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Archive for the ‘fellowship’ Category

Remarried, and Ordained?

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north_dakota_abandoned_farmhouse “..The Husband of One Wife”  An odd phrase, to our ears today. One husband to one wife, one wife to one husband, isn’t that the way it works? But the New Testament requires a candidate for Church office be that kind of husband. What does this mean?

In modern churches it is common for that phrase to mean that if a man has been divorced, or remarried, he is disqualified because he is either no longer the husband of the wife from whom he is divorced, or if remarried, then he is still actually the husband of two wives. Alimony could be a factor in this, but it is not. What is the source of this thinking?

During the monastic movement of the Middle Ages there was a strong trend toward a formalised sacramentalism. What this means is that, for instance, while being baptised is a sign of one’s having come to faith in Christ, “Formalism” would say that the sacrament of baptism causes the conversion. With this kind of thinking, reading a passage in which Jesus says, “What God has joined, let no man put asunder,” gives the idea that the marriage bond, that is, every marriage, is something mystically created by the will of God and is therefore more sacred to God than the lives of the people in that bond, and that it is impossible for that bond to be violated. One way of looking at it would be to suppose that at a wedding ceremony, after the vows (the covenant) have been repeated and witnessed before God and the Church and community, and the priest, rabbi, or minister says, “I now pronounce you man and wife. What God has joined, let no man put asunder,” that the second sentence anulls the vows and makes his own pronouncement the grounds for the marriage. It no longer matters that they have vowed to love, honor, cherish, and be faithful to one another. Those are the conditions of the agreement, but the sacramental statement has just made the marriage unconditional. If unconditional, then in effect each partner is allowed, even licensed, to break all the vows, to break, disgrace, and endanger one another, all the time their misdeeds having no effect on the “marriage.” After all- Marriage is a “sacrament.” The Bible says so, doesn’t it?

To offer an answer to this, we have to consider two things. First, we need to see that a sacrement, as an “outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace,” is an indication. It is not in itself the cause of anything. But how do we have the idea that Marriage is sacramental? We read in 1st Corinthians thp at the marriage relationship is a “musterion,” a puzzle or a revelation, which reflects the relationship between Christ and the Church. While the Greek New Testament called it, “musterion,” the Latin which the monks in Europe would use translated it as “sacramentum.” This was a fair translation in the 4th century when Jerome used it, but words do change their meaning over time, as reflected in the way in which the word shifted over the next 800 years from what could indicate a grace given to being the grace itself. In other words, God taught Paul that he could use the love between a husband and wife as an example (musterion) of Jesus’ love for the Church, and about a thousand years later that became the ground for so many mystically-minded celibate men to presume a kind of “sacramental” aura over each individual marriage which had nothing substantial to do with any marriage in particular. But did Jesus say that marriages could not be broken?

If that had been the case, then Jesus, Whom Christians know and experience as the Word, Incarnate, was contradicting himself. He had given instructions, through Moses, that a marriage could be terminated, for the sake of the wronged party, as a means of protection and for the continuation of the nation (“Be fruitful and multiply.”), and in His Sermon, He had said that, “not one jot or tittle (of the Law) will pass away until all things have been fulfilled.” Divorce, which was instituted in the Law as a “way of escape (2nd Corin. 5:17),” guaranteed the right to remarry, thus declaring the former covenant null, void, and unenforceable. The (former) husband of the first wife was free from that bond and could go on to build a family with another wife, with no disgrace, but rather with the support of the community. In his second marriage, he would still be, “the husband of one wife.” But what about the Corinthians, and the Church today?

The Greek culture had developed, according to Philo, largely from the Jewish wisdom brought there by the Diaspora from Babylon, or possibly from the Samaritan dispersion. Their understanding of divorce, then, was similar to Moses’. For someone to remain single was unnatural. Such a one was not upholding their civic duty to provide children for the next generation and might be taking an unhealthy interest in other’s mates. Why would someone want to remain single, anyway? If someone were divorced, it was in order to have the right to remarry at some point, and probably with little delay. What was Paul’s response?

In 1st Corin. 7 Paul was responding to a letter which had proposed that a celibate life was a good thing (v. 1). Indeed, he said, “But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. (v. 2)” While he does spend some discussion in this chapter on the practical advantages of celibacy he then goes back (vv. 25- 28) to point out that, for betrothed or divorced, marriage is yet an acceptable choice. How should we understand this today?

In short, today we have a church culture which, because of a mistake by celibate mystics some 1,000 years back, puts divorced people in an undefined category somewhere between regular fellowship and irredeemable. Though they may have divorced as a last-ditch effort to save their lives or the lives of their children, they, being divorced, cannot be a regular part of the fellowship and, on the other hand, must surely never remarry! No Scripture supports this approach, though many reprove it. To make matters worse, if a candidate for ministry has a divorce in his past, and especially a remarriage, this same superstitious misreading of Scripture bars him from doing what God has called him to do, and so bars the Church from hearing the messenger God has sent. In a culture in which nearly everyone is affected in some way by divorce, the preacher most qualified to minister to such is the one preacher denied the opportunity to do so. It is hard to imagine the pain this kind of policy creates and prolongs; it is hard to imagine the number of called and qualified pastors whose ministries are cut short and destroyed; it is hard to imagine the number of people who are denied Gospel ministry; but most of all it is hard to imagine how God is glorified through such a confused sense of “obedience.”


Written by Robert Easter

Sunday, 4 October, 2009 at 21:54

Three Options, One Choice

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When Jesus Christ said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life:” He chose His words very carefully.

The: Not that He said a way, as if there are “many paths to God,” but neither did He say “my teachings are the way!

Way: He Himself is the road to God.

The truth: Again the exclusive. Any notion is true, relative to this one truth. Himself!

The life: What does this say about those “outside?”

He then emphasised, “No one comes (not goes) to the Father but by Me.”

And, notice, He started off that statement with a phrase that fit the conversation disturbingly well!

A popular song some years back said, “Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong.” If right were a matter of opinion, then nobody could really, be right, could they? What would “right” mean? A plurality of opinion votes? 51%? Full agreement?

If we were to “campaign” for truth, then surely Jesus would have some great qualities as a teacher, but a lot of things He said about His own person and purpose don’t let us stop there. While skeptics today doubt all the miracle stories and “I am” statements in the Gospels, we must remember that there were enough witnesses to those miracles, and to the Resurrection, that for the first several hundred years the Church didn’t have to argue for His divinity, but His humanity. There seems to have been no doubt about the Resurrection, even among the enemies of the Faith. If the priests or the sect leaders could have opposed that notion, surely with their thousands of followers it would not have taken a week to find the body, but nobody seems to have even tried. Their concern, from all accounts, was for “damage control” /after the fact!/

So what do we do with this claim? As somebody put it, either He’s a liar, a lunatic, or Lord of all. If His had been another messianic movement, then why was such love, and not power or authority His main thrust, even when His followers were ready to launch a revolt in His name? And surely, any other man would have confessed under the torture He endured, hoping at least for a quicker death. Besides that, a politico or scam artist would have been a bit more careful to tell people things they could understand, and not rock the boat so badly. He rocked everybody’s boat, from the far left to the far right in religion and politics!

A lunatic, then? What He had to say was too consistent, and the root of mental illness seems to be a heightened sense of pride or self-preservation. He taught about “laying down one’s life,” and demonstrated it! A “great teacher” would have spent more time on discourses, but He basically affirmed the moral law and its foundation in the Jewish Bible, and went so far as to say it applies to our hearts as well as our hands, and that He was come to be the ultimate holocaust: the sacrifice victim that would finally take our sins away. Radical, but definitely not crazy.

Logically, that only leaves us with Lordship. But what do we do with that? History gives us three options. We may, like many of the rulers of that day, oppose His message (can we divide the Person from His message, if the Person is true?) in a scramble to maintain control regardless of either truth or consequences. For such a person, I have only the deepest pity. Others somehow insist on dis-believing these things based on things they have read or heard. Those who make this choice I would beg, on bended knee, to check your sources. There is a lot of publishing that is based on a writer’s attempt to prove what they already choose to believe, but this is a matter much more important than merely picking opinions like sports teams, though some do enter into it that lightly.

The third option is simple belief. He has said it, and proven it, and history supports it. Belief though, is not a mere opinion, but a life: A life lodged within the Life!

Written by Robert Easter

Sunday, 13 April, 2008 at 8:40

Your Place in History

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The most vital resource this world has is something that does not even belong to this world, but to God. The Church is the most crucial resource in the world, because she is the “pillar and ground of the truth.” What does this mean?

Before His ascension, Jesus told His disciples (students) to make disciples to themselves and teach them everything that He had taught them. In three years’ time, what had He taught them? Only what we have in the gospels? Not likely- Once you factor out the parables and His words with the Pharisees there’s not much more that a couple of sermons!

But wait: At the very start of His teaching He said that His mission was to defend and fulfill everything written in the Old Testament, and at the end He explained the connections between those Scriptures and His own identity; so I think it’s wise to say that the whole package of Scripture is included in the “material” He assign the Church to be teaching. A good number of statements in the rest of the New Testament tell us that the Apostles got that message, too.

I’m just now finishing up a fifteen week crash course in Church history, so I won’t fill up space here with the particulars, but the short version is about this: We assume that the churches the Apostles founded had the whole story. We assume that we have the whole story because our churches are modeled after those early ones, aren’t they? After all- we read Acts 2 about how they did things, and 2nd Corin. 11 talks about “simplicity,” so what are we missing? Well, there might be a few things.

1.For one, we don’t speak their language, or live in their culture, so we’re not living in the same context as the folks who first heard the message from Peter or Paul.

2.They didn’t have all the answers. For example, while the Trinity appears all through Scripture the Church had to Christian-ise their Greek language over three hundred years to create words to begin explaining ideas like “personhood” and “substance” in ways to deal with that basic understanding of God’s nature, and our own.

3.Our own context is so saturated with the philosophy of the world around us, and a near-sighted view of our own history as the work of God in this world, that we have blinded ourselves to major parts of what it meant to be the Church for the first ¾ of our history, including the very beginnings we think we’re emulating.

So what do we do?

1.Sometimes we need to read our Bibles with a conscious, prayerful, effort to let the Holy Spirit do the talking rather than this or that pastor, teacher, or relative.

2.If we are going to read a commentary (This includes study-Bible notes, Christian books, and religious programming on radio & TV, and even our own pastors’ and Sunday-School teachers’ lessons!), we need to be looking at some of the early writers from the first five centuries of Church history.

3. Establish friendships with people from different backgrounds. Maybe start going to church with them. A lot of the divisions in the past few centuries seem to have produced groups who, when they divided, each carried away an understanding that the other was lacking. Not that all were right, but sometimes it takes different views to get the whole picture.
And, underlying all of this, “Let God be God.” He must be our Teacher or we will remain un-taught no matter how much we might learn. We are “His people, and the sheep of His pasture. Today, if you will hear His voice, harden not your heart!”

Written by Robert Easter

Sunday, 25 November, 2007 at 17:21

The Originals!

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As in the last article, Christians are called to be one in Jesus, and that’s how He wants us to live. There seems to be a trend in the Church of more focus on fellowship than labels, and this can be a good thing. There is also a major trend toward setting aside doctrinal differences and gathering around the name of Jesus. This can also be a good thing, but often it has caused a bigger problem than it has solved, and that’s the one we need to deal with. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Robert Easter

Saturday, 6 October, 2007 at 22:39

The Originals!

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As in the last article, Christians are called to be one in Jesus, and that’s how He wants us to live. There seems to be a trend in the Church of more focus on fellowship than labels, and this can be a good thing. There is also a major trend toward setting aside doctrinal differences and gathering around the name of Jesus. This can also be a good thing, but often it has caused a bigger problem than it has solved, and we need to solve that problem.

Paul wrote in Romans that the Gospel of Christ is God’s power to save the whole world. The potential is there, but it must be delivered, received, and acted on. Now it doesn’t seem he was talking about the book of Matthew, or Luke, or the back page of a salvation tract, but to the message itself. Peter later wrote that we have, “all things pertaining to life and godliness through the knowledge of Him Who has called us to glory and virtue.” We need the full message, just like we need to be fully saved.

Before the Cross, the best picture we have of Christian salvation is of Mary when she said, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to thy word.” From this, the very life of God grew in her, and came forth for the salvation of the whole world! How much is conversion like pregnancy? That might be good for another post!

The biggest
hazard today is the idea that “doctrine doesn’t matter,” as long as we love Jesus. If you love someone, don’t you want to know them? How can Jesus say, “My sheep hear my voice,” if His sheep don’t know anything about Him? He said, “If you love Me you will obey,” simply as evidence, or proof, of that love, so how important is it to know what His plan is?

It is great today to be able to use the Internet “Christian-ly.” For the first time we have access to the thoughts and prayers of Christian teachers dating all the way back to the Apostles. We can learn from Anselm, Ambrose, Athanasius, Augustine (amazing how many names started with “A!”), Gregory of Nyssa, Ignatius, Polycarp, and so many others from such giant sites as Christian Classics and any number of others. We even have accredited seminaries with online classes. Why is this such a good thing? For one, the early “Fathers and Mothers” lived in a day, and in a culture, closer to the New Testament and had a closer view of what things really meant, and how they applied, than we have looking at things through 1800 years, more or less, of history and cultural changes Today’s churches generally have their “core doctrines” based on their reading of their own founding preachers, and many of them only date back as far as the 1840’s or even well into the 20th Century, and their doctrines tend to come from questions that people were dealing with then. Some time with these “Originals” can give us a deeper view of God’s nature, and of human nature, than we’re ever likely to find without them.

Am I talking about adding to the Bible? Not at all! I’ts all about getting a clearer view of the actual plan that is there. If the Bible can be compared to a piece of fine woodwork, then the picture I’m setting out is of peeling back years of paint to see it through the varnish that was first put there to help us to see the texture and direction of the grain. The most important thing the “Early Fathers” did was to lay that varnish down to give us, through all the ages, a clear picture of the Faith that we all share as Christians so that we don’t fall into some of the same errors that they (sometimes literally) gave their lives to correct, but rather find a whole new appreciation of just how great our Lord really is!

Written by Robert Easter

Saturday, 6 October, 2007 at 16:39

We are One!

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Hardly a week goes by except I hear or read from somebody that the Church is hopelessly divided into so many thousands of splinters and schisms, or someone speculating on just how the Lord is going to get all these factions back together. The current news items surrounding the Episcopal Church and its tensions with the larger Anglican Communion remind us of some encouraging answers. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Robert Easter

Friday, 5 October, 2007 at 3:51

We are One!

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Hardly a week goes by except I hear or read from somebody that the Church is hopelessly divided into so many thousands of splinters and schisms, or someone speculating on just how the Lord is going to get all these factions back together. The current news items surrounding the Episcopal Church and its tensions with the larger Anglican Communion remind us of some encouraging answers.

The structure we see in “Church” today has developed since Jesus’ day, and in some cases, a long time since. Does being newer or older make it bad? Not necessarily either one, but it does raise the question whether any of those structures could have been the picture His disciples were seeing, or that He was painting in His teaching and prayers as we have in the New Testament. I think if we looked closely we would see that the point was all about koinonia (fellowship and sharing), and not all that much about
hierarchy and politics.

From Church history we see that first there was the Church, and the deacons, elders, and bishops were all added as they were needed. The elders of a city, as the Church there grew, needed a pastor to help them guide the churches in their care, and chose one. Confusion, such as Arianism, arose to draw people away from, “the simplicity, which is in Christ,” and so these bishops met to work out the issues that were raised. A thousand years later the Church’s leaders had generally become self-serving, so the Lord provided that other pastors could care for those who needed to get away from the machine the Church had become. In every case, the Church, the called-out Body of Christ, has come first, and developed particular government forms as best fit its needs.

No matter what “they” say, while there are so many different organizations of Christians, the
very fact that it is Christians comprising those organizations keeps there from being the kind of “division” as is supposed. Example: I belong to an Anglican church, and have preached to or taught Nazarenes, Pentecostals, Methodists, Baptists, C&MA, Calvary Chapel, and one rescue mission with a good reception each time1. Every Christian is united to any other by an uncommon love of God in each heart, and the guiding presence of the Spirit of God to bring us all together for His purposes. Each of us is at a different stage, learning different lessons, so we don’t all understand everything the same, but Jesus is the Truth, and His love brings us together. For the greater part, the “unity” question with the leaders is not so much about re-organizing for a visible unity, but finding ways to best use the real unity we already enjoy. Churches in different cities join together for area events, two organizations cooperate to build a new church in an area where each has strengths and needs that can compliment each other, and whole denominations mobilize together to answer calls such as those from the Katrina victims on the Gulf Coast. Each of us has strengths, and each has needs: One has a strong sense of their place in the fellowship of the saints since Day One, another has a clearer vision of God in the “Right Now,” or of the future. Bringing these together can only strengthen each one’s effectiveness, though it happens more over coffee at the Waffle House than at the House of Bishops!

Even in Church “government” there is cause for hope. In the past there have been a number of groups, for instance, to leave the American Episcopal church over different changes made by the latter. Over the years, each has existed as a separate denomination, each one of a number of “Anglican” presences in the US. This last month a convention of such groups, with other groups more-recently formed, drafted a charter detailing plans to find ways to live and work together as members each of the same Body and Lord, turning the 500-year-long trend of “denominationalism” around in the other direction. Is this a trend to do away with all denominations? Probably not, but more importantly, it shows these bishops know something far more important: We already are one!

1One exception: addressing a certain group of preachers, I referred to 1st Cor. 1 about God having chosen the weak and foolish to teach the wise, remarking in my introduction, “Isn’t it great that the Lord chose to use fools like us?” Not a one seemed to hear another word after that, but they still fed me a good lunch afterward!

Written by Robert Easter

Thursday, 4 October, 2007 at 21:51