Friday, March 25, 2005

Whence come our 'leaders'? Part II

Mark

With Mark’s story, we find a more nuanced text than that found in the other Synoptic Gospels [1]. His keen use of language, syntax, and literary techniques, far advanced in his day, yields a more subtle narrative requiring great attention on the part of the reader if Mark’s message is to be grasped.

Oddly, Mark has no infancy narrative, beginning instead with John’s appearance in the wilderness. The omission is not accidental, nor does it represent ignorance of the tradition. Instead, the narrative’s emphasis on the sudden appearance of John, followed by the anointing of Jesus in the Jordan, is meant to convey the in-breaking nature of the Gospel message; a message borne by a Spirit-man more possessed than possessor (Mk. 1:12), whose mission will end with the spreading abroad of the same experience to others. [2]

For narrative reasons, we will begin with Mk. 2:22, which proves particularly germane to our thesis:

“No one places new wine into old wineskins;
since the wine shall burst the skins.”


While this verse appears in all three Synoptic accounts, I’ve chosen to deal with it here because Mark’s retention of this saying in - what appears to be – an early position of significance (Mt. 9:17; Lk. 5:37), has the effect of preparing the reader for a radical new vision of God’s people. [3] Our context begins with John’s disciples and the Pharisees asking Jesus about the apparent failure of His disciples to fast. These aforementioned groups are clearly frustrated by this seemingly untraditional and cavalier form of religious committement. While Jesus’ answer is intended to befuddle His interlocutors, the sympathetic reader is prodded to see the possibility of a truth that lies beyond mere religious practice. The use of the broad-brushed metaphors of wine and wineskin to capture the essence of both systems of faith, results in a stunning commentary on the soon-to-be passé Jewish religious system, at the same time providing a subtle hint at the new one that is to come. The old simply has no ability to contain this “wine” and so finds no other use than to be discarded. What kind of ‘system’ this “new wine” purports to be in not mentioned here, but the reader is now prepared for the total redefinition that is to come.

This ‘redefinition’ begins in earnest in chapter nine, with the debate over who will be greatest in the Kingdom of God. But having touched upon this idea already with Matthew’s Gospel, we will focus instead on a parable located in the discussion, which although referenced in all three Synoptics, is contained in Mark with an additional piercing commentary on secular leaders, as we shall see.

“You know that those who assume to rule the nations
lord it over them,
and their renowned men sit in authority over them.
But it shall not be so among you,
for whoever wishes to become renowned among you
shall be your servant,
and whoever wishes to be number one among you,
shall be a slave to all.
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served
but to serve and give His life a ransom
in exchange for the multitude”
Mk. 10:42-45

Arguably there is no more categorical statement coming from Jesus that is so intended to define what His Church is to be. By comparing it directly with the institutions among the nations, and not just their attitudes, He prevents all those who would try to say, “Jesus is not forbidding our present institutions, which are modeled on the world’s systems, but is merely saying that those who function within them will be humble.” This approach reveals a bad and disingenuous exegesis. Jesus is not speaking of mere humility, but a humility that excludes those who would presume to lead based on their superior qualifications, of whatever source they may be. The Church is to be something the world has never seen nor can explain. To be sure, He is not saying that it will live without leadership, just not like anything that resides within the visible world. Just as the Centurion recognized Jesus as one under authority, even though that ‘authority’ was not readily known, so also the Church’s conduct will reflect a submission to this same other-worldly source. As a cause is known by its effect, so our obedience apart from worldly leaders will convict of a greater authority. But it requires no less than an entire revolution in religious existence. Jesus’ form of humility is wholistic, it changes the person’s heart as well as their world.

Reinforcing our thesis, Mark alone subtly hints at the illusion of human authority by denoting the rulers as “those who assume to rule.” The reader is to understand that, while people think they are in charge, the real truth is that God’s sovereign authority is the power behind the throne, so to speak. Thus, when the Christian functions under authority in a Church without rulers, he/she is testifying to this certain yet hidden truth.

This concludes our discussion on Mark. As with Matthew, we will list critical points requiring our attention:
1) No human system can contain the Church.
2) The apparently ‘leaderless’ Church acts as a functional witness of God’s true authority over the world.
3) It is not just a question of humility, but of a radical new perception, and its resultant organism.

He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

JB

Footnotes
[1] Syn = with, optic = eye, thus ‘with the eye’. The meaning here is that a definite relationship between these three texts can be readily seen.
[2] This ‘possession’ becomes definitive for Jesus’ re-definition of the organizational nature of the Church. How? By making it irrelevant in the light of the direct application of the divine mind to the Saints via the Spirit.. This theme admits of great importance for the nature of the Church, but cannot be dealt with until we can take up the idea in a later article hopefully to be entitled “The Subversive Nature of the Spirit.”
[3] This “appearance” depends largely upon the illusion of suddenness created by the omission of the Infancy narrative. All three Gospels give this saying a position of prominence by its early placement in their respective texts, but Mark’s omission of the Infancy Narrative works to give the parable much more prominence and thus power.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Toward Unbelief

Two thousand years ago the Church experienced something indescribable; today we have satisfied ourselves with the mere analysis of that experience. This movement from experience to analysis has served to buttress the position of the high churchmen whose idea of spirit has been localized into the Catholic's sacrament or the Protestant's exegesis. For those hungering for a reality beyond the symbol or dogma, the shift has been nothing short of a movement towards unbelief.

JB

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Whence come our 'leaders'?

OUTLINE

I. Introduction to the Problem

II. The Words of Jesus in the Gospels and Acts
A. Matthew
B. Mark
C. Luke
D. John/Acts

III. The Pauline Epistles

IV. The Catholic Epistles

V. The Jewish Epistles

VI. Conclusion

I. Introduction to the Problem

It has become an unending source of bewilderment for me to see how many people admit that the instruction coming from the pulpits of "other" churches is un-edifying, but respond quickly with, “But mine is different.” Yet, when you visit their church you are greeted with the same spiritless pabulum. How can we explain this? What was the difference?

I suggest that the answer to this question is ‘Them’.

It is suggested here that what has actually been found in these cases is not the good or bad preacher, but the tendency of people to acquiesce to mediocrity out of fear of the likelyhood of futility in the hunt for true quality. The thought that the Church just might be biblically out of step, systemically wrong, or downright deceived, rarely occurs with any conviction. Or, if it does, it does so without an anchor in hope. The result is no action taken.

Tragically, the result of such a decision to acquiesce often means the cessation of Christian growth, an unconvincing witness to the community, the possible loss of children to secularity or even to another religion, or worse, the irrecoverable fall into a decaying life among the church’s living dead never again to hear the word ‘Arise!’ Clearly, this is not how the Church was described in the New Testament. Nor does it need to be this way today.

For our purposes here, we will begin with the supposition that the 'church' (people of God) of Jesus' day is in many ways analogous to our own. As such, just as He did then, so now He again desires to offer a "new wineskin" to replace the one being abused. This 'new wineskin' - it will be argued - happens to be identical with the "new wineskin" Jesus offered at His first coming, that first one now having been mauled and devoured by the "ravenous wolves" (Read: professionals) who "came in not sparing the flock." The position taken here is a severe one. It begins with the truth that there is little hope remaining for these bastard institutions that have usurped Christ's purposes. This conclusion is drawn from an analogy made between the today's church and the situation that developed within ancient Israel, which, despite the calls of the prophets, refused to recognize its fallen state and chose destruction over repentance and mercy.

As worrisome as it may sound, G-D is not bound in any sense to these perversions called 'churches' - despite their claims that He is - and is ready to start again with anyone who hungers with an obedient faith, like Anna and Simeon. Thus, hope is only as far away as God Himself, and if you hold a Bible in front of you, that same living God is ready to renew the foundation of your faith, if you're ready to do the work. A real "Reformation" awaits. Not a new denomination or cult - but a resurrection of Christ's Kingdom. A "latter rain," if you will.

To proceed forward, we will need to keep some important questions in the back of our minds as we hunt down Jesus' conception of the Church. Will God provide His Spirit to a model that is in direct disobedience to his Word? In other words, will He bless something that mirrors mankind and its machinations rather than the subversive message of Christ? Will God gift the man/woman with wisdom to teach the Church who has obtained his/her position through personal wealth or wealthy benefactors? Perhaps these can be summed up in: Will God approve a plan if the Cross was not the paradigm for creating it? Lastly: Could it be that the loss of the New Testament spiritual experience – as amazing as it was – is directly related to the placement of ‘hirelings’ in its pulpits?

For the next several blog entries we will try to show a solution to these questions as we move through the New Testament witness beginning with the first and true witness of Jesus. What we hope to show is that there is a generally homogenous pattern of historical precedent that offers hope for a new beginning - if heeded.

II. The Words of Jesus

“Everyone who hears these words of mine
and does not act to come in line,
shall be likened to a foolish man,
who built his house upon the sand.” Mt 7:26 [1]


If the command to be like Christ is to have any punch, it must be relevant to every aspect of the Christian’s life. A whollistic example selectively used is no example, but a tool of hubris. It allows the abuser to use his religion when convenient, turning the purpose of faith into personal merchandise. What will be argued here is that the example once given was meant as much for the Church and its 'structure' as it does for His ethical admonitions. Yet while most in the Church nod their heads in a solemn ‘amen’ to the latter, the search for the same response to the former finds the same heads nodded off. “Has it not always been as it is done today?” most would ask. No, it has not. Most church folk would be surprised to learn that the first church buildings did not appear till around AD 200; before that the Church knew only their homes. These homes, as our New Testament instructs us, were ‘administered’ by a charismatically endowed laity whose scholarshipwas G-D-breathed and focused around the application of God's acts in history to their daily lives; maintenance of the Scriptures; and their subsequent reading, teaching and exhortation. Their wisdom and knowledge were provided by the supernatural work of the Spirit. The same Spirit that supplied Jesus with His.

So, what was this pattern? What did Jesus intend? Lets look at the four Gospels in turn...

Matthew

We will begin by looking at Matthew, not merely because he is first, but also because of his extensive instructional corpus where we find teachings about the nature of the soon-coming Church and its ‘leaders’.[2] On a simple read through one notices that there actually is very little straightforward teaching on the formation of church leaders, and when it does take place it takes a decidedly hostile approach, even redefining the role in its entirety. This almost always occurs in the training of the Twelve. We shall look at some of these texts, with no need to be exhaustive, because while the texts are few, they are decisive.

Beginning with Jesus’ birth, we see the irony of a miraculous birth in the humblest of circumstances. He is not of the priestly class, or of the ruling religious authorities of his days. As such he received no scholarly education, giving us no real expection for profundity. The difference between Him and the religious authorities was an apocalyptic experience of the Spirit, repleat with all the signs and symbols. This beginning seemed tailor made to produce the military Messiah they had expected: the brawny obscure carpenter with an endowment of the Spirit of God, so much like Samson of old. But the Spirit will use this man in a decidedly different way, yet like Samson, the Spirit will be definitive and sufficient.

Jesus’ own disciples, like Him, come from the class of ordinary Jews, even perhaps a bit ragtag. His very choice of disciples was meant to be instructive as Jesus’ prayer would highlight:

“I give thanks to You, Father, Lord of Heaven and Earth,
that You hide these things from the wise and intelligent,
and revealed them to infants.” Mt. 11:25 [3]

From Jesus' own prayer, then, we see that the plan from the beginning was to subvert the normal order of things. This event of ragtag election was to become paradigmatic for the Church in all ages as we shall see while moving through the texts. By the time we get to the Pauline epistles, it will become glaringly obvious as to what Jesus wanted. But we will have to wait on this. Until then let’s see how far Jesus goes with this theme. Rest assured, we will find nothing in Paul that does not have its root in Jesus.

Probably the most decisive moment in redefining the Church comes when James and John try a coup attempt over their brethren. In Mt.20:20, they (their mother in Matthew) approach Jesus and ask to be given primary status in Jesus' Kingdom. This request comes on the tail of Jesus' answer to a previous question in chapter 18: “Who then is greater in the Kingdom of Heaven?” Jesus lengthy reply to this first question begins with, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become as children, you shall in no way enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” Clearly, James and John did not get it. Possibly it made no sense to them, afterall, infants held the lowest social status. And besides, how could such a kingdom even function?! Children can't fight, can they? You have to have leaders, right?

Jesus' new response to these usurpers begins with His radical reformation of the idea of 'leadership'. The new leaders will be those who drink Jesus' "cup" with Him. 'Cup' here, of course, is symbolic for death - something they failed to grasp. Thus, their ironic cry, "We can do it!"

Solidifying His redefinition of leadership and kingdom participation, Jesus is found in Mt. 19:16-20 deflating the bold confidence of a rich man who thought religious observance would turn the trick. Jesus’ statement that “it is easier for a camel to enter into the eye of a needle, than for a rich man into the Kingdom of God” made the same point as above but from a different direction as it also seriously undermined the Jewish cultural elite and all those who had become accustomed to using positions of power and wealth and a tawdry religious commitement to attain a religious status. That His statement left the disciples in shock, speaks volumes about what the people of that day thought with regard to the kind of person God looked favorably upon.

Comparing this radical new outlook to today's churches, any honest person realizes that they may be crying, “Lord, Lord” but it’s not from a position of obedience to any of these texts. This leaves us to ask, "To which texts would it be then?"

The first time we see any significant religious figures in Matthew is when John the Baptist is immersing in the Jordan. Coming to be baptized, the Pharisees and Sadducees are greeted with, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the approaching wrath?” This rebuke sets the stage for all that follows as they become the foils to Jesus, who bests these ‘highly trained’ men in both wisdom and power, despite His being uncredentialed and unauthorized. Matthew’s readers are expected to notice this, the highly educated and trained versus the inspirited nobody - the new paradigm.

When we reach chapter 23 (the fifth and final teaching cycle), we are not surprised by the final dressing down that Jesus renders to the religious elites (23:13-36), but it is the preceding verses (8-12) that must draw our attention:

“Do not be called Rabbi,
for One is your Teacher,
and you are all brothers,
and do not name your father on earth,
for One is your Father, He who is in Heaven.
And do not be called leaders,
for One is your Leader, Christ.
But the greater of you shall be your servant,
and whoever exalts himself shall be humbled.”

Because of these verses, some make great issue over the institutional churches use of titles, and they are not often wrong in what they say, but the real point is not mere titles, but the fact that Jesus intended to undermine any notion of a religious ruling class. Its not just Rabbis that He seeks to remove, but self-appointed authority figures. By removing the opportunity for religious recognition, Jesus seeks to purge the Church of ruling elites who would abuse His Church for their own purposes and subjugate His followers to an earthly agenda. With the coming of the Spirit, His Church would not need these types. His Kingdom would be defined by a hierarchy of servanthood. Any personal exhaltation would come by way of humility. For those who seek the recognition of men, this type of service is not very tempting. (By the way, for anyone who may think this is only good advice, Jesus’ followup admonitions on the certainty of hell for all those not heeding His word should be quite sobering.)

Conclusion

This concludes our look at Matthew. It is never long enough, but a blog is not a book. Let's lay down some principles from Jesus' teaching and example:

1) First, the servanthood of Jesus will be paradigmatic for all.
2) The new "wineskin" will have no clergy or ruling class. [5]
3) Jesus' own example teaches us that the Spirit will be the difference, not ecclesiastical education.
4) Jesus Himself laid down the paradigm, and we cannot change it without being subject to His wrath. (This, of course leads us to a frightening thought about the post-apostolic church.)

One last exhortation: In the modern church these verses are rarely brought up and if they are, great effort is made to explain them away and absolve the institutions. I suggest that this is done to our peril. We owe it to our children to be honest.

He who has ears let him hear.

[1] All translations mine.
[2] As we shall see, this term shall soon be put off-limits by Jesus Himself.
[3] This is not to say that we are overlooking the obvious in the training of the twelve.
[4] One wonders how it is that the “wise and intelligent” have now come to be telling us what Jesus meant. A wise man/woman should be suspect of this change.
[5] We will learn later that this is because there will be no cultus to orchestrate and no official educational system because of the death of Jesus and the coming of the Spirit

Monday, March 14, 2005

Why another blog on the 'true' church?

I would like to welcome all newcomers to this site. But this comes with a warning: This is no place for the ecclesiastically comfortable.

Who then is this for? It is for folks like me who have for some time felt that there was something systemically wrong with the way the church has developed since the Apostles passed away. It is for all those who long for the power and presence of God that was clearly available to an earlier age, but which seems removed from this modern wasteland. This site is here to tell you that you are not wrong, and that probably all you have suspected is true. It is here to confirm that what passes for the church since the apostolic period amounts to an institutional denial of the teachings of Jesus, operating solely in the flesh, the Spirit having been withdrawn from it centuries ago.

If you are a product of the seminary, you will find what is said here especially irritating, as this blog will defend the position that both Jesus and His disciples taught that the Church's future 'leaders' (if I dare call them that) would be created and equiped in a manner wholly at odds with the seminary or any modern educational system. The seminary, in fact, must be seen as an accomodationist phenomenon that confuses academic training with the Spirit of God; favors the wealthy or those with wealthy benefactors; and worse, is significantly - if not solely - responsible for the spiritless nature of the modern church with its production of 'professional' clergy, or, as Jesus called them, 'hirelings'. The observation will be made here of the fact that most (all?) heresies of the Church have come via the disputations of the learned class, who now bear the responsibility for the Church's drift away from its original kerygmatic [1] faith by way of their vain hairsplitting and meddling in things not revealed. In what they suppose was a valid attempt to save the Church from heretics, in reality was its eclipse. This does not mean that we will support Arius over Athanasius or the other way around. Rather, we will reject them both.

This said, I do not want it to be understood that I am condemning in their entirety the scholarly works produced by 'Christian' scribes. (Afterall, many will be cited here.) But there is a better way to achieve what they are doing, that avoids the simony wrought by high seminary costs, that brings God-sponsored teachers back into the Church, and that honors God's way of creating them in the first place. This is what we hope to make clear.

Chief among the heretical tendencies inaugurated by these 'churchmen' - and which this site will examine in the light of the Bible - is not merely the creation of any single error, but is the reception of a radical hermenuetic that dogmatizes speculative theology over the original kerygmatic proclamation. For it was this tendancy to affirm one speculation over another rather than to humbly admit to ignorance with respect to what has not be revealed that has produced divisive doctrines such as Ontological Trinitarianism, the clergy/laity system, Augustinianism, Calvinism, Arminianism and countless other 'isms' that have arisen to satisfy an intellectual faith but which are powerless idols of men when it comes to producing the cruciform life. This tendancy to replace what God has done with what men have thought has left the Church open to public condemnation as this spirit has created fleshly divisions were none were needed and brought scandel and bloodshed upon what was to be a spotless bride.

Here we hope will be offered Biblical alternatives to some of the most perplexing problems in Christianity that are both true to the Biblical text and offer true hope for the return of a Christianity whose witness is in power rather than in words.

In contradistinction to the philosophical methods that produced the aforementioned mutilations of the faith, this site will follow a rigorously kerygmatic approach whereby what God has done, is doing, and will do in history will take pre-eminence in shaping our understanding of the true Faith of Jesus. Here will be a full-blown attempt to re-historicize the biblical language (i.e., such words as 'predestination'.), demonstrating that a kerygmatic faith follows a wholly different path when identifying what constitutes a schism-justifying error.

So, why another blog on the 'true' church?

The absence of the cruciform life among today's Christians, despite the inundation of theological self-help books and scholarly tomes, should tell us that something is wrong. The seminaries never tire of telling us that the problem lies with the laity, always absolving themselves of any complicity with this spiritless mess. The laity, on the other hand, while being starved of the Word, are experimenting liberally with every new thing pop-culture has to offer from an accomodation to its musical tastes to outright assimilation to the pagan ways of doing business. Some say the answer is a return to 'Orthodoxy'. This is doubtful, since it can be demonstrated - and will be so here - that the rise of orthodoxy and its assimilationist tendancy and apostate hermeneutic is what got us here in the first place. The solution we suggest, will only be found when the Church is willing to move beyond intellectually conceived dogma to historically proclaimed kerygma. This is not to deny the mind, but to affirm the faith once delivered to the saints.

Let's be honest. Anyone who looks at today's church and then makes a thoughtful reading of Luke's Acts, with its supernaturally-birthed community, will think they are comparing two wholly different religions. Something was going on there that is not going on now - at least not on any institutional scale. The difference, this site will argue, is in both the content and experience of what was proclaimed and the pabulum served abroad today as"Christian." We will demonstrate and affirm that the Father will only bless by His presence and power that which is in line with the message of the Cross, where His power is revealed in weakness.

He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

JB

[1] The kerygmatic faith is focused on the proclamation of what God has done in history, rather than on what subsequent men have decided it all means. The only recognized input of men comes from those appointed by our Lord at the time of the saving events. The word 'kerygma' is the Greek word for 'proclamation' (or in some contexts, 'the content of that proclamation'). The Apostle Paul was convinced that this had a power of its own to save those who heard. (Rom 1:16)