outward’ and ‘inward’ keepings of the law. They are not retrojections into the first century of a nineteenth-century Romantic ideal of religion in which outward things are bad and inward things good. They emphasize, rather, the way in which the renewal which Jesus sought to engender would produce a radically different way of being Israel in real-life Palestinian situations.
…It can, no doubt, be generalized into a universal ethic, as has happened to most of Jesus’ teaching. But the question of its original meaning is not thereby resolved…The question of how to apply the sermon to different times and places is another matter, and cannot be allowed to dictate the question of historical origins.” [N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis, 1996), 292]

Meaning of 'Messiah' and 'Son of God'

“…the word ‘Messiah’, within Jesus’ world, does not refer, in itself, to a divine or quasi-divine figure. There are puzzling and opaque texts in the Hebrew scriptures which speak of the king as one speaks of Israel’s god. There are passages where the roles of YHWH and of the king seem to be intertwined. But there is no evidence to suggest that the various messianic and quasi-messianic figures who flit through the pages of first-century history thought of themselves, or were thought of by others, in this fashion. So, when Peter says to Jesus ‘You are the Messiah’, and when Caiaphas says the same words but as an ironic question, neither of them should be understood as either stating or asking whether or not Jesus thinks he is the incarnate second person of the Trinity. Subsequent Christian use of the word ‘Christ’ (the Greek translation of ‘Messiah’), and indeed of the phrase ‘son of god’, as though they were ‘divine’ titles has, to say the least, not helped people to grasp this point; but grasped it must be if we are to understand Jesus in his historical context.” [N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis, 1996), 478]

“Several text from this period speak of the king as ‘son of god’. The use of Psalm 2 and 2 Samuel 7 is attested at Qumran in a messianic context, and there are other references which show that ‘son of god’ as a messianic title was known in various circles in this period. But we must stress that in the first century the regular Jewish meaning of this title had nothing to do with incipient trinitarianism; it referred to the king as Israel’s representative. Israel was the son of YHWH: the king who would come to take her destiny on himself would share this title.” [N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis, 1996), 486]

“Messiahship, and the identification with Isreal-in-the-purposes-of-YHWH which it implied, was central to Jesus’ self-understanding…
Jesus, then, believed himself to be the focal point of the people of YHWH, the returned-from-exiled-people, the people of the renewed covenant, the people whose sins were now to be forgiven. He embodied what he had announced…
Jesus’ redefined notion of Messiahship…pointed on to a fulfillment of Israel’s destiny which no one had imagined or suspected. He came, as the representative of the people of YHWH, to bring about the end of exile, the renewal of the covenant, the forgiveness of sins. To accomplish this, an obvious first-century option for a would-be Messiah would run: go to Jerusalem, fight the battle against forces of evil, and get yourself enthroned as the rightful king. Jesus, in fact, adopted precisely this strategy. But, as he hinted to James and John, he had in mind a different battle, a different throne.” [N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis, 1996), 538-539]

“…Jewish thought in our period used various symbols and ideas to communicate the prevailing belief that, though Israel’s god was the transcendent creator, dwelling in heaven and not to be contained within earthly categories, he was nevertheless both continually active within the world and specially active within the history of Israel herself. The symbols in question are well known: Shekinah, Torah, Wisdom, Logos, and Sprit.
Israel’s god dwelt (in principal; and he would do so again) in the Temple; his tabernacling presence (‘Shekinah’) functions as had the pillar of cloud and fire in the wilderness. He revealed himself and his will through Torah…He sent his Wisdom to be the guide of human beings…Language about the Logos became…a way of speaking about the one true god active throughout the cosmos…Finally, the Spirit of YHWH was active both in creation and in inspiring the prophets, and was the supreme equipment of the Messiah himself (Gen. 1.2; Num. 11.17, 23-9; 2 Kgs. 2.9, 15; Neh. 9.20; Isa. 11.2; 42.1; 48.16; 61.1; 63.11).
Turning this around, we find that the Messiah is closely related to most of these symbols, these ways of speaking and thinking about divine activity…This does not reinstate what I denied in chapter 11, the idea that pre- or non-Christian Jews ‘believed that the Messiah was “divine” [see quote above from p.478]’. Rather, it emphasizes that the Messiah, if and when he appeared, would be the agent or even the vicegerent of Israel’s god, would fight his battles, would restore his people, would rebuild or cleanse the house so that the Shekinah would again dwell in it.
…The language of Shekinah, Torah, Hokmah (Wisdom), Logos, and Spirit were ways of affirming YHWH’s intimate involvement with his people and his world, at the same time as affirming also his sovereignty and transcendence over the whole cosmos. They were, in that sense, ways of talking about the personal presence and action, within creation and within Israel’s life, of her transcendent creator god. Ultimately, the deliverance that would come for Israel, rescuing her from foreign domination, restoring her rulers as at the beginning, establishing her in peace and justice for ever – this deliverance, even though wrought through human agents, could and would be the work of YHWH himself. The God of the exodus would reveal himself as the God of the renewed covenant. The great act of deliverance would be the supreme moment in, and the supreme vindication of, the story of monotheism itself.” [N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis, 1996), 629-631]

“I have argued that Jesus’ underlying aim was based on his faith-awareness of vocation (‘I was sent to…’ or ‘I came to…’ is the language of vocation: cf. e.g. Mt. 9.13/ Mk. 2.17/ Lk. 5.32; Lk. 19.10). He believed himself called, by Israel’s god, to evoke the traditions which promised YHWH’s return to Zion, and the somewhat more nebulous but still important traditions which spoke of a human figure sharing the divine throne; to enact those traditions in his own journey to Jerusalem, his messianic act in the Temple, and his death at the hands of the pagans; and thereby to embody YHWH’s return.
Jesus’ beliefs, therefore, remained those of a first-century Jew, committed to the coming kingdom of Israel’s god. He did not waver in his loyalty to Jewish doctrine. But his beliefs were those of a first-century Jew who believed that the kingdom was coming in and through his own work…
Speaking of Jesus’ ‘vocation’ brings us to quite a different place from some traditional statements of gospel Christology…As part of his human vocation, grasped in faith, sustained in prayer, tested in confrontation, agonized over in further prayer and doubt, and implemented in action, he believed he had to do and be, for Israel and the world, that which according to scripture only YHWH himself could do and be. He was Israel’s Messiah; but there would, in the end, be ‘no king but God’.
I suggest, in short, that the return of YHWH to Zion, and the Temple-theology which it brings into focus, are the deepest keys and clues to gospel Christology. Forget the ‘titles’ of Jesus, at least for a moment; forget the pseudo-orthodox attempts to make Jesus of Nazareth conscious of being the second person of the Trinity; forget the arid reductionism that is the mirror-image of that unthinkable would-be orthodoxy. Focus, instead, on a young Jewish prophet telling a story about YHWH returning to Zion as judge and redeemer, and then embodying it by riding into the city in tears, symbolizing the Temple’s destruction and celebrating the final exodus. I propose, as a matter of history, that Jesus of Nazareth was conscious of a vocation: a vocation, given him by the one he knew as ‘father’, to enact in himself what, in Israel’s scriptures, God had promised to accomplish all by himself. He would be the pillar of cloud and fire for the people of the new exodus. He would embody in himself the returning and redeeming action of the covenant God.” [N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis, 1996), 651-653]

Next week we will take a look at a few of the better sections from the third book in this series, The Resurreciton of the Son of God.

Richie Temple and Scot Hahn

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

scot@unity-of-spirit.org

 

February 27, 2012

NT Wright: In His Own Words

As promised in the last blog entry, we would like now to offer a series of posts with quotes from some of NT Wrights best works. Many of these are scholarly books that we don't necessarily recommend to the general public. Nevertheless, they offer many key insights into the historical background of NT times as well as to the original NT message as set forth in the NT. We will begin this series with specific citations from The New Testament and the People of God, the first in a projected series of five detailed studies which together form Christian Origins and the Question of God, basically a comprehensive theology of the New Testament.

Listen in as NT Wright now discusses in his own words:

History

“…history, I shall argue, is neither ‘bare facts’ nor ‘subjective interpretations’, but is rather the meaningful narrative of events and intentions…."

"There is not, nor can there be, any such thing as a bare chronicle of events without a point of view. The great Enlightenment dream of simply recording ‘what actually happened’ is just that: a dream…
It is therefore chasing after the wind to imagine that anyone, ancient or modern, could or can ‘simply record the facts’…There is no such thing as a point of view that is no-one’s point of view. To imagine, therefore, as some post-Enlightenment thinkers have, that we in the modern world have discovered ‘pure history’, so that all we do is record ‘how it actually happened’, with no interpretative element or observer’s point of view entering into the matter—and that this somehow elevates us to a position of great superiority over those poor benighted former folk who could only approximate to such an undertaking because they kept getting in their own light—such a view is an arrogant absurdity.
All history, then, consist of a spiral of knowledge, a long-drawn-out process of interaction between interpreter and source material…there is in fact no such thing as ‘mere history’…all history is interpreted history.” [N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (Minneapolis, 1992), 82-88]

New Testament Worldviews (General)

“When we are dealing with Jesus and his significance, with Paul and his, with the gospels and theirs, we are in the first instance studying people and movements whose worldviews (and consequent aims, intentions and motivations) included, at a high-profile level, elements that are today known as ‘religious’. They believed, that is, in a god who was actively involved in their personal and corporate lives, who had intentions and purposes and was capable of carrying them out through both willing and uncomprehending human agents as well as (what we would call) ‘natural forces’. We are therefore studying human history, in the recognition that the actors in the drama, and hence in a sense the drama itself, can only be fully understood when we learn to see the world through their eyes.” [N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (Minneapolis, 1992), 118]

“…‘theology’ highlights what we might call the god-dimension of a world view. Many thinkers, politicians and even biblical scholars notoriously dismiss ‘theology’ as if it were simply a set of answers that might be given to a pre-packaged set of abstract dogmatic questions, but it cannot possibly be reduced to that level. It provides an essential ingredient in the stories that encapsulate world views; in the answers that are given to the fundamental worldview questions; in the symbolic world which gives the worldview cultural expression; and in the practical agenda to which the worldview gives rise. As such it is a non-negotiable part of the study of literature and history, and hence of New Testament studies.” [N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (Minneapolis, 1992), 130-131]

New Testament Worldviews (Jewish)

“There is then, across the range of Jewish writing that we possess, solid unanimity on certain major and vital issues… There is one god, who made the entire universe, and this god is in covenant with Israel. He has chosen her for a purpose: she is to be the light of the world. Faced with national crisis, this twin belief, monotheism and election, committed any Jew who thought about it for a moment to a further belief: YHWH, as the creator and covenant god, was irrevocably committed to further action of some sort in history, which would bring about the end of Israel’s desolation and the vindication of his true people. Monotheism and election lead to eschatology, and eschatology means the renewal of the covenant…"

"These, then, were the beliefs that gave shape not merely to a religious worldview but to the various different movements, political, social and particularly revolutionary, that characterized the period from 167 BC to AD 70. The basis of the eager expectation that fomented discontent and fueled revolution was not merely frustration with the inequalities of the Roman imperial system, but the fact that this frustration was set within the context of Jewish monotheism, election and eschatology. The covenant god would act once more, bringing to birth the ‘coming age’, ha olam ha-ba, which would replace the ‘present age’, ha olam ha-zeh, the age of misery, bondage, sorrow and exile.” [N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (Minneapolis, 1992), 247; 279]

“As good creational monotheists, mainline Jews were not hoping to escape from the present universe into some Platonic realm of eternal bliss enjoyed by disembodied souls after the end of the space-time universe. If they died in the fight for the restoration of Israel, they hoped not to ‘go to heaven’, or at least not permanently, but to be raised to new bodies when the kingdom came…” [N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (Minneapolis, 1992), 286]

“Thus the Jews who believed in resurrection did so as one part of a larger belief in the renewal of the whole created order. Resurrection would be, in one and the same moment, the reaffirmation of the covenant and the reaffirmation of creation. Israel would be restored within a restored cosmos: the world would see, at last, who had all along been the true people of the creator god. This is where the twin Jewish ‘basic beliefs’ finally come together. Monotheism and election, taken together, demand eschatology. Creational/covenantal monotheism, taken together with the tension between election and exile, demands resurrection and a new world. That is why some of the prophets used gorgeous mythical language to describe what would happen: lions and lambs lying down together, trees bearing fruit every month, Jerusalem becoming like a new Eden. This, too, was simply the outworking, in poetic symbol, of the basic belief that the creator of the universe was Israel’s god, and vice versa. When he acted, there would be a great celebration. All creation, in principle, would join in.” [N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (Minneapolis, 1992), 332]

New Testament Worldviews (Christian)

“Who are we? We are a new group, a new movement, and yet not new, because we claim to be the true people of the god of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the creator of the world. We are the people for whom the creator god was preparing the way through his dealings with Israel. To that extent, we are like Israel; we are emphatically monotheists, not pagan polytheists, marked out from the pagan world by our adherence to the traditions of Israel, and yet distinguished from the Jewish would in virtue of the crucified Jesus and the divine spirit, and by our fellowship in which the traditional Jewish and pagan boundary-markers are transcended…"

"…Israel’s hope has been realized; the true god has acted decisively to defeat the pagan gods, and to create a new people, through whom he is to rescue the world from evil. This he has done through the true King, Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, in particular through his death and resurrection. The process of implementing this victory, by means of the same god continuing to act through his own spirit in his people, is not yet complete. One day the King will return to judge the world, and to set up a kingdom which is on a different level to the kingdoms of the present world order. When this happens those who have died as Christians will be raised to a new physical life. The present powers will be forced to acknowledge Jesus as Lord, and justice and peace will triumph at last.” [N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (Minneapolis, 1992), 370]

“It is basic to early Christianity that the Jewish hope has already been fulfilled. ‘All the god-given promises find their “yes” in Christ’, said Paul… It was precisely because the early Christians believed that Jesus of Nazareth, whom they had regarded as Messiah, had himself been raised from the dead, that they were able to reverse the linguistic process, taking resurrection as the fixed literal point and treating the return from exile as the great metaphor which explained its significance…"

"…the Christians believed that Israel’s god, being the creator, would physically recreate those who were his own, at some time and in some space the other side of death… that there would be a new, bodily, life the other side of the grave, which could not be reduced to terms simply of a generalized Hellenistic-style immortality, was everywhere taken for granted in the early period…"

"New, bodily human beings will require a new world in which to live. In this transformed world order, the veil will be lifted for all time. The realities of the heavenly world will be visibly united with the realities of the earthly."

"The fourth and final aspect of the Christian hope is the expectation of the return of Jesus…
…since that ultimate future is not a disembodied bliss but a renewal of the whole created order, in which evil will be judged and defeated, that renewal, that judgment, and his return will belong closely with one another.” [N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (Minneapolis, 1992), 459-462]

Next week we will cite some of the highlights from the second book in the Christian Origins and the Question of God series.

[The vast majority of this post was compiled and written by Scot Hahn, as will be the next several in this series on NT Wright. My thanks to him for all his time and effort in doing this and for all the help behind the scenes that he continually provides for this web-site.]

Richie Temple and Scot Hahn

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

scot@unity-of-spirit.org

 

January 25, 2012

NT Wright and The Kingdom New Testament

The world of biblical studies has recently seen the publication of several new translations or fresh editions of already existing versions that have enriched our ability to understand the Bible's message in its original intent and also in more modern English. This is no easy feat and the scholars who worked on these projects should be greatly commended. One new version is NT Wright's own personal translation of the New Testament under the American title of The Kingdom New Testament. NT Wright is one of the foremost biblical scholars of modern times and he is easily the most widely known. He has served in many positions over the years both in the Church of England and in academic institutions such as Oxford University. Most recently, he served as the Anglican Bishop of Durham in England for a number of years and since last year has now returned full time to the academy in his new position as the Chair of NT Studies at St. Andrews University in Scotland. At the age of 63 he has already authored over 50 books, numerous articles, and served in the British Parliament's House of Lords. His books range from NT academic studies for the scholarly community to more popular presentations of NT topics for the primary benefit of the common man.

If I remember correctly, I first became aware of Wright through his articles in the publication Bible Review over two decades ago around 1990. I was only mildly impressed at the time since much of what he was speaking about was in regards to Paul's Letter to the Romans and a few of the specific points he made I disagreed with - a disagreement which continues to this day on that specific topic despite a full commentary by him on the subject. I became much more impressed with him in his sterling debates with the ridiculous "Jesus Seminar" which sought to discredit the historicity of the Gospels. Wright devastatingly exposed the fallacies of their untenable historical positions and showed the factual historicity of the Gospels in the light of their original purposes. As I began to read his other writings - especially his major works The New Testament and the People of God (1992), Jesus and the Victory of God (1996), and The Resurrection of the Son of God (2003) - it quickly became apparent that this was a man who knew much that could benefit me and the church at large. From that time I've read almost all of his major works as he has published them and also kept up with his articles, sermons and lectures that were published in various forums and publications.

To this day I believe that Wright is actually a better historian than biblical scholar - though outstanding at both - and that his understanding of major biblical themes is better than his detailed exegesis of individual passages and verses. He is, of course, very British in his perspective on many things thus reflecting the social-democratic and anti-imperialistic norms of the post WWII British society in which he grew up. This, of course, affects his views on certain topics such as politics, economics, and social justice which he can swerve off onto at any moment in his writings. Unfortunately, as with many scholars who grew up in post WWII European style welfare states, he at times [wrongly] reads these ideologies back into the biblical text as though such systems of government, economics, etc. are the logical extension of biblical ethics. However, his ethical positions on personal morality are biblically conservative and consistent - against the grain of modern British society - on modern hot-button moral and ethical issues such sex, marriage and the godly lifestyle that should be the norm of Christian life. As a scholar, when Wright delves into - and sticks to - history itself as well as to the strict exposition of the biblical text in its own historical context, he is amongst the very best and I would endorse all that he writes on these topics as worthy of deep consideration. Certainly Wright is not for everyone - he can be very wordy and way beyond the grasp of the common man at times - but at the same time he is also an extraordinary individual of immense learning and abilities whose articulate and bold advocacy of the truths of biblical Christianity is unparalleled today both in the church at large and in the wider intellectual society.

Fortunately, Wright is highly respected across denominational lines and therefore the benefits of his scholarship have affected Chritianity as whole. He knows the orthodox theological borders within which he must navigate, hedge and limit his biblical insights as expressed in his writings in order to gain acceptance within his own Anglican denomination as well as in the wider Christian world. But this is a "skill" which all biblical scholars with jobs or vested interests in institutional Christianity must acquire - and, it is something that should always be kept in mind by serious readers of their works. Though Wright is somewhat of a lightening rod for many in the more biblically conservative denominations of the Christian world - especially on the somewhat fuzzy details of his position on justification by faith - I would emphasize that overall I believe his writings have been amongst the most valuable contributions to the life of the Christian church over the last quarter of a century. I also believe his grasp of the overall themes and flow of the biblical story has done much to re-orient and re-energize modern Christian scholarship towards a more truly biblical perspective. All of this results in a more accurate biblical scholarship by Christian scholars and leads to many corresponding godly applications to real life for the common man in the midst of this present modern - and all too - evil age in which we live.

One of the many things that NT Wright has going for him is that his Ph.D. advisor was G.B. Caird, a man, if anything, whose biblical perspective and scholarship was even more biblically sound than Wright's. Simply put, Caird's biblical scholarship was ground-breaking and of immense importance in recapturing a biblical understanding that was in accordance with its original historic, cultural and linguistic contexts. Unfortunately, Caird died in his mid-60s leaving unfinished many scholarly projects that he wanted to complete. It is easy to see Caird's influence on Wright, and Wright certainly acknowledges as much; nevertheless, Wright's own scholarly output has far exceeded that of Caird while sometimes expanding on themes developed by Caird and at other times going in new directions that are not in line with Caird's thought. This, of course, is the normal academic process.

Much of Wright's NT understanding can be gleaned from his newly published original translation of the New Testament which in America is entitled, The Kingdom New Testament. Perhaps, the best way for most interested people to get a better and deeper understanding of his translation is to also read his very accessible commentary series (The New Testament for Everyone, which can be bought as a set or in indivdual volumes) from which Wright actually developed the first version of his translation. It is a translation that is not meant to replace others but rather to augment, in modern English, one's understanding of the New Testament message. It can be simply read and enjoyed, or it can be used comparatively along with other major versions for deeper study. Below, I quote from some of its passages to give the reader a feel for its vocabulary and flow:

1. "The book of the family tree of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham." Matthew 1:1.

The opening phrase "the book of the family tree" is indicative of the fresh, modern and clear language that Wright uses throughout his translation. It makes for an easy flowing story as one reads through his version. Also, the word christos in Greek is sometimes translated by Wright as Messiah, Christ or King, depending on the context. This enables him to emphasize the various nuances of the word. I would personally prefer that he stick to Christ and/or Messiah since I believe that King does not give the full sense of christos which really means "God's annointed Savior and King".

2. "This, you see, is how much God loved the world: enough to give his only, special son, so that everyone who believes in him should not be lost but should share in the life of God's new age." John 3:6.

The Greek word monogenes which is traditionally translated as "only begotten" is here translated correctly and beautifully as "special." The word means unique or special. In addition, the word "son" is not capitalized reflecting the fact that first century believers would not have understood this word in the sense of later trinitarian theology. The Greek words zoe aionios which are traditionally translated as "eternal life" are translated by Wright correctly and importantly in various ways thoughout his version such as "the life of God's new age," "the life of the coming age," or "the life of the age to come." The term specifically means "life in, or of, the future age of the kingdom of God." The term "eternal life" is fine as a translation if one understands it in the above sense; however, it can be misleading if it is understood in a non-biblical platonic sense of life in "eternity," a timeless realm beyond earthly existence unto which an immortal soul ascends after escaping from a body at death.

The following is another example, among many, in this translation of what would normally be translated as "eternal life" in other versions:

"The wages paid by sin, you see, are death; but God's free gift is the life of the age to come, in the Messiah, Jesus our Lord." Rom 6:23

3. "The result is this: since we have been declared "in the right" on the basis of faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus the Messiah." Rom 5:1.

Wright often translates the Greek words traditionally translated as "justified", etc. as some version of "declared in the right", etc. This accurately reflects what Paul intends - as does "justified", etc. The words can be used interchangeably. The key is accurate understanding - that is, one is "acquitted" of sin and therefore accepted as "in the right" with God.

4. "When the kindness and generous love of God our savior appeared, he saved us, not by works that we did in righteousness, but in accordance with his own mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewal of the holy spirit, which was poured out richly upon us through Jesus, our king and savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and be made his heirs, in accordance with the hope of the life of the age to come." Titus 3:4-7.

There are several things to comment on in these verses. First, note that "holy spirit" is not capitalized, and this is true throughout Wright's New Testament translation. Next, the word following "holy spirit" is translated "which" rather than "who" or "whom". All of this reflects accurately the fact that the "holy spirit" was not seen by the New Testament believers as a separate "person" as in later trinitarian theology, but rather as God's own personal power and presence. Notice also that here Wright uses the word "justified" which he also sometimes translates as above as "declared in the right." He uses these phrases interchangeably according to the context. And finally, notice that the phrase traditionally translated as "eternal life" is also here translated as the "life of the age to come."

I think that the above examples give a fair representation of the fresh renderings offered by Wright which help the reader to understand the New Testament through the eyes of a first century believer rather than as someone living in, say, a post-Nicene world several centuries later or even in today's world. There is no perfect translation and this one certainly is not either. Nevertheless, it gives real insight into a correct understanding of the New Testament in many places and I would highly recommend it to any student of the Bible.

Next month I will offer some examples of Wright's New Testament understanding from some of his other works.

Richie Temple

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

 

 

December 25, 2011

Christmas Day

On this Christmas day we send our greetings to all of our friends and fellow believers in celebration of the day our savior, Christ Jesus our Lord was born. There is no better section of scripture that encapsulates the joyous Christmas message of what actually happened in the reality of historical time and its meaning for Christians for all time than Galatians 4:4-7. I present it below in a range of beautiful translations:

"But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father'! 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God." (ESV)

"But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. 6 Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir." (NIV)

"But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. 5 God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. 6 And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” 7 Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir." (NLT)

May God bless you all as we celebrate the reality and meaning of Christ's life each and every day that we live!

Richie Temple

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

 

 

October 30, 2011

Reformation Sunday

In much of the Protestant world of Christianity the last Sunday of October is designated as Reformation Sunday in remembrance of the momentous events that began in the fall of 1517 when Martin Luther courageously took a stand against the widespread corruption in doctrine and practice that was current in the Roman Catholic Church of his day. Having grown up in the Protestant faith this day has a great deal of meaning for me. Though my own particular childhood church tended to pay less and less attention to its significance as I grew up through my teenage years, that church was originally founded on Reformation principles and they were ingrained in me through our church services, Sunday school classes, special events, and most importantly, my own personal study of the scriptures which both my parents and ministers encouraged me to pursue.

This personal study of the scriptures - a legacy of the Reformation - has been a life-long joy for me and it began as far back as I can remember. I cannot remember any time in my life that I did not believe the Bible to be the most special of all books; that is, the one book - far above all others - that was uniquely "inspired by God" and that contained God's words for life. In my earliest days I began with the King James Version (KJV) and the Revised Standard Version (RSV) which remain today as two pillars of English translations of the Bible. However, over the past fifty years many other translations or revisions of the Bible in English have appeared which are both more accurate and more readable than either of these two venerable versions. Though I use and recommend a wide range of versions, there are three in particular that I use most often and that I primarily recommend to others for one's own personal reading, study, and memorization. These span the translation spectrum from essentially literal (ESV) to balanced (NIV) to more free (NLT) and are all the product of some of the best Bible translation scholarship in the world today:

1. The English Standard Version (ESV):

2. The New International Version (NIV):

3. The New Living Translation (NLT):

I hope that each reader of this web-site will check out and read up on these excellent translations or versions of the Bible by consulting their web-sites. Take the time to get to know them well. Each of these popular translations ultimately owes its existence to the Reformation which sparked what is now a five hundred year quest for biblical understanding and a parallel quest for communicating that understanding to the common man through translations and various forms of commentary. Though each of these versions of the Bible can be used very well as one's primary Bible for personal reading, study, and memorization, they are also very useful for comparative study of particular biblical passages. Therefore I recommend that a person own a good copy of each of them at least for comparative purposes. In addition, each of these versions can also be used in a very clear and useful Study Bible format in which a huge amount of valuable historical, cultural, literary, and linguistic information can be accessed at one's fingertips. Yes, it takes some time and effort to master the formats of these Study Bibles; however, it is time that is very well spent and can yield a great deal useful understanding.

In sum, when each of the above versions of the Bible is used and understood in the light of its own translation philosophy - literal, balanced, free - the biblical text and meaning is normally clear for those who truly want to see and understand it. The Study Bible format can enhance this understanding as well by providing more background information. This is all a huge and priceless legacy of the Reformation and those of us who are heirs of it have a corresponding responsibility to take advantage of these and similar resources so that the light of the truth of God's word can shine forth to modern hearers of its message today.

Richie Temple

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

 

August 29, 2011

Summer Travels and Thoughts

This summer my wife Dorota and I visited Europe together and saw several different countries, cities and regions over the space of about three weeks. There were many great experiences on this trip but the highlight, aside from simply spending time together with Dorota, was certainly spending about 10 days in Poland visiting her family and then being able to fellowship with our dear brothers and sisters in Christ both in Krakow and in our annual summer Bible conference in the Polish mountains. It was an especially eventful time for me, not only because of the wonderful fellowship and events of this summer, but also because it was the 30th anniversary of when I first visited Europe during the summer of 1981.

That first six-week trip, consisting primarily of travel through the Soviet Bloc of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union itself, set me on a new course in my life that has influenced almost everything that I've done since that time. At the time I was 26 years old, had already worked many different jobs, lived in many different places, and seen about half of the states of the United States. This was mostly a result of being very involved in helping plant, build and lead home Bible fellowships for the previous eight years since graduating from high school. Fortunately, by this time I had also somehow managed to gain a college education in history and political science from North Carolina State University and I was contemplating a career in Soviet and East European Studies which had been my specialty at NCSU - thanks to several outstanding professors who had inspired me. I decided that the best way to gauge my real interest in this field was to visit these countries and see them for myself. Equally, I also had a desire to help people in those countries to come to better know God and to live for him through gaining a more accurate knowledge of God's word from the Bible. From the very beginning I believed that if I could help just one person in this regard then it would be worth all of the time, expense and effort involved.

And so on July 1, 1981 - with the backing and prayers of many others - I set out for West Berlin, Germany and continued through the next six weeks over the Berlin Wall to East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Romania, and then to the Soviet republics of Moldavia, Ukraine, Byelorussia, Lithuania, Latvia, and the Russian Republic. Given my background I was probably about as prepared as anyone could be for such a trip; however, given the difference between the communist world of the East and the free, democratic world of the West at the time nothing could really have prepared me adequately for what I was to experience. It was the hardest thing that I had ever done up until that time and when I finished I never wanted to return to that region of the world again. The communist oppression, lack of freedom, economic hardship and sheer difficulty of life was far greater than anything I had seen to that point in my life. And, it did not help that I got sick twice along the way including having mononucleosis for the last two and half weeks in the Soviet Union. However, I also believed that I was there for a purpose and that God was guiding me along the way. The people I met, the experiences that took place, and the undeniable working of God - in me, through me and despite me - made vivid impressions on my mind and heart. And so, after recovering from mononucleosis after returning to America I was ready to go back again.

That opportunity came about through a summer school program in Krakow, Poland in the summer of 1982. It was here that I met two people - a teacher of Russian and a teacher of English who were also leaders in the summer school program - Leszek and Olga Druszkiewicz. We developed a close friendship and began to study the Bible together; and, from that point we also began to gradually build a Bible fellowship that has continued under their leadership until this day. Nobody could have better friends as brothers and sisters in Christ than these two dear individuals who have done so much to help so many others since that time. Thankfully, over the next five years I was able to live, study and work in Krakow and to experience some of the greatest years of my life and to meet what are today some of my dearest friends, family, and brothers and sisters in Christ. Most importantly, it was here that I met my dear wife and closest friend, Dorota. It would be impossible for me now to contemplate my life without her. Though our life together since that time has certainly not been easy - just as no believer's life is easy in the midst of this present evil age - it has nevertheless been filled with the joys of close companionship in living our daily lives and endeavoring to serve our God.

Thirty years is a long time but that first trip and the years that followed do not seem that long ago to me. I am thankful for each day along the way and for all the close friends, family and fellow believers that I've come to know and love during that time. I hope for much more to come in all respects. Unfortunately, reality has a way of breaking into the best of times and this past year I've personally seen the death of several Christian friends or relatives that have had an influence on my life including one of the smartest and wisest men I've ever known, Ferenc Jeszenszky, from Budapest, Hungary. Without that first trip thirty years ago I certainly never would have had the joy of knowing him and what a loss that would have been. He will always remain an example of godliness to me, Dorota, and all who knew him. And, as Olga Druszkiewicz reminded us at our Polish Bible conference this summer of 2011, such events should remind us both of the brevity of life and the necessity to make each day count in our life with God. And so with thankfulness for the past 30 years and with hope for our lives ahead I will close with the words of the Psalmist which he spoke to God,

"So teach us to number our days aright that we may gain a heart of wisdom." (Psalm 90:12)

May we make each day count for God's purposes as we live together for him.

Richie Temple

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

 

July 4, 2011

July 4th is Independence Day in the United States. It's a day in which the birthday of the United States is celebrated because it is the day in which the Declaration of Independence was approved and the US officially declared its independence. I'm often asked questions about this by fellow Christians in relation to two points of interest and controversy. First, was the United States created as a nation "under God"? And, second, was/is the United States a Christian nation?

The answer to the first question is an unequivocal "yes". That is, the Declaration of Independence, America's founding document, is crystal clear that the United States was founded "under God." The answer to the second question is both "yes" and "no". That is, the vast majority of Americans at the time of America's founding as the United States were Christians of one sort or another with a common Christian ethic - despite differences on doctrinal details - which bound them together. Thus, the United States was a Christian nation in that the vast majority of its citizens were Christians. However, legally, the United States was not and is not a Christian nation. Instead, it has championed religious freedom from its very beginning, especially in the U.S. Constitution which sets forth the fundamental governmental structures and laws of the land. It is precisely because of this freedom that religion, and Christianity in particular in all of its different flavors, has flourished in the United States and continues to do so today.

The following is an article that I wrote some time ago which touches on both of these issues:

One Nation Under God?

I hope everyone has a wonderful 4th of July week!

Richie Temple

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

 

June 27, 2011

"Men of Truth"

Favorite Historical Individuals from the Renaissance to the Present

Each year as the school year comes to a close I have my European history students draw up a list of their favorite historical individuals in European history from c. 1500 to the present - that is, the period of time that we cover in our course. Sometimes I do this with my U.S. history students as well. The ground rules include that the individuals chosen must be people of some noted historical prominence and influence. Beyond that, it's up to each individual to choose his own. We then write them on the board with each listed in a column side by side with the others. Then each student explains his picks and, finally, at the end we compare the lists with one another and form a final consensus list. It is always an interesting and enjoyable time for us all. At the end I always add my own list as well which I fortunately have the opportunity to refine each year.

Of course, each list tells as much about the values and historical perspective of the person who makes it as it does of the significance of the individuals chosen. My list is no exception to this rule and it, therefore, reflects my own Christian beliefs and values as well as my concern for the advancement of the knowledge of the truth. My list, which follows below, is actually a combined list - from any country - of my favorite historical individuals from the past 500 years or so, though it is necessarily, due to Europe's influential place in the world in this time period, dominated by Europeans. The list is presented chronologically rather than in order of importance. These were all people who were willing to take bold stands on behalf of the truth, usually at risk to their own lives. I hope you'll read up on them all and that it will spur your own appreciation of the thanks that are due to such men and women who stood for the truth.

1. Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536)

The greatest man of his day and recognized as such during that time. A "Renaissance Man" in the best sense of that phrase. Erasmus was a biblical scholar, textual expert, writer, educator, diplomat and - most importantly - an earnest and devout Christian. Though he remained a member of the Roman Catholic Church throughout his life, he was a sharp and fearless critic of its structure, corruption and superstition. He believed in living as much as possible according to the simplicity of NT Christianity. As a scholar, his critical Greek text which he collated became the basis for Luther's translation of the NT into German and William Tyndale's translation of the NT into English. Though he was not willing to break with the Roman Catholic church as Luther did, his words and deeds provided the springboard from which Luther and the Reformation sprang full flame into history. Despite not breaking with the Roman Catholic church, Erasmus himself was often in peril due to his unwillingness to not speak the truth as he understood it and was often forced to seek refuge under the protection of others because of the shifting political alliances of his day.

2. Martin Luther (1483-1546)

The man who, through his courageous stand for the truth, changed the world. No one has affected the world of the last 500 years more than Martin Luther and no one has had more influence on the advancement of the truth than he. We are all his beneficiaries in countless ways - spiritually, politically, economically and socially. Luther's stand on the simple biblical truths of

1. justification and, thus, salvation solely by grace through faith in Christ,

2. the authority of the Bible in all matters of faith and practice, and,

3. the priesthood and equality of all believers before God

broke the institutional monopoly of the Roman Catholic church in 16th century life. From this a spiritual revolution sprang which begat a corresponding political, social and economic revolution. All of these revolutions continue to this day. Needless to say Luther was, for most of his life, a man whose life was in danger at nearly every moment due to his commitment to the truth.

3. William Tyndale (c. 1492-1536)

The true father of the English Bible who was also one of the greatest reformers of the Reformation. Though John Wycliffe had earlier in the 1300s translated the NT into English from Latin, Tyndale's translation of the NT from the Greek was much more accurate and it set the basis for almost all major versions and revisions of the Bible - including the KJV - up until 20th century. All English speaking Christians anywhere in the world are thus indebted to him. But so is Shakespeare and all of British and American language and literature up until the 20th century. In addition, his knowledge and understanding of the scriptures was perhaps the most accurate of all of the reformers. He lived constantly on the run and eventually paid for his commitment to the truth with his own life.

4. Hugo Grotius (1583-1645)

A devout reformed Christian, jurist, diplomat, educator and active participant in the church controversies of his own day. Grotius is often considered to be the father of international law. He wrote valuable works on Just War theory and the laws of war, seeking to bring about a more just society during a time of much European conflict, often revolving around religious controversies. His expertise and wisdom were internationally recognized much in the same way as Erasmus. However, due to his commitment to the truth as he understood it he was often on the run or in exile and served many different nations in diplomatic roles despite himself being Dutch.

5. Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)

A devout Christian, philosopher, mathematician and scientist. He was fully involved in the Scientific Revolution of his day but did not buy into many of the assumptions or conclusions of his scientific predecessors or contemporaries, in particular Descartes. Though he defended the scientific method, he did not believe that it, or empiricism, could be the only basis for understanding or discovering truth. He was a very independent thinker who was extremely concerned to understand truth in all its dimensions and refused to be limited by the religious or scientific "correctness" of his day. He was a Jansenist Roman Catholic Christian, which in essence means, a Roman Catholic who believed in a world created and governed by God, that man was sinful and in need of a savior, and that salvation was by grace through faith in Christ alone. The famous "Pascal's Wager" is the essence of common sense and just as true today as then.

6. King William (of Orange) (1650-1702)

The steadfast foe of the ambitions of Louis XIV, William of Orange first governed the Dutch Republic and then took the crown of England as King William III together with his wife Mary in the English Glorious Revolution of 1688-89. As a staunch protestant he defended and advanced the cause of freedom, rule of law, and biblical Christianity against the centralizing political absolutism and threatening Roman Catholicism of Louis the XIV and others of his day. All who read the Bible in their own vernacular and live in freedom under some system of constitutional rule of law are heirs and beneficiaries of his accomplishments.

7. John Locke (1632-1704)

One of the great men of Western Civilization. Locke was first and foremost a devout Christian who also became the father of modern empiricism and classical liberalism. His writings on natural rights, representative government, human understanding, and religious truth all were key elements in the British Enlightenment from which the European Enlightenment sprang. Though still revered today in many ways, the religious aspects of his thought and writings has almost been forgotten. This is unfortunate for it was actually his strong Christian faith that was the foundation of his own life and also, he believed, the most "reasonable" faith and world-view through which the God-given rights of man must be viewed.

8. John Wesley (1703-1791)

Wesley was a man who lived for God and the spread of God's word "in season and out of season." Though he insisted that he was Anglican throughout his life, he gave birth to the Methodist movement that reached the common man in both word and in deed. Wesley firmly believed in justification by faith - from an Arminian perspective - but coupled this with a strong emphasis on caring for the needs of God's people in the 18th century England where he lived. In fact, despite heavy criticism from traditional religious circles there was perhaps no man who did more for the people of England during the 18th century even though he had to work in non-conventional ways throughout most of his life. His life deserves to be appreciated first and foremost for his stand for the truth of God's word without which his actions on behalf of the social welfare of God's people would have been meaningless to him.

9. George Washington (1732-1799)

Washington was rightfully considered the greatest man of his day. Though modern scholars have tried to play down his Christian faith, they have not succeeded in doing so. Recent biographies and, most importantly, his own writings, clearly show his faith to have been central to his life, though in governmental affairs he promoted the freedom to exercise one's own religious belief in accordance with one's own conscience. In fact, he exemplified how a Christian man of strong faith could lead at the highest levels both in war and in government for the benefit of the common people of his day. He remains the paramount example of a military and political leader with integrity and dignity in pursuit of a righteous cause no matter the cost to himself. The political changes he helped to effect and the governmental structure that he helped to both shape and to put into action led to the establishment of a nation where political and religious freedom has flourished and where the free pursuit of the truth has been considered a natural right of all.

10. Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

Perhaps the greatest political leader of the 20th century. Churchill was a man who cherished freedom and was willing to give his all to preserve it. He was also a man who was willing - despite huge criticism - to see evil for what it really was in the form of both "Bolshevism" and "Nazism". Though he was ostracized for many years due to his convictions and his bold statements in the face of these evils, he was eventually called upon to lead Britain against all odds to victory in what he called its "finest hour". Every person who lives in freedom today is indebted to him for his stand against the enormous evils of his time.

Like all of us, all of the above individuals were flawed human beings. However, what separates them was their personal character in their willingness to overcome their weaknesses, their flaws, and their own ambitions to undertake the tasks that were necessary in their own generations despite the costs to their own lives. In one way or another they were all men of truth of whom we are all the beneficiaries of their efforts today. I hope those who read this blog will read up on each of them. If you do, be sure to put yourself in their shoes and to appreciate their lives in the midst of the realities of their own times. If you will do this you will gain a greater appreciation of some of the men who stood for the truth in their own days and, therefore, left us an example and a legacy to follow, enjoy and preserve.

Richie Temple

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

 

March 14, 2011

Understanding and Applying the Truth of the Bible

One of the most well known sections of scripture relating to the Bible's inspiration, authority and purpose is II Timothy 3:14-17:

"But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus."

"All Scripture is breathed out [inspired] by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work." (ESV).

When I was very young I accepted these words (originally read in the KJV) at their face value without any sophisticated theory of scriptural inspiration. Because of that I read, read and read the Bible with a reverence for the words that I was reading and with a humble receptivity that this was God's word to me and to my fellowman. This gave me a good overall scope of the Bible as a whole at a very young age. Over the years as I've continued to read and study the Bible I've come to a greater understanding of how the Bible originally came about and how to most properly read it and apply it to life in the light of its original historical context and its various literary forms and structures. However, this has only increased my appreciation and reverence for it. I've never ever felt the need to depart from the basic reverence with which I have always approached the Bible and the older I've become the more fully I appreciate the living truth of God's word that the Bible reveals in all its many ways. As someone who has studied and taught history for much of my life I can say that there is no other book in history that comes even remotely close to the Bible in the truth that it imparts. And, of course, this truth is as important, meaningful and relevant today as at any time in the history of the world.

This brings up the subject of how to understand and apply the truth of the Bible in a way that is both accurate and relevant to our lives today. Whenever, for example, I hear someone say, "Jesus said this" or "Jesus said that" my guard immediately goes up. I'm much more interested in knowing what Jesus said and meant in the light of the Bible as a whole rather than simply what "Jesus said." He himself appealed over and over again to the Old Testament and often his statements are taken to mean something that is at variance with what his closest followers including Paul, for instance, clearly said and meant. It is sometimes said for instance with regards to the subject of "non-resistance to evil" and "pacificism" that pacifists "appeal to Jesus" while those who don't believe that this point of view presents the whole picture "appeal to the Bible." I stand squarely in this latter category since the words and deeds of our Lord and Savior must themselves be understood both against the background of the Old Testament and in the light of how they should now be understood and applied in the new covenant era as explained in the Book of Acts and the NT Letters. Paul, for instance, is a much better guide for what Jesus meant than a post modern church pastor, a civil rights activist, or even a modern professor of NT studies who may not give us the full picture of what Jesus meant in the light of the new covenant perspective.

The Bible, of course, tells the story of God's relationship with man moving from "creation" in Genesis 1-2 in the Old Testament all the way to "new creation" in Revelation 21-22 in the New Testament. In between its books progressively unfold God's plan of salvation which he ultimately brings about through his Son, Jesus Christ. Christians should read and study the Bible in the light of this overall scope of the unfolding story of the Bible as a whole. They should gain a good knowledge of the Old Testament, read the Gospels in the light of the Old Testament, and then they should focus on that part of the Bible - The Book of Acts and the NT Letters - which specifically deals with the new covenant brought about by Christ's life, death, resurrection and the giving of the Spirit. All of this should then be understood in the light of Christ's future second coming and the final establishment of God's kingdom. To study any biblical topic in depth one should study it in the light of this progression of the unfolding of the biblical plan.

So, in sum, to best understand and apply the truth of the Bible to life:

1. Read and understand the Bible as an unfolding story from the Old Testament through the Gospels to the New Testament Letters culminating in the Book of Revelation.

2. Focus on the new covenant truth of being a child in God's family and a new creation "in Christ" as set forth in the Book of Acts and the New Testament Letters.

3. Then, as a Christian who is a new creation "in Christ" apply this truth to the situations of life in which you are involved by continuing to believe in Christ, and live a Christ-like life, until Christ's return!

As we do this we grow up into Christ in all things. But learning to do this is a lifetime growth and walk as a child in God's family. It takes time, effort, perseverance, and the concern to grow in understanding and applying the truth of the Bible in our lives.

Note: The "Bible Versions" section under "Recommendations" has recently been updated to reflect the recent updates in major Bible translations.

Richie Temple

richie@unity-of-spirit.org


Martin Luther King Jr. Day, January 17, 2011

Modern Conceptions of "Freedom," "Equality," and "Tolerance" in the Light of a Christian World-View

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the United States. It is a federal holiday in which we celebrate the life of a Christian man who, through dedication and the ultimate self-sacrifice, sought to bring about a society in which people are judged "by the content of their character rather than by the color of their skin." Having personally lived through the struggle this entailed in the American South, I consider Martin Luther King Jr. to be one of the greatest leaders in American history. In fact, as with other people, most Christians today welcome the political, legal, and religious freedoms, equality, and tolerance that now exist in much of the Western world. The benefits to individuals and to society as a whole that have come out of the historical processes that brought about these legal rights are obvious. Anyone who has ever lived under political tyranny certainly appreciates political freedom. Anyone who has ever lived under legal discrimination certainly welcomes legal equality. And, anyone who has ever been forced to accept certain religious, political, or scientific dogmas undoubtedly welcomes the freedom to seek out and determine the truth for himself in an atmosphere of tolerance. Nevertheless, we would almost all agree that for such ideals as freedom, equality, and tolerance to have any real useful, honorable, or practical meaning they must be specifically defined and qualified; otherwise, they become vague, mystical, open-ended, and even misleading concepts that often can do more harm than good.

It is ridiculous to simply be in favor of, or believe in, "freedom," "equality," or "tolerance" as though they have intrinsic value in and of themselves - apart from specific definitions and qualifications. No reasonable person would hold such an opinion. For example, though in general I am in favor of "freedom" of speech, my students in my history classes are by no means free to say anything they want, anytime they want, about any subject they want, or with any type of language that they choose to use. Instead, their freedom - of speech, in this case - is limited by their age, by the rules of the school, by the laws of the state, and by the direction of the adult teacher. To go a step further, it is obvious that very few people in our societies would support the "freedom" of individuals or groups of people to physically harm, steal from, or kill other people. Clearly, similar qualifications are necessary for the concepts of "equality," "tolerance," etc. as well if they are to have a useful meaning in society. So, when we speak of "freedom," etc. in Western societies we usually readily acknowledge that what we are in fact speaking of are freedoms that, though cherished, are also necessarily limited for the good of society as a whole. It then becomes a matter of determining the lines of demarcation for freedom in different spheres of life. Apart from that understanding the simplistic advocacy for "freedom," "equality," and "tolerance," etc. - as though these terms have a good and meaningful intrinsic value in and of themselves - has no reasonable or useful meaning in a civil society that is in any way devoted to the common or public good.

In addition, for a Christian it is always more important to do what is morally or ethically "right" irrespective of whether one has specific political, legal or religious "rights" in any given society. As a Christian my first responsibility is always to live in accordance with God's will irrespective of what kind of government I live under or irrespective of the freedoms that exist or don't exist in a given society. In short, a Christian is always responsible to do what is morally or ethically "right" in God's eyes irrespective of whether he has the legal "right" to do so or not and also irrespective whether he also has the legal "right" to do what is morally or ethically wrong. Nor does legal freedom, equality or tolerance equate to, or imply, something that is moral or ethical. No unethical or immoral thought, word or deed can be "baptized" or "cleansed" with modern conceptions of "rights" such as "freedom," "equality," or "tolerance" so as to make that thought, word or deed ethical or moral. Instead, a thought, word or deed is ethical or unethical, moral or immoral, based on its own intrinsic rightness or wrongness as determined by God alone.

Traditionally, in Western societies the standard for determining what is morally right and wrong in society has been the belief that man is created in the image of God and is thus responsible to live righteously before that righteous God to whom he must ultimately give account. On this basis it was long held to be true by almost all members of society that there are certain thoughts, words, and deeds that are intrinsically right or wrong - that is, absolute moral values that society should not allow, condone, or promote; otherwise, they would be to the detriment, and undermining, of the common good of society itself. In terms of concrete acts such as murder, theft, etc. many of these have always been rather easy to find a consensus on and to enforce in legal terms. Others - such as one's thought-life - are almost impossible to legalize against, or to enforce, and rarely has there been the desire or attempt to do so. Nevertheless, no one in society would have thought that every thought is therefore morally good simply because it was legally allowed or tolerated. In addition, through most of history no one in a Western society would have thought that the mere legal allowance or toleration of certain words or deeds made them moral. Instead, society as a whole continued to believe that there were certain moral absolutes of right and wrong - intrinsic to man's nature and responsibility before God - that did not change, irrespective of the legal status of certain words or deeds.

Over the last two hundred years or so this whole way of thinking has increasingly come under attack from many directions as God has been dethroned from his supreme position in Western societies and the secularization of society has progressed. Though the more traditional view of God-centered intrinsic values still exists amongst vast numbers of people, modern Western societies are now quickly moving more and more towards the relativistic rule of thumb that "anything is o.k. to believe and to do so long as it doesn't hurt someone else." Though this may very well be the best "ethic" that a modern, relativistic and secular society can come up with, it is certainly not a good enough standard for ethical or moral right and wrong for those who profess the Christian faith. Nor, is it necessary to simply let societies degenerate into such a mindless way of thinking without putting up resistance to such notions and without offering a better way forward. Biblically based Christians are obligated by their faith to recognize that there are certain beliefs, words, and deeds that are simply intrinsically wrong - and therefore are harmful to individuals and to society as a whole - irrespective of whether science, social science, law, or modern society at large recognizes that they are wrong or harmful. Therefore, though in a secular society certain actions may be legally tolerated - or even promoted as "rights" or "freedoms" that offer a supposedly meaningful "diversity" in and of themselves - the Christian, to remain true to his faith, cannot in good conscience agree that these actions are "equally" good, moral, or even "o.k." - even if they are baptized and cleansed in the name of high sounding and modern secular conceptions of "freedom," "equality," "tolerance," or, increasingly, the catch-all ethic of "diversity." For the Christian, "good" is still good and "evil" is still evil irrespective of what modern ideals, slogans, or even science, may say. So, yes, I am personally very much in favor of political, legal, and religious freedom, equality, and tolerance. However, I am certainly not in favor of "freedom" without common sense limitations and qualifications; "equality" without obvious and necessary distinctions; or "tolerance" and "diversity" of evil, corruption, or immorality.

As a Christian minister, Martin Luther King Jr. would certainly have agreed with the above qualifications. His quest was not for "freedom," "equality," or "tolerance" per se; but rather for the freedom, equality, and tolerance that would enable a person to develop, and to be judged by, the content of his character as lived before God. To forget this is to forget who Martin Luther King Jr. was and what he and the Civil Rights movement in America actually stood for. Whenever a society loses the firm foundation by which it determines what is ethically right and wrong it cannot help but crumble from within. In Western societies that foundation has always begun with God and man's responsibility to him. It is not exclusive to Christianity but it certainly developed out of it. John Locke, the 17th century English Christian philosopher, who set out so beautifully the principles for representative democracy and natural rights given to man from God - upon which England, the United States, and other nations have rested - passionately believed that, " a society based on the consent of the members implied that each was a moral agent fully capable of understanding the moral postulates on which society rests." (The Reasonableness of Christianity p. X). For Locke, since each person was created in the image of God that person also had a natural capacity to recognize right from wrong. However, given that man was corrupted by sin, he also believed that the understanding of these "moral postulates" rested much more securely on a proper understanding and acceptance of the truths revealed in the Bible. Locke is also normally recognized as the father of both modern empiricism and also classical liberalism - two very modern concepts that have led to the development of both modern rights and modern science. Yet he believed that in matters of moral rights and wrongs only God's standards could be determinative. So what about today? If this traditional standard is done away with what standard can replace it? Can modern reason, or modern science, or modern social science, or a person's inner feelings, desires and passions now be the faithful guides to determine moral rights and wrongs rather than God? I will answer with a quote from another American Christian churchman, general, and statesman who recognized Locke's importance and has perhaps done more than anyone else in history to secure the political, legal and religious freedoms, equality, and tolerance we all now enjoy:

"Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice ? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle." (George Washington, Farewell Address to the Nation, 1787).

Richie Temple

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

 

Christmas Day, December 25, 2010

The World-Changing Effects of the Christian Faith

As I pause on this Christmas morning to contemplate the true meaning of Christ coming into the world for the salvation of mankind, my mind turns to the world-changing effects that the Christian faith has had on individual lives and on Western society as a whole over these last two thousand years. Anyone who has grown up over the last half-century as I have and is familiar with both history and the Christian faith cannot help but realize that the influence of Christian faith on the culture of the world at large is now decreasing and that the influence of ideas reminiscent of the ancient Greco-Roman world are increasing. In the secular society of today the beliefs and values of traditional Christianity are increasingly seen as being intolerant, backward, and passe' while the ancient Greco-Roman values of reason, tolerance and diversity are increasingly promoted as the standards of a modern, progressive and liberal society. This change has been coming on for the last couple of centuries; nevertheless, it is undeniable that it has been picking up speed over the last few decades. Indeed, in yesterday's Christmas Eve column in the New York Times Ross Douthat - himself a Roman Catholic Christian - states, "Christians need to find a way to thrive in a society that looks less and less like any sort of Christendom - and more and more like the diverse and complicated Roman Empire where their religion had its beginning 2,000 years ago this week."

Though I find general agreement with Douthat's viewpoint, what is often lost in any discussion of this topic are the hard and cold facts of what the Greco-Roman world was actually like and the dramatic civilizing and humanizing effects that the introduction of Christianity into the ancient Greco-Roman world had for that time. This overwhelmingly positive world-changing effect of the Christian faith has continued to be - despite many instances of corruptions and perversions - the single most important liberating, healing, and stabilizing factor in the history of the world since that time. Whatever corruptions and perversions have arisen in history along the way are totally dwarfed by the life-changing and society-changing effects that the Christian faith has had on millions and millions of lives since its introduction into the Greco-Roman world of the first century. Unfortunately, the multi-cultural perspective of the teaching of history that has dominated our public schools and universities over the last few decades has tended to turn upside down the actual historical realities of the ancient Greco-Roman world and of the alternative positive transforming effects of the Christian faith in individual lives and society as a whole in the history of the last 2000 years. Though the Roman Empire was indeed on the whole religiously and morally "tolerant" and "diverse" - with the exception of insistence on Emperor worship! - it was also religiously and morally confused, socially stratified, brutal, and mired in the depths of the cynicism and despair of a world that was thought to be ruled by "fate". It was only the introduction of the Christian faith into that Empire that brought about individual liberation, a sense of acceptance and equality before God, and a firm hope in the midst of so much despair.

Far from being the oppressive historical religion that multi-cultural historians and atheists have made it out to be, it is simply and clearly a matter of the historical record that the Christian faith when introduced into the Roman Empire produced the exact opposite effect. Any honest history - see histories written at least before the last couple of decades - will make clear this dramatic and world-changing effect. As an example I quote from the masterly A History of the Modern World - an AP European History textbook - in describing the true historical effects of the Christian faith upon the Roman world:

"It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of the coming of Christianity. It brought with it, for one thing, an altogether new sense of human life. Where the Greeks had demonstrated the powers of the mind, the Christians explored the soul [life], and they taught that in the sight of God all souls [lives] were equal, that every human life was sacrosanct and inviolate, and that all worldly distinctions of greatness, beauty, and brilliancy were in the last analysis superficial. Where the Greeks had identified the beautiful and the good, had thought ugliness to be bad, and had shrunk from disease as an imperfection and from everything misshapen as horrible and repulsive, the Christians resolutely saw a spiritual beauty, even in the plainest or most unpleasant exterior and sought out the diseased, the crippled, and the mutilated to give them help. Love, for the ancients, was never quite distinguished from Venus; for the Christians, who held that God was love, it took on deep overtones of sacrifice and compassion. Suffering itself was in a way divine, since God [the Son of God] had also suffered on Cross in human form. A new dignity was thus found for suffering that the world could not cure. At the same time the Christians worked to relieve suffering as none had worked before. They protested against the massacre of prisoners of war, against the mistreatment and degradation of slaves, against the the sending of gladiators to kill each other in the arena for another's pleasure. In place of the Greek and pagan self-satisfaction with human accomplishments they taught humility in the face of an almighty Providence, and in the place of proud distinctions between high and low, slave and free, civilized and barbarian, they held that all men and women were alike because all were children of the same God."

"On an intellectual level Christianity also marked a revolution. It was Christianity, not rational philosophy, that dispelled the swarm of greater and lesser gods and goddesses, the blood sacrifices and self-immolation, or the frantic resort to magic, fortune-telling, and divination. The Christians taught that since there was only one God the pagan gods must be lesser demons, and even this idea was gradually given up. The pagan conception of local, tribal, or national gods, disappeared. For all the world there was only one God, one plan of Salvation, and one Providence, and all human beings took their origin from one source. The idea of the world as one thing, a "universe," was thus affirmed with a new depth of meaning. The very intolerance of Christianity (which was new to the ancient world) came from this overwhelming sense of human unity, in which it was thought that all people should have, and deserved to have, the one true and saving religion." (A History of the Modern World, p. 16).

When we think of the true meaning of Christ coming into the world for the salvation of mankind let us always remember that the true Christian faith that was "once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude) in the midst of the darkness, confusion, and despair of the Greco-Roman world of the first century was, and continues to be, the only true light that can dispel the darkness of this world in any individual life and in any realm of life in the world today. In sum, it's world-changing effects continue to this day.

Richie Temple

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

 

November 8, 2010

Review of the Newest Edition of the NIV

The newest edition of the New International Version (NIV) is, in my view, an outstanding revision and up-dating of the NIV. It can now be read and/or compared with other versions on-line at: www.biblegateway.com At the same web address one can also read the translators notes about their latest revision along with examples of the choices they made and why. Personally, my only major criticism of the new revision is the decision of the translators to continue to use the "singular they/their/them" rather than the more traditional "generic he/him/his" which is still used and taught in most schools today. This decision will make for some awkward and strange language at times, especially for those who are accustomed to the NIV 1984. As a long-time NIV user I will state openly that this decision is indeed disappointing to me. Nevertheless, it must be emphasized that this new edition of the NIV is extremely accurate and clear as to meaning and - in the NIV tradition - it is usually very readable as well. It should be a great help for those who are seeking to know and better understand God's word as revealed in the pages of the Bible. It will now take its place amongst a plethora of excellent English Bible versions that have recently been published within the last two decades including among others: the NRSV, ESV, HCSB, and the NLT. In sum, the new NIV will certainly be able to be used as a main version for those who prefer it and as a second or comparative version for others. Either way it will make a major contribution to the better understanding of God's word and for that we should be thankful - both to God first and foremost, and then, to the dedicated translators of this new edition.

When I think back to what it was like reading the Bible while I was growing up in the 1950s, 60s and 70s I can't help but be thankful for the many excellent English Bible versions that are available today in the English speaking world. I grew up with the King James Version (KJV) and then gradually shifted with my church to the Revised Standard Version (RSV) which had recently been published about the time I was born. The KJV was beautiful language but definitely a struggle to understand. The RSV was much easier to understand but also lost some of the beauty of the KJV. During my teenage years I started to also read newer more modern English versions that were being published. These included the New English Bible (NEB - a version I still love to read with its British English) and Good News For Modern Man (GNB). I pretty much devoured the New Testaments of both of these versions and they helped me greatly to understand the New Testament at a time when I was really intent on understanding its message. Ever since that time I've been appreciative of the variety of English versions of the Bible and I am thankful that they've continued to grow both in number and in quality.

In the mid-1980s I began using the New International Version (NIV) as my primary reading, study, and memorization Bible. It was first published in the 1970s and the revised in 1984. I had already committed vast quantities of the KJV to memory but the NIV was a great advance in both accuracy and readability to the KJV and I knew that it would be helpful for me personally as well as for others. In many ways the NIV revolutionized the world of Bible reading and understanding for English Bible readers. The NIV Study Bible and NIV Student Bible have also easily been the best of their kind and have done so much to help people to understand the message of the Bible. In more recent times other versions have come along that are also excellent English Bible versions both in terms of accuracy and readability. These include the NRSV, the ESV, the HCSB, the NLT, and the most recent revision of the NIV tradition, the TNIV. Any one of these versions of the Bible could suffice to be a person's main version for regular use and they're also all useful for comparative study. Personally, I recommend them all; however, in my view none of them is any better overall than the NIV for general use. That is also what most English Bible readers apparently have thought since the NIV has continued to be, far and away, the best selling English version of the Bible in the world.

Despite this, about a year ago it was announced that this 1984 edition of the NIV would be revised and replaced by a new edition of the NIV which is to be published in book form in 2011. It was thought, and I agree, that a language and content update was needed. The TNIV which was published in its latest edition in 2005 was an attempt at doing this. However, despite being an excellent translation overall, many of its gender language changes were not accepted by many people including many traditional NIV readers. So for a variety of reasons it was decided to replace both the NIV 1984 and the TNIV with a new single edition of the NIV. As of November 1, 2010 this edition has been published on-line and, therefore, interested readers can already make use of it at bible gateway. At the Bible gateway web-site this version is now labeled NIV 2010; however, it also is sometimes called NIV 2011 in various places since it will be published in book form in the spring of 2011. When it eventually is actually published in book form it will simply be called the NIV.

Over the last week I've spent a great deal of time reading and looking over this latest revision of the NIV. In my view, this new edition of the NIV is a very accurate, and usually, a very readable version of the Bible. However a few things need to be made clear right from the beginning. First the point of departure - or text upon which updates for this new edition has been made - is the text of the TNIV 2005 rather than the text of the NIV 1984. This is important because any update or change in this text must be approved by 70% of the NIV translators for it to appear in the new revision of the NIV. Therefore, this new edition of the NIV is in reality a revision of the TNIV 2005 rather than the NIV 1984. Importantly, however, this new revision will now replace both the NIV 1984 and the TNIV 2005 and will now become the only edition of the NIV that will eventually be sold. Understanding all of this will help the reader to understand the changes that have been made in this new NIV edition and why it differs far more from the NIV 1984 than from the TNIV 2005. In this light let me make a few observations:

1. I would strongly emphasize that about 95% of the text that was in the NIV 1984 and probably 97 % of the text that was in the the TNIV 2005 is still the same in this new edition of the NIV. This makes for a great deal of continuity from Genesis to Revelation in this new NIV with its predecessors. Therefore, for the most part when a person reads this new edition he still feels at home in the NIV tradition. The differences between the different editions are small on a quantitative basis and are usually also small on a theological meaning basis. However, the differences that will be apparent to everyone are the gender-language updates in English usage. If you are used to the NIV 1984 then these changes in the new edition of the NIV are likely to seem quite significant. If you are used to the TNIV 2005 then these changes are likely to seem more minor. Unfortunately, since English language usage is so varied throughout the world it is simply impossible to please anybody all the time. In my view, the NIV 1984 reads more naturally than either the TNIV 2005 or the new NIV 2011 in places where certain types of gender-language changes have been made. Nevertheless, this new NIV 2011 is definitely an upgrade in the accuracy of the meaning of the text from the NIV 1984 and is also an upgrade in gender-language usage from the TNIV 2005. In addition, many of the most obnoxious gender-language changes can be easily "corrected" with one's own pencil or pen so as to make the text read more naturally.

Personally, I will continue to use the (now new) NIV as one of my main Bible versions for regular reading and study. I will also recommend it to others. But I will also continue to use the NIV 1984 at times since I think it sometimes reads more naturally than this new edition. In addition, I will also continue to use many other versions for reading and comparative purposes. On biblegateway.com I normally use three to five different versions next to each other in parallel columns whenever I read the Bible on-line for comparative study purposes. They are: the ESV, NIV, TNIV, HCSB or NLT. These versions give me a nice spectrum of the different translations available in English and they're all excellent versions based on somewhat different translation philosophies and somewhat different, though overlapping, target audiences. I will now replace the TNIV with this new edition of the NIV since this is the latest update by the NIV translators. However, when I just want to read the Bible for myself in the morning, for instance, the version I will use will be any of the above, though the ESV is the one I use most often because it is the most literal, maintains the most continuity with past English versions of the KJV/Tyndale tradition, and is - to my ears - the most beautiful expression of dignified English.

2. Examples: Since there is so much continuity between this new 2010(11) edition of the NIV with its predecessors of the NIV 1984 and the TNIV 2005 I think that the best thing to do is simply give some examples of new updates in this new edition. Here are some non-gender language examples from Paul's "Letter to the Romans" of what I consider to be amongst the better updates in the new NIV 2010(11):

Romans 1:5 reverts to "the obedience that comes from faith" of the NIV 1984 from the "faith and obedience" of the TNIV 2005. This is a good change that emphasizes that Christian obedience springs from faith in Christ.

Romans 1:16 begins now with "For" showing the continuity of thought from v. 15 to v. 16.

Romans 3:20, 28, etc. the NIV 1984's somewhat controversial "observing the law" becomes the more literal "the works of the law." I actually prefer "observing the law"; however, the more literal "works of the law" will make this more acceptable in many circles due to debates springing from the so-called New Perspective on Paul. The meaning, however, is exactly the same so the more literal "works of the law" seems to be the best choice.

Romans 3:25 "justice" of both the NIV 1984 and TNIV becomes "righteousness" in the new NIV which maintains the proper context of "the righteousness of God".

Romans 8 and in many other places, "sinful nature" becomes "flesh" together with an outstanding footnote about this in Romans 8. "Sinful nature" (or other context oriented translations) is still retained in some places in Paul's letters including a couple of times in Romans 7 but usually the Greek sarx is now translated "flesh". This is a much debated and (in my view) welcome change, especially with the excellent footnote in Romans 8 (and in other places) that explains it.

Romans 8:6 gets my vote as the single best updated verse. It becomes

"The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace."

This is an outstanding translation and a great improvement over earlier editions which implied that the Spirit "controlled" a believer's mind!

Romans 12:1 becomes "this is your true and proper worship" - very nicely stating a difficult text to translate.

Romans 16:25-27 is an outstanding upgrade in translation in the new NIV and includes the new upgrade of "obedience that comes from faith" rather than "faith and obedience" of the TNIV, thus maintaining consistency with 1:5.

I could keep going through the NT Letters like this but this is enough to give the reader a feel for the type of changes that have been made. I would note also that I read straight through I and II Timothy and Titus and found the new NIV version to be outstanding all the way through with only minor changes. One particularly good upgrade was the change to "the servant of God" from "all God's people" (TNIV) in II Timothy 3:17. In my view, of course, the traditional "man of God" would be even better.

3. For the most part, the only changes that I've seen so far that I don't like have to do with changes - or non-changes - from the TNIV 2005 to this new edition of the NIV 2010(11) with respect to gender-language translations and updates. This, of course, is no surprise given that I consider many of the changes in gender-language usage as: (1) needless - since traditional English usage was already "gender accurate" or "gender-inclusive" if properly taught and understood without biases; (2) often causing more confusion in their own right than that which they seek to correct; and, (3) not only pandering to political correctness but also actually often being "offensive" to many godly people of traditional values who were brought up to speak English in a more traditional way. Of course, in the world of political correctness "offensiveness" seems to only be considered valid if it goes in one direction.

Nevertheless, quite a few of the gender-language translations carried over from the TNIV are certainly good such as using "person" for "man" in various places such as Rom. 3:28, 5:7, etc. However, the decision by the translators to continue to use - and to even expand the use of - the "singular they/their/them" instead of using the traditional and more grammatical "generic he/him/his", etc. makes for very awkward and strange English at times. This will also make this new NIV version unacceptable as a main version to many faithful Bible readers - including many who are faithful readers of the NIV 1984 and who were promised in the late 1990s and then again only a few years ago that the NIV 1984 text would never be changed and would continue to be published as such. Given the promises made to these readers over the years it borders on the unethical to not continue to publish in some format the NIV 1984 for those who prefer it.

The NIV 1984 is still the best selling English version of the Bible in the world. There are over 400 million of them in print. Millions of the readers of this version rejected the TNIV and stuck with the NIV because it is a translation that communicates truth in a simple and clear language that they understand. The decision to expand the use of the "singular they/their/them" and at the same time to discontinue the NIV 1984 is almost a slap in the face to these people. It is as if the translators think that they know better than what the market itself clearly shows when one compares the sales of the NIV 1984 with the TNIV 2005. The translators, of course, insist that this type of gender-language usage is now the way English speakers around the globe overwhelmingly speak. They also attempt to back this up with various statistical and language studies. However, the "generic he/him/his" can be, and has been, equally well defended. Most schools still teach this form of English and the idea that it is only "a few" or "English purists" (both terms being used dismissively) who resist changes away from traditional English usage is simply nonsense. Most people will, of course, simply decide this issue for themselves based on how natural the language reads to them, especially in the light of how they were taught to speak/write English as they were growing up and in the light of the language they are used to encountering in the books and Bible versions they read. So, as with the TNIV, we'll see how this language is actually accepted by the Bible reading public. Most likely its acceptance will be varied depending on where people live in the English speaking world, the churches and/or Bible fellowships they attend, and the circles in which they move in their daily lives.

Here are a few examples of gender-language updates in the new NIV:

a. Genesis 1:26 has now become "mankind" rather than "human beings" (TNIV) or "man" (NIV 1984). Personally, I think this is a good update but I'm sure it will be controversial from both ends of the gender-language spectrum. All three possible translations are equally accurate and no single translation would appeal to everyone.

b. Genesis 6:1ff reads a little more clearly than in the TNIV, but still somewhat strangely. The NIV 1984 sounds most natural.

c. Psalm 1:

I quote and then will comment:

1 "Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the LORD,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers."

This translation of this cherished Psalm is generally accurate and understandable and it is probably also an improvement on the TNIV translation. Indeed, as my good friend Scot Hahn says, it is "no worse" than any of the other modern versions! :) However, the English is obviously forced and awkward. It is quite clear to any reader familiar with the Bible that the translators are trying to not have to use either "man" or the "generic he/his/him" throughout the Psalm even though that is a good way to have the Psalm sound and communicate accurately as it did to its original audience - and, as it traditionally has done to English audiences in the KJV, RSV and NIV for centuries and decades. I have highlighted the places where this avoidance is taking place. Every single person whom I've heard comment on this new translation of Psalm 1 in the last few days has said the exact same thing about the awkwardness of the language - independently of each other.

I really don't understand what the problem is here. The NIV is supposed to be a functionally equivalent or dynamically equivalent translation. The idea is to reproduce the same understanding and impression in English as the original language did to the original readers. But the Psalms were poetic and were produced to be sung in worship. Who can say that about this translation of Psalm 1? The original NIV 1984 is easily the most natural (and traditional) reading and the one that should still stand. The NIV 1984 version is known, cherished and memorized by millions of faithful Christians around the world. Why change it? Every other translation has its own problems. Fortunately, it is easy enough to "correct" this new translation with one's own pencil or pen in one's own Bible so as to make it read like more normal, natural English. I can only hope that the outcry against this particular translation of this beautiful and cherished Psalm will be so great that the translators will soon revise it back to the natural reading of the NIV 1984. Until then, as I've said above, it is at least accurate and understandable - and, correctable!

d. Psalm 8: this is a good update with the strange and awkward "mortals" (TNIV) being thrown out in favor of "mankind" and/or "human beings".

e. Psalm 15 is an improvement on the TNIV; however, it is still very awkward in trying to avoid the "generic he/him/his" and replacing these with the "singular they/their/them".

f. Psalm 112 is still pluralized throughout which seems to contradict what is said in the translators notes about having deleted pluralizing language which was abundant in the TNIV. The translation of this Psalm, thus, remains the same as the TNIV and is much more awkward than the more natural translation of the NIV 1984.

g. Micah 6:8 in the new NIV says "He has shown you, o mortal, what is good ..." This is very strange English. Again, front and center is the fear of using "man" and thus the resort to awkward and strange English. I don't know of a single English speaking person who would use "mortal" in such a context.

h. The "generic he/him/his" is still occasionally used in this new edition of the NIV. Ironically, one example is Psalm 14:1:

The new NIV says "The fool says in his heart, there is no God." This is a return to the NIV 1984 and is a good translation.

The TNIV had pluralized it to say "Fools say in their hearts..." so as to avoid the generic "his".

Given the prevalence of their use of the "singular they" one would think that the translators of the new NIV 2010(11) would use the "singular they" here as they do in almost all other contexts and read,

"The fool says in their heart..."

But, apparently, it is acceptable according political correctness to assume in this context that only males can be fools - thus, the acceptable retention of the "his"! :)

There are many other uses of gender-neutral language throughout the new NIV. Sometimes they're a problem for me and sometimes they're not. Sometimes they cause me dissonance as I read and I have to stop and figure out what is being said, usually because there is a disagreement between pronoun and antecedent noun in number. At other times the changes seem relatively natural. Occasionally, they seem to stick out like a sore thumb. I certainly respect the expertise of the translators of the NIV; however, I also know that for the most part they work in universities and seminaries - the main bastions of politically correct language. The language that is spoken there is certainly not representative of how the general English speaking population speaks or - irrespective of how it is spoken at times colloquially - expects English to be written and understood.

In conclusion, I would like to emphasize again that in most ways I believe that this new edition of the NIV 2010(11) is an outstanding translation of the Bible that will be very useful in reading, studying and sharing God's word. It will surely find its niche among the many other Bible versions that are available. How much acceptance will it find? Will it become as popular as the NIV 1984? Only time will tell. In particular, if traditional NIV users don't accept it because of its gender-language changes who is going to recommend it to others? Nevertheless, as I've stated above, it will certainly be one of the main versions that I will personally use and I will also recommend it to others - at least as a comparative version for study purposes, if not as a main version for regular use. However, I also hope that the translators will remain open to future updates based on feedback from sincere believers who care deeply about a Bible version that has long been dear to them - and, who twice were promised that there would be no changes to that version.

Richie Temple

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

 

October 31, 2010

The NIV 2011 Edition On-line

As many of you know I've long been a strong advocate of the NIV/TNIV as one of the best and most useful Bible versions in the English speaking world. No other English translation has done a better job of combining biblical accuracy in translation with readability for the common man. About two weeks ago Biblica, the organization which sponsors the NIV, announced that the new NIV 2011 edition would be made available on-line beginning November 1. This is several months before it will be published in book form, coming out sometime around spring. To say the least, this is good news! The NIV has been the best selling English Bible in the world for many years and it has been in need of an update for some time. The TNIV was an update that was published in 2001 and then again in 2005. Though popular in many circles, the TNIV was highly unpopular in others. In particular, many long-time users of the NIV thought the TNIV went too far in its gender-language updates. Because many, if not most, NIV long-time users kept using, buying, and recommending the NIV instead of the TNIV. Biblica ultimately made the decision in the summer of 2009 to make a new 2011 edition of the NIV that would replace both the current NIV 1984 edition as well as the TNIV.

It will, of course, be impossible for the NIV Bible translators to please everyone - including me - with all of its translation choices, especially since English is simply too varied a language in how it is used throughout the world. Nevertheless, I feel almost certain that the NIV 2011 edition will be a version that will represent amongst the best in current biblical scholarship as well as in dynamic equivalency translation faithfulness into the English language. It is unlikely that there will be many major changes in the translation from previous editions and the likelihood is that there will be a relative balance between the best of the NIV 1984 and the TNIV 2005. If that is the case the new NIV will continue to be one of the most useful English versions of the Bible in the world today.

I will look forward to blogging about this new NIV 2011 edition in the weeks ahead. However, let us all give the translators the benefit of the doubt even when we differ on certain translation decisions and English usage. When used together with other more literal translations (e.g. ESV) and more free translations (e.g. NLT) this new edition of the NIV will surely enrich the resources that English speaking Christians have for personal Bible reading, study, and outreach. Let us enjoy this new Bible resource and use it for the promotion of God's purposes in the world.

The NIV 2011 can be accessed at the Bible Gateway web-site in our right hand margin column or simply: www.BibleGateway.com

Richie Temple

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

 

August 19, 2010

God and Government: Main Principles

As the last post on this topic of "God and Government" I think it might be useful to set out a brief summary of the main principles that we have discussed in previous posts. I hope this will be useful to those interested in this subject.

1. God is the Creator, Sovereign Ruler, and Ultimate Judge of all that takes place in the heavens and earth. He created the universe with a plan in mind, he has been working in history since the creation to bring that plan to pass, and he will ultimately achieve that plan according to his own purposes and will. (e.g. Gen. 1:1ff; Psalm 103:19; Eph. 1:3-14).

2. Mankind was created in the image of God to rule over God's earth on his behalf. Man is responsible to live a godly life as one created in God's image by loving God and by loving one's neighbor as oneself in accordance with God's standards of holiness, righteousness and justice. Man has freedom of will to do this and is thus accountable to God and subject to God's rule and judgment of the world. This will culminate in God's final judgment of the world after Christ's return.

3. Given the sinfulness of mankind, God has ordained human government as a means of repressing, deterring, and punishing evil as well as for the promoting the common good of mankind. In doing this government helps in achieving God's purposes in this world. Though there is no particular form of government that the Bible sets forth as being the best form in this present evil age, all governments are responsible to God for carrying out and promoting righteousness, justice and mercy in relation to their citizens, subjects, or residents. To the degree that it does not carry out these God-ordained purposes government loses its legitimacy in terms of it being an agency via which God's righteousness, justice and mercy can be achieved; however, God himself can still work in and through such governments in achieving his ultimate purposes for mankind.

4. Since government is ordained by God mankind is expected to be subject to it and to support it as a God-ordained human institution that is set-up for the benefit of mankind. Therefore, government institutions and laws should be obeyed unless there is a clear conflict with obeying God. When that occurs the Bible is clear from Genesis to Revelation that mankind's responsibility is "to obey God rather than man."

5. Since government is viewed as a God-ordained institution for the benefit of mankind the work of government is also viewed as godly and in accordance with God's own over-arching governance of the world. There is a clear distinction in the Bible - both OT and NT - between mankind's responsibility towards his neighbor in inter-personal relations within society vs. government's God-ordained responsibilities as an institution in regards to the making, administering, and upholding of societies' laws for the benefit and protection of society as a whole. So, for instance, the individual in normal personal and societal relations is not to avenge himself; however, governmental agents are specifically assigned this role in order to protect society and punish and deter evil. In short, the Bible speaks of the role of governmental law and of government agents in the highest possible terms. Just laws are viewed as necessary, proper, and in accordance with God's plan for mankind. Governmental agents are viewed as the upholders of God's justice in this world - without which evil would flourish.

6. Because of this godly nature of governmental service believers themselves - who are even now citizens of God's kingdom in heaven - are still commanded to pay taxes to support government and to honor those who carry out its duties. In addition, believers themselves ethically can, historically have, currently do, and certainly should participate in government's positions, functions, and duties. This would include every aspect of just government including the use of force as necessary and irrespective of the historical period, form of government, or the imperfections that are a part of any human institution. As in all cases of biblical understanding and application believers must endeavor to understand the original intent and meaning of these biblical principles and then apply them with wisdom to their own unique situations in the times and places in which they live - not as legal commands, but in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

7. In conclusion, there is a consistency in the biblical view of government from Genesis to Revelation. Government is a temporary and partial means by which God brings a measure of peace, justice and order to the world in the midst of this present evil age. This will continue until the time when God intervenes in the world through Christ's second coming to bring about a final judgment of the world and then to usher in the new and everlasting age of the kingdom of God in a new heavens and earth. Only then will God's kingdom fully come and God's will be fully done, "on earth as it is in heaven."

Richie Temple

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

 

July 12, 2010

God and Government: The Biblical Mandate for the Governmental Use of Violent Force on Behalf of Justice

The Bible is clear that eternal life in the future kingdom of God is the true hope of the Christian believer and, whether recognized or not, the only true hope for the resolution of the problems of mankind in this world. Christian believers are even now citizens of that kingdom which is now in heaven and, via the gift of the Spirit, have a down payment of the life of that future age even while living in the midst of this present evil age. The mission of the Christian church is to proclaim the good news of participating in that coming kingdom by way of believing in Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the living God who died for the sins of mankind and who was raised from the dead by God. Ultimately, the future kingdom of God will be ushered in only by the personal return in power and glory of Christ himself. In sum, it is not the efforts of man that will bring about God's kingdom but rather the divine intervention of God himself by way of his Son, Jesus Christ.

Throughout history, since the time of Christ's ministry on earth in the first century there has been a good deal of confusion about the kingdom of God. In particular, one of the major errors has been the idea that the kingdom of God can be established on earth via the efforts of man himself. The church as a whole has at times fallen victim to this idea. Eventually, a theology developed called post-millenialism that taught that Christ would return to earth after the church built the kingdom of God on earth. In the late 19th and early 20t centuries this theology became highly influential in combination with 19th century ideas of progress and the movement of societies towards an ultimate utopia in which peace on earth would reign. This theology and philosophy mixed well with social Darwinism and imperialism of the times. Two American Presidents who adhered to postmillenialism to a greater or lesser degree were Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. However, the hopes of post-millenialists along with many other 19th century delusions were blown apart in the Great War of 1914 - 18. Roosevelt and Wilson were both highly moral Christian men who made many great contributions to American society; however, the post-millenial views contributed at times to unrealistic thinking on both of their parts as seen, in particular, by Wilson's slogans of WWI being "the War to End all Wars" and "the War to Make the World Safe for Democracy". As with most people their ideas were fluid and changing but post-millenialism was part of the mix that produced some of their more utopian ideas.

The Bible, on the other hand, from Genesis to Revelation is anything but utopian. It is open, honest, pointed and clear about human nature, the bondage of sin, and the reality of evil. Nowhere does the Bible ever pretend that mankind can solve these problems. Instead, government is ordained and instituted as a temporary, though important, means of restraining evil until the time when God intervenes in the affairs of mankind to establish his kingdom in a new heavens and earth. This will only occur as the result of the second coming of Christ which will take place at a time in the future that only God knows. The Bible is also clear that the Christian church is to proclaim the good news of this coming kingdom. However, neither the church - nor government on behalf of the church - is to use the weapons of human warfare to try to establish God's kingdom on earth (John 18:36; Eph. 6:10f; II Cor. 10:1f). Instead, the light of that kingdom is made known through the fruit of the Spirit in believers lives and the good news of that coming kingdom is proclaimed by believers by both their words and deeds to the world.

Nevertheless, the kingdom of God itself is not yet here. Believers do not yet reign and yet they still live in this world. Marriage still takes place. Children still are born. People work and strive to make a living and human societies are built to support the multi-faceted spectrum of life. Believers live within these societies and must deal with and participate in the realities of human society. This includes human government - government ordained by God himself - including the realities and means that are necessary to bring about effective government according to God's standards. For those who are willing to look at the full biblical picture there can be little doubt that the Bible includes as part of just government the proper use by government of violent force, as necessary, on behalf of justice. There are numerous examples of this both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. In short, coercion - based on the potential or actual governmental use of violence on behalf of justice - is part of the foundation upon which human government and human society must rest in this present evil age. Romans 13:1-7 - which is the central biblical passage on the subject - is unflinchingly bold and clear on this topic:

13:1 "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed." (ESV).

Verse 4 states as clearly as it is possible to state it that the governmental authority who is ordained by God (v. 1) is:

a. one who is "God's servant for your good"

b. one who "does not bear the sword in vain"

c. one who is "an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer"

Verse 6 then clearly states that taxes are to be paid - by believers and unbelievers alike - for the specific purpose of enabling the governmental authorities to "attend to this very thing".

Surely, no honest reading of this passage can dispute the God-ordained role of government to use force (violence), as necessary, against wrongdoers in the pursuit of justice. Surely, no honest reading of this passage can dispute that it is the responsibility, not only of unbelievers, but of believers as well, to pay taxes so that governmental authorities can carry out their God-appointed duties, including the use of violent force, on behalf of justice. It must be emphasized that, when properly understood, there is not one word in the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation that contradicts this view.

Of course, man's relationship with God and his fellowman is one of the chief topics of the Bible right from the start in Genesis chapter 1. Both in the Old and New Testaments the individual believer is to:

a. Love God with all one's heart, soul, mind and strength

b. Love one's neighbor as oneself

This is implied from the start in Genesis, specifically taught in the OT Mosaic Law, and then confirmed by Christ and the NT writers. Christ taught that the whole Mosaic Law rests on the foundation of those two commandments (Matt. 22; Mark 12, etc.) and the same two commandments continue as the basis for godly living throughout the rest of the NT (Rom. 12 & 13; Gal. 5; James 2, etc.). In short, in both the Old and New Testaments these two greatest commandments set the foundation for all other ethical principles. However, the principles of loving God and loving one's neighbor do not nullify the need for government. Instead, those principles demand the necessity of having government because only proper government - including its use of force - can protect individuals in society in the midst of an evil age. There are different spheres or roles within life and society which modify, qualify, or build upon the general ethical principles of the Bible that are set out for all. Thus, in general society, in one's personal relations with others one endeavors to overcome evil with good, to not avenge oneself, and to live in a way that upholds truth, biblical morals, and the common good of society. Examples of such general biblical ethical teaching would be Lev. 19 in the OT and Romans 12 in the NT - from among many others.

In one's family relations, however, there is a unique and proper order to honoring one's parents, to the marriage of a husband and wife, and to the raising of children, etc. that is specific to family relations. There are specific obligations within these relationships that do not hold for one's obligations to one's neighbor in society as a whole. In society in general one does not always, or even normally, correct or punish one's neighbor for slights, discourteous actions, or even for most non-violent grievances against oneself. Instead, one normally endeavors to overcome evil with good and corrections, etc. would be dependent upon the situations and relations of that particular societal order. There are, however, specific duties of children to parents, of husband to wife and wife to husband, of parents to children, etc. that modify or qualify or build upon one's basic obligations to one's neighbor in society as a whole. One honors one's parents in a way that is greater than how ones honors one's neighbor in society in general. One is to have sexual relations with one's spouse as part of a marriage relationship - something that is specifically forbidden throughout the Bible with someone outside of that relationship. And, one teaches, corrects, punishes, and nurtures one's children in a way that is specific to that relationship. For a parent to allow slights, discourteous actions, and any type of disobedience by one's children on the basis of the biblical statements such as "do not avenge yourselves" or "do not repay evil with evil" or "overcome evil with good" would be a gross misapplication of general biblical principles meant for normal societal relations - but which are modified by specific parental responsibilities to train up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

Another specific role or sphere of life in which special requirements apply to the relationships relates to role of governmental relations in society. Whereas believers in general relations with their neighbors in society are to love their neighbors as themselves, to do to others what you would have them to do you, to not avenge themselves, to not repay evil for evil, but; instead, to overcome evil with good - government, on the other hand, has a specific role defined by God to both do good and to suppress, punish and deter evil. In this relationship government is even authorized and expected to use violence as necessary in order to bring about the justice and order necessary for human society in this present evil age. Believers are specifically told to submit to this governmental role, to pay taxes for the god-ordained role that it performs and to show special respect and honor for those who undertake these god-ordained duties. Given that these are godly activities that are ordained by God himself and that believers are commanded to support the governmental authorities who perform these duties, it would be the height of hypocrisy to say that believers themselves could not or should not serve in the role of governmental authorities because these authorities carry out duties that believers are expressly forbidden to undertake such as "love your neighbor as yourself", "do not avenge yourselves", "do not repay anyone evil for evil", etc.

Unfortunately, however, this is precisely the position taken by believers who teach that the NT prohibits the Christian believer from using violent force even in governmental positions. This point of view is usually based on interpreting the Sermon on the Mount as a new set of laws - that is, legalisms to be followed according to the letter - set forth by Christ rather than as correcting the misunderstanding or misapplication of principles of truth set out in the Mosaic Law. In fact, this truth as set forth by Christ was meant to be understood in the light of the OT prophetic statements such as God requiring his people "to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:6f). Jesus goes on to confirm, illustrate and teach these principles throughout the Gospels (Matt. 9:13, 12:7, 18:33; 23:23). In no way was Jesus doing away with the ethical teaching of the OT Law. The teaching of Romans chapters 12 & 13 - understood together in their own context - confirms the same OT position that believers have general societal obligations to love their neighbors including not to avenge themselves while at the same time it is precisely the role of government to do just that - as the avenger of God against the wrongdoer (Ex. 20-23; Lev. 17-19; Rom. 12 -13). To take the position that Christian believers are prohibited from serving in secular positions of governmental authority where violence must be used is to confuse the general societal obligations of believers in regards to their neighbors with the specific spheres or roles in society that have their own specific obligations and requirements and thus modify, qualify or build upon, the general societal obligations inherent in the ethical obligation to "love your neighbor as yourself." The reason for this governmental role is so that individuals can fulfill their general societal obligations - both working together for the good of society as a whole.

This common confusion about societal roles or spheres is a "category mistake" in the exact same way as it would be to say that a parent cannot punish his child with spanking, etc. because that would conflict with the statements to "love your neighbor as yourself", "do to others as you would have them do to you", "do not avenge yourselves" or "do not repay evil with evil". But this ignores the fact that it is certainly no love for one's neighbor to let your child run wild causing havoc to society. Nor is it love for one's neighbor to allow your neighbor to be robbed, raped or murdered by criminals. Nor is it love for one's neighbor to allow a country to be attacked and taken over by a brutal totalitarian government. Government is ordained by God and believers ethically can, historically have, currently do, and certainly should participate in it - as with all other aspects, roles, or spheres of life - so long as that particular governmental service is being conducted in accordance with the general principles of Romans 13:1-7. There are a huge number biblical examples - both in the OT and NT - in which believers (or those who become believers) - serve in various governmental positions.

Tellingly, not once in the Bible is a believer - or convert to Christ - ever told to resign his government position on the basis of that position being inherently evil nor is there ever even the slightest hint that governmental service is somehow "unclean" for a believer to participate in. Instead, the glowing portrayal of governmental service laid down in Romans 13:1-7 puts governmental service, if anything, on a pedestal as a profession that in and of itself is doing God's work in a unique, special and necessary way for the good of society - so long as it is in accordance with principles of Romans 13:1-7 itself. Just government is godly and it requires the use of violent force, as necessary, if it is to be effective. This certainly includes police work on its many levels according to the given society and it also extends to the concept of just war since the only alternative would be for a government to allow the wholesale promulgation of evil and injustice that government is itself ordained by God to prevent, suppress and punish. Arguably, two of the greatest evils that mankind can be faced with are brutal totalitarian government at one extreme and total anarchy at the other extreme. Proper, just, and orderly government is a great good in this world and is one of the greatest possible barriers to the promulgation of evil. Because of that believers are specifically commanded to pray for their governmental leaders so that as believers they can lead "quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and honesty" and, in the process, help carry out God's purposes of bringing the knowledge of the one true God and his salvation through Christ to the world (I Tim. 2:1-7).

But the Bible is also the most realistic of all books. Mankind is far from perfect. Therefore no human governmental system or legal system is, or will be, perfect; and, the pursuit of justice in police work, in a legal system, or in war will also never be perfect. But this is all the more reason why modern participatory democracies have a greater responsibility in making their political, legal, and defense systems as just as possible. It is also all the more reason why those - such as believes - who believe in justice should participate to a greater or lesser degree in the system according to their own callings, abilities, and situations in life. Even voting is a major participation and opportunity for promoting good that was not available for most of mankind during human history.

Finally, when government becomes on the whole unjust or when it moves towards totalitarian control or towards anarchy there are no specific biblical instructions as what to do. Of course, the believer's basic responsibilities of loving God and loving his neighbor remain the same. And, if living in this godly way brings persecution since there is no protection from an unjust or broken legal system then the believer is left with the general biblical principle that it is honorable to suffer for doing what is just and that God's justice and the believer's reward for righteous living will ultimately be accomplished in God's purposes and according to God's timetable. If, however, the believer lives in a society and historical situation in which he can help restore or bring about a more just governmental system then it seems to follow that this would be a godly and responsible thing to do. Nowhere does the Bible praise suffering simply for the sake of suffering. It is suffering for righteousness sake that the Bible praises. Paul himself suffered persecution often; however, as a Roman citizen he also demanded and expected that his rights as a Roman citizen be respected and upheld. He did not simply passively acquiesce in the face of injustice. In the same way believers should demand and expect that their rights within modern governments be upheld. Arguably, they should also participate in whatever way appropriate to them to make their societies more just. To not participate in righting an injust society when it is possible to do so seems to be against the whole tenor of both the Old and New Testaments. This could be true of any number of historical governmental systems but it is perhaps especially true that those who live in participatory representative democracies have a special obligation to strive for just societies since they have legal rights in helping to do so.

There are, of course, many other specific roles or spheres of life in which relationships have their own specific requirements that modify or qualify or build upon those ethical principles that the Bible sets out for one's relationship to one's neighbor in society as a whole. In ancient society this would have included master to servant and servant to master relationships - something that rarely exists today in the same way as existed then. As societies change the different types of relationships that are inherent in societies change. Believers must be able to understand the biblical principles of the OT and, especially, the NT in their original contexts and then to apply those principles - not legalisms - in new ways to the situations of today. This becomes a life of growing and maturing in Christ and thus learning to live in a Christ-like lifestyle: that is, "in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code" (Rom. 7:6). In other words, by living as Christ lived and living as Paul and the other NT believers lived within the real-life situations and historical circumstances of their lives as they sought to bring the good news of God's salvation to the world by way of their every thought, word and deed.

 

Richie Temple

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

 

June 14, 2010

God and Government: The Governance of Man as Ordained by God

The Classic statement of the biblical view of proper God-ordained government is found in Romans 13:1-7:

13:1 "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed." (ESV).

This simple and direct exposition by Paul is consistent with the biblical view from Genesis to Revelation and continues to set forth the God-ordained purpose and view of proper government for today. It is built on the God-ordained view of government set forth throughout the Old Testament (e.g. Gen. 1:26-28; Dan. 2:21, 4:17) and is supported also by Christ himself (e.g. John 19:11) and the rest of the NT writers (e.g. I Peter 2:13-14; Titus 3:1). No faithful Jewish or Christian believer would have ever considered that God did not rule the world or that human government was not ordained by him and responsible to him. Those were "givens" or fundamental "assumptions" of the biblical world view of any faithful believer whether in the OT or NT era. This can be seen even in the non-canonical inter-testamental book of the Wisdom of Solomon:

"Listen therefore, O kings, and understand; learn, O judges of the ends of the earth. Give ear, you that rule over multitudes, and boast of many nations; For your dominion was given you from the Lord and your sovereignty from the Most High; he will search out your works and inquire into your plans. Because as servants of his kingdom you did not rule rightly, or keep the law, or walk according to the purpose of God, he will come upon you terribly and swiftly, because severe judgment falls on those in high places. For the lowliest may be pardoned in mercy, but the mighty will be mightily tested. For the Lord of all will not stand in awe of anyone, or show deference to greatness, because he himself made both small and great, and he takes thought for all alike." (Wisdom of Solomon 6:1-7, NRSV).

This passage from the Wisdom of Solomon shows the implicit and necessary qualifications to the more direct statements of Romans 13 that would have been clear to any faithful believer of the Old or New Testament eras. In accordance with the Semitic way of speaking Paul sets forth the teaching of Romans 13:1-7 in direct statements of absolutes and leaves it to the reader to understand the necessary and implicit qualifications in the light of the Bible as a whole. Clear statements that qualify Romans 13:1-7 such as "we must obey God rather than men" - if there was a conflict between man's law and God's will - would have been obvious to believers of both the Old Testament and New Testament as abundant examples from Genesis to Revelation show (e.g. Daniel 3, 6; Acts 4:18-20; Rev. 1ff). Given the vast number of biblical examples available to them from the OT, the implicit qualifying principles such as always putting God first did not need to always be spelled out - they were simply givens or fundamental assumptions of the biblical world-view that any faithful believer would have recognized.

Romans 13:1-7 sets forth in clear terms the purposes of God-ordained government and man's (believers and non-believers alike) proper relationship and responsibilities to it. However, it is a biblical "given" that government is responsible to govern justly by providing for the common good and by punishing, suppressing and deterring evil. When government does not consistently fulfill its God-given responsibilities the believer must look to other biblical principles and to God himself as to how to act in any given situation. Both the Old Testament and New Testament counsel a consistent lifestyle of overcoming evil with good along with not taking personal vengeance or repaying evil with evil. Instead, in both the Old Testament and the New Testament vengeance is left to God and God has ordained that this vengeance be executed through his God-ordained governmental agents who are specifically appointed to attend to this matter for the good of society as a whole. When such government breaks down - as has happened so often in history - man (believers and non-believers alike) must determine the proper course of action to restore government to its proper function; or if that is not possible, how to best live within the context of an unjust and repressive society until, in God's providence, the possibility for change again exists.

The Bible, thankfully, is loaded with examples of believers living under any number of different governmental situations from which we can learn. Their responsibilities and responses to their governmental situations varied. What always remained - and remains - the same is the believer's view that God providentially rules and judges the world, that God-ordained government is ordained to be just, and that the believer's first and foremost responsibility is to live for God himself. All else - e.g. to what extent to participate in a representative democracy, to what extent to resist in an oppressive society, etc. - can only be determined by those who live in those particular situations. To limit, as some would do, the believers response to un-just government to options such as nonresistant quietism, non-violent civil disobedience, or, in time of war, to pacifism, etc. is to misunderstand and misrepresent the role of believers in the biblical scheme of God-ordained government within the light of God's over-arching purposes and plans for the world. But, we will have to wait and deal more with that topic in our next post.

Richie Temple

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

 

May 31, 2010

God and Government: God's Governance of the World

In the Bible - both in the OT and the NT - it is stated and assumed throughout that God rules over the world. The classic statement of this is in Psalm 103:19:

"The LORD has established his throne in heaven and his kingdom rules over all."

God's wise and just governance of the world - that is, God's "providence" - has two sides. First, the good, orderly, and inter-connected world which God has created, which he governs on an on-going basis, and which provides all that mankind - created in God's image - needs for a godly life on earth (Gen. 1; Psalm 8; Acts 14, 17, Rom. 1:18-20, etc.). Second, God's governance of the world also includes his punishment of sin and evil. In short, vengeance - carried out in various ways including via God's human agents - ultimately belongs to God alone (Lev. 19:18; Deut. 32:35; Rom. 12:19). God will reward good and he will also repay with just punishment those who practice sin in disobedience to his will. This will ultimately take place in full at the time of the final judgment on "the day of God's wrath." (Rom. 2:5-11; II Thess. 1:5-10).

Of course, this truth of God's providential rule of the world does not always accord well with modern day human thinking with respect to human beings' place in the world, their own human determination of rights and wrongs, and their own conception of human - rather than God-given - rights. Biblically, however, this vengeance of God against his disobedient creatures is based on the truth that God is the creator and human beings are actually creatures of God - not accidental products of chance and evolution - who are responsible to live according to God's will. Therefore, despite "the riches of God's kindness, forbearance and patience" in waiting for people to come to repentance, the day of God's wrath will ultimately come upon those who harden their hearts against God. (Rom. 2:4; II Pet. 3:8-10).

Nevertheless, God's vengeance is not completely left to the final judgment. Throughout history God has exerted his judgment and vengeance in a partial way in his providential governance of the world by various means. This includes, for example, the Noahic flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by fire and brimstone, the various plagues against Egypt including via the destroying angel, the partial destruction of the Caananites by the Israelites, the punishment and exile of the Israelites and Judeans via the Assyrians and then Babyonians, and finally the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem via the Romans in c. 70 A.D.

There are, of course, many more examples that could be given and all of them show God's continual involvement in the governance of the world since the time of creation. There is also no good reason to think that God has ceased his active governance of the world even if we no longer have direct biblical inspiration to enlighten us about such situations as they occur. For those who have eyes to see and ears to hear God's governance of the world becomes more and more evident the longer one lives as do the corresponding limitations of human beings to govern themselves well and to wholly solve their own problems.

Nevertheless, despite human limitations, God has appointed human beings the God-given authority, right and responsibility to govern themselves as an on-going extension of God's own governance of the world. This is evident from the original creation of man in God's image to rule over the earth and continues from Genesis to Revelation in the Bible. There is no set single prescribed form of government; instead, what is important is that rulers govern justly on God's behalf. This governance includes two basic aspects as set forth in the Bible's clearest exposition of the purpose of government in Romans 13:1-7:

(1) Promoting the common good of just society.

(2) Punishing, restraining, and deterring evil.

The forms of government in the Bible in which believers themselves hold positions or participate include among others: tribal government (Abraham and the OT Patriarchs, Job, etc.); tribal government within over-arching empires (Abraham and the OT Patriarchs); theocracy under Moses/Joshua/Judges (Israel in the wilderness and promised land); theocratic kingdoms (Israel and Israel/Judah under rulers such as David, etc.); Pagan empires of the OT (Joseph in Egypt, Israel/Judah in captivity with examples such as Daniel, etc,); Israel in return to the land of Israel under the leadership of Nehemiah while still under the rule of Persia; the pagan Roman Empire of the NT with various local forms of rule still allowed under Rome (Israel and the new covenant Church).

In all of these forms of government - both OT and NT - the rulers were considered to be ultimately subject to God and also "God-ordained" according to God's providential rule of the world by the believers of their times (Dan. 4; Isaiah 40). This did not, however, mean that believers agreed with all that was done by these rulers or that believers were not first and foremost responsible to live according to God's will. Nevertheless, in all of these forms of government - whether pagan or theocratic - faithful believers held positions of governmental responsibility. They could faithfully govern within all these forms of government so long as what they were required to do did not conflict with their greater responsibilities to God himself (e.g. Daniel, etc.). If that occurred they were, as throughout the Bible, responsible "to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). That responsibility to God first is a clear biblical "given" from Genesis to Revelation which no faithful believer would ever have considered otherwise. Nevertheless, in most occurrences faithful believers could govern even within pagan systems of government and accomplish much good in the process. This, of course, is in complete accord with the godly precepts of God-ordained government as outlined in Romans 13. No faithful believer in biblical times, however, would ever have thought that the governance of man was capable of perfection. Rather they saw it as a temporary part of God's providential rule of the world which one day would find its fulfillment in God's just and final judgement of the world.

This has also been the dominant view of most Christians and Christian rulers in the Western world since the time of Christ. It is the view arising from the Bible itself as stated and assumed from Genesis to Revelation. Perhaps the best illustration of this view is the famous request for prayer by Benjamin Franklin at the deliberations of the American Constitutional Convention of 1787 with which I will close. There is probably no time in human history when the various forms of human government available to mankind were more closely studied and scrutinized by such a sincere and earnest group of men. And yet, Franklin recognized the limitations of human understanding in such an endeavor, as he stated,

"Mr. President,
The small progress we have made after 4 or five weeks close attendance & continual reasonings with each other-our different sentiments on almost every question, several of the last producing as many noes as ays, is methinks a melancholy proof of the imperfection of the Human Understanding. We indeed seem to feel our own want of political wisdom, since we have been running about in search of it. We have gone back to ancient history for models of Government, and examined the different forms of those Republics which having been formed with the seeds of their own dissolution now no longer exist. And we have viewed Modern States all round Europe, but find none of their Constitutions suitable to our circumstances.

In this situation of this Assembly, groping as it were in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when presented to us, how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings?

In the beginning of the Contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayer in this room for the Divine protection. Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a superintending providence in our favor.

To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful Friend? Or do we imagine we no longer need His assistance? I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth -- that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?


We have been assured, Sir, in the Sacred Writings, that 'except the Lord build the House, they labor in vain that build it.' I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without His concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and bye word down to future ages ...


I therefore beg leave to move -- that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessing on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the clergy of this city be requested to officiate in that service."

This request by Franklin was denied by the Constitutional Convention due to their fear of sectarian interference in their work - not, because they did not believe in God's providential rule. That denial, however, most definitely did not disallow "God's governance in the affairs of men" which has surely continued from that point all the way until today irrespective of the actions of man. In sum, God governs in the affairs of men irrespective of the actions of man, and yet, God has also divinely ordained that man should govern justly over the earth on his behalf. We will consider this more deeply in our next blog.

Richie Temple

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

 


May 10, 2010

God and Government: " 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord."

Biblically, all people are created in the image of God, are responsible for their thoughts, words, and deeds to God, and one day will give a final accounting of their lives to God at the final judgment. This responsibility of man to God and his ultimate accountability to God is a biblical given, or assumption, that runs through the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation. No biblical writer nor any faithful individual believer within the people of God - Old Testament or New Testament - would have ever considered anything different. Biblically, therefore, all ultimate judgment for human thoughts, words and deeds is God's. That judgment can be exercised in this life as attested by numerous biblical examples; however, God's final judgment and justice will be finally and ultimately fulfilled at the last judgment. Man's judgment of his fellowman is meant to be patterned on God's justice; however, it is only temporary and partial and awaits the full revelation of God's final judgment when God's perfect justice will be fully displayed.

Because ultimate judgment and justice belongs to God, both the Old and New Testaments command God's people to refrain from personal vengeance and to allow for God's vengeance to be exercised instead. The key OT scriptures appealed to or alluded to throughout the Bible are from Leviticus 19:18 and Deuteronomy 32:35 and are fundamental with respect to God's responsibility and the responsibility of the old covenant believer as set forth in the Mosaic Law:

First, the believer's basic responsibility:

"Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself." (Lev. 19:18 NIV, TNIV).

Second, God's overriding and ultimate responsibility:

"It is mine to avenge: I will repay." (Deut. 32:35 NIV, TNIV)

The New Testament confirmation and continuation of this view is found throughout the pages of the New Testament and is perhaps illustrated most familiarly in Christ's Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7). However, it is most clearly and specifically stated in Paul's Letter to the Romans 12:19 which confirms it as a bedrock way of thinking for the new covenant believer:

"Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written:

'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord." (Rom. 12:19 NIV, TNIV).

In my lifetime of 55 years I would say that 95% of the Christians that I have met assume that this viewpoint of personal non-vengence is that which the New Testament represents in contrast to the Old Testament. They believe that this viewpoint began with Jesus and his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount and then continues throughout the New Testament as a new way of thinking and living in contrast to the vengeful attitude of the Old Testament in general and the old covenant Mosaic Law in particular. In a word, this way of understanding is simply wrong and has brought huge misunderstanding into the field of Christian ethics and morals.

The Old Testament in general and the Mosaic Law in particular mandates personal non-vengeance, personal non-retaliation, and personal love for one's enemies in a variety of ways (Ex. 20-23, Lev. 19). All of these principles are also understood to be included within the fundamental Mosaic Law's command for God's people to "love your neighbor as yourself." (Lev. 19:18). All of these principles are then confirmed over and over in the OT wisdom literature of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes (Job 31:29-32; Psalm 15; Prov. 20:22, 24:29, 25:21-22; Ecc. 12:13-14). Finally, these principles in a variety of ways are then made the focus of being the essence of true worship for God's people in the OT Prophetic literature (Hos. 6:6; Micah 6:6-8).

In the Sermon on the Mount and in his other teachings in the Gospels Jesus confirms rather than overturns these principles of the Old Testament Law (Matt. 5-7, 9:13, 12:7, 22:34-40, 23:23). Both in the Sermon on the Mount and throughout the Gospels Jesus is not teaching something that is ethically new but rather correcting misinterpretations and misapplications of the Old Testament Law. He begins the Sermon on the Mount by specifically stating that he did not come to abolish the Law and Prophets but to fulfill them (Matt. 5:17-20). And, he ends his ethical teaching in the Sermon on the Mount by summing up all that he said with the principle of doing to others as you would have them do to you, which in turn, also "sums up the Law and the Prophets":

"So in everything, do to others as you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." (Matt. 7:12).

Paul, in turn, speaking after Christ's sacrificial death, resurrection and the giving of the gift of holy Spirit confirms the new covenant perspective in the same way. In fact, Paul - whose ways were in Christ - does not quote Jesus, but rather quotes directly from the Old Testament to confirm the continuing view of the believer as being one of love for one's neighbor as seen, among other things, by personal non-vengence and love for one's enemies. Vengeance on the other hand, as in the Old Testament, is left to God.

And yet, at the very same time that both Old Testament and New Testament believers are commanded to practice personal non-vengence God's own vengeance is commanded to be executed both in the Old Testament and the New Testament through the legitimately constituted governing authorities who derive their authority and power from God himself (Rom. 13:1-7). These governing authorities are specifically called "ministers, or, servants of God." They also carry the specific designation of "avengers of God's wrath" who "do not carry the sword in vain" (Rom. 13:4-6). Believers are commanded to support them via taxes and with respect for their positions and there is no doubt that several NT believers actually occupied such positions of authority.

How can these things be? That will be the subject of my next blog post.

Richie Temple

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

 

April 18, 2010

God and Government: God's Final Punishment of the Unrighteous

Biblically, all human government derives its authority, legitimacy, and proper purposes from God almighty who is himself the sovereign ruler over all. This is stated and assumed from Genesis to Revelation and explicitly expounded in Romans 13 by the apostle Paul. Fundamental to this understanding is the truth that God is the creator and that man is a creature dependent upon and responsible to and accountable to God the creator. God actively rules and judges the world throughout the Bible and he has also delegated a subsidiary rulership and judgment of the world to man on his behalf.

Clearly, the Bible also teaches that all people will one day be judged by God at the time of the final judgment of the world and that the outcome of this righteous judgment will be final. For those who are counted as righteous the outcome will be eternal life - that is, life in the coming age of the kingdom of God. This will be life in a new immortal, imperishable, and glorious body that takes place in the imperishable realm of a new heavens and new earth of God's everlasting kingdom. This is the ultimate biblical hope and God's true intended destiny for mankind. For those who are judged as unrighteous the outcome will be eternal punishment - that is, a punishment pertaining to the final judgment and of the coming age. That final punishment will be a just judgment measured out according to the works of an individual and against the background of the motives of the heart. This punishment will ultimately end in a final destruction of the unrighteous and its effects will be final and, therefore, also everlasting.

Nowhere, however, does the Bible ever teach the concept of everlasting torment in hell. Instead, misunderstanding of these basic terms - eternal life and eternal punishment - has caused tremendous confusion over the centuries and continues to cloud the proper understanding of the biblical message. Would a good, loving and just God really condemn a person - no matter how wicked - to unending torment? How does that fit with the concept of justice that God expects from his creatures? One person who voiced his opposition to the concept of everlasting torment was Charles Darwin and he expresses what is an often cited view amongst intellectuals, agnostics and atheists:

"I can indeed hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so, the plain language of the text seems to show that the men who do not believe, and this would include my father, brother and almost all my best friends, will be everlastingly punished. And this is a damnable doctrine." (From Darwin's Autobiography, p. 87 as quoted in Janet Browne's recent biography Charles Darwin, Vol. II, p. 432).

Though one can acknowledge some truth in what Darwin says about the doctrine of everlasting punishment itself, the knowledge of what final punishment actually will be, biblically speaking, was available to him in the late 19th century just as it is to us today - that was especially true for someone of his wide contacts, acquaintances and eminent social position. His conclusion to reject Christianity is nothing less than a cop-out and an excuse to go his own self-seeking way. His problem with the doctrine should have been the launching point for an investigation of a matter that seemed inconsistent with the truth of the Bible as a whole - rather than, an excuse to reject Christianity itself. That's what it was for me and that's what its been for countless others in history up until today who have chosen to be honest in their search for truth. Let's be clear: the God of the Bible and the Christ of the New Testament are the supreme examples of love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness in all of history. They are also the supreme examples of bringing true righteousness and justice to the world. The sending of God's Son to die for the sins of the world is the greatest manifestation of God's own righteousness and of his love for mankind. Corresponding to this, the final judgment of the world will be the only event that will bring true and lasting justice, deliverance, and righteousness to the world. The wrongs of this present evil age will finally be righted, the injustices of an unjust world will finally be redressed, and the righteous will shine forth in the kingdom of their father. What godly, caring, compassionate, and righteous person would not want this to occur?

In sum, the final judgment of the world is certainly something to be feared and dreaded by the ungodly and to be taken with the greatest seriousness by all. However, it will be a just judgment that is according to works and the motives of the heart of the individual. Most importantly, the punishment of the ungodly will correspond precisely to the justice of God. It will not be everlasting torment but rather a punishment - however severe - that ultimately results in the final destruction of the ungodly.

We have several articles relating to this topic in our articles section of this web-site and I encourage you to read through them. However, for the purpose of showing the consistent biblical understanding of this subject - in contrast to the post-biblical understanding that developed over the centuries - I present the following excellent articles that were sent to me by Patrick Navas:

The Final End of the Wicked

Everlasting Torment Examined

Revelation 20:10

May our understanding of this immensely important subject be formed by the consistent biblical witness of both the Old and New Testaments rather than by the misunderstandings of post-biblical philosophies, traditions, art, and literature.

Richie Temple

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

 

April 4, 2010

Resurrection Sunday

My last post in my series on God and Government dealt with the biblical reality of a final judgment that will be coming upon the world in the future. In this Easter weekend it is perhaps useful to pause and consider the reality of what Christ's own resurrection means for us today. Let us ask: Will there really be a future resurrection of the just and unjust when every person will give account of himself before God? That is a vital question that every honest and sincere person should ask. It is amazing how many people who profess to be Christians have themselves had a hard time committing to this truth. However, biblically it is only a matter of believing in one crucial event which happened in history and that, thus, leads to another. The Old Testament foretold a resurrection of the dead and the New Testament clearly and boldly testifies that Christ, who died for our sins, was then raised by God from the dead never to die again. He is, therefore, the firstborn from the dead. If we choose to believe that then it follows, logically and biblically, that God will raise us from the dead in the future as well. Therefore, the key to believing in a future resurrection of the dead is to remember that you do in fact believe in the already accomplished resurrection of Christ some two thousand years ago. If God raised Christ from the dead he can, and will, raise us from the dead as well. The apostle Paul himself emphasizes these very truths:

12"But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men."

20"But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power."

50"I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true:

"Death has been swallowed up in victory."


55"Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?"[h]

56"The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

58Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain."

(I Cor. 15: 12-24, 50-58).

May these words of Paul to the church at Corinth be his words to us as well!

Richie Temple

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

March 29, 2010

God and Government: The Righteous Judgment of a Righteous God, Part II

Sam Harris who is considered to be one of the four horsemen of the "new atheism" was recently interviewed for a CNN article entitled "Philosopher: Why We Should Ditch Religion." Harris, portrayed by CNN as a scientist/philosopher, is often grouped together with three fellow atheists including the British scientist Richard Dawkins, the U.S. philosopher Daniel Dennet, and the Anglo-American journalist Christopher Hitchens. I can't imagine why anyone who has read any of their writings would want to read much more - except to help others to see their many errors - nor can I imagine much of anyone that I would less like for the youth of our times to hold as role-models. It is only in the modern times in which we now live that such morally bankrupt people could be held up as intelligent paragons of wisdom. Many books and articles have been written by others to show the many historical, theological, scientific, and philosophical errors of these writers. However, for the purpose of comparison of the biblical world-view here is what Harris had to say:

"For the world to tackle truly important problems, people have to stop looking to religion to guide their moral compasses," the philosopher Sam Harris told CNN.

"We should be talking about real problems, like nuclear proliferation and genocide and poverty and the crisis in education..."

"These are issues which tremendous swings in human well-being depend on. And it's not at the center of our moral concern."

"Religion causes people to fixate on issues of less moral importance," said Harris, a well-known secularist, philosopher and neuroscientist who is the author of the books "The End of Faith" and "Letter to a Christian Nation."

"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," he said.

"And, therefore, we talk about things like gay marriage as if it's the greatest problem of the 21st century. We even have a liberal president who ostensibly is against gay marriage because his faith tells him it's an abomination."

"It's completely insane."

Well, "sanity" is of course very much in the eye of the beholder. In contrast to what Harris says the Bible holds up each person's individual responsibility before God as primary. The most important issues of life are not the "big" issues that he describes but rather the issues of daily life of each individual person before God. The Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes sums up the Old Testament view as such:

"Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter:

Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.

For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing,

whether it is good or evil" (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 NIV).

This of course is the biblical view throughout beginning with the creation of mankind in Genesis 1:26-28 and continuing onwards. However, when one flips upside down the biblical relationship of God as creator and man as a dependent, responsible, and accountable creature we end up precisely where the non-recognition of God and his standards leads as clearly set forth in Romans 1:18-32 - that is, to a "depraved [debased (ESV), reprobate (KJV)] mind to do what should not be done" (Rom. 1:28-32 NIV). By refusing to recognize the God of the Bible Harris, in effect, becomes his own god and his own arbiter of right and wrong for himself - and, please notice, the arbiter of right and wrong for others as well. But, in contrast to what Harris says, it is precisely his frame of mind that leads to the practice of personal and corporate sin that brings about divine judgment throughout the Bible both in the Old Testament examples - provided in the last post - as well as in the New Testament, including in the Final Judgment.

In fact, following on the many examples of God's righteous judgment portrayed in history throughout the Old Testament the New Testament shifts it's focus to the Final Judgment. The Old Testament examples of God's judgment become examples for New Testament believers of God's righteous judgment that will take place in the Final Judgment at the end of the age. The last books of the Old Testament provide the clearest example of this shift in focus of thinking when it speaks of a future resurrection that results in some of the dead awakening to life of the age to come and others awakening to the shame and contempt of the age to come (Dan. 12:2). This forms the background of what Jesus and Paul both constantly refer to: a future and final resurrection of both the just and of the unjust (John 5:24; Acts 24:15) with their corresponding outcomes of life of the age to come ("eternal life") and punishment or destruction of the age to come ("eternal punishment" or "eternal destruction"). This final judgment thus began a demarcation in Jewish and, then, Christian thinking of a present evil age in which we now live that would be brought to an end by a final judgment and then replaced by a coming future age in which God's righteous kingdom would rule in a renewed heavens and earth. The day, or time, in which God's final righteous judgment would take place became known, among others terms, as "the day of the Lord" or "the day of God's wrath." The agent through whom God would bring about both this final judgment of the unjust and the liberating salvation of the just would be the Messiah or Christ - God's anointed Savior and King. It is around this Old Testament expectation, hope and fulfillment that the entire New Testament revolves.

Right at the beginning of New Testament the righteous judgment of a righteous God shifts dramatically to be focused on the final judgment and its resulting condemnation of the unjust and salvation of the just. With the coming of John the Baptist, Jesus the Messiah, and then of Paul the apostle the entire biblical perspective changes. God's righteous judgment as portrayed in the expression "the wrath of God" is still at work in the world (Rom. 1:18ff) however, everything is now primarily seen to be moving towards, and culminating in, that which occurs "on the day of God's wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed" (Matt. 3:7-10; Matt. 4:17; Rom. 2:5). The apostle Paul sets forth the biblical scope of God's righteous judgment in the New Testament's clearest passage on the subject in Romans chapter 2:1-11:

2:1 "Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. 2 We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. 3 Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed.

6 He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking [1] and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality." (ESV).

Paul's conclusion from all of this is that on the basis of works no one will be justified in God's sight. Fortunately, God has provided another way through the sacrifice of God's own Son for the sins of the world. Thus, God's own righteousness provides a justification and salvation solely on the basis of grace through faith in Christ (Romans 3:19-26).

The Gospel of John vividly presents the same truths:

16 “For God so loved the world, [9] that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:16-19 ESV).

All that Jesus, as the Messiah of God, says and does in the Gospels must be understood in this light. He is not a modern humanitarian philanthropist, nor a civic minded secular humanist, nor a nature loving green activist, nor a marching anti-war pacifist, nor a cynical yet hip college professor, nor even a British socialist archbishop - all of which many 19th, 20th and 21st century "scholars" would have us believe. Instead, as the Messiah of God he is uniquely concerned with the welfare of God's own people and then bringing others into that community of God's people. He is God's unique Son who makes known his father God by his divine words and works and who calls people to repentance and salvation in the light of God's coming judgment and salvation. In fact, it is our own attitude towards Jesus, the Messiah of God - faith in him or rejection of him - that is itself the determining factor of our own individual condemnation or justification with respect to the final judgment. We can go even further than that and say with Jesus and Paul that the one who believes in Jesus as the Messiah of God will not come into condemnation at the final judgment but has already "passed from death to life" (John 5:24; Eph. 2:1-8). This is the free gift of salvation received through faith in Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God. It is salvation from God's wrath to come at the final judgment and unto life of the age to come in the glorious kingdom of God. This is the "good news" of the gospel message and it is also the central truth of the entire New Testament itself (cf. John 3:16-36; John 20:30-31; I John 5:11-12).

But why is this message of "salvation" such good news? Because from the biblical perspective God's final judgment is indeed coming when every person will give account of himself before God. People can ignore it, hide from it, or even laugh at it as though it is a relic of the beliefs of a by-gone age. However, from the biblical perspective it is indeed coming and every single person will one day be subject to it. In the meantime God's providential rule and judgment over the world continues and the responsibility of human rulers to rule justly on God's behalf also continues (Romans 13). However, at God's final judgment of the world the true justice that all of God's faithful long for will at long last take place. In this truth God's people can be at peace in the midst of a world marred by sin and injustice - for, God's kingdom will finally come and God's will will be finally done "on earth as it is in heaven."

Richie Temple

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

 

March 22, 2010

God and Government: The Righteous Judgment of a Righteous God, Part I

The Bible right from the very beginning in the Book of Genesis presents God as the all-wise creator, sovereign ruler, and righteous judge of the heavens and earth. As the crowning achievement of God's creation man is created by God in his image to rule over the earth in a godly manner. As such man is responsible and accountable to God for his actions. This point of view continues throughout the entire Bible and there is never any deviation from it. Every single biblical writer wrote within this framework and none of them would have ever even considered anything differently. To read and understand the Bible correctly one must read it from this point of view. Unfortunately, many people tend to read into the Bible their own modern values of human rights and then judge God and man from their human point of view. They thus turn the biblical view of God as creator and man as creature on its head and thereby end up creating a skewed view of both God and man. But let us insist on this fundamental biblical view: irrespective of the rights, freedoms, and standards of justice guaranteed by human governments, God's righteous standards for conduct, accountability, and judgment remain the same. Following on this, each individual person is responsible and accountable to God himself and will one day be judged by him. All proper judgment of man by his fellowman is a subset of God's own judgment of man and is to take place in the light of the truth that man is a creature of God, the creator, and that man is created in the image of God to rule over the earth on God's behalf (Gen. 1:26ff; Psalm 8).

This truth is consistent throughout the Bible from Genesis to Revelation and is fundamental to understanding the biblical point of view. God does not create and then withdraw from the world to let it run on its own like a great clock. Instead, he is actively and personally involved in providentially governing the world and he himself judges repeatedly throughout the Bible. At the same time he expects man to rule over the earth and to judge righteously on his behalf. God's own judgment often proceeds from the fact that man has failed to live, rule and judge righteously himself and thus needs God's own divine righteousness expressed in his judgment on sinners and gracious salvation for his people in the light of his over-arching divine plan. There are many examples of God's own divine judgment throughout the Bible. Let us list a few of the major ones in the Old Testament:

1. God's Judgment upon Man and Woman in the Garden of Eden.

2. God's Judgment upon the human race in the Genesis Flood.

4. God's Judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah.

5. God's Judgment of the Egyptians.

6. God's Judgment of the Caananites.

7. God's Judgment of Israel in the their captivity to Assyria and Babylon.

Look at the context of each of these cases and it is crystal clear the reasons why God exercises his righteous judgment. In every case it is not forgotten that God is the creator and man is the creature. God's judgment is not random but always in response to idolatry, sin and corruption - usually on a massive scale. In other words, these accounts portray the righteous judgment of a righteous God upon his own creatures and creation in the light of his own created order and his own divine plan. The biblical writers never forget this point of view. It is always front and center in their minds and one of the major points is setting forth these accounts.

From the very beginning of Genesis it is assumed that man, created in God's image, knows intuitively from his own being and existence that there is indeed a sovereign creator God whom he should worship, trust and obey - a truth confirmed in God's creation itself (cf. Rom. 1:18-20). Following on this, it is also assumed throughout that man, created in God's image, knows instinctively from his own nature right from wrong and is thus responsible and accountable to God as his creator for doing what is right (cf. Rom. 2:14-15). Nevertheless, man consistently chooses to ignore God and to practice evil. He thus brings upon himself the consequent judgment of a righteous God. Of course, judged by modern day standards of human rights and human freedoms these judgments could be taken to portray God as an intolerant judge who does not respect the diversity of human rights, customs, traditions or freedoms in the world. However, judged by biblical standards this judgment is seen to be the righteous judgment of a righteous God upon a sinful humanity in which - as in the Genesis flood - "every inclination of the human heart was only evil all the time" and thus manifested itself in a sinful human society that was "corrupt in God's sight and full of violence" (Gen. 6:1-13).

Let us remember that God's plan in creation was not simply to create man and then let him do as he pleased - as though man has some special intrinsic importance or sanctity in and of himself apart from his proper relationship to God his creator. Instead, the intrinsic value of man retains its intrinsic value only if man retains his proper relationship to God his creator. Thus man's own standard for his conduct toward his fellowman is seen in terms of his being created in God's image and the responsibilities he has to rule over the earth in this regard. God's own judgment of man is based on this truth. Following on this, man's judgment of his fellow-man is also based on this truth as set forth clearly in Genesis 9:

"And from each human being too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being.

'Whoever sheds human blood,

by human beings shall their blood be shed;

for in the image of God

has God made humankind'" (Gen. 9:5-6 TNIV).

This standard of judgment for capital punishment stands on its head much of modern thinking concerning human sanctity of life and human rights. Nevertheless, this righteous and godly standard continues throughout the Bible and no biblical writer would have ever considered this standard to be anything other than a just and righteous standard (cf. Paul in Rom. 13:1-7; Acts 25:11). That is because biblically though man's intrinsic worth is equal to all other men, his worth as a living individual person is dependent upon living according to his proper relationship to God as one who is created in God's image. When human beings no longer recognize that relationship correctly their value system changes in a corresponding way so that as the Greeks and the Renaissance thinkers commonly said, "man is the measure of all things." This is an inversion of God's created order and, biblically, nothing could be farther from the truth. God and his righteous standards are the true measure of all things and it is by those righteous standards that God judges and that God's rulers are also to judge on his behalf.

Of course, there is more to these biblical examples of judgment than just judgment itself. In each case God not only judges man but also saves, cleanses, preserves and prepares in the light of his own ultimate plans and purposes for the good of mankind. God's judgment is always mixed with his mercy and grace. This, in fact, is a consistent theme throughout the Bible. God's righteous judgment is always in relation to the ultimate outworking of his plan for the good of his people and creation. In Genesis 1-11 faithful Noah along with his faithful progeny is a prime example of this out-working of God's plan. However, the entire section of Genesis 1-11 also works together to prepare and point the way to an even greater figure in God's plan whom we first meet at the end of Genesis 11. That figure is faithful Abraham, the one in whom and through whom, God will bring his blessing to the entire world (Gen. 12:1-3). But, in order to bring about this blessing to the world God continues to exercise his righteous judgment and expects man to judge righteously on his behalf. That perspective never changes in the Bible.

Richie Temple

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

 

March 8, 2010

God and Government: The Biblical Worldview

Throughout the Bible there are certain biblical givens, or assumptions, that are common to all of the biblical writers. Though these are stated or illustrated in various ways throughout the Bible, they are often simply assumed without any need for explanation. Instead, these assumptions formed the foundation for the biblical writers' worldview - that is, their basis for understanding of all matters including that of God and government. These biblical assumptions in relation to God and government include the following:

1. God is the all-wise creator, loving sustainer, and righteous ruler of the heavens and earth. As such, all things are under his sovereign and providential rule and he is always at work - far beyond human understanding - in guiding history to the fulfillment of his own divine purposes both for mankind and for God's entire creation. Ultimately, God's justice will prevail and God's purposes will be fulfilled.

2. God has created mankind in his own image to rule over the earth on his behalf. As such, man is responsible to live according to God's righteous standards in his relationship to both God and his fellowman who is also made in God's image. The biblical standard for justice is therefore summarized in the two great commandments of loving God and loving one's neighbor as oneself. Man is responsible and accountable to God for how he conducts his life in this light and man is also subject to God's judgment both now and in the future for that conduct.

3. All governing rulers - whether believers, pagans, or unbelievers - ultimately derive their power to rule from God and are ultimately responsible to God for governing justly. Their rule is for a limited time within God's overarching plan and their execution of justice is limited by the reality of the institutions, situations, and conditions in which they live. All - without exception - are accountable to God for how they govern and all are subject to God's righteous judgment both now and in the future.

It is vital to grasp the fact that this is the biblical worldview all the way through the Bible. It begins in Genesis and goes through the Book of Revelation. Though mankind lives under many systems of government during the course of history, God's standard - that is, what he truly desires from man - does not change in regards to justice. It is based on the truth that man is created in the image of God. Due to the entrance of sin the Bible looks at the world in the most realistic way yet never loses sight of its foundations. Throughout the Bible allowance is made for sin, man's hardness of heart, and the historical conditions in which man lives. Nevertheless, God's righteous and just standard always comes back to the truth that God has created man in his image to rule over the earth. Therefore men should reflect God's image in the righteous conduct of their lives. Though all men have fallen short of this standard, this purpose of God has been set-forth, or demonstrated, in the life of Jesus Christ, God's unique Son, who is himself the image of the invisible God. Christ's example thus becomes the standard, ideal and goal for all mankind. Ultimately, man's true destiny will only be fulfilled when he himself is transformed into the image of God's Son. This is a process that begins for a Christian in this life but will only be fully completed at Christ's future return. Until that time governing authorities are necessary - within the overarching plan of God - for the promotion of the common good and for the suppression, deterrence, and punishment of evil.

Much of what I've said above is a repetition of what I've already set out in my article Biblical Justice in the Light of the Biblical World View. Nevertheless, I thought it important to set out these fundamental assumptions that are shared by all the biblical writers. See my article for further explanation along with two other articles on God's sovereign rule:

The Reign of God

The Sovereignty of God

Biblical Justice in the Light of the Biblical Worldview

Richie Temple

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

 

March 1, 2010

God and Government: Introduction

During the past fourteen months our weekly Adult Bible Study Fellowship within Cary Christian Fellowship has been doing an intensive study of the subject of "God and Government." We began our study in the Book of Genesis and have gone all the way through the Bible studying everything that we could find pertaining to every aspect of this subject. For me personally the subject of God and government has also been the focus of a life-long study both from the perspective of the Bible and from the study of the related fields of history and government. This personal study began with a growing interest in the subject during my childhood up through high school. It continued through my college academic studies in history, government and international relations. Then it was put into practice by many years of living, studying, working and traveling in many different countries with often radically different governmental systems. It has also included over three and a half decades of teaching the Bible in a variety Bible study fellowships and house churches. And, finally, it has culminated in over a decade of teaching all areas of AP history and government at Woods Charter School, a college and university preparatory high school in Chapel Hill, North Carolina where I have had some of the best students and colleagues imaginable. Through all of these experiences - from childhood onwards - I have been a devout Christian who was concerned to live according to God's will. Because of this I have always endeavored to form my understanding of the subject of God and government against the background of what I believe to be a biblical world-view based on a proper understanding of the Bible as a whole.

This topic is, of course, often contentious amongst professing Christian believers. Nevertheless, it is too important a subject to ignore. So let me say, whatever others may think of me or my presentation of this subject it is my assumption that those who read this are normally going to be Christian believers themselves who, like me, are endeavoring to live principled Christ-like lives for God. It is unreasonable to expect that we will agree on every detail and some of us may simply disagree in principle on the topic as a whole. However, it is my fundamental belief that a person is a Christian - justified and saved - solely by God's unmerited grace through faith in Jesus Christ. I believe that this salvation is a gift from God and not a result of works on our part. Thus, a person can be a justified Christian believer while at the very same time holding to a wrong understanding of particular topics pertaining to the Christian life. I think it is obvious that we are all to some degree at least in that category. In fact, we are all at some particular point on the growth continuum that moves upwards towards full Christian maturity - a maturity not to be fully attained until Christ's return. Sincere disagreement on our understanding of particular biblical topics should not, however, call into question the Christian commitment of another professing believer. Due allowance should be made for each of us to grow in our understanding of biblical topics. Were there not a certain amount of at least apparent ambiguity in the details on this and certain other topics there would be no disagreement at all among believers. Thus, to frame this topic in the context of true Christian commitment or personal obedience or disobedience rather than differences in understanding is to poison the waters from the outset and can be an impetus to compel someone to go against his conscience. To do this is to go against the clear biblical teaching that God looks on the heart and will judge all people not only by their actions but also by their motives and intentions. Let us then frame this study with a sincere search to understand and apply God's word to our lives in the best way we are able despite our limitations as both fallible human beings and maturing Christian believers.

By way of introduction let me now set forth two fundamental guiding principles in this study along with some explanation of each:

1. As with all biblical topics we must first consider this topic from the point of view of the original intent and meaning of the Bible as a whole rather than from isolated sections.

The Bible presents a story of God's plans and purposes for mankind and the world; then the on-going accomplishment of those plans and purposes in both creation and the subsequent history of the world; and finally, it presents the ultimate fulfillment of those plans and purposes through the redemptive work of his unique Son culminating in the final new heavens and earth of the kingdom of God. This is one continuous story with many parts that is presented in many different historical eras, through many different literary genres, and over a period of thousands of years. To properly understand God's will for the present day the Christian believer must properly understand the biblical plan and history that preceded us and upon which we now stand. This is also true of our understanding of the subject of God and government which forms a part of that overall understanding of the Bible as a whole.

As we shall see, there is both continuity and change in the biblical presentation of this topic. First, there is a general continuity in the biblical picture of God's purpose for government from Genesis to Revelation in the Bible. That purpose can be summed up by the term - justice. That is, justice as defined by God the creator in relationship to mankind - his creatures - whom he has created in his image to rule over the earth. However, there are also certain changes that take place in terms of believers' relationship to government as we move through the Bible. For example, there is a change from the tribal governmental situation of the Patriarchal era in the Book of Genesis to that of Israel as a theocracy under the old covenant of the Mosaic Law beginning in Exodus. Later, however, the Israelitic theocracy is split, then taken into captivity and finally restored to its homeland. In all of these situations Israel is forced to live under and deal with ancient pagan governments of various kinds while at times still retaining some limited form of local and religious self-rule. When we come to the NT Christianity emerges out of Judaism with a fair degree of autonomy in its local house-churches but under the civil governmental rule of the Roman empire.

In all of these situations God's just desire for the role of government remains the same (eg. Psalm 82). It is a justice based on dealing with mankind according to the foundational truth that God has created all mankind in his image to rule over the earth. All people therefore are to revere God as the creator and to treat each other with the dignity and respect inherent in each being made equally in God's image. Government should be based on those two principles. However, as the history of mankind unfolds from the Book of Genesis onwards this basis for government is often not historically possible. The hope therefore emerges for the righteous rule of God to one day prevail and be established in a future Kingdom of God in a renewed earth. In the meantime, due to sin, the hardness of man's heart, and the many varied situations of history the believer must adapt himself to a variety of different governmental systems that stretch from Genesis to Revelation in the Bible. In all of these cases - both in the OT and the NT - the study of this topic of God and government necessitates understanding each scriptural section related to this topic in the light of its own original intention and meaning within its own particular historical context as well as in the light of the Bible as a whole. That is what we will earnestly endeavor to do.

2. Once we have considered the scope of the entire biblical view about God and government our fundamental and culminating Christian perspective must then be shaped by the new covenant perspective of the Christian believer.

The new covenant era of salvation began on the day of Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2:1ff. and all of the NT Letters are written in the light of that new reality. The new covenant was foretold in the OT and is based on the sacrificial death and resurrection of Christ and then the giving of God's gift of holy Spirit to all - both Jew and Gentile - who have faith in Christ as the crucified and risen Son of God. The new covenant is not a covenant of the letter, but of a "life-giving Spirit" (II Cor. 3:6, Rom. 8:1-2) and those who live within it are to live Christ-like lives "in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code" (Rom. 7:6). It must be emphasized that the new covenant era of salvation did not begin in the period of time recorded in the Gospels. Otherwise what did Christ die for?! Instead, the Gospels set the stage for the coming of the new covenant era as recorded in the Book of Acts and the NT Letters. Therefore, once we have considered the entire biblical view about God and government our fundamental and culminating Christian perspective must then be shaped by the new covenant perspective of the Christian believer who - through faith in Christ and the corresponding reception of the Spirit - is now both a new creation "in Christ" (Eph. 2:8-10, II Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:14-16) and, as such, someone whose manner of life, as with the apostle Paul, is to be conformed to the mind of Christ - but, only "in the new way of the Spirit, not in the old way of written code" (Rom. 7:6; I Cor. 2:6-16, 4:14-17, 11: 1; 2 Cor. 10:5; Phil. 2:5ff; etc.).

Thus, the Christian perspective must be built on God's original intent for mankind found in the OT as being created in the image of God. Then on the example of the life and teachings of Christ - who is himself the image of the invisible God - in the Gospels. However, the primary and governing focus must be that of the new covenant perspective in Christ as set forth in the in the NT Book of Acts and the NT Letters. It is the Book of Acts that sets forth the out-pouring of the gift of holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost that began the new covenant era of salvation and it is both the Book of Acts and the NT Letters that explain the proper understanding and application Christ's life, death and resurrection in the new covenant era of salvation that has followed. It is in the Book of Acts and the NT Letters that we see the Spirit leading the new covenant believers into "all truth" - that is, into a greater understanding of the new covenant itself and into new and varied applications of the truths of the new covenant, just as Christ himself had foretold.

Therefore, in terms of the subject of "God and government" it is not, for example, the old covenant Mosaic Law nor Christ's Sermon on the Mount that are the governing words on the subject; rather, it is the whole-Bible view seen now from the perspective of a new covenant believer in Christ. The fullest exposition of the whole-Bible view as it pertains to the Christian believer in the new covenant era is Paul's presentation in his Letter to the Romans in chapter 13. That perspective is built on and in continuity with the perspective of the entire Bible including that of the Old Testament and of Christ himself. As Christians today, our own applications of the biblical teaching about God and government - under whatever type of government we ourselves may live - must therefore first and foremost be governed by a correct understanding of Romans 13 and the companion new covenant teachings such as I Peter 2:13-17, I Timothy 2:1-8, Titus 3:1-2, etc. Of course, as is true throughout the Bible, these verses must always be understood along with the ever-present and consistent biblical qualifier of "we must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). Whenever any government demands that we obey it before, or rather than, God our duty to God comes first.

The new covenant perspective presents the believer in Christ as one who is even now a citizen of the coming kingdom of God by virtue of having received the gift of God's Spirit. This gift of the Spirit is the down-payment, or first-fruits, of the believer's future inheritance in the coming kingdom of God. Perhaps the greatest example for how to live as a Christian today as a citizen of God's kingdom while also living under earthly governmental systems of this world is the apostle Paul. Paul, of course, patterned his own life after Christ and exhorted other Christians to do the same. Neither Christ nor Paul would have ever even contemplated, much less sanctioned, any attempt to set up God's kingdom on earth by force of arms or by waging war as in some sort of religious crusade (John 18:33-36; II Cor. 10:1-5; Eph. 6:10-18). On the other hand, both Jesus and Paul would, and did, expect that governmental authorities were responsible to God to execute justice on earth in a manner consistent with the authority given those rulers by God himself (eg. Rom. 13, etc.). In this they were entirely at one with the Old Testament perspective (eg. Psalm 82, etc.). Both also believed that proper governmental rule was normally a benefit to the accomplishment of God's purposes (eg. I Tim. 2:1-8), though they also recognized, in unity with the OT, that God could even turn unjust governmental rule to the accomplishment of his own purposes - the crucifixion of Christ being, of course, the supreme example of this.

Paul, however, lived in a very different situation than Christ. He thus applied the principles - not the literal "letter" - which Christ had taught and lived his own life under the changed conditions of the new covenant era brought about by Christ's sacrificial death and resurrection by which he mediated and instituted, via the Spirit, a new covenant between God and man. Paul also lived in different political, geographical and historical situations than Christ. While Christ was on earth he lived as a Jew under the local religious rule of Judaism but also under the over-arching civil rule of the Romans. During his life he came face to face and dealt with the legal systems and power of both Judaism and Rome. However, he had few legal rights in comparison with Paul and his mission was quite, even radically, different since ultimately he was sent to die for the sins of the whole world. His ministry on earth was primarily to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, though even then his whole life and teaching pointed forward to his future sacrificial death, resurrection, giving of the Spirit, and the new covenant to come. He thus ministered faithfully to Israel until it was time for him to give his life as a ransom for the sins of the world as the mediator of the new covenant; thus, opening up a new era in God's plan of salvation for all mankind. Not via a covenant of the letter, but a covenant of the Spirit; for, as the Apostle Paul was to later state, "the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life" (II Cor. 3:6).

The new covenant, then, changes the biblical perspective and the Christian believer must see everything through this changed perspective. As such, Paul "whose ways were in Christ" becomes one of the supreme examples of how to live as a Christian believer with respect to the subject of God and government. Paul not only penned (or dictated) Romans 13 but also - as a "dual citizen" of heaven and Rome - he lived as a citizen of God's kingdom while also zealously claiming his own legal rights as a Roman citizen. Paul's mission was not die for the sins of the world but to bring the liberating life-giving message of the new covenant to the world by being a "living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God" (Rom. 12:1-2ff). Thus, Paul's words in Romans 13 must be understood in the light of his new covenant perspective and his own personal example in the Book of Acts and in his NT Letters of his own actions with respect to both local governments and the over-arching Roman government. Thus, in contrast - but not in contradiction - to Jesus Paul did not "turn the other cheek" to Jewish injustice; instead, he demanded of justice both of the Jewish officials and of himself in accordance with principles of Jewish law (Acts 23:1-5; cf. John 18:19-23). Nor did he "go the extra mile" in the face of either Jewish or Roman injustice. Instead, at times he demanded his full rights as a Roman citizen and even relied on the use of force - both actual and implicit - by Roman soldiers, as necessary, in order to protect both his life and his legal rights as a Roman citizen (Acts 23:10 - 35). Paul's teaching and example are both simply loaded with principles which we as citizens can study and apply to our lives today. Logically, we ourselves should follow his example by asking how those new covenant principles relating to God and government apply to us in our own situations today. This is ultimately the main point of our quest for understanding in this study. Like Paul then, let us do this "in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code" (Rom. 7:6).

I will end today's blog by presenting three articles which deal with this topic from the perspective set out above. These will give a pretty good feel for the topic as a whole. The first article is an excellent, straight-forward exposition of Christian Citizenship in the light of Romans 13 by my good friend Chuck LaMattina. The second article is by me on the topic of Biblical Justice in the light of the Biblical World-view. The third is by J. Daryl Charles on the subject of Just War and is entitled "Between Pacificism and Jihad." This Just War aspect of the topic is often the main point of conflict amongst Christians on this subject of God and government and so it's good to get it out on the table immediately so that we can think about it as we move along. Charles' article presents biblical justice - and by extension, Just War - as a sort of golden mean between the extremes of pacifism and crusade (or Jihad). Since publishing this article not long after the events of 9/11 Charles has written a similarly titled book on the same subject.

Now, the articles:

Christian Citizenship

Biblical Justice

Between Pacifism and Jihad

I will try to blog every week (or two) and then publish them on Mondays. I welcome your comments and will try to interact with them as best I can.

Richie Temple

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

 

Feb. 18, 2010

New Year Web-site Up-date

The new year has been with us now for about a month and a half and I've been working during this time on updating the web-site. Now I'm ready to starting to blogging again on a more consistent basis - hopefully, weekly. Over the years we've had quite a few compliments about the web-site and it seems to have been useful and a blessing for many. We appreciate those compliments and we also appreciate suggestions for making the web-site even more useful. It has never been our purpose, of course, to pretend that we have a corner on the truth. Instead, we try to present our own biblical studies along with additional web-sites, articles, etc. by others that we believe offer solid presentations of biblical topics, even if we do not agree entirely on every biblical issue. This has always been the purpose of The Unity of the Spirit both in its newsletter form and now in its web-site form as well. In short, our goal has always been to make available as much solid information as we can about the Bible and about living the Christian life within the context of endeavoring to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.

Let me review briefly the current format of the The Unity of the Spirit web-site and explain our offerings and up-dates. At the top of the page we have our headings for our own recommendations, articles, book-reviews, and the archives of every past issue of our newsletter The Unity of the Spirit. I've made a few up-dates to the recommendations section and Scot Hahn has done an extensive revision and updating of our book reviews. One thing I would call everyone's attention to is that the NIV will be updated in a new edition coming out in 2011 that will attempt to incorporate the best features of the current NIV and the TNIV. At that time both the current NIV edition and the TNIV will no longer be published. Hopefully, this new 2011 edition will achieve the goals of the translators and will prove to be an excellent version of the Bible for all-around use. It will probably be a good first translation for many people and at least a second or third version for comparative purposes for others. Of course, given the uncertainties of Bible translations you might want to also be sure to have a good current NIV and TNIV to hang on to as well.

Moving on, in the right hand column we continue to present an on-line version of my book God's Plan of Salvation as well as my on-line introductory class on understanding the Bible entitled "God's Living Word". I wrote the first edition of the book over 16 years ago and this on-line version represents a slight variation of the second edition published in 2001. A book version is available for free. Just e-mail me if you'd like one. If you listen to the on-line class "God's Living Word" be sure to also use the syllabus which was prepared primarily by Scot Hahn. In fact, if you have a choice of listening to the class or reading/studying the syllabus, do the latter!

Below these offerings we continue to list web-sites where you can read many of the major Bible versions on-line. Bible Gateway is particularly good for comparative study and most of the sights have excellent additional information, articles, blogs, etc. about their own versions as well.

Just beneath these Bible version web-sites we've listed various interesting and informative web-sites relating to Bible study or Bible related topics. Different people will find different sights interesting for them and many will probably want to skip them all-together. Many of these, however, are loaded with good articles on biblical topics and related matters. I hope many of you will take some time to check them out thoroughly and see what they have to offer. Though not always agreeing with everything said on these web-sites, we believe that all of them have excellent and interesting information, articles, blogs, etc. A few comments on these web-sites:

Better Bibles Blog: this site is run by Wayne Leman a Bible translator and linguist and has lots of interesting information and blog discussions aimed at making better Bible translations. There are a lot interesting contributors to the discussions and there are a fairly wide range of theological backgrounds and viewpoints, though theology per se is not allowed into the discussions except as to how it relates to translation.

Koinonia: this is a site for many Bible scholars who are associated with Zondervan Publishing Co. There are some very interesting blogs and a wide variety of topics discussed about biblical matters. It is theologically conservative on the whole.

The Centre for Public Christianity: this is a very interesting, biblically sound, and informative web-sight dealing with all manner of topics related to Christianity. It is centered in Australia and its written and video/pod-cast, etc. presentations are of the highest quality.

Evangelica: This is certainly one of my favorite blogs. The sight is run by Michael Bird (Australian) and Joel Willitts (American) who are both young (by my standards) biblical scholars and academics. They try to keep the rest of us abreast of what is happening in the biblical/theological world and their blog-posts run from the simply informative to highly entertaining to both theologically interesting and perceptive. Being one generation older than these guys and being familiar with both the biblical scholars, etc. of my generation and older it is interesting for me to compare the perspective of an up and coming generation of Bible scholars, teachers, and academics.

C.S. Lewis Society: This name speaks for itself. Though the biblical accuracy of C.S. Lewis sometimes leaves something to be desired, he nevertheless was full of biblical, theological, historical and literary wisdom. All of which was framed by his adult-life conversion to Christianity and his serious study of the Bible and its applications throughout the rest of his life. One can agree with his general train of thought and his immense wisdom without feeling the need to agree all of the details of his biblical exposition. This web-site offers much and also has a keen focus on issues of intelligent design and the surrounding debate.

Touchstone: this website is loaded with many interesting articles combining biblical, theological, historical and current events issues. There are very many contributors do it from a variety of Protestant, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox persuasions. It is a publication of the Society of St. James which is theologically conservative and seeks to present sound Christian scholarship to the public on a variety of issues.

Evangelical Philosophical Society: this sight is also loaded with many good articles and its blog is first class. It deals in a serious way with many different issues from an evangelical perspective with first rate scholarship.

NT Wright Articles: This web-site offers a collection of most of the works of NT Wright with the exception of his books which can all be found at www.amazon.com. or the like. NT Wright is probably the most well-known biblical scholar in the world today. He is also the Bishop of Durham in the Anglican Church and thus also sits in the British House of Lords in the British Parliament. I've been a familiar with him for over 20 years going back to his articles in Bible Review and his debates in the USA with the so-called Jesus Seminar. Since those times he has written hugely important and voluminous writings on Christian origins both at a scholarly and popular level. I've read most of these as they were published. His historical scholarship on early Judaism and Christianity against the background of the Roman empire builds on and expands the work of many earlier scholars and sets the proper understanding of Christianity in its true historical context. His writings, interviews, sermons, speeches, etc. are always interesting, very often enlightening, and sometimes maddening :) ! Though I often differ with some of the details of his biblical exposition (and of his politics), his overall understanding and presentation of the biblical message is very sound and is extremely refreshing coming from both the world of academia and the world of mainline Christianity. We hope to a do a book review of his major books soon. There is little that Wright has not thought or written about and he is a staunch, articulate, and persuasive defender - and advocate - of biblical Christianity as it pertains to all areas of life.

The Paul Page: this sight that was begun and is run by Mark Mattison is dedicated to the discussion of the so-called "New Perspective on Paul". Briefly, this deals with endeavoring to understand Paul and his writings from within his own Jewish historical context. There are many flavors and aspects of this topic and this web-sight offers a huge number of excellent articles from many different perspectives on this entire debate.

The next four web-sites listed on the right hand column are primarily devoted to detailed and academic research and study of the scriptures. They are all excellent for that purpose and taken together they seem to offer an almost limitless supply of information, leads, and links to serious biblical study.

Finally, I list a brief outline of a work by Phillip Johnson who was the driving force behind the intelligent design movement. This is a summary of the basic principles of intelligent design in contrast to those of Darwinian evolution. I know of no better resource for understanding the basics of the debate. This is followed by a web-site run by the Discovery Institute devoted to Intelligent Design and gives access to most of the major books, articles, blogs, etc. associated with this school of thought. Anyone willing to take the time to explore this sight and the related sights to which it links will find a wealth of information on this timely and extremely important topic.

I hope to start blogging on a weekly basis aiming at Mondays. I hope you'll check in and I look forward to hearing from you and growing together with you in Christ.

Richie Temple

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

 

Dec. 25, 2009

Christmas Day and the Gospel of Life

The Gospel of John is often called the "the Gospel of Life". It is not a biography of the life of Jesus. Instead, it is a presentation of God's plan of salvation being effected by God himself through the creative and redemptive work of his own "Word" - through which God first creates the world and through which God eventually brings salvation to the world in the human person of his unique Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. The blessings of this redemption, salvation and "life" are thus made available to the entire world and can be received by anyone who freely chooses to accept and believe "that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." The beauty of the message of this "Gospel of life" deserves to be front and center on this Christmas day when we celebrate the coming into the world of God's unique Son. Following are some key sections in the Gospel of John which present the story-line from beginning to end:

John 1:

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only [Son], who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, "This is he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.' ") 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only [Son], who is himself God [in his self-revelation] and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. (John 1:1-18 TNIV).

John 3:

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 All those who do evil hate the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But those who live by the truth come into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. (John 3:16-21 TNIV).

John 17:

1After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: "Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. 2For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. 3Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. 4I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. 5And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began. (John 17:1-5).

John 20:

30Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31 TNIV).

This is truly the "Gospel of Life"! May God bless you all in this joyous season of the year as we remember God's love as expressed through the redemptive work of his Son!

Richie Temple

richie@unity-of-spirit.org


Nov. 11, 2009

Veterans Day

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year 1918 the guns of the Great War - eventually to be called World War I - stopped. For many of those who experienced it the silence that followed was deafening and the new reality that was created was surreal. The armistice that was signed at that time between Germany and the Allied powers led to the end of the bloodiest, most destructive, and most geographically far-reaching war that the world had ever seen. The political order of the world was changed forever and all of those who participated in, or who lived through, that war were also changed forever. Included in that number were many professing Christians - on all sides - including my own American grandfather. In the following year of 1919 President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the day of November 11 a day to be celebrated as Armistice Day in honor of those Americans who served in the war.

Twenty years later on September 1, 1939 Nazi Germany invaded the Republic of Poland thus beginning what came to be known as World War II. This shattered the human illusion - perpetuated by the pacifism of Western governments in the 1920s and 30s - that World War I had, in fact, been a "war to end all wars" or a war "to make the world safe for democracy". The massive death, destruction and horror of World War II swamped that of World War I and at its end brought us into the era of the nuclear age - an age in which for the first time man had the power to literally destroy himself and the entire inhabitable world by weapons of his own making. This war also realigned the political order of the world, set the lines for the Cold War, and changed the lives of all who participated in, or lived through, it. So far-reaching were its effects that it touched all continents and all peoples of the world to a greater or lesser degree. As with World War I it also included the participation of many professing Christians including my own father, two uncles, and many, many friends and acquaintances. In 1954 President Eisenhower and the U.S. Congress changed the name of Armistice Day to Veterans Day in honor of all veterans of America's wars. In many other nations that same day of November 11 is still remembered and commemorated as Armistice Day, Remembrance Day, or by other names, in honor of veterans or veterans who died in World War I and other wars.

It is the united testimony of the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation that God has appointed man to rule justly over the earth as those who are created in his own image (Gen. 1:26ff). There is, however, no Biblical mandate for a specific type of government and we see different forms of government throughout the Bible. What is important is that it governs justly under God on behalf of its people. There is nothing more tragic than when just government of whatever kind breaks down. The foundations of orderly society are destroyed and the vulnerable of the world become the prey of corrupt rulers (Psalm 82). When necessary just government necessarily entails participating in just wars. To refuse to do so is to neglect proper governmental responsibility and to leave a nation's people prey to the destructive forces of evil and to all the injustice that follows. As a Christian believer who fervently believes in the God-ordained role of just government as well as in just war as a necessary part of fulfilling just government - I also today "give honor to those to whom honor is due" (Rom. 13:7). That is, I give honor to those who in service to the just ideals of their nations are veterans of their militaries in their nations' wars. As an American I particularly pay tribute to my fellow Americans - including many relatives, friends and even former students - who have served as veterans in wars in which America has participated over the course of the last century - the great majority of which I believe to have been just wars on behalf of the welfare of the people who were otherwise subject to greater injustice.

Above all, I give honor to those fellow-Christians who served honorably in these wars in the cause of justice, irrespective of the difficulties and imperfections of the moral, ethical or practical considerations that war often entails. War takes the complications of life in this present evil age to perhaps its highest level; and, just as the Christian should not seek to escape from the responsibilities of life and citizenship in normal society, so he should not seek to escape from the responsibilities of life and citizenship in wartime society. The Bible is full of examples of believers who served in government and military positions such as Joseph, David, Esther, Daniel, etc. These even included service in Pagan governments of all kinds with no expectation ever stated or implied that these believers should depart from those positions - unless, they were compelled to live contrary to God's commands.

In Romans 13:1-7 the apostle Paul sets forth in plain and simple language the fullest expression of the God-ordained purposes of government and the believer's responsibility in regards to it. In fact, Paul's teaching summarizes the entire Biblical perspective and is itself a carry-over from the Old Testament perspective. On the whole, this perspective would have been a given for the Jewish faithful including Paul himself. Clearly, believers - both Old Testament and New Testament - were expected and commanded to respect, honor, obey and even pay taxes to support the purposes of just government. They thus become supporters and implicit participants in just government including its just responsibilities of promoting good and also of "bearing the sword" for the restraint and punishment of evil. Clearly this includes what we today would consider police work within our own nations, states, cities, and towns. However, it would be artificial and naive to think that such law enforcement stops at the borders of one's own nation. The upholding of justice - including the use of military force - extends beyond one's own borders when necessary. Threats to a nation's people are both internal and external. This has always been the case. In addition, true justice is justice under God and cannot be confined to a single geographical area. To the degree that a government can increase that justice it has an obligation to help do so. Ultimately, all people everywhere are responsible and accountable to God and will one day be judged by him. Government provides a temporary - though imperfect - measure of God's justice in this present evil age for the promotion of good and the restraining and punishment of evil until the time of God's final judgment when justice will fully be brought to its fullest expression.

That Paul believed in these principles and put them into practice himself is clearly shown by his own life in relationship to the Roman government of his day and his own exercise of his rights of Roman citizenship as set forth in the Book of Acts and his NT Letters. Over and over he depended upon the Roman government - including the implicit use of force if necessary - for his own protection as a Roman citizen. However, this is simply a continuation of the same perspective of government that began in the Old Testament and continues throughout the New. Of course, as in all matters of Biblical ethics the application of these principles must be made according to the given individual historical situation and according to the conscience of the individual Christian believer who is faced with real-life decisions in that historical situation. As in all matters our first responsibility is to God himself. Therefore, in matters of government responsibility - including military - if ungodly acts are demanded of Christians who are citizens of a given state by that state then our Christian responsibility is clearly "to obey God rather than men." (Acts 5:29). But that is the exception, not the rule. As a rule government is instituted for just reasons and those who help carry out its just function - especially those who put their lives on the line in its cause - are deserving of the respect and honor due to them.

History, of course, will not be the ultimate judge of the justness of wars or of the justness of the acts and decisions of the individuals who fought in these wars; instead, as with all things and all people, God himself will be the final judge. And, of course, as in all things we can be assured that God's judgment will be just in weighing both the acts and motives of the hearts of all of those involved including sincere Christian believers (I Cor. 4:1-5). Most importantly, we can also rest assured that this same God who created the world with a purpose and plan in mind was actively at work during those wars just as he has been actively at work throughout history in bringing about his own sovereign purposes for the good of his own people, his own creation, and to his own ultimate glory as a merciful, just, and all-wise God (Gen. 50:19-20; Job 42:2-3; Psalm 103:19; Dan. 4:28-33; John 19:10-11; Rom. 11:33-36; etc.).

Richie Temple

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

 

Aug. 18, 2009

The Name "Christian"

Since New Testament times if a person is to know and live for God he must come to God through his Son, Jesus Christ. This is the essence of NT Christianity and the entire New Testament revolves around it. The NT is focused on Christ because Jesus Christ was, and is, the Son of God through whom God has most fully revealed himself to mankind and through whom God has brought salvation to the world. Very simply, Christ is "the way, the truth, and the life" and through him any individual person can "come to the Father" and "know the Father" as his personal God (John 14:1-10). For those who choose to believe in, and thus follow, Christ there is no more appropriate or honorable name than "Christian".

I have always loved the term "Christian". It is a name by which I have identified myself since childhood because I was born into and brought up in a Christian family and a Christian church. The term "Christian" is biblical, appearing three times in the NT, and it is significant in several respects. First, it immediately identifies a person as a believer in, and follower of, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is also a term that immediately identifies a Christian as a member of the worldwide Christian community - a community that transcends denominational and sectarian divisions as well as local Christian churches of whatever kind. Finally, the term "Christian" focuses immediate attention on that which is central to Christianity. When people ask me what I believe as a Christian I usually sum it up by stating the central truths of God's plan of salvation, all of which focus on Christ:

1. Believe in Christ,

2. Live a Christ-like life,

3. Until Christ's return.

There is plenty of detail to be un-packed from these central truths focusing on Christ and I have tried to do it some extent in my own booklet "God's Plan of Salvation". However, the best way to maintain unity in Christianity is to begin by focusing on these most important central truths and then working down to the details from there. Calling ourselves "Christians" helps to achieve this and it is a name that can, and should, be borne humbly, proudly, and honorably by "all who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ - their Lord and ours" (I Cor. 1:2).

One of the highlights of my summer - from amongst many - has been making the acquaintance of a young Christian scholar from California by the name of Patrick Navas. Patrick is thirty years old and is a student of history, theology, and biblical studies. He has already published a major - and massively documented - book entitled "Divine Truth or Human Tradition" which we will be reviewing later. However, in recent weeks we've had the opportunity to read some of his other articles many of which are focused on bringing unity to the worldwide Christian community by presenting the original intent and meaning of the the truth of the Bible itself rather than post-biblical traditions, creeds, and institutional structures or dogmas. This, of course, is the exact purpose of "The Unity of the Spirit" web-site and we look forward to working together with him in the future and making more of his work available on this web-site. What follows is a highly recommended article which Patrick has written entitled:

"Thoughts on the Name Christian".

Do yourself a favor and delve into it. It will bring honor to the name "Christian" that we all as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ humbly and proudly bear.

Richie Temple

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

 

July 4, 2009

The Meaning of Life

When I get up in the morning each day the first thing I do is turn my thoughts to God and ask him to help me to live for him to the best of my ability throughout that day. I then spend whatever time that is necessary in prayer, Bible reading or study, and meditation on the things of God to prepare myself for that day. I am admittedly a "morning person" and I typically get up early to give myself time to do this. In fact, I've been doing this for the last 35 years of my life and it has become an established pattern and habit for me. However, whether or not one is a "morning person" it seems evident that in one way or another each of us should prepare our minds each morning - whether through a few minutes or hours - to live for God that day. Often I begin with some of my favorite Psalms such as Psalm 1 which I read in either the ESV or NIV since they preserve the original Hebrew singular representative "man" of verse 1 which, though equally applicable to both men and women, being singular retains the very personal aspect:

"Blessed is the man

who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,

or stand in the way of sinners,

or sit in the seat of mockers.

But his delight is in the law of the LORD,

and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree planted by streams of water,

that yields its fruit in season,

and whose leaf does not whither.

Whatever he does prospers.

Not so the wicked!

They are like chaff that the wind blows away.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,

nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous,

but the way of the wicked will

perish."

(Psalm 1 NIV).

This Psalm has been a foundation for my life since childhood. There are few Psalms that are as straightforward, vivid, and to the point as this one, and it is not by accident that it was chosen to be placed at the beginning of the Psalter as Psalm 1. This Psalm sums up the Old Testament perspective of what makes man "blessed" in this life. Now "blessed" is a word that's thrown around a lot in popular culture as well as in popular Christianity. For a good understanding of the word "blessed" in its biblical context and for a good understanding of the entire structure and meaning of Psalm 1 I highly recommend the NIV Study Bible notes on this Psalm. Take the time to read them, study them and understand the Psalm in its original meaning and context. However, what is immediately obvious to any unbiased reader is that the "blessed man" is "blessed" precisely, and only, because his life is lived in proper relationship to God.

I've often been asked by others what is perhaps the greatest question of all, "What is the meaning of life?" My reply is always simple and straightforward, "To live for God." Now one may give the same answer in other words such as "To live in fellowship with God" or "To have a personal relationship with God", etc.; however, these are simply different ways of saying the same basic truth. Each answer may emphasize a different aspect of living for God, but the meaning is still fundamentally the same. Of course, the Bible states, implies, and assumes this answer right from the beginning in the Book of Genesis and continues with the same answer all the way through to the end in the Book of Revelation. Therefore, at any place that one may look in the Bible this answer to the meaning of life is the fundamental assumption that all of its writers begin with and either directly or indirectly present, expound and advocate.

The Old Testament sets the basis for this understanding of the meaning of life and its message carries over to become the foundation of the New Testament as well. The God of the Old Testament is the same God as the God of the New Testament and it is in the New Testament that we read of the fulfillment of God's plans, purposes and promises for mankind and the world through God's Son, Jesus Christ. The Old Testament begins in the Book of Genesis by setting up the basic relationship of man with God. In Genesis 1 and 2 God creates an inhabitable world in which man, who is created in God's image, is set up to rule over in a god-like, or godly, way in relationship with God and his fellowman. Therefore, man is first and foremost responsible and accountable to live for God according to God's standards. Second, man is responsible and accountable to live in proper relationship with his fellowman who is also created in God's image. Finally, man is responsible and accountable to properly rule over, subdue, and steward God's creation in accordance with God's original intent for it to glorify his name. Many other sections of scripture - such as Psalm 8, Job 38-40, Rom. 1:18ff, etc. - confirm this basic structure of life within God's created order which is then assumed throughout the rest of the Bible.

Any right thinking about God, about the world in which we live, about the meaning of life, and about man's place and meaning in life must conform to this structure. Apart from this world-view everything else is confusion and delusion. On the other hand, accepting this world-view gives one the basic structure of life from which all meaning is derived and through which all of life can be properly understood. It does not, however, mean that life will be easy, pain free, or that one will therefore understand all of the answers about the world, life, evil, etc. Instead, the Bible is the most realistic of all books. It insists throughout that man is a creature of God, created in God's image; but is not God himself. Therefore, man's understanding always has been and always will be limited. Man sees only a very, very small part of the entire picture while God sees the entire picture both in terms of meaning and in terms of actual reality. To pretend otherwise is to go against all experience of history, personal practical reality, and indeed, common sense itself.

Of course, many, many people do not accept this picture of reality and, therefore, reject the reality of God and the concept of "living for God" as being the answer to the true meaning of life. That, of course, does not mean that they have a better answer; in fact, it is much more fashionable these days to not have an answer. If a person is truly searching for the answer to the meaning of life then that person will, the Bible says, ultimately find it. God's created order and his own personal governance of the world operate in such a way as to providentially bring about his purposes for his people. Since we all come from different backgrounds - much of that background being beyond our control - the paths to reaching an accurate understanding of the God of the Bible will vary widely. The person, however, who out and out rejects the existence of a personal God sets himself against God's created order which itself, the Bible makes clear, makes manifest the reality of God himself (Rom. 1:18ff). The Bible in no uncertain terms calls this person "a fool" and explicitly sets forth the error, perversion and destruction to which this point of view leads (Psalm 1, Psalm 14, Rom. 1:18ff). Invariably, people who choose this route either consciously or unconsciously turn to other gods of their own making or else they, in effect, become their own god.

It is important to note that this theme of either living for or against the one true God of the Bible has been the central theme not only of the Bible but also of history itself. It begins with the story of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden in Genesis 2 and 3, it works itself out in the history of the world, and it continues to be the central theme of life today. Accepting that "living for God" is indeed the answer to the meaning of life simplifies an otherwise complicated and confusing world. It brings meaning, purpose, clarity and structure to all of life's difficulties, challenges, and questions. And most importantly, it is the starting point for a lifelong relationship of coming to know - and grow with - the personal God who created mankind to live in intimate fellowship with him.

Richie Temple

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

 

June 8, 2009

Church and Churches Part II

In my last post I talked about my love for churches - both the church buildings and the people of God in the local church which meets in the church building. Just as my life revolved around "church" growing up in the American South, so it has continued to revolve around church life in my adult life. Over the last 35 years, since the age of 19, I've participated in and helped found and establish many different churches in many different places both here in the U.S. and in Europe. There has never been a time in that 35 years that my life did not revolve around helping to start, build, or establish some type of church somewhere. Most of these were house churches - that is, local groups of believers whose church life revolves around various kinds of fellowships that take place in the homes of the believers of those fellowships. In addition, I've helped start and build various types of Christian fellowships on college campuses and, now also, at the school where I teach. To me this is simply part and parcel of being a committed Christian believer during the new covenant era of salvation. This pattern for outreach and fellowship was begun by Jesus himself as recorded in the Gospels and then became the norm of his followers - based on Christ's commands to them - in the first century churches that began at Jerusalem and then moved out throughout the Roman Empire as recorded in the Book of Acts and NT Letters. As they preached the gospel message they met first in the Jerusalem temple courtyards, then local synagogues throughout the Roman Empire, and, ever increasingly, in their own homes or other similar places (e.g. Acts 1:1-11; 5:42; 28:30-31).

Throughout Christian history alternatives to the religious institutions of the day have often been necessary in order to accomplish God's purposes of teaching the truth and caring for God's people. It seems almost inevitable that almost all institutions will eventually ossify and become in need of revitalization - institutional churches are no exception. A few examples of this in history that come readily to mind were the Lollards' who followed the leadership of John Wycliffe in 14th century England, the many Reformation churches in Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries, the Anabaptists of the same period, the Great Awakening churches in America in the 18th century, and the corresponding Weslyan movement in England during the same period of time of the 1700s. In fact, the history of Christianity in America has been a continual history of just that - revitalization upon revitalization - right from its very beginnings in the Colonial era all the way down to the present day. This has been greatly aided by the U.S. Constitutional principle of separation of church and state - rightly understood. Of course, house churches or other alternative churches have also flourished in countries throughout history where persecution of Christianity existed, or exists, such as in the first century church under the Roman Empire and in modern China today.

The work of a church is a "noble work" in God's eyes and those who desire to lead a church "desire a noble task" (I Tim. 3:1ff). Arguably, good Christ-like leadership as outlined in verses such as I Tim. 3, Titus 1, etc. is the single most important factor in having a church that is truly representative of "the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth." Beyond that, it is obvious that the place where the assembled people of God in a local area meet is relatively unimportant and a good argument can be made for a central location together with various offshoots. What matters most is that God is truly worshipped, that God's people are spiritually built up, encouraged and strengthened, and that the local church - wherever it principally meets - becomes God's alternative to the world by teaching the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). Much has been written and much has been discussed about what makes for an authentic church. In my view, the best standard is that set famously by Jesus Christ himself, "wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst." That certainly sounds like a NT church to me and I believe all authentic churches should be built on that simple concept laid down by Christ himself.

The church in Cary, NC which Dorota and I are a part of is Cary Christian Fellowship. We call it a "fellowship of fellowships." We have a Board of Directors (Elders) which founded the church and oversees it on a continual basis. We also have one person, Scot Hahn, who is legally ordained according to NC law and who is responsible to lead, oversee, and pastor Cary Christian Fellowship on a daily basis. We have a variety of fellowships which take place at different times and places for different purposes. First, we have one large monthly fellowship meeting in which we all come together that meets at David and Pam Hahn's homestead "out in the country" - complete with a pond and other down home "southern amenities" (most importantly David and Pam themselves!) - during the good weather months. During the cold weather months of the year we meet at David and Mary Seed's home which has a special detached addition behind their home which is a perfect setting for our larger monthly fellowship. Both of these places are wonderful places for God's people to meet exhibiting the loving and godly hospitality of their own owners who are themselves faithful patrons and pillars of our church community.

We also have two regular weekly fellowships that are, perhaps, what the rest of our "fellowship of fellowships" are built around. One of these is led by Scot in his and his wife Kristi's home. The other is led by myself in Dorota's and my home. These provide weekly continuity in teaching God's word and building up all of us within our local "ekklesia" or church. We also have several other types of fellowships that meet at various other times and places, e.g. a children's fellowship, a women's fellowship, etc. We also stay in touch with what we consider to be our "sister church" in Krakow, Poland that is independently led by Leszek and Olga Druszkiewicz and the Polish believers there. This is a house church that Dorota and I helped to start and were privileged to be a part of back in the 1980s. We consider ourselves to still be members of it - at least "in spirit" - to this day. The believers in that fellowship are particularly dear to us and because of this we particularly pray for, love, and dearly look forward to spending time with them as often as possible. Thankfully, we are often able to do this in a wonderful small Bible conference that takes place in the Polish Tatra mountains in the summer of each year. For me personally, this Polish summer conference that has been organized and led by Leszek and Olga and the other Polish believers there now for 15 years, is always one of the highlights of my year and I will speak more about it in a later post.

I believe that each local church functions best when it is self-supporting, self-propagating, and self-governing. It can then draw on resources from, or cooperate with, other Christian groups, sources of information, or individuals as it sees fit at any given time. This local control also allows for the greatest flexibility and the ability to meet the needs of a local fellowship with its own local situations. This is our model for Cary Christian Fellowship. So while our focus is on our own local church, all of us in Cary Christian Fellowship are also involved in the outreach of God's word in many other ways in our communities. Some of these involvements are in joint cooperation with other churches or else in special situations such as school groups, etc. In this way we seek to work with fellow Christians in a cooperative way and yet to retain the unique distinctiveness of our own fellowship - both in what we believe and in our method and organization. Finally, we maintain a web-site for Cary Christian Fellowship and also help sponsor this Unity of the Spirit web-site in which we seek to support both our own fellowship as well as to play our part in supporting the church of the body of Christ as a whole throughout the world.

Let us never forget that when properly organized the local church continues to be "the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth." (I Tim. 3). This church should be a people and a place where God's love is manifested, where God's people are built up, and where God's truth is made known to the world. Indeed, God's intent is "that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Eph. 3:10-11).

So, what's happening in the world today? The church of the living God - wherever two or three are gathered in Christ's name!

Richie Temple

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

 

May 9, 2009

Church and Churches

I have always loved churches and every time I see one today something sort of jumps in my heart. I suppose this began to a great degree because of my growing up in the American South. The Presbyterian church I grew up in was very much a part of my life. We attended church service and Sunday school regularly each Sunday. On Wednesday evenings we also often attended a pot luck supper with an informal service or other activities afterwards. I also attended kindergarten at this same church and later both Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. Many of my closest friends also went to this same church while others attended other Protestant churches such as Methodist, Lutheran, Baptist or another Presbyterian church. I occasionally visited their churches with them as well. All of these experiences were very typical of the Southern culture of those times and still is, at least, to some degree. Perhaps more than any other area of the United States, life in the South for a very large number of people still revolves around their church.

Most of these churches are wooden structures and most of them have a simple beauty about them. Many of them are also painted white. Since they are Protestant churches they are also simply arranged on the inside with pews facing a pulpit, often with pews behind the pulpit for a choir, and at times adorned with a few stained glass windows. As I've traveled around the United States and Europe in my adult life I've encountered similar churches in some places; however, most areas had much more ornate churches especially in the ascending order of Episcopal, Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic. When I lived in Wisconsin for a year at the age of 19 to 20 the churches I encountered were almost all Lutheran or Roman Catholic. Oddly enough, even those Lutheran churches were more ornate than the usual Protestant churches - including Lutheran ones - that I was used to in the South. Having only been in a Roman Catholic church once by that time - for a funeral of the lone Catholic in my Junior High class who died of an accident - I was stunned to see the differences. It was a whole new world for me to see the ornate adornment and size of many of those churches in Wisconsin. Of course, having now studied, lived and traveled in Europe for almost thirty years I've come to see a European continent of churches that possess an age, magnitude, and adornment that most people in the American South could hardly imagine. The great cathedrals and churches of Europe are simply astonishing in comparison with the simple, though beautiful in their own way, churches of the American South.

One of my favorite verses in the entire Bible is found in Paul's First Letter to Timothy:

"Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing to you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth." (I Tim. 3:14 NIV/TNIV)."

I cannot think of many things more exciting and inspiring than to be a part of "the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth." In a world of multiculturalism, relative beliefs and values, and with no sure certainty about anything, it is nice to be a part of the true "counter-culture" of God's church which is the pillar and foundation of the truth. Of course, most of us know that the Greek word "ekklesia" (church) in the New Testament is never used of a "church building" as it is used today. Instead, it refers to:

1. The local church consisting of Christians in a particular area.

2. The assembled local church.

3. The church catholic or universal - that is, the church of the body of Christ consisting of all Christian believers throughout the world who are spiritually united "in Christ".

This "church of the living God" began as a local church in Jerusalem and ultimately many thousands of local churches throughout Judea and the ends of the earth (Acts 1). These churches originally met primarily in homes and continued to do so for much of the first few centuries after Christ's ministry on earth and his death, resurrection and giving of the Spirit which began the church. Only later did these churches begin to meet in buildings which they either built themselves or else took over from pagan temples. Nevertheless, even though they started to take on elements of the cultures and religions with which they inter-mixed, most of these "churches" still continued to represent the essential elements of the Christian faith and the buildings where they met became known as "churches" as well.

Wherever I am in the world I still love to gaze at, visit, and learn about these churches - that is, the church buildings and the people they represent. This includes churches that I see in my own neighborhood and the region where I live in South or in any of the places where I visit in the United States or world. One particular highlight in relationship to this was to find that the small hotel in which my wife Dorota and I were staying in Japan a year ago actually had a small Christian church within it - a chapel that was used for Christian weddings, services, etc. This was an unexpected and delightful surprise and we immediately set out to investigate everything we could about it. In short, it had a noble Christian heritage associated with it just as is true of most churches however they may have changed through the years.

It is certainly true that the history, culture and traditions of a local community, city, region or nation are often found in their churches. To understand and appreciate the people of that area one needs to understand at least something about all that their churches represent for them. A good starting place is to appreciate the good that those churches have done and, hopefully, continue to do to whatever large or small degree. Most of these churches - with some notable exceptions - began with the noble purpose of truly trying to help God's people. And, it is almost certain that all of our lives collectively as Christians would be spiritually poorer without them. For most of the last two thousand years these churches have been the most stable force in the societies of their times, beginning in Europe and then carrying over to America and much of the rest of the world. These churches were, and many continue to be, the center around which life in all of its most important aspects revolved. They were the spiritual, intellectual, educational, charitable, social, and often, political centers of the lives of the local communities that they represented. If for the last 35 years I have chosen to center my own church life in what I consider to be the original New Testament pattern of the earliest church - the house church - it does not in any way mean that I do not appreciate what the more traditional churches - centered in their own particular and often beautiful church buildings - have done, and do, as well.

Richie Temple

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

 

April 12, 2009

Resurrection Sunday (Easter):

The Historical Evidence of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the Dead

On this Easter Sunday millions of Christians around the world celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord from the dead. This, however, is not just an event to be taken “on faith” in the popular sense of that phrase. Instead, it is an event that is also rooted and grounded in history – a history that is open to be seen by any honest observer of the historical record. In early Christian history the NT believers began a tradition of meeting regularly in their local house churches on the first day of the week, that is, Sunday. They called this day “the Lord’s day” (Rev. 1:10) because it was believed – based on eyewitness accounts from amongst their own members - that the Lord Jesus Christ had been raised from the dead on that day. Believing that Christ was the “firstborn from the dead” and that his resurrection marked him out as “the Son of God in power” this day came to be seen by many as a special day to meet together for “all who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.” (I Cor. 1:2; 16:1-2, Acts 20:7; See NIV Study Bible notes on all of these verses).

Though there is no New Testament requirement that Christian believers are obligated to meet regularly on this day, there can be no doubt as to this historical development of the local Christian church gatherings. The beginnings of this practice are witnessed to in the New Testament itself and it is also documented in many writings of the first few centuries after Christ. In each case they point to the significance of the resurrection of Christ in the early Christian churches. The late NT scholar Bruce Metzger sets forth the historical record about the resurrection of Christ and the beginnings of the Christian Church stemming from it in his comprehensive and outstanding book The New Testament: its Background, Growth and Content:

“The evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is overwhelming. Nothing in history is more certain than that the disciples believed that after being crucified, dead, and buried, Christ rose again from the tomb on the third day, and that at intervals thereafter he met and conversed with them. The most obvious proof that they believed this is the existence of the Christian church. It is simply inconceivable that the scattered and disheartened remnant could have found a rallying point and a gospel in the memory of him who had been put to death as a criminal had they not been convinced that God owned him and accredited his mission by raising him from the dead.

“It is a commonplace that every event in history must have an adequate cause. Never were hopes more desolate that when Jesus of Nazareth was taken down from the cross and laid in the tomb. Stricken with grief at the death of their Master, the disciples were dazed and bewildered. Their mood was one of dejection and defeat, reflected in the spiritless words of the Emmaus travelers, “ We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). A short time later the same group of disciples was aglow with supreme confidence and fearless in the face of persecution. Their message was one of joy and triumph. What caused such a radical change in these men’s lives? The explanation is that something unprecedented had occurred: Jesus Christ was raised from the dead! Fifty-some days after Crucifixion the apostolic preaching of Christ’s resurrection began in Jerusalem with such power and persuasion that the evidence convinced thousands.” (Bruce Metzger, The New Testament: Its Background, Growth and Content, p. 150ff)

Metzger’s account goes right to the heart of the resurrection of Christ and the formation of the Christian Church. This Church began on Pentecost and the subsequent local Christian churches began at Jerusalem and then spread out throughout much of the Roman Empire during the course of the middle decades of the first century as recorded in the Book of Acts. At first this “good news” or “gospel” message of salvation was spread by word of mouth and presented as the fulfillment of Old Testament themes and promises. Eventually, eyewitness accounts of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ were collected, organized and written down as “Gospels” and sent to either individuals or local Christian churches for the further establishment and propagation of the gospel message. Each of these accounts – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – had their own original audience and were written in a way so as to present the goods news about Jesus Christ to that original audience in a way that would be best understood by that audience. Only later were these four Gospels collected and presented together in what became known as the New Testament. Given the original individualized audiences of each Gospel it is impossible today to be sure of the details as to why certain material was chosen to be presented while other material in other Gospels was not and how that material was specifically organized from the point of view of the writers. However, there can be no doubt as to the collective historical testimony of these Gospel writers nor about their collective overall purpose:

Luke, for example, states: “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have bee fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” (Luke 1:1-4 NIV).

John also is crystal clear: “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may life in his name.” (John 20:30-31 NIV).

Speaking with respect to the individual, yet united, testimonies of the four Gospels about the resurrection of Christ, Dr. Metzger states the following:

“Divergences in detail are certainly to be found in the accounts of the first Easter, but these are such as one would expect from independent and excited witnesses. If the evangelists had fabricated the resurrection narratives, they would not have left obvious difficulties and [apparent] discrepancies – such as those involving the number of angels at the tomb, the order of Jesus’ appearances, and similar details. That the accounts have been left unreconciled, without any attempt to produce a single stereotyped narrative, inspires confidence in the fundamental honesty of those who transmitted the evidence.

“The evangelists [the Gospel writers], moreover, give the impression of being unconcerned to provide all of the evidence on which the church rested its belief. That is, they offer only a part of the proof by which belief in the Resurrection was created and sustained.” (Metzger p. 150-1)

Of course, the overall presentation of the resurrection of Christ in the four Gospels is also supported by the united testimony of the rest of the NT documents including the Book of Acts, The NT Letters of Paul, Peter, John, and James, and the Book of Revelation. These each present the testimony of eyewitnesses – each in his own way – of the resurrected Christ and their writings set forth not only the historical fact of Christ’s resurrection but also its theological, spiritual and practical significance for Christian believers.

The subsequent history of the Christian church in the early centuries after Christ also supports the same conclusions regarding the truthfulness of the resurrection of Christ and the vitality of the Church of Christ that followed. Christians should never be afraid of the attempts by secular scholars to cast doubts upon the historicity of the events of the Christian faith. Most of these attempts are based on the false assumption that miracles cannot occur, or at least, that written accounts about miracles cannot be trusted as part of the historical record. They, therefore, predetermine and necessarily skew the outcome of their investigation of the historical evidence. This does nothing but bolster their own preconceived opinions – and often lifestyles – that are based on their own biases and choice to not believe in God or in his Son, Jesus Christ. The true historical record, however, is overwhelmingly clear for those who desire to see it. And, it is the NT documents themselves that are, and deserve to be, the most fundamental and reliable historical witnesses of the truth that the historical person, Jesus of Nazareth, is indeed the risen Christ, the Son of God. It is also this victorious “good news” that is indeed “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” (Rom. 1:16)

Richie Temple

This article has been filed under "Articles".

For other articles and more detailed information on this topic see:

Articles:

“The Resurrection of Christ” – the entire Vol. 6 Issue 1 of “The Unity of the Spirit”
“The Lord’s Day” – Wikipedia article
“Easter” – Wikipedia article

Books:

The New Testament Documents. Are They Reliable? by F.F. Bruce
The New Testament: Its Background, Growth and Content by Bruce Metzger
The Resurrection of the Son of God by NT Wright

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

April 3, 2009

Freedom of Religion and Spiritual Freedom

One of the great ironies of life is that the political right to "freedom of religion" does not of itself bring about true "spiritual freedom" for the individual person. The Bible makes it crystal clear that all of mankind is in bondage to sin, death and the power of Satan's realm of darkness in this world (e.g. Rom. 3:9-20; Eph 2:1-2). Thus, freedom of religion is not an end in itself. Instead, true spiritual freedom for the individual person is only available through God's redemptive work in Christ. It is received by any individual person through personal faith in Jesus Christ and then, at a practical level, through the corresponding obedience that comes from that faith as a set-free believer learns to serve others in love. Thus, a person can be politically free and and yet in spiritual bondage at the very same time. On the other hand, a person can be in political or social bondage and yet be spiritually free at the very same time. As the apostle Paul made clear:

"Were you a slave when you were called? Don't let it trouble you - although if you can gain your freedom do so. For those who were slaves when called to faith in the Lord are the Lord's freed people; similarly those who were free when called are the Christ's slaves." (I Cor. 7:21-22 TNIV).

This paradox is of paramount importance in the New Testament and it has the effect of relativising all political, social, and economic life situations in this "present evil age" for the Christian believer in the light of the far greater "life of the age to come" which believers in Christ will receive in full after Christ's return. Thus, believers are already "free in Christ" (Rom. 8:1-17) and yet still live in the light of their future hope of the "glorious freedom of the children of God" which is still to be received in full after Christ's return (Rom. 8:18-25). Political, economic, and social freedoms - as important as they can be in the alleviation of misery and suffering in this present world - are simply overwhelmed by both the present and future freedom that is accomplished in and through Christ. This, of course, is the "good news" of the "gospel" - and it is a good news that cannot ultimately be bound by any political power of this present evil age (II Tim. 2:8-10).

The apostle Paul - himself a free-born Roman citizen with all the rights implied therein - lived his entire Christian life in the light of his "dual citizenship". First and foremost, he was a citizen of God's kingdom with its seat of government in heaven (Phil. 3:20). To his mind the Christian house churches that he established were nothing less than colonies of that kingdom of God in the midst of the darkness of the world. However, he also took seriously his rights as a Roman citizen and, above all, used those rights to help him accomplish God's purposes in spreading the "good news" of the redemption, salvation and freedom that was now freely available to all in Christ. His words to his fellow citizens in God's kingdom were bold and clear:

"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery."

"You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another humbly in love." (Gal. 5:1, 13).

Let these words guide us as well!

Richie Temple

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

 

March 23, 2009

The Local Autonomy of Christian Churches

One of the interesting and far-reaching results of the progression of freedom of religion is the autonomy which local churches and/or individual denominations now have in determining their own beliefs, structures, and modes of worship. To use the language of many denominations and churches, they are each in their own way self-supporting, self-propagating and self-governing. No governmental body tells them what to believe, how to support themselves, or how to govern themselves so long as they do not break laws set up for the general good of society. This situation is taken for granted by most people in America and, to a lesser extent, in other Western nations. However, it is really simply an extension of the principle about which I spoke in my previous post of "Cuius regio, eius religio" - that is, "whose the region, his the religion."

My European history and American history students usually look at me with a bit of hesitancy when I first tell them this. However, in the progression of religious freedom the "whose the region" has now progressed from the rulership of princes over principalities in the Holy Roman Empire, to individual nation-states with national established Churches, to finally, the autonomy of individual religious organizations such as denominations or local churches - including traditional churches and house-churches - in truly free societies. So in America, for instance, it is no longer the prince who determines the religion of his region. Nor does the government of either the United States, or even individual states within the United States, determine the religion of the nation or individual states. Instead, each individual denomination or local church makes that determination and they are autonomous within the property (church building, home, etc.) and religious sphere (church affairs) of that denomination or church. This is an historically incredible advance in freedom of religion and should be recognized and appreciated as such by all of those who live in such a situation. It should also be jealously guarded within the political sphere of any country who has such a situation. It is specifically this type of freedom of religion which makes for the vitality of religious life that flourishes in the United States and in other nations where this freedom exists. It is also the very freedom upon which the great advances in biblical studies and biblical understanding - now available on a massive scale - has taken place over the last couple of centuries. On the other hand, in those nations where there is an "established national church" - either officially or unofficially -religious vitality has eroded through the centuries because that established church has attempted to maintain itself, not by superiority of religious belief and practice, but by imposition of its own dogmatism in the face of competing threats to its dogmatism from without, whether religious or secular. This situation is true, amongst other places, in much of Western Europe today.

Now it is certainly true that true Christian vitality often is strengthened and enlivened in difficult situations even including persecution. However, the same effect is often produced when each autonomous religious institution must continue to uphold, defend, and refine its own beliefs and practices in the face of competing ideas in a free society. I have lived in both the former and latter situations. All things considered, I am glad at this point in my life to be able to continue to grow with God both as an individual, within my own local church, and together with the wider Church of the body of Christ in the midst of all the religious and spiritual variations, competition, and complications of a free and open society. But I am also in spiritual unity with those who don't have these opportunities and my prayers are certainly with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ as they also endeavor to live for our God in more perilous situations (Eph. 6:18!).

Richie Temple

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

 

Feb. 28, 2009

A Brief History of the Development of Christian Churches

As a person who grew up in the United States of America I also grew up with the concept of freedom of religion imbedded in my life and thinking. Few Americans realize just how unique we are in this respect. The desire for freedom of religion was one of the prime factors in founding and establishing the different colonies of North America. It was also one of the founding principles of the U.S. Constitution as expressed in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights. Ever since it has been a "given" of American life. Visitors from Europe such as Alexis de Toqueville in the 1830s marveled at it. And, it remains as vibrant today as at any time in our history. For most of the history of the Western World, however, this freedom has not existed.

Christian churches began as house-churches during New Testament times. They spread in this form for most the next three centuries sometimes enduring persecution in a very fierce form. These churches began with minimal structure outside of their own local leadership but increasingly grew to become more institutionalized. This institutional Church eventually became the state church of the Roman Empire in the 4th century and thus came to be called the Roman Catholic Church. From the time of the founding of the Roman Catholic Church in the 4th century A.D. until its split in 1053 A.D. there was only one institutional Church that one could be a member of in Europe. In fact "membership" was expected, demanded, and initiated through infant baptism to almost the entire population of Europe. Europe, therefore, became known as "Christendom" -that is, the land of the Christians.

In 1053 A.D. this Church split into the Roman Catholic Church which continued to be dominant in Western Europe and the Eastern Orthodox Church which became dominant in the East. Thus from 1053 to the 16th century there were two institutional Churches - the Roman Catholic Church in the West and the Eastern Orthodox Church in the East. However; there was still generally only one option for the Church to which one belonged; it simply depended on whether one lived in the West or the East. With the coming of Martin Luther and the Reformation beginning in1517 that began to change. First, after the Peace of Augsburg in 1555 it became possible to be either an "Evangelical" (Lutheran Protestant) or a Roman Catholic. This still, however, was not determined by one's choice but rather by the choice of one's local ruling prince. The Latin phrase to describe this situation was "Cuius regio, eius religio" that is, "whose the region, his the religion." This "choice" of Churches was further extended about 100 years later in the Peace of Westphalia of 1648 which ended the Thirty Years' War. Rulers could also choose Calvinism, thus making for three legal Churches in Western Europe. If one did not like the religion that the ruler chose one could always move to a different region; however, this was more easily said than done given the realities of the living conditions of those times.

Fortunately, from that point to the present Western and Central Europe have slowly - very slowly - moved towards a continent where freedom of religion became first "tolerated" and, more recently, a "right" - even in countries that have "established" or "official" national Churches - because of the European Union. During most of the history of Europe even up until fairly recent times, however, "dissenters" - of whatever shape, form or variety - were officially persecuted. Therefore, they were often forced to meet, just like the churches of the first three centuries, in the homes of their participants.

As a teacher of both European and U.S. history I have a great love for the traditional churches mentioned above because I know of the truth that they preserved through the centuries and the many social and humanitarian services that they provided to their communities during those times. I also grew up in a tradition Presbyterian church and I am thankful for what I learned there and for the people who provided Christian examples for my own life. However, I also have a great love for the freedom, flexibility and simplicity of the house-church concept that has existed since New Testament times. For most of the past thirty-five years - since I was eighteen years old - I have been a leader of some type of house church no matter where I lived. During this time-span the house-church movement has become a world-wide phenomena to the point that it is now estimated to make up 10% of all churches. The movement began as an attempt to return to the simplicity of first-century Christianity as presented in the New Testament Letters and Book of Acts. It has been relatively successful in accomplishing that goal and, at the very least, has provided a grassroots impetus for Christian outreach and renewal to the world-wide church of the body of Christ that never would have been accomplished through traditional Churches alone. Though I have no desire to see house-churches replace the more traditional churches, I do think that almost all churches benefit by at least having home-based Bible study fellowships, prayer groups, etc. as part of their ministry. I also think that house-churches benefit by having larger gatherings with other churches - either other house churches or traditional churches - on a regular basis. In short, I think that there are benefits in having both regular large meetings for common fellowship and worship as well as regular small meetings for more personal fellowship, prayer and in-depth study of the Bible.

Certainly, the New Testament makes it clear that where the church meets is relatively unimportant. What matters is what takes place when the church meets - that is, that God is truly worshipped and that God's people are truly built-up so as to be able to better live in a Christ-like manner. I am very thankful, however, that I have the freedom to choose which forums in which I can most effectively participate - and, to let others have that same freedom of choice as well!

Richie Temple

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

 

Feb. 14, 2009

Valentine's Day and other Special Days

Today is Valentine's Day in the United States as well as in various other parts of the world. As usual with such "holidays" the history of Valentine's Day is a combination of ancient paganism, Medieval Christian traditions, and modern commercialism. Apparently, it was during the time of Chaucer in the High Middle Ages that Valentine's Day took on its more amorous connotations of love between men and women.

So how should a Christian view such days and what are Christians responsibilities in regards to them? Paul's Letter to the Romans provides a pattern that we can apply to our own situations:

"As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God." (Romans 14:1-6 ESV).

As a Christian who does not regard any particular day as any more important than any other day, I simply use a "holiday" as an occasion to join in the spirit of the day in the best sense of what it purports to signify. But I also try to point out the reality of its historical beginnings and to what degree it accords with biblical truth. This is also what I do for Christmas, Easter, etc. - all of which have similar backgrounds based on a mixture of pagan, Christian, and finally, modern commercial notions.

As for Valentine's Day, I mainly focus on this, the 25th year of marriage with my wife, Dorota. It is very meaningful for me because I take the time to be especially thankful for the life we have together. Dorota's name is derived from the Greek "Dorothea" which means "gift from God". No name could be more appropriate as far as I'm concerned, for she has truly been a "gift from God" for me. The unlikelihood that our lives would one day intersect and that we would be married makes our marriage all the more "of God". I'm thankful for every year and every day we've had to give to each other, to share with each other, and to serve our God together.

May God bless us with many, many more!

Richie Temple

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

 

January 31, 2009

The Human Race and the the New Man (humanity) in Christ

January has been an interesting time in American politics with the inauguration of the first black American President of the United States, Barak Obama. I was fortunate to be able to watch the entire inauguration ceremony on television since my school was called off due to snow. Irrespective of one's political views it is certainly remarkable to see the United States progress as a society to the point where a black man can be elected to the highest office in the U.S. government. Growing up in the American South near the end of the so-called Jim Crow era when legal discrimination in the South was the norm it would have been difficult then to have predicted such an occurrence in my lifetime. But the South and, America in general, have changed dramatically since that period of time. Racism still exists, of course, but there is far less of it than even a couple of decades ago. In fact, I would say that ironically racism is much more prevalent in large northern American cities and in many other countries than it is in the American South today.

Biblically, the concept of race falls short on two counts as having any intrinsic significance . First, all people are descended from one man and one woman - Adam and Eve. As the Apostle Paul stated,

"From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live." (Acts 17:26 NIV)

Thus, the only real "race" is the human race and in that sense all people are equal before God. All other so-called "races" are sub-categories of this larger one and are, on the whole, bogus because of our common ancestry from Adam and because of intermarriage through the centuries. In fact, much of what is thought of as "race" is really "ethnicity" - that is, commonality on the basis of common history, culture, language, etc. There is certainly no "pure race" in terms of blood-lines and there are no races that are more intrinsically more worthy than others before God. Instead, as human beings who are created in the image of God all people have the same intrinsic value to God as all others and are, on that basis, to receive the same respect and dignity due to all. They should be judged by their fellowman - and will one day be judged by God - "not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character" - as Martin Luther King Jr. famously said. (cf. Rom. 2:5-11).

Second, as a result of God's redemptive work in Christ all differences amongst God's people - political, economic, racial, ethnic, gender, etc. - are done away with "in Christ". As Paul's Letter to the Galatians puts it so beautifully:

"You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Gal. 3:26-28).

God has, therefore, created in Christ Jesus one "new man (humanity)" (Eph. 2:10ff NIV, TNIV). This makes for a new people of God who are "heirs together, members together, and sharers together" in all that God has promised to his people (Eph. 3:6). In the fellowship of God's people, then, there should never ever be any type of prejudice, bigotry, or discrimination on the basis of race. Instead, all are equally members of the body of Christ and all stand equally as children before God their Father.

What then about governmental discrimination on the basis of race? The Bible, science and history all demonstrate the fallacy of the concept of superior and inferior races. And, unfortunately, the last two centuries have shown just how harmful this type of racial misunderstanding can be. Therefore, just as before God, so it should be before governmental authorities: a citizen, a resident alien, a visiting foreigner, or indeed, an illegal alien, should all be judged, not by the color of their skin, but by the same laws that are common to all.

Richie Temple

For a very good overview of the concept of "race" see here

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

 

January 18, 2009

The State of the Dead and The Christian Hope of Resurrection

It has now been three weeks since my father died and I've been pretty busy going through his papers, etc. and putting things in order together with my mother. It has been a time of quiet reflection for myself about the life of a man whom I loved and whom I believe that I will see again at the resurrection of the just on the day of Christ's second coming and with whom I will share an inheritance in the future kingdom of God. On the Sunday night Dec. 28 that he died I remember looking at him lifeless on his bed. The stark reality of the words of James 2:26 rang through my mind over and over:

"For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead" (James 2:26 HCSB).

No verse could have been a better summary of both my father's entire life and his present state in death. His life was built on the simple truth of a "faith expressing itself through love" (Gal. 5:6 NIV, TNIV). But at the end of his life when he no longer had any strength to give he expired, gave up his spirit, and died. My mother was at pains that her minister not use the common language of "passed" or "passed on" at his burial or funeral service but rather "died". Her minister was glad to accommodate her since, I believe, this also more closely followed his own beliefs.

So what do I believe about death? First, I believe that death is real and not the "passing" from one stage of "life" to another stage of "life". Such ideas are completely unbiblical and have come into Biblical theology and the beliefs of people in churches through Greco-Roman, pagan, and new-age thought over the centuries. In the Bible, however, death is a "foe" and is specifically called "the last enemy" which is yet to be destroyed. Simply put, death is death and not life. And, it is not good, but evil. And yet, the New Testament also promises Christians that not even "death" can "separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8). And so, those who are dead "in Christ" are not forgotten by God; instead, they "rest" in Christ and "await" the resurrection because "whether we are awake or asleep we will live together with him" at his return (1 Thess. 5:10 NIV, cf. NLT).

This has actually been the principle belief of Christianity since its very beginning. The question, however, arose long ago as to what happens between death and resurrection. This period of time eventually came to be called "the intermediate state" - that is, intermediate between death and resurrection. Despite many varied and often opposing opinions through the centuries as to what happens during this time, the Biblical answer is simple and, at least for the most part, clear. For the believer in Christ, at death, the "spirit" - life principle - is committed to God and Christ in heaven and the believer "falls asleep" in Christ until the day of Christ's return (Acts 7:54-60, I Thess. 4:13-18, I Cor. 15, etc.). The dominant Old Testament and New Testament picture presents death as a state of unconsciousness for the believer in "Sheol" - the realm, or state, of the dead. For OT and NT believers alike death was real, not the passing from one stage of life to another. Death was death and not life. It was only the promise of the justice of God and a future resurrection of the just and the unjust, when God's people would finally be vindicated and evil be destroyed, that gave believers hope and comfort. As the apostle Paul, in accordance with his ancestral faith, stated,

"But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down in the Law and written in the Prophets, having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust. So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man." (Acts 24:14-16).

However, it was only Christ's resurrection from the dead that made this hope vivid and real for the NT people of God (II Timothy 1:8-10). God's promised resurrection began with him and he is the prototype for all believers who will also one day follow after him in being raised to life and immortality. He is "the firstborn from the dead" and "the firstfruits of those who will rise from the dead." It is because he lives that we can now live "in him" - in faith, hope and love. And, it is also because he now lives, that though we may one day die, we will also live again "through him" and "with him" forever. This is my comfort and hope for my father. He is now dead, asleep in Christ, and will one day rise to receive the gift of eternal life - life of the age to come - in the future kingdom of God after Christ's second coming. Let this be the comfort and hope for us all. As the apostle Paul said so well,

"Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words." (1 Thess. 4:13-18).

Richie Temple

See also: The Biblical Hope and The Hope of Glory

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

 

December 31, 2008

A Eulogy of Father

My father, Landis McNeill Temple, died on Sunday night Dec. 28. He was one of the greatest men - indeed, Christian men - I've ever known. The following is my Eulogy of him which I presented at his funeral service or, more properly, a "Celebration of the Life of Landis McNeill Temple" on Wed. December 31 at West Raleigh Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, N.C.:

A Eulogy of the Christian Life of My Father, Landis McNeill Temple

By his Third and Youngest Son, Allen Richard (Richie) Temple

December 31, 2008

“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.”
(Proverbs 25:11 NRSV, ESV)

My father was, very simply, one of the greatest men I have ever known. The older I have become the more he has stood out for me as the single most important example amongst those whom I personally know of how to live my own life in relationship to others. Indeed, more and more I see him in me. Although we rightly honor him today for the many, many good works of service that he performed on behalf of others, the father I knew was, above all else, a man of principled Christian character – a character which manifested itself in many different ways throughout his life, depending on the times and situation. Like so many others of his generation – which, if not the greatest, was certainly one of the greatest – his life and values were shaped in the midst of the world in which he grew-up and lived. He was born and raised in a large Christian family on a farm in Lee County, North Carolina. He grew up during the Great Depression and fought and was wounded in World War II. He finished college on the GI Bill and after graduating from North Carolina State University spent his entire professional life helping develop North Carolina’s road and bridge system into one of the nation’s best. He also lived his adult life as a dedicated Christian layman, a devoted husband, a strong and providing father, and, finally, as a progressive Democrat and Christian volunteer.

All of this took place in the midst of the tensions of the Cold War, the tumults of the racial tensions of the Civil Rights movement that so divided the South, and finally, in the midst of the more recent decline in Christian values and the sweeping social changes of modern America. Through all of these times the principled Christian character of Landis McNeill Temple, the father whom I knew, did not change. Never once in my entire life did I ever see him compromise on what he would consider to be his bedrock principles, beliefs, and values – irrespective of the cost. He was, however, wise enough to grow and adapt in accordance to his own personal situation, age, and the times in which he lived – while still holding to those bedrock principles, beliefs and values.

The Landis McNeill Temple whose life we celebrate today is for most of us the Landis McNeill Temple of more recent memory. That was, in a sense, the kinder, gentler version whose life was known to many – including his daughters-in-law, his grandchildren, his great grandchildren, and the many, many other people whose lives he touched. This was a man who in his retirement was freed from the daily pressures of working for a living and was able to devote himself fully to serving others. This man was not only my father but also my friend and I will always remember this more recent time of his life with great endearment.

There was, however, another aspect of my father’s life that was, for me, even more important because it helped form in me the character that I have carried throughout my own life in the many varied and challenging endeavors that I’ve undertaken or faced personally. This was the sterner father of my childhood and teenage years. It was the same Landis McNeill Temple of principled Christian character. However, that character manifested itself at that time in a more no-nonsense and straightforward manner. After all, my father whose character was formed during the times of the Great Depression and World War II wasn’t raising daughters; he was raising sons to become men. Simply put, my father expected us, his sons, to know what was right and to do it. When we did there was not praise but simply the acknowledgement that duty had been fulfilled, as should be expected. At most, there might be a little nod of the head in our direction. On the other hand, when we did not do what was expected there were consequences – very direct – and without discussion. After all, we knew what was expected.

My mother has at times mentioned to my brothers and me how my father softened in his later life, hoping that we her sons would understand that. Indeed, my father himself has at times said that he was perhaps too stern with us in our childhood. Well, maybe and maybe not. The older I get the more I think that that kind of attitude, which is so against the grain of modern Western society, is just what is needed, though perhaps leavened somewhat with a mixture of tenderness. Personally, I cherish the memories of all that I learned during those days. And, I do not think the lessons I learned would have been as effective for me personally had they been delivered in any other way. Let me share with you some of the most precious of those memories and the lessons I have learned from them. We are all familiar with my father’s sterling example in deeds. But these memories have to do with words that he, my father, spoke to me, as a son, while I was growing up; and, the profound impact that those words have had on my life in so many ways ever since. That is why I have sub-titled this eulogy:

“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.”

1. Race Relations: When I was very young – around eight years old – in the early 1960s racial tensions were at a fever pitch in the South. One day I was out playing with my brother Steve and some of our neighborhood friends. Somebody – I don’t remember who – made a racial slur and ……….. my father heard it. Immediately, he told us to come into the house. He then sat us down and very directly and sternly told us, “ We are all equally important to God, irrespective of the color of our skin – I never, ever want to hear a racial slur coming from your mouths again.” He never did, because his point was made – very directly – and, because we observed that very same belief, principle and value in his own life through his own actions during those years. He was far ahead of his times in that belief because such an attitude was very much against the grain of the segregationist South in which we lived. But those words that were so “fitly spoken” were embedded in my heart from that day onward and they have always enabled me – whether here in America or in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe where I have lived, worked and traveled – to look at people without any racial or national prejudice whatsoever; but rather, to deal with each person as an individual human being who, like me, was created in the image of God and was, therefore, intrinsically worthy of dignity and respect.

2. Baseball: In my childhood and teenage years sports dominated much of the life of my family. Both of my older brothers were athletes and so was I. We constantly practiced, played together and played in school and community leagues. When I was fourteen I was playing in Junior League baseball and my father was my coach. During that year I was tearing up the league with my hitting and by near the end of the year I gotten at least one hit in every game. In one of the last games I got a base hit and while rounding first base slipped, fell, and dislocated my left thumb. Our assistant coach, Ken Creech, came out and grabbed my hand, looked at it, and then popped my thumb back into place. Nevertheless, I was still in a lot of pain. I continued to play, however, and the next time I came to bat I had to hold the bat with my right hand a few inches above my left hand so as not to put any pressure on my left thumb. I was, however, afraid to swing at the ball for fear of the pain and, of course, for fear of how ridiculous I might look. Therefore, I took five straight pitches without swinging so that the count became three balls and two strikes. As I stepped out of the batter’s box to calm myself for a moment a voice - a booming stern voice - broke the tense silence throughout the ballpark. “Richard!” - not, mind you, “Richie”; but …. “Richard!” ….. “if you’re not going to swing at the ball, I’ll put somebody in there who will!” That voice was, of course, my father’s voice and everyone in the ballpark could hear it. He didn’t say, “Richie, are you o.k.?” or “Richie, take a little time to get in touch with your inner feelings.” Instead, he was stern, direct and to the point. And so, I knew what was expected. On the next pitch – I don’t remember if it was a strike or a ball; it didn’t matter to me at that time because from the moment I had heard that voice I was set in my mind to swing irregardless – I swung and hit a hard ground ball that bounced over the third baseman’s head for a single. After that I continued to play every game until the end of season getting at least one hit in every game – while, of course, holding the bat with my right hand a few inches above my left to relieve the pain in my left thumb. The lessons that I learned from these words that were so “fitly spoken” were many. First, my father taught me that as his son on a team he coached I was not only to receive no special treatment; but, if anything, that more was expected of me than others (he would not, of course, have said those words to anyone else on the team). Second, I learned that if I was to undertake any endeavor in life that shrinking from the task or feeling sorry for myself or complaining would do me no good at all; instead, if I was to compete – in a game or in life – I needed to do my best irrespective of the obstacles in my way. I cannot adequately express how deeply those words and the lessons learned from them were embedded in my heart from that moment on. I have carried them with me in all that I’ve done ever since.

3. Learning English: When I was a junior in high school I constantly complained to my parents about having to take English. I – at the age of 17 - felt it was worthless, boring and a waste of my time. In the last discussion about this that I had with my father I demanded to know “Why do I need to take English?” His reply was short, stern, and to the point: “Because you do!!” That was the end of that discussion and we never discussed it again. But what I didn’t understand – or refused to acknowledge - at that time was that I did not, at that age, know what I needed to learn to help me in my future life. I was simply too young and did not know the usefulness of mastering English for my future life. My father, of course, did and he expected me to simply acknowledge and trust that adults simply knew more about what I needed to learn than I did. Mine was a generation where “father (and other adults) knew best” – not, the other way around. Ten years later I was to teach English for five years to doctoral students and college professors at one of finest universities in Poland. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life. In my first semester I also had the joy of teaching a young doctoral student in physics named Dorota Sendorek. She was the best English student I’ve ever taught and one of the greatest lovers of the English language I’ve ever known. Today, her name is Dorota Sendorek Temple, my wonderful wife of twenty-four years.

4. Going to College: My first attempts at going to college were less than successful. I was involved in many other things that I thought were more important and was dismayed with the general attitudes prevalent on college campuses during the 1970s. My parents, especially my mother, believed I had the ability to do well in college and believed that it would benefit my life greatly. In our last discussion about it my mother told me of all the benefits of getting a college education. She was right, of course, but I had a counter argument for everything she said. My father, however, after listening for a while simply said to my mother, “He doesn’t need to go to college. He can be a good citizen without going to college.” Those words went straight to my heart and there is probably nothing he could have said that would have more inspired me to go to college. Not because I was rebellious and wanted to do the opposite of what my father said. Instead, his saying those words made me realize that they were not encouraging me to go to college just because it was thing that everyone else was doing at the time and, thus, it was expected of me as well. They really did want what was best for me and they really did believe that a person’s worth had nothing whatsoever to do with one’s education or academic achievements. And so, I did, in fact, complete my college education, doing quite well and achieving a fair amount of distinction in doing so. More than that, however, it opened up doors for me for the rest of my life that never would have been possible without a college education and college degree. Indeed, for the last ten years I have taught high school history at Woods Charter School in Chatham County – a college preparatory school. During that entire ten year period I have also been responsible for college preparation for the school, an area in which we have achieved a great deal of success. What are the first words I say to my students in preparing them for college? They are, “You don’t need to go to college to be a success in life. College will never make you any better than anyone else and you can be just as good of a citizen by not going to college as by going to college. However, we are a college preparatory school; so if you’re here, this is what we expect of you ……” And so, my father’s words “fitly spoken” motivated not only me, but have also, through me, motivated many of my own students as well.

It is this father whom I will always remember and cherish. A father who taught me by both words and deeds. Not by deeds alone, but by words also - words “fitly spoken like apples of gold in a setting of silver”.

In one of the last conversations I had with my father – just a few weeks ago – he told me that he was fearful of the world that the next generations including his sons and their wives, and his grandchildren and great grandchildren would be living and growing up in. My response was to remind him of the world that he himself grew up in - the world of the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War and the tumultuous changes of life in the South. I told him that he had set an example for others to follow - an example that would not be forgotten - and that those who followed could, by living with the same principled Christian character that he had lived, deal with challenges of their own generation as well – however great they might be. And that, I believe, will prove to be true. Surely, no greater statement could be made about any man’s life.

Richie Temple
richie@unity-of-spirit.org

 

December 25, 2008

The Birth of Christ

May God bless you all on this day when we especially commemorate the significance of the birth of our savior, Christ Jesus our Lord! Following is a beautiful rendition of the birth of Christ in the New Living Translation from Luke 2:

"At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. ( This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) Everyone went to register in the cities where their ancestors had lived. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. Joseph went there to register with Mary. She had been promised to him in marriage and was pregnant. While they were in Bethlehem, the time came for Mary to have her baby. She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger because there wasn’t any room for them in the inn. That night in the fields near Bethlehem there were some shepherds guarding their sheep. All at once an angel came down to them from the Lord, and the Lord’s glory flashed brightly around them. The shepherds were frightened. The angel said to them:

“Don’t be afraid! I have good news for you, a message that will fill everyone with joy. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, King David’s hometown! You will know who he is, because you will find him wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great army of heaven’s angels appeared with the first angel, singing praises to God:

“Praise God in heaven! Peace on earth to everyone who pleases God.”

Then the angels left the shepherds and went back to heaven. The shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see what the Lord has told us about.” They hurried off and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger! After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this baby. Everyone who heard the shepherds’ story was amazed, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. As the shepherds returned to their sheep, they were praising God and thanking him for everything they had seen and heard. It had been just as the angel had told them." (Luke 2:1-20 NLT).

This is certainly a beautiful translation of this life-changing historical event. What a great day that was for those involved and for those of us who, ever since, have received the benefits of "the grace and truth" which came to us through God's beloved Son, Jesus Christ.our Lord (John 1:1-18)..

With much love in Christ,

Richie and Dorota Temple

richie@unity-of-spirit.org

 

 

Online Booklet by Richie Temple:

"God's Plan of Salvation"

Online Audio Class by Richie Temple:

"God's Living Word"

Websites for Reading, Studying, and Comparing Bible Versions:

Bible Gateway

ESV Bible

NRSV Bible

NIV Bible

HCSB Bible

NLT Bible

NET Bible

Bible Study and Related Topics:

Bible Gateway Blog

Koinonia

Jesus Creed

Centre for Public Christianity

Euangelion

C.S. Lewis Society

Touchstone

Evangelical Philosophical Society

N.T. Wright Articles

The Paul Page

NT Gateway

Evangelical Textual Criticism Blog

Biblical Studies UK

Tyndale House

Better Bibles Blog

Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design:

Intelligent Design Websites and Blogs

Phillip Johnson's Position Paper on Darwinism

 

 


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